Beth S.: A fan here, but also a fellow writer (of what was meant to be one novel in one volume but has turned out to be one novel in three volumes. Talk about spillage), and I have a question.
Why does so much material have to be brought forward from the previous novels? Does each novel in the trilogy not have its own conflicts to be resolved, each unique to that volume? While the characters do have histories, of course, does all that baggage really need to be carried forward overtly? Can’t it be mostly felt but not seen, iceberg-like?
Maybe I’m mistaking your meaning, though. Feel free to straighten me out. I always love discussing writing and book construction.
Donna G: Thanks for a great question! Reading your comment, I’m realizing there are at least two different approaches to writing books in a series. At one end of the spectrum are episodic sequels (as in the mystery series I love, A. McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, in which he creates totally new conflicts for each volume, after a quick catch-up at the beginning so you understand what each of the characters are about). At the other end of the spectrum are books in a series that are really one great big novel that for one reason or another got chopped into multiple parts along the way. (Lord of the Rings was one book until a publisher got squeamish about the length and whacked it into three). Then there are books in between that are mixtures of the two approaches; I guess you could say it’s a continuum — but I’m pretty firmly in the second category. My situation is that one of the main conflicts in the book I’m working on now (third in a series) builds directly off an action that occurred in book no. 1. Elements of the action in the opening scene of no. 3 are branches of a tree that has roots in an earlier book. In the opening scene of no. 3 I have to evoke the the atmosphere / motives / circumstances of the action in the first book and try to seamlessly fold it all in — without slowing the pace. Normally I think of action / result as a dynamic between chapters. This is action / result that spans books. I’m finding it isn’t easy.
The connection between the second and third books is even more complicated, as I’ve got many plot strands being carried over. My first impulse would have been to write 2 and 3 as one volume, but in this case I had an editor who insisted on breaking the remaining story into two books. Reintroducing material without lessening dramatic tension is testing my brain cells to the max.
I love your comment: ‘Can’t it be mostly felt but not seen, iceberg-like?’
Yes! This is what I’m striving for, as much as possible.
And I think this thing is doable, dammit. It’s just a whole lot harder than I expected.
Thanks you, Beth, for a thought-provoking comment.
Beth S: Donna,
Ah, I get it. Especially this:
“Reintroducing material without lessening dramatic tension is testing my brain cells to the max.”
I am or will be facing that myself, in that I have (unintentionally) emulated Tolkien: my own work-in-progress is a huge novel that will have to be sub-divided. A large branch of the story, sprouted in Book One, will have to wait until Book Four before I can pick it up again. And by then the trail (to switch metaphors) will have grown cold, so I’ll be facing that very same problem: bringing the older story forward and making it fresh without letting it seem stale.
Anyway, thanks so much for replying. I love The Light Bearer, and one of the things I love best about it is the way you handled the climax. A big book needs a big resolution, and that one paid off in spades. Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. Really good storytelling there.
Donna G.: Thank you, Beth! Compliments from other writers are the best!
When I finished TLB I never intended to write a sequel (or sequels), which is how I landed in this situation. Major chickens are coming home to roost in #3. Sounds like your situation has a lot in common with mine. I keep telling myself the trick with bringing in the earlier material is to fool the reader into believing it’s necessary to know this stuff in order to understand the scope of the tension in the present. Easier said than done. I’m finding it requires serious repackaging of the past — compacting simplifying, streamlining.
On top of it all, I think part of me is biased against interdependent books — sometimes it seems like taking a large painting, cutting it into parts and then displaying them on different walls of a gallery. The composition is just…lost. I like to think of one book as an organic whole. But I’ve had to squelch those delicate sensibilities, because I didn’t want to let these characters go. “You want these characters? They come with baggage. Deal with it.”
I think in the end I’m just going to assume the reader has read the first two books before picking up the third. The first book stands alone because it was meant to; the second one does, sort of, but it’s pretty clear no. 3 will need to be hooked up to 1 and 2 in order to be viable. Perhaps it isn’t really a problem and I’m making it one — there’s always that.
Anyway, it’s great to hear from another writer on these pesky matters. Thanks for your comment!
Beth S. : “The composition is just…lost”
Yes. Oh yes. I see, I hear, I commiserate. 🙂