Hi, all! First, I hope everyone from Texas to Georgia and throughout the Caribbean is safe and dry today.
Second, I’m happy to report that I completed the first draft of A Pixie’s Promise on Saturday. Woo hoo!
I was surprised to discover that writing a sequel was significantly different from writing a standalone novel or the first in a series. It
was… easier. Much easier. I had done the worldbuilding. I knew the characters and their motivations. The sequel was a logical continuation of the first novel, so the plot flowed smoothly. Once I had a plot outline done, I could just sit down and churn out page after page.
Wait, you say. Maybe you’ve just gotten better at writing novels, now that you’ve written three of them. I’d love to believe that’s the case, but I have a counterexample. The standalone novel I wrote between A Witch’s Kitchen and A Pixie’s Promise… well, it kinda stinks. It’s deeply problematic, its theme is muddy, it has characters it doesn’t really need, and, in my husband’s words, it’s really only half a novel. Why? I think it’s because I haven’t had the time to think it through, the way I have with the universe and characters I created in A Witch’s Kitchen. They’ve been fermenting in my head for nearly four years, and they are now well developed and thus much easier to work with.
Which is not to say that there weren’t surprises. Lots of surprises. Unexpected new characters, a wholly unplanned aerial battle scene, and an entire new Realm I hadn’t known existed until I started writing it. I was delighted by this. I had been a little worried that plotting in advance would make the writing wooden and formulaic. On the contrary, it gave me just enough structure to plow through at high speed without restricting the flow of new ideas.
I loved this process. Having written and published the first novel, I could write this one with the confidence that it would also appeal to my readers. I could delve more deeply into individual characters and motivations. I could expand upon the worldbuilding without getting too technical. I could introduce social concepts relevant to our current surreal lives in the United States in fun and interesting ways. Seriously, I had a ball.
So did my readers. The comments I’ve gotten back have been, “This is such a pageturner, I can’t put it down,” and “Mom, stop bothering me, I’m reading your book.” Okay, my first readers were my family and they have to like it, but even so, they really liked it, and I’m so happy about the whole thing. I’d read blogs and articles saying that sequels are often harder to write, but I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case for me.
Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect. I changed things halfway through and have to go back and correct for them, and I need to do overall consistency checking and adjust chapter lengths. That’s just to get it ready for non-family beta readers. I also want to go back and really reinforce the character development and thematic elements. My current chapter titles are terrible. I need more bad jokes. On the whole, though, I’m pleased and think the novel is close to done.
But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?), something unexpected happened. When I got to the end of my two other novels, (the prequel and the standalone), I got this marvelous sense of done-ness, and large swaths of my mind, previously busy keeping track of all the plot threads and character development, emptied out and relaxed. It’s just a marvelous feeling, like finally hiking to the top of a mountain and being able to take off your backpack and put it down.
I finished A Pixie’s Promise, and I sat back and waited for that to happen. I waited all day, and part of the next. My brain did not empty out. In fact, if anything, it got MORE full. I discovered that I was forgetting things: events, appointments, grocery items even though they were on the list in my hand. Ack! What’s happening! My brain is too full!
I had to sort of drop everything and figure out what was going on in my head, and to my dismay, I discovered that I was still hanging on to several plot threads that needed tweaking in A Pixie’s Promise, and I was also busy plotting out two more sequels, and a bit of a third, all from small details I’d seeded in A Pixie’s Promise.
And it was too much. My series had exceeded my mind’s processing capacity and was crowding out the small details of daily life that I so often take for granted. Ow, my brain.
So I did what any self-respecting writer does in the age of the Internet: I got on Facebook and complained. How do I deal with this? I wailed. And other writers came to my rescue. Keep notes, they said. Make timelines and character worksheets. One author of a five-book series has offered to meet me for coffee and show me her wiki, which she
uses to keep track of everything.
I’m now in the process of retraining myself to write everything down: all appointments and commitments go in to my calendar, I’m setting up a TBD list on my phone so I always have it with me, and I’m starting to document my universe, something I’d never imagined needing to do for myself. When your brain isn’t big enough to hold everything, it’s time
to invest in external storage.
For those of you considering embarking upon writing a series, I recommend you set up your infrastructure first. Yes, do your plot outlines and your character worksheets, but realize that you may need to keep track of changes to your character in those worksheets. You might need maps, a timeline, a glossary of terms unique to your series. I need a searchable list of magic words and incantations so that I don’t have to keep flipping back through my first novel and the early pages of the sequel to find them. I also need a bestiary as I keep adding magical races. And I need to start tracking the interaction between mythology and the history/magic system of my universe.
Because, if it’s good, it gets weird, FAST.
Those of you who’ve actually written sequels or series: how do you track everything? What works for you? How do you keep your head from exploding? Please share!
Thanks, all, and happy writing.