2nd Book Problems

I know. My novel is, as of yet, unpublished. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start studying up for the future and the problems I hope to conquer next!

I write fantasy. If you read fantasy novels, you’ve probably noticed a trend: books rarely stand alone (unlike the cheese). That doesn’t mean the story isn’t self-contained, but often, there are overlaying archs that are worked towards, independently of the novel’s internal story arch.

There are a lot of things to think about before starting your second book. If you’d like to avoid 2nd book problems, there’s only way way to do that.

Refuse to write them!

But for the rest of us, there are some questions we need to ask.

When is too soon to start plotting your sequel?

Before you get started?

Some say that no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy– or at least that plans and outlines should be seen more as guidelines than rules.

Get A General Idea First?

Some say it never hurts to know where you’re starting and where you’re hoping to end up.

Pantsers!

Some like to follow the story and see where it goes, flying by the seat of their pants.

Should You Change Point-Of-View?

In Romance series, it’s often expected. You typically branch off and pair off all the friends of all the brides and grooms.

It can be done well. Personally, I’d suggest:

  • If your first book was single POV, to add no more than two new ones.
  • No matter your POV (or POVs), you need to grant some continuity. Either:
    • keep at least one main character.
    • have the new main characters as the tertiary characters from the first.
    • have the new main characters as ancestors/descendants of the main characters from the first.

How Much To Reintroduce!

You want new readers to know enough about what’s going on, old readers to be tactfully reminded of what happened in the previous book(s), and readers speeding through the series to not get bored!

It’s a tough tightrope to walk!

As always, with background info, an eyedropper is better than a dump truck.

Techniques to try:

  • Flashbacks to a previous book
  • Prologue or scenes replayed — from a new character’s point-of-view

Giving too much information in the beginning of a story is a standard error. Says Jo Lindsay Walton:

Bad books are often not a bad read–if you start in the middle, [after all that exposition]! – Jo Lindsay Walton

Problems With Cannon!

When you’re writing a sequel–especially one you’d never expected to write, the story may take you in new directions, where you find yourself painted into a corner.

You may have missed the opportunity to hint at someone turning into the bad guy, the new story arch that should have been underlying the first one, or given characters traits that are now plot-stumbling blocks.

But! You can also find the limitations help give the book direction you might have otherwise floundered at.

When To Start Thinking About Series Themed Titles!

The time to think about series titles is right about the time you’re ready to publish book one, if you have ANY notion of ever playing in that same world again. Don’t worry about it before you have a final title for the novel!

And remember. The series name itself must be STRONG.

A Song of Ice and Fire, while whimsical and a hint at later plot developments, never caught on as strongly as Game of Thrones

The title names can be themed, alliterative, story/plot derived, etc. Whatever you (or the publisher) thinks will sell.

What To Do When You’d Never Intended A Sequel But Reader Demand Is Strong!?

Brainstorm when you’re writing your novels where else you can go. Leave threads open! Life isn’t nice and neat, you shouldn’t have everything wrapped up with a bow when the reader hits: “THE END.”

  • Are there things the main character wanted or needed to do next?
  • Are there secondary characters who deserve their own book?
  • Would a prequel novel make sense?
  • Would a generation-skip-ahead novel make sense?

What Is The Hardest Part of Book Two?

Hands down: making the story’s plot and emotional arch strong enough to stand alone.

You still need an inciting incident.

You still need struggles and nearly un-surmountable odds.

You still need that false victory.

And that crushing blow, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, that makes the main character (and the reader) feel that hope might be lost.

And you still need that climax – that restores hope, gives a sense of accomplishment.

Plus–even if there’s another sequel coming–you need a denouement. The falling action that grants the character time to take a deep breath and reassess and make plans.


If you’re working on that sequel – best of luck. If you’re dreaming about the day when it’s your turn? The best way to make that happen is to finish book one!

 

These notes are taken from the titular panel. The panelists were Annie Bellet, Jo Lindsay Walton, Katri Alatals, and Laura Lam. The panel was moderated by NS Dolkart.
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Vlog: 2nd Book Problems

There are a lot of things to think about before starting your second book. If you’d like to avoid 2nd book problems, there’s only one way to do that.

Refuse to write them!

But for the rest of us, there are some questions we need to ask.

Creating Worlds

Built Upon The Shoulders Of Giants

These notes are taken from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were George RR Martin, Jeffrey A Carver, and Alex Acks. The moderator was Jon Oliver.

Where should one start: with the world or the characters?

Tolkien created his world first, George RR Martin and the rest of the panelists created their characters first.

As with so much in writing, neither way is better, just whatever works for the story you’re working on now.

An Approach to Creating a Magic System

Martin prefers his magic to be truly super natural–not fake-science with a formula. Magic that trifles with forces beyond this world. Unknowable. Uncontrollable. With the chaos-like the feel of elder gods.

In Tolkien’s stories, Gandalf rarely resorted to true magic.

