Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Two for one
I’m currently working on the first of a two books series*
Yes, I am still cartwheeling at least four times a day. [Not literally. These are mental cartwheels. I don’t like to think of the orthopaedic consequences if I attempted a real one]
So yes, it’s all great etc, but it still has to be written and I’m realising how much of challenge it is to pull this off.
I started off by thinking about books I love with a sequel and why I love them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put my finger on why any of them worked exactly. ‘They just do,’ said my stubborn reader's brain. So then I decided to ask online and got some very helpful advice. The tip that seems to come up again and again is the importance of having characters people really care about. I realised straight away that this was the common element in all the stories I’ve loved, from Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, to Jackson Brodie in Kate Atkinson’s books to... many more I can't think of right now.
I guess every story is a journey, and if you want readers to take one to the end of one book, let alone feel like going further, they have to seriously give a damn about the characters they’re travelling with. This for me has been the single most useful piece of advice so far.
But then there’s the whole structure thing. I not only have to plant some threads that will be picked up and woven into something bigger in part two, but I have to think about three story arcs [yes, that’s three]. There’s the one for the first book, the one for the second book, and then there’s the one for the story overall. If you’re going slightly cross-eyed at that, you’re not alone.
My editor tells me it can be the devil’s own job to sort things out in a second book, like wishing you hadn’t killed someone off, or making them an orphan when they need a cuple of parents later on. ‘Much better,’ she said blithely, ‘to have a good idea of the story in book two when you write the first one.’ Easy, right? Trouble is, my pesky characters have a habit of acting in unexpected ways.
So I got Googling on story structures and found a diagram that appealed to my geeky side here. I had to print off two of them and stuck them side by side on a large piece of paper. Then I drew a rough arc over the top of both that represented the overall story.
At the very least it gives me something to concentrate on when my eyes start revolving round in my head. I think it’s helping.
But if anyone out there has any further tips on carrying a story over two books, I’d love to hear them.
*I realised there isn’t even a decent term for a book and a sequel. Series implies more than two. Something like’ trilogy’ is needed, but as I saw suggested online ‘bilogy’ doesn’t quite do it. Any suggestions on that too?