8 Things I’ve learned about Sequel Writing

part ii

So, as it turns out, writing book two is hard. This isn’t a surprise, per se. And yet… it is. You see, when I was writing book one, there was a lot of time spent in learning the basic craft of the writing itself. A lot of time in re-writing and editing and deleting and finding my way. There was also a LOT of time spent figuring out my very basic plot elements. Drawn In was based on a dream that I had, and that dream remained the basis of my story. But, as dreams tend to be, it wasn’t complete. It wasn’t a story. So that was difficult in its own way, but I’m not dealing with that part of the process now. I know my story, I know where I’m headed, and I am really comfortable with Rennie’s voice now. So those things are coming easier, for sure. However … now I’m dealing with a whole new set of issues, and some of them are a little unexpected. Here are a few things that I’m learning as I write book two:

  • Action and plot are not the same thing
  • A love triangle does not have to be central to the story, but it’s SO much fun to play with
  • A quirky first line is not as useful as a functional first line
  • Minor characters from book one DEMAND equal page time in book two (if not more)
  • Names are important
  • Details are important
  • People have Expectations now (and I like it!)
  • I love love love world-building

Such an interesting thing this writing thing is, and I’m so happy to have this as a part of my life. It’s funny to admit, but you know what? I kind of feel like a writer now.

What is your STOPPING point?

start-stop

In the final throes of editing and proofreading before hitting that “Publish” button, I am once again re-visiting my opening paragraphs. I have two that I like, one that I’m leaning towards, and I’m 90% certain I’m leaving it alone. However, in the past few months, I’ve been hyper aware of how other authors choose to start their novels. It’s fascinating.

I recently began reading a book that had been highly anticipated, and then highly recommended by several blogs that I follow. I’ve found some great books this way in the past, and have rarely been disappointed when a book has this much positive buzz. So I bought it, started it, and at the end of chapter one I thought.. eh. Not really into this yet, I have zero connection with the main character (and first person narrator). But it was so highly talked about, I’ll give it another chapter.

I ended up giving it three more chapters. I still had no connection at all with the main character, didn’t understand a lot of what was going on plot-wise or love-interest-wise, and wasn’t particularly blown away with the writing in general. When the next night came around, I anxiously picked up my Kindle, ready to settle into a great book… and then I remembered. It was that book. My heart sank. And that’s when I knew it was time to give up. I downloaded another book from the top of my TBR pile, and never looked back.

Last fall, I read a whole book that I wasn’t connecting with (mediocre writing, unrealistic character choices, not even edited well grammatically), but this book is a thing. It’s a big popular series–so it can’t be bad, right? I just wasn’t getting it? I still don’t know.

So here’s the thing… how much is too much? Or maybe more appropriately, how little is too little? When do you stop reading a book you’re just not connecting with? Do you give a book a chapter? Two? A single page?

First Line Pressure

call-me-ishmael

I think that most readers (readers who are non-writers, anyway) take for granted the beauty of a great first line. Unless it’s just crazy famous like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen” or “Call me Ishmael,” most people don’t even remember what the first line of a book was by the time they come to the end. I’ll even say most people don’t remember what the first line was by the time they come to the second line. Ouch.

But still, that magical first line is all important. A good first line will give you a taste of the genre, the time, the setting, the mood, the main character and the voice.  A great first line will manage to sum up the entire struggle or premise of the story without telling you that’s what it’s doing. First lines are hard.

I’ve been struggling with mine for some time now. I had one that I loved – truly loved – but it turned out that I was starting my book in the wrong place, so the first line had to go. (I actually just moved it later and turned it into a bit of dialogue. I couldn’t bear to part with it.) And ever since I moved my opening to a more appropriate place, I can’t quite recapture the feeling of that original first line. Maybe it means I’m not starting in the right place again. Maybe it means that I’m not embracing the big picture of my novel early enough. Or maybe it means I’m putting too much pressure on myself to come up with a great first line.

So that’s my current struggle. Anyone out there have a first line tip to share? Or a first line that inspires you? Let’s hear it!

Breaking the Rules, or Who Made These Rules Anyway??

breaking-the-rules

 

I read a book last week that really messed with my head. Okay, so there were some clues … the book was called We Were Liars after all. I went into it expecting some mind games, maybe an unreliable narrator or some misinformation along the way. But in spite of going into it expecting that, it still messed with my head. But this post isn’t about that book (even though I think I’m recommending it – it was so beautifully written; the language was simple and poetic and unexpected and so gorgeous I just wanted to weep at the beauty of it). But it left me in a funk. You know, the kind where you can’t bring yourself to pick up a new book for a few days because (for better or worse) you’re still stuck in the world of the last book? Yeah, that funk.