If people in a magical world try to codify their magic, doesn’t mean that they’re right. They might fail, or at least miss some stuff.

When Writing Science Fiction, How Close To Magic Can Your Science Get?

We can bend the rules of physics – but keep it moderately plausible for scientists. After all, what are ‘hyperspace’ and ‘wormholes’ if not science-fiction’s method of time travel? Making time stand still while we travel generations away.

Remember, the concept of plate tectonics was just discovered 50 years ago.

Just because there’s a capability out there that we don’t know if we CAN do, doesn’t mean we know that we CAN’T figure it out eventually!

What Makes A World Stand Out To A Publisher?

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I actually got to ask this question myself! The panel description had promised this, but as you see, they clearly hadn’t addressed it yet!

Publisher Jon Oliver chimed in that there are two things that you want to avoid:

  1. Don’t make your world too complex
  2. Don’t make your world too simple

Most fantasies have a pseudo-medieval European feel. It’s been done! Try something new.

Some stories are too excited about telling you all the information about the world, that they neglect the characters and plot.

Martin says, “make it your own.” If you’re writing something based on historical places, just make a historical fantasy. When inventing a world, “turn it up to 11, and do a left twist!”

It’s hard to figure out, the advice sounds basically like: “how do you win a race? Run Faster!” But if you can figure it out, it’s magical.

The Importance of Consistency

It doesn’t have to be consistent with reality, but it must be internally consistent. Remembering what you wrote earlier can be a challenge.

George RR Martin finds it difficult.

  • He’s “blundered into people who help.” The people who run the Westeros wiki have been very helpful. The site is un-vetted by him, but usually right.
  • He has notes, textbooks, and a DOS computer with search/replace capability
  • Most of his world building is in his head – thanks to a trick or curse of memory he remembers “[his] fake world far better than the real world.”

Another method of keeping track of everything that many authors, including Jeffrey Carver, uses is:

  • A spreadsheet with all names, places, and their descriptions

How Do You Convey World and Plot Building Information In A Sequel?

An info dump is only an info dump if the reader doesn’t care about it. Interweave it with the story–maybe tell it from a new character’s point of view–and you can make it interesting again.

Show what the characters do, and then filter in the world building as you need it.

As the writer, you need to know more than the reader about your world. If you must include everything, you can add appendices or footnotes. Using info HINTS, instead of info dumps, is a better idea, you don’t have to share everything with the reader.

Do Characters Mess With Your Plot?

The final question on the panel was more of a back-and-forth than summarizable tips, with other authors quoted. But I thought you might enjoy the conversation.

Martin said, yeah, they can be bossy. Sometimes they’re wrong. But usually, he just goes with it.

Carver mentioned that Jane Yolen when writing a story, found out part way through the novel that the character was gay.

Connie Willis is quoted as saying, “If my characters get uppity, I kill them!”

To which Alex Acks agreed, it’s true, “characters can be assholes.”

Then George RR Martin replied, “killing your characters? How horrible!”

And with that, my notes for this panel are done.

Vlog: Creating Worlds

Built Upon The Shoulders Of Giants

These notes are taken from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were George RR Martin, Jeffrey A Carver, and Alex Acks. The moderator was Jon Oliver.

Today, I’ll be sharing tips gathered from the titular panel on World Building. With quotes from George RR Martin and the rest of the panelists! Please enjoy!

Creating Rules of Enchantment

Creating Rules Of Enchantment

Where Does Magical World Building Begin?

It can start with the characters, the world, or the magic.

  • Some begin with the characters, and then look around for their stage–their world.
  • Some begin with a world and then look at magic to make it run and determine what sort of people would fill a world that looks like theirs.
  • Some begin with magic and look at how that would influence the world and the people in it.

Ways To Think About Magic

  • Magic can be a “character”, manipulating and interacting with the world and people in it.
  • Magic can be mystic, inexplicable, special, and outside the scope of day-to-day life
  • Magic can exist in the cracks of the world building, holding it together.
  • Magic can be straightforward and logical, but be aware that can make it more like technology by any-other-name. A fireball is just a gun.

Do You Need Rules For Magic?

  • Some people like to incorporate their magic organically, following intuition and “what feels right’
  • Some people follow the magic to all its logical conclusions, needing to know the metaphysics behind it.
  • Some people write unlimited magic – but then you have to consider how that effects the world and day-to-day environment.
  • Some people write limited magic
    • Limited by rules and power flow and physics.
    • Or limited by mystic forces and the degree to which the magic interacts with the world the story is in.
  • No matter which way you build your world, your magic needs to be consistent.

Why Do We Write Magic?

  • The setting inspires magic
  • We love believing 3 impossible things before breakfast
  • It makes the hair stand up on the back of our necks
  • It’s fun
  • You can make the spirits come when you call, when you’re the one writing it.

This post was derived from notes from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were Mark Tompkins, Jo Walton, Kari Sperring, Greer Gilman, and moderated by T. Thorn Coyle.


Is your world magical?