Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's Harder Than It Looks

I know that romance series - and by series I mean books that have a connection to each other, not the category romances put out monthly - are one of those love/hate deals. Some people love reading stories that feature characters and worlds from past books while others loathe them. They don't like books that leave loose ends in regards to secondary characters, whom they usually view as nothing more than sequel bait in the first place.

I happen to fall in the first group. I love to read books in a series, where the same characters populate the world and show up for guest appearances. Wait, I have to qualify that. I love series that are done very well. I don't like secondary characters that have been shoved in simply to set up a future book when otherwise they have nothing whatsoever to do with the current plot. And I do get tired of books about a group of brothers or best buddies who are all identical hero-types with simply a change in hair and eye color who all pair off with groups of sisters or best friends who are all identical fiesty heroine-types with simply a change of hair and eye color.

But that's not good storytelling, regardless of whether the characters have known each other in past books or have nothing to do with each other. If a writer doesn't change her characters enough from book to book to make them all distinguishable, it's not a problem of being a series verus a stand-alone effort. It's just sloppy writing.

Anyway...I digress...

Even if you don't love series books, you have to recognize that when it's done well, it's a pretty amazing thing. Because one thing I've learned on my quest for publication is that plotting over multiple books is very, very hard.

There is a talent involved in putting all of the characters into the proper positions. Of knowing who to feature in which book and when and why. What stories have to be told in what order, so that Heroine A isn't five years old in Book 1, then having a wild romance in Book 2 which occurs a mere six months later, and then is entering high school in Book 3. Continuity begins to rule your life.

And if secondary characters need to develop over time, the order of the books becomes even more critical. As an example, I turn to the master of the series and continuing character arcs, Suzanne Brockmann. Take the Sam and Alyssa relationship: they meet in Book 1 of the series. They first have sex in Book 2. They experience much angst - including Sam's impregnating and marrying another woman - in Books 3 through 5, and it isn't until Book 6 that they finally find their HEA. Through six books their relationship needed to move forward without coming to an early end. There's a fine line between stalling and real conflict in why these two take so long to get together, and Brockmann's works it very well.

I'm saying all of this because I currently have an entire stable full of heroes who are all connected and will be coming and going in each other's stories. They'll each end up with a book of their own, but deciding who does what and when is a real challenge.

What is even more challenging is when an idea for a later book is more fleshed out than books that must come first. I have two heroes whose stories are so clear in my mind they run like a movie. But other things must happen first before they can come into their own. They need to pay their dues as secondary heroes before they take the spotlight.

So I'm torn on whether I should write these things out of order or work on what is easiest first. Since I intend every book to work as a stand-alone - you won't have to read every book in the series to pick one up and dive in - I suppose writing out of order isn't such a bad thing. It will force me to make sure that I've covered enough that someone who hasn't read anything else will get it. If I can write Book 3 now and send it to a reading buddy who hasn't read Book 1 or 2 and she gets it, I'm probably better off.

Except, what gives me pause with this plan is my fear of writing myself into a corner. If I set up certain facts and parameters in Book 3, it means I need to back into them in Books 1 and 2. It's kind of like picking out pink tile for your new kitchen floor and realizing that you'll now have to decorate your entire house around pink tile because every room touches on the kitchen. Sure, you could change the tile. But that's a whole lot of work.

I won't even get into what it will probably be like trying to sell these things. I'm taking one mountain to climb at a time.

For those who would pan JK Rowling's writing ability, you have to give the woman a huge round of applause for managing something that is much harder than it looks. She's created a world and a story and has sustained it over six books, with plans for a seventh. No small feat, that.

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