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 (By the way, another of Tolkien’s unpublished works is scheduled for release in May of this year – his translation, with commentary and a short story, of Beowulf.)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.

Enjoy the Discovery in Writing – and Seek Direction When You Need It

While struggling to make my protagonist believable and to strengthen my plot, I often find myself going back to books I purchased long ago. One book on my go-to list is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s JourneyMythic Structure for Writers. Going back to reread chapters can get you through your stalled out periods.

I was introduced to this book several years ago by someone in a writers’ group – best recommendation ever. Understanding the archetypes, either as additional characters in your story or as different aspects of the main character, helps you create a multi-dimensional protagonist, or hero, as identified in this book. I choose the dimensions I feel will best highlight my character’s personality and how he or she deals with, and grows as a result of, conflict.

The diagrams are a nice quick reference – AFTER you have read the appropriate chapters. I use them to spot check my progress in my plot and to make sure I’ve hit the highlights of the character growth arc.

Don’t get me wrong, this book doesn’t provide a shortcut or blueprint for writing, although some people may think so. The author’s epilogue (I own the 2nd edition) stresses that very strongly. Vogler states, “The needs of the story dictate its structure.”

He encourages the writer to NOT to follow the guidelines in the book too rigidly. “The joy of a journey is not reading or following a map, but exploring unknown places and wandering off the map now and then.”

If you have a strong storyline and you absolutely know who your protagonist is, go for it. Have faith in yourself and enjoy the discovery!

When the Climactic Scene Isn’t Quite Right

I’ve been working on this novel for a couple of years now…yes, years. (I let my day job and the DVR get the better of me most days.) I have completed everything but that climactic scene. I just can’t get it right.

All fiction writers find themselves in the same predicament at one time or another. I’ve long since given up on perfection – just not in my game plan. BUT, each scene has to feel right – feel true to my characters’ journey through the storyline.

I’ve built up the tension through several chapters. The “big battle” comes at just the right time and all main characters have their roles to play. My protagonist must be pushed to her limits, must battle internal self doubt and false confidence as well as the external threats, both physical and mental, of the antagonist.

I’ve written the scene, at least in part, four times already. Each time I found something wrong with it, not enough emotional turmoil, not enough spectacle, too many characters involved, it occurs in the wrong location, and so on. Something is just not RIGHT.

I’ve sought inspiration from books of all genres, and many were, indeed, inspiring. Oddly enough, though, I must admit that history, science, and paranormal studies in the form of books and TV shows (love that DVR) have provided quite a bit of fuel this past week for my desperate brain.

I think I’m on to something now. The plan for lunch time all this week is to work on that scene. And I’m going to get it right. Eventually.