Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Guest Blog

It was my pleasure to guest write on Paul Brazill's blog on November 24, 2009. My topic was where ideas can come from. I appreciate being invited to be a guest on Paul's site, and have included the link below.

As long as we're on the subject of Paul's blog, make sure you head over there and join in to follow. There's always something cool brewing over there!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sequel or Prequel, Single or Double, Trilogy or Octology? When should enough be enough?

Okay, you've finished your novel and its a gem and a half. You had started with a specific plotline in mind, but instead, you let the story go its own way. It began as a cozy type mystery, and somehow managed to transform itself into classic noir, with characters who could literally step right off the silver screen in all their black and white glory. Best of all, none of your main people died--they just set the traps, evil took the bait and justice triumphed yet again. Finally, as a crime author, you feel incredibly rewarded. Damn, you're good. And now..., well..., should I..., but maybe if I...uh oh. I've created a world with people and events that are cool and slick and just left them hanging out there--somewhere. Just tossed them aside like an old boot. But what else can I do?

I'll tell you what you can do. Pull them back from whatever black hole you condemned them to and simply continue. That's right. Continue. Easy? No big deal? Whoa. No, it isn't easy and yes, it is a big deal. Let's look at why.

The first point I think we should explore is what exactly are you trying to accomplish. What is your desired endpoint? Are you trying to write a series based on a character or characters or a chapter book? Chapter books are a lot of fun to write and even more fun to read. King's Green Mile and Dark Tower Series, in my opinion, are perfect examples of chapter books, and really well-crafted ones at that. I have a chapter book series coming out soon through DiskUsPublishing called Choices. It has six parts, and while each chapter is separate and distinct from the others, Chapter One leads into Chapter Two, Chapter Two leads into Chapter Three, and so on. Together, they form one complete story. They could be read out of sequence, but relationships between the characters would be marred, if not lost, and like any chapter book, the parts should be read in the order the author intended.

What about writing a series? Well, personally, I define a series as two or more books that focus on the same character(s) having different experiences in each book. For example, with a crime series, perhaps you might have a certain PI that solves different cases in each book or you might have a certain police detective that solves different cases in each book. Whichever character your focus is on, that character would be present in all the books, but his/her experiences, events and interrelationships would change in each one. Now, having the same character appear over and over can sometimes create a problem all by itself.

Let's say, you have decided at the onset to write a trilogy--three books using the same main character. That's all well and good, but there is one thing you need to be careful of. In your first book, do introduce your primary character and let us in on this person's life and background, thoughts and hopes, fears and needs. Let us get to know this character really well, then let us in on what happens to and around him/her. Okay, the first book is complete. We've gotten to know your character really well and can't wait to share more of their life experiences. On to Book Two. Oh no. Do we really have to hear about his failed marriage again? Boring. Do we really need to hear how she failed to become a cheerleader in high school again and that's why she has nightmares?

If there is one thing I cannot abide it is having read the first in a series, then picking up the second book, as noted on the jacket or in the promos, and encountering a recap of everything I read previously in Book One. Give me a bit more credit than that--my long-term memory isn't that faulty. I'm not going to let three years go by between the books--I'll remember who did what and who lived where and so on. Give me just a couple of bits and pieces, maybe a couple of short memories the character may have and move on to the new stuff. Don't let three-quarters of the second book be verbatim from the first one.

Too many writers think they have to restate everything just in case a reader picks up the second book first. Oh my. They won't know about this, or they won't know about that, so I need to repeat it all in every book in the series. I beg of you. Please do not do that. Most readers, and I do believe that this applies to most, are intuitive enough to know when what they pick up is part of a series and they will make every effort to seek out the first part and move forward. If, for whatever reason, they decide to begin with part six and then skip around, well, so be it. That's their choice. We, as writers, do not need to worry whether they will not enjoy the story as much because they didn't find out in the very beginning why Johnny sleeps with the lights on or Mary despises brown cats. Who cares? We should have enough of a story in there to hold their interest whether it's Book One or Book Twelve, and that's the kicker.

Now we come to probably the most important thing about writing a series. It's not a question of whether to repeat information about places or persons. It's a question of how interesting your stories are. We need to introduce characters that grab the reader and make them want to know more and more and share more and more with that character. When it comes to the second book, sure, the experiences and events are going to change, but while your character is going to be the same one, they shouldn't so much change as grow. When it comes to the third and subsequent books (should there be more), your character must continue to grow in order to remain interesting.

If they have a certain endearing quality or quirk, keep it the same. That's what makes them unique. But to hold your readers' interest, they must grow and develop just we do in the real world. Then, there's no limit as to how far your imagination can take them.