To Sequel or Not to Sequel

The book is done. You’re ready to move on – but to what?

Perhaps you have two or three storylines plotted out at a high level and you can’t make up your mind which one to choose. You start to flesh out the strongest idea, thinking this will be the easiest path to pursue and quickest way to publish.

But your mind wanders down memory lane, revisiting the characters from the book you just finished. You might ask yourself, “what’re they doing now?” Your characters and world beg you not to shelve them. Yes, I have these conversations with my creations but, so far, only in my head and no one else has heard me yet.

My genre, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, almost requires a minimum of three books. That seems to be a legacy of one of the greatest fantasy adventure writers of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien. (By the way, another of Tolkien’s unpublished works is scheduled for release in May of this year – his translation, with commentary and a short story, of Beowulf.)

Sequels are great, as long as you do more than just rehash what happened in the previous book. Yes, you’re working with the same characters, even the same villain if you want that. But a sequel must stand on its own, have its own conflict, climax, and resolution. Your characters must grow and develop beyond where they ended in the previous book. The best approach is to plan sequels while you write the original book. Envision that arc of new facets of character development across time – decide what that timeline should be. Decide where supporting characters come in and where they leave. Decide if your original villain is the “arch-nemesis” or just the first in a line of challengers.

If readers are as enamored of your characters as you are (well, almost as) then they will look for new challenges and new discoveries.

Readers of sequels want MORE, not the same.

Don’t Write in a Vacuum – Seek Out Writing Resources

As much as we’d like to think that we, as authors, know what we like, know what we want to do, and know just how we want to do it, we’re wrong more often than we think.

I have a bad habit of going for months (and months) without reviewing any other books or authors in my genre. Mostly because I don’t want to risk writing something I think is my great idea but I really copied from so-and-so. Of course, that’s what most of us do anyway, unconsciously, because we mimic what we like. We just need to recognize that we do it, keep it to an innocent minimum, and do not, under any circumstances, PLAGIARIZE.

We also live dangerously when we don’t keep abreast of the trends, good and bad, in the publishing world. We may need to find a publisher, editor, agent, ISBN provider, even understand bits of copyright law, and so much more. Most of the time, our inner circle of writers and friends can be a kind of source, but they’re just not enough.

Accessing other available sources online or in print can prevent a major mistake. All the sources in the world cannot prevent disappointment at one time or another of course, but we know that – at least we should.

Here are some of the resources I try to visit regularly.

Writer Beware/SFWA.org

Writers Market

Writer’s Digest

Poets & Writers

Kindle Direct Publishing

U.S. Copyright Office

I know there are so many more sources, so take advantage of them and never rely on only one. A vacuum (a void, nothingness) is not our friend.

When Does Editing Stop and Calling It Done Begin?

This is one of the biggest problems for many authors when completing a creative writing project.

I make several editing passes just for grammar (delete all those unnecessary “-ly” words; change passive verbs to action verbs), consistency (oops – the age I refer to on page 10 doesn’t match the age mentioned on page 124), and format (I created a style for chapter title, why didn’t I use it here?).

For those of us without a professional editor, we also follow the editing by friends and fellow aspiring authors routine. When the fourth go-round results in something like the following exchange we should probably let our friends off the hook.

“Looks good to go.”

“Did you see that edit on page 38?”

“Um…”

“You know, the one where I completely changed the description.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine.”

“So it’s definitely better than the first one?”

“I don’t remember exactly what the first one said.”

“Then how can you say this one is better?”

“Because it didn’t jump off of the page and stab me in the eye!”

Then there’s the editing for perfection passes, typically done by the author alone. We (okay, read “I”) find ourselves modifying SOMETHING everything 10-15 pages or so, just because a conversation, a tone, a description, even a character,  isn’t flawless. And, isn’t that an exercise in futility? In my opinion, perfection on every page just is not achievable in the art of creative fiction. If that’s what we strive for, then we all lose.

Perfection is found in the truth of the character arc, the precision with which you have built your world. Perfection is found in the rightness of the conflict resolution of your storyline – and that includes all the strengths and weaknesses, the imperfections of your characters.

Truth, precision, rightness…when you find that, you are DONE.

No Problem – I Can Do My Own Cover Art…

I’ve just about finished my book. I don’t want to expend the time and money for an artist to render a cover that may involve several drafts and additional costs and then maybe end up with something I’m not quite sure I really like. I used to draw all the time when I was young – all through grade school and high school, but lost interest in college. I helped my niece develop an interest in drawing when she was only three years old – and she’s now a very talented anime artist. It should be like riding a bike, just get back on, fall down a time or two, but pretty soon you’re back to racing down the street! Not so much, as it turns out.

I purchased an inexpensive graphic tablet and zipped through the tutorial, anxious to get on with my project. Controlling the applied pressure using the pen was a bit tricky, but I finally got the hang of it. Then I practiced using the actual drawing area of the tablet. I found out that I tend toward broad, large strokes that disappear from the screen unexpectedly. I’ve gained enough control over my wayward wrist action to get on with the cover idea.

And here’s where I get to the root problem…I can’t draw anymore! I never would have imagined that old saying “use it or lose it” would apply to me. After all, if I can still write backwards like I did in high school, why can’t I still draw what I see?

Yeah, there are many psychological theories about artistic abilities. But I lean more toward another old saying, “practice makes perfect.” I believe I can, eventually, regain some of my ability – but do I want to wait two or three months for that day?

Nope. Spring break is next week. I’ve called my niece.