Monday, April 14, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel Part Three

So, sorry for the delay. Life has gotten supremely hectic. But the round table still has two more installments to go, If you haven't read the previous entries follow the links below and enjoy. I will post the next part tomorrow. Happy reading.

52 Reviews: Excellent answers, everyone. There's lots of insight from a variety of angles. Many of which, I'd imagine were completely unexpected. Which brings me to my next question, while I'm sure writing a second installment of a series is easier in terms of world and character building as you've got some baseline information well established, what would you say is the most unexpected difficulty in returning to the scene of your success?

Jay Posey: For me it was undoubtedly the anxiety over whether or not I'd be able to produce another work at the same level of quality that wasn't just a rehash of what I'd done before.  One part was that I thought that certainly by having written a complete novel before, it would be easier the second time around, but as I mentioned before I actually found myself struggling with the idea that maybe I'd only had one good idea and I'd already used it up.  That was purely self-imposed fear.

The other part for me was wanting the second book to have its own tone and feel while still feeling like a consistent and logical part of the story that Book One had begun.  I didn't want it just to be more of the same, but obviously I didn't want it to veer off in some unexpected direction either.  It took me longer than I would've liked to find my footing in that regard and that was a bit of a surprise to me.

Also, on a lesser scale, with Book One I was pretty free to make up the "rules" of my world as I saw fit.  I had to pay a lot more attention in writing Book Two to what I had created before, to make sure I wasn't breaking anything, which took more mental energy (and research) than I'd expected.  I guess I had sort of subconsciously assumed that authors automatically had every word they'd ever written memorized, so when I had to research my own book it was kind of bizarre.  Maybe every author actually does have their own work memorized, but I apparently don't have that particular talent.

Jeff Salyards: Hmmm. That is an interesting question. There were plenty of expected difficulties (like overcoming my innate slothiness), but luckily not too many unexpected ones. The one difficulty that sort of surprised me actually dealt with baselines and established (or lack of established) worldbuilding. I played my cards close to my chest in Scourge of the Betrayer (some would say too close), so I couldn’t wait to get started with Veil of the Deserters, since it was going to be an opportunity to open things up and share a lot more detail, both character and of the world they inhabit.

Scourge was intentionally more intimate than epic in scope, and while Veil is hardly Martin- or Erikson-esque, it is a bigger canvas with a lot more detail to try to work in. One thing that bugs me in genre fiction is when a writer info dumps all over the page. There is a trick to integrating that stuff artfully, without the reader’s eyes glazing over or needing to hit them over the head with clunky exposition, and I’m hardly a master at it. So figuring out that balance, and picking and choosing my spots for reveals, was sometimes difficult, especially since it’s first person and the narrator is sometimes in the dark or left to piece things out for himself.

So a lot of the revision was smoothing the world building out and trying to introduce history and backstory and important cultural details as gracefully as possible. One of the old tired "truisms" you hear in a lot of fiction workshops is “show, don’t tell.” Well, that’s kind of bullshit. There is a time and a place for telling, and some of the great classics in literature were full of evocative, insightful, and even delightful telling. I did try to have active scenes that managed to do double duty and reveal something new about the characters, castes, factions, etc. But sometimes you do just have to tell, and there were times I struggled or floundered a bit in figuring out how, especially in the first few drafts.

Django Wexler:  Keeping details straight is an obvious difficulty – I try to make notes on everything I can, but inevitably I find myself hunting through past text to figure out if I mentioned the color of somebody’s eyes – but more or less an expected one.  For me the oddest problem has been the multiplication of characters.  In addition to the protagonists, I necessarily had to invent many secondary characters for each story, and obviously I did my best to make these characters as interesting and fleshed-out as possible.  The problem is, the more work I put in and the more I got to know them, the more I wanted to keep track of what they were up to after the book ended, even if that didn’t follow along with the main characters’ story!  It’s really tempting to spread yourself thinner and thinner, to see what happens to the fascinating people who’ve wandered out of the story.  (Or, alternately, to unrealistically keep EVERYONE who has an interesting character in a big gang following the protagonists around.)  For me it’s a tendency I have to fight, though – those stories, while they might be fascinating, would kill the pacing of the main plot.  There’s always tie-in short pieces and so on to check back in with!

M.L. Brennan: Keeping the details straight can be maddening. I have a basic info notebook, but you find yourself needing information that you could never imagine needing, or information that you could never have imagined you could forget. I did a lot of flipping through the previous books as well.

I think the most unexpected difficulty for me was sometimes feeling hemmed in by mythology or character elements that I'd established in the first book. A few times I got what seemed like fantastic new ideas, but the problem was that they conflicted with what I'd pretty much set in stone in the first book. Sometimes that could be massaged a little -- for example I had one character who was flatly homicidal toward my main character in the first book, but I realized in the second that I need there to be more levels and nuance in that relationship. So I massaged things a little, coming up with a fairly plausible reason why straight-out homicidal suddenly became murderous-yet-curious. Other times, though, you're kind of stuck. This can lead to greater creativity at the end of the day as you figure out a way to work within previous boundaries, but at the time that it's happening you just feel very irritated with you-from-a-year-ago. This also, funnily enough, leads to yet more re-reading of the previous book as you figure out exactly what was stated, and how to stay true to the wording but start wiggling around the meaning.

Douglas Hulick: Details are hard, yes. I ended up having someone to create a private wiki for me with all the information about my characters, places, etc., and I still had to end up paging through a dog-eared copy of the first book to check little bits here and there. It's easy creating stuff the first time through because, hey, it's all new. Fly free! But the second book? You now have ropes tying you to the first, and sometimes they pull you back to earth (for good as bad both, as ML notes).

Nor were world and character easier for me the second time around. I mean yes, I still had the same first-person narrator as before, but I'd set it up so that his main foil/companion from the first book was out of the picture much of the second book. That tripped me up more than I expected: turns out Drothe needs someone to dash about, not to mention banter and argue, with. So I had to move some secondary characters into new roles. I also took the story to a completely new part of my world, so that meant a new culture, history, politics, and so on. I did this for a reason, mind--like Jeff, I wanted a different feel for the book, more of a quest structure this time around than a thriller/adventure one in my case--but that didn't make things necessarily any easier.

But what really caught me off guard was simply trying to figure out what I needed to reference from the first book and what I could leave out when it came to the second. Since SiS isn't a direct continuation of AT in terms of plot or story, but still builds off the events of the first book, I found myself in a pickle more than once. Figuring out how to explain two characters' interactions/history/conflict while not summarizing the entire first book was trickier than I expected. (Which is why I killed them all off at the end of SIS and started book three with an entirely new cast of characters. To hell with repeating THAT headache, am I right?) (Okay, no, I didn't. But there are days...)

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