So then two nights ago, I decided it was time to get out of the funk and pick a new book. Based on some reviews I’d read, I decided to give Shadow and Bone a try. It’s the first in a trilogy (or larger series? I’m not sure) and the third just came out, so there’s been lots of buzz about it lately and I thought I’d see what the hype is about. And I have to admit, I was completely hooked after the Prologue. Completely. I loved the intrigue and the implied darkness and the world-building right off the bat. And the stakes … so inspiring to my current predicament with my own writing. I mean, the main character is in love with her best friend and he has no idea. STAKES. She is small and scrawny but part of an army, joined by magical beings called the Grisha who are led by the mysterious Darkling. STAKES. And she is en route to a crossing of a perilous, otherworldly desert known as the Unsea which may or may not kill her and her entire travelling party. STAKES. All of this before Chapter Four, and all of this isn’t even The Thing. (There are no spoilers here, by the way – I think all of this and more is in the back cover description.)

So I started thinking… how do I incorporate these kinds of stakes into my own writing? When was I first hooked? What was it that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let me go? And the answer: it was the Prologue.

And THEN I started thinking … Hang on. A Prologue?? But what about The Rules?

You know the rules, right?

  1. No bright light
  2. Don’t get them wet
  3. NEVER feed them after midnight

No wait, those are the wrong rules. But these are no less familiar, I’m sure, to those of us tackling our first novel. How to start that all important first chapter:

  1. Don’t start with your character waking up
  2. Don’t describe your narrator by having them look into a mirror
  3. Don’t use that crutch known as a prologue

So those are the rules, don’t break them or there will be severe Gremlin-like consequences, right? SO WRONG! I’m sure that they’re good rules, and they’re there for a reason. You have to know the rules before you can break them, and all that. But seriously … Let’s look at each of those for a second.

Don’t start with your character waking up. Anyone remember a little book called the Hunger Games? Yeah, it starts with Katniss waking up. She realizes that Prim is missing, and we immediately see how her instinct to protect her little sister will drive the rest of the story. It works.

Don’t describe your narrator  by having them look into a mirror. I can see how this could be over-used, or cliche, or just lazy. But maybe you recall Divergent (another favourite of mine), and the opening scene where Tris’s mother is cutting her hair. The use of the mirror is unique for them in their household because they’re Abnegation and it’s the only time during the year when she gets to see herself. And so, breaking this rule WORKS.

Don’t use a Prologue. The first example that comes to mind in breaking this rule is TwilightEvery book in the series begins with a Prologue. But since that series as a whole has fallen into disfavor, the much better example is the aforementioned Shadow and Bone. The Prologue sets up the world so beautifully, and we immediately see the bond between Alina and Mal before they’re older and soldiers and about to be ripped apart. It works.

So who made these rules? Why do we abide by them when clearly they are meant to be broken? Obviously, with the right story and the right hook, they are not the immediate turn-offs that we’re led to believe they are. But aren’t we supposed to have the right story and the right hook regardless of how we open chapter one? YES! So what’s the big deal here?

BREAK THE RULES! Tell your story the way you need to tell it and forget the rest. Let the critics be critics, it’s what they do anyway. At least you’ll get to write your novel the way you know it needs to be written. The way no one else can do it, even if you have to make your own rules.

My First Blog, or Writing is Hard

 

 

Writing is hard.  There, I said it.  It’s wonderful and challenging and frustrating and uplifting and defeating and lonely and scary and triumphant and hard.  And I love it,  Right now, I’m in the throes of writing my first novel.  I’ve been writing and editing for what feels like a very long time now.  But the process is, in a word, incredible.

I finished my first draft about a year ago.  I thought it was golden.  I thought it was Finished.

I was Wrong.

Since then, I have re-written it at least three different times … everything from tiny line edits, to re-arranging chapters, to what I sort-of-lovingly referred to as my Frankenstein Version (bits and pieces were cut and past hither and yon, parts were repeated, parts were missing.  It was ugly.  Children would have run away screaming).  Through this all, as I’ve reached each stage where I thought “Ah ha!  NOW it’s finished!” I would send out a round of query letters to agents.  And here I am, almost ready to knock on doors again.  It’s scary.

But as I sit here typing this, I can say with complete confidence, that the novel I have today is a more solid, more complete, more satisfying story than I had a year ago.  I love my story.  I love my characters.  I can’t wait to hear what they’ll say next, and that thrills me.

So what have I learned from all of this?  Well – first of all, editing takes time.  And honest friends.  And a whole lot of patience.  I shudder at how many great agents I queried with my first round when I had NO IDEA what I was doing.  Today, the search continues, but I’m better equipped for the ride.  I’m confident that my time will come.  I’ll either find a great agent out there who wants to champion my book, or I’ll find a way to self-publish the heck out of it.

And in the meantime… I’ll keep writing.