Why you shouldn’t write a novel series backward

For starters, you probably shouldn’t write a single novel backward. Novels are kind of long for that sort of jiggery-pokery. Short stories are fine. I’m all for writing them backward. They are small enough to see from all angles in your mind. A novel series is like a train of trailers hitched behind a truck – tricky to drive backward.

I’ve documented how I got in the awkward spot of writing a series backward, or at least from the inside out, in previous posts. Here’s the back story for those who missed them.

I had a novel that was too long, so I decided to divide it into two books. This seemed like a good idea for a while, until it became clear that my two books would have to be three.  The third book would need to consist of a bulk of new storytelling in between the other two. At the time of my last update, I had finished drafts of the two outside books and was staring at the daunting prospect of building a bridge book that would fit together with the books on either end.

The whole story:    Update1    Update2    Update3

Now that I’ve got the support beams in place, to the tune of about 130 pages of new middle, I’m staring at the prospect (and you may have guessed this if you read the previous updates) of splitting the middle book in two, giving me a total of four books.

This is not what I wanted, and it’s possible that I may be able to hold it to three, but with each passing chapter, four becomes more likely. After 130 pages, I still have lots of ground to cover. If I could do it in another 130, that would wrap things up in three books. I begin to doubt I can.

Make sure the bridge is finished before you drive your series backward over it.

Why is four books bad? In a perfect world, it’s not. But in a perfect world, I would be writing these books in order. In a perfect world, I might even have the resources of a publishing company behind me.

From the writing standpoint, four books is no problem. As I progress, my confidence in my ability to tie four books together into a viable series grows. I can tell the story.

The headache comes after the writing. Taking a single novel from manuscript to book is a difficult task for an independent author. By the time I am done with all my patchwork writing, I could have four books to shepherd through that journey. Because I am not writing them chronologically, they must all be written before any one of them is finished.

Arranging for editing, covers, layout, etc. of four books in quick succession is crazy daunting. True, I would have to eventually do all that, even if I wrote them in order, but in that case the production pieces would be more staggered, with writing time in between.

I know it amounts to the same thing in the end, but it looks like a huge wall to get beyond, rather than four separate, manageable walls.

Nevertheless, I’m the one who put this train into reverse gear, so I ‘m the one who has to bear down and figure out how to keep it on the tracks.

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Stuck in the middle with 2

I can’t prove it, but my hunch is most people who write a novel series start with book #1, then progress to book #2, book#3, etc. This seems like a sensible way to manage such a project. As I gaze longingly at this sensible method from afar, I can only blame myself for coming at this task ass-backward.

As I mentioned here, I had a long novel I decided to split into two. Here, I documented how the two books propagated themselves into three books. So what now? Four? No. I hope not – not yet anyway.

The good news is that drafts of books #1 and #3 are complete. This took a lot of rewriting, a good deal of new writing, and much careful rearranging. It is an accomplishment and I feel good about it.

Having stretched #1 to the left and #3 to the right, I turned to the middle to see what material was left to form the core of #2. I was shocked to find a total of 30 pages left to work with.

A 30-page manuscript is not a large base to build a novel upon, but that’s not even the daunting part. The paucity of pages is merely a symbol of the bigger issue. I’ve got a miles and miles of ground to cover between #1 and #3. Chronologically, I’ve got a couple of decades to pass. That’s a chore, but not the most difficult one. The task that makes me suck in deep breaths is the chasm I need to bridge in character development. There’s a long road of change between book #1 and book #3.

“See that little gap over there? I’d like you to fit book #2 in there nice and snug.”

Since books #1 and #3 already exist, books #2 is both a sequel and a prequel. It seems to me there are more constraints to writing a prequel than to writing a sequel. You can’t just take the story threads and run with them. They have to come out lined up with a future already in existence. When a story is both prequel and sequel, the threads have to line up at both ends.

