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Thursday, September 26, 2013

And then, there were sequels ...

So you know that moment when you're finally back in love with your novel, and the end is in sight and you're nearly weeping with joy, and then --- you remember.

You have a sequel to write.

Not just a sequel. No, that would be too easy. You have a whole series to write.


"But wait," you say, "you don't have to do it! You can choose not to do it!"

Oh really? Can I now?

Clearly we have never met. (This is clearly possible, since I am just a person in your computer). When I start something, I forfeit all personal freedom. I have no free will. I sign myself over, mind, body, spirit and wallet for the duration. There is no stopping.

I am indentured to my own cruel and ruthless stick-to-it-tiveness until the end. And I am one asshole of an owner.

If you are sane, if you are a person with sense and rationale who has written a stand alone novel -- then this post does not apply to you. However, you should stick around. Trust me. There's nothing like a hefty dose of schadenfreude to lighten your load. Think of my experience as some great Greek tragedy. You can watch. You can mourn for me. You can even hurt for me.

And after a good cathartic cleansing from my misery, you'll walk away beatific with the joy of not being me.

Nelson sums up schadenfreude rather neatly.

You're welcome.

Here's the thing about genre writing, specifically fantasy writing, for young readers. If you're trying to break into the industry, you need to be thinking in terms of series. I blame Rowling. Sure, there were lots of series before Rowling (will Tamora Pierce ever stop? I sure hope not) but the soaring, insane, cultish popularity of Potterdom rewired our brains. We're just not satisfied with one-offs anymore. We need the series. We yearn to occupy the characters' lives. And kids -- well, if you've ever been around kids you know that repetition is pretty much their élan vital. Don't believe me? Clearly you've never heard a kid tell a knock knock joke.
On repeat.
Forever.

Kids pretty much just summarize what we all feel -- we like things we know. And the nice thing about a series is we're going back to a world or to characters and circumstances that are familiar. We don't have to do the work of figuring everything out again. This is a world we already understand. And it's a world publishers understand, and what they understand is that it sells.

The difficulty for writers is knowing how to make a sequel special. Because let's just own this right now: a LOT of sequels TOTALLY SUCK.

Not a book? Doesn't matter, still horrible enough to make the point.
You don't want your sequel to just be a cash cow that's actually a dead horse that you've been beating but should've been put out to pasture. Wow, there were a lot of metaphors and a lot of livestock in that sentence. Which is why you should be thinking about your sequel now. And by now, I mean now as in where I am. A few resolutions away from an ending for book one. Because your novel? It just became a subplot in the series that is The Actual Story.

That realization is a heavy one. As much as you love your characters, at some point they kind of start to feel like the friends you invited over for dinner but now it's 1am, dessert was finished 4 hours ago, and they seem oblivious to your heavy hinting that you're tired and want to go to bed.

So what do you do? Simple. Set your novel aside for a moment, and break out the pencil and legal pad. I know you're eager to finish the story you're writing, you love it, you want to take it to the finale and start the queries. But ease up, tiger. Did you know that, for a series, most agents request you wait to query until you are halfway done with novel two? I'm not shitting you. That's a piping hot serving of truth right there. And it tastes horrible.

Try not to cry on the legal pad too much. You're going to need that. It's time to start plot charting book two.

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