Let’s say my characters need to begin book#3 at point Z. If #2 were a simple prequel, I could start them out at the most convenient point Y. But because #2 is also a sequel, I have to start them where they left book#1, point X. I have to show how the characters got from X to Y before they can embark for Z.

They have the better part of 20 years to make the legs of this journey which is more than enough time. The true question is how many scenes it will take. Every new scene eats up more pages, and the whole impetus of this operation was to avoid producing books that suffocate under their own weight.

Which leads us back to the obvious solution: a fourth book. That just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it will seem more right later on, but for now I’m set on wrestling with book#2 as a single entity. Is that daunting? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Will I pull it off? Stay tuned . . .

These are my kind of addicts

This should be fun.

My novel, A Housefly in Autumn, is the Selection of the Month for August at the YA Addicted Book Club on Goodreads.

I’ve never participated in an online book club event before, so it should be an interesting learning experience. I will be responding to comments and questions about the book as well as receiving some valuable feedback. I’m looking forward to the interaction.

For anyone interested, the YA Addicted Book Club is an open group on Goodreads, which means any member of Goodreads can join. It’s a relatively small group right now, which is great for fostering meaningful discussions among members.

For the Book Club discussion, you can get a free Kindle copy of the book from the moderator. (Instructions here)

Many thanks to Heather and the rest of the group for inviting me to participate.

I hope to see you there.

A Housefly in Autumn blurb:

Anders sacrificed his own promising future to save the life of child. Now he must decide whether to cling to the unlikely hope of regaining his old status, or spend his time making the most of the life fate dealt him. Though difficult to let go of rewards once promised, perhaps the greatest rewards are those earned by building new hope from the bits and pieces of wrecked dreams. A Housefly in Autumn is a historical novel intended for Young Adults and up.

 

 

The novel series I didn’t know I was writing

Last time, I wrote about dividing my long novel into two novels. Part of the reason that last post was nearly three months ago is because I’ve pushed blogging to the back burner to work on splitting the baby. I’ve been writing new scenes and thinking about future scenes I think would add to the plot. A few months of this has led me to a revelation:

Two books are not enough.

This thing is going to take three.

More books, more paper

“We’re gonna need more paper!”

The story covers the span of several decades. Originally, it was heavy on the latter end of the timeline, so I’ve been adding material to the beginning of the timeline to balance it. I think these are interesting scenes that add to the development of the characters, but beefing up the beginning to match the end has begun to show how lean the middle years are.

It’s not unheard of to skip over a number of years from the ending of a book to the beginning of its sequel. I could do that, and I might be able to get away with it. There are a few reasons why I don’t want to try that.

Continuity of Character

By the end of the saga, one of the major characters develops into someone quite different from the person he was at the beginning. The scenes I’ve added to the early years make this change less subtle than it used to be. There needs to be more middle to show how this change came about. I could tell it as back story at the start of the sequel, but that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. The change needs to be shown in its pieces, rather than explained in a few pages.

Fertile Ground

My research, as well as the detail I’ve already added to the early timeline, has given me lots of ideas about interesting events I think would be entertaining to readers in showing the means of transition from the early to later years. There’s a lot of good story in the history of the era to be told. If I am equal to telling it, it would become more than a necessary transition; it would be a compelling story in its own right.

Bonus book

Two is an awkward number for a series. Is it really a series or merely a sequel? Having a third book would make me more comfortable talking about a series. I could begin imagining series titles without worrying about being a fraud, and I would worry about that; it’s the kind of thing I do. Besides, what author wouldn’t want an extra book to their credit?

housebreaking fun

Splitting books is a lot like splitting houses: if you go crazy with your bulldozer, they just might fall to pieces.

You may wonder if I will come back in three months talking about a fourth book, and so do I. I truly hope that does not happen. At some point, fiction has to stop multiplying conceptually and begin the process that results in actual books.

Number four may come after all this, but now I’ve got to limit the number of books I’m writing inside the book I’ve already written.