January 19, 2011

Now I know why I do it...

I just finished reading Shadowfever by KMM. If you know her, you know her, if you don't, doesn't really matter. Her last book of this series helped me today and I'll tell you why.

I know that my story ideas tend to come in epic formats. When I decided to take the character I created for a role playing game and give her a story, it turned into 300k words. Yep. That's how long it took to tell Tiva's story and I skimmed over her childhood big time. It was completely finished before I decided to send it out for submissions. Sure, I made changes along the way. Went back to the beginning when I was in the middle or near the end because something happened and I needed to connect it. Nothing major, but still, without finishing the last book I could have never made the changes to the first.

When Lucky came into my life she originally wanted seven books. Lucky Seven. Get it? Well, she's nuts. I had a shallow outlined for five but just couldn't make the plot stretch out that long without annoying myself, so I knew readers would hate it too. But the same thing happened. After spending so much time with Lucky and Kenji, they became very complex and some of it needed to be addressed earlier. By the time book three was finished, I noticed gaps. Missing information, too much information, repeats and complete messes that needed to be fixed. I fixed them, but again, only after finishing the last book because that's when I had ALL the information I needed to tell their story.

Shadowfever is book five in this particular series. I enjoyed it. It answered most of what I wanted to know about the characters, it had it's HEA ending everyone wanted, and it left me satisfied. The problem I saw was that the whole series could have been SO much better. In this last book she did so much telling and info dumping. So much of the MC's memories from the past, dreams, things she didn't realize, etc. were all spewed into the last book. Had that information been sprinkled throughout the entire series, the impact would have been a bigger payoff. SO BIG.

It makes me curious. Is she a plotter or a pantser? If she plotted it to happen this way, I guess that's how she wanted it, but some of it seemed forced. Shove down my throat so I can fully understand the end when I reach the end kinda information. If she pantser-erd her way through books, I totally understand.

Sometimes characters surprise you. You invest your time, energy, mind and heart into them to make them real and in a sense they do become real. They occupy you, haunt you, whisper to you when you're watching a TV show and tell you they can totally do that or want to do that or wish they could do that. They make you view the world as they do, for a time. Make you think like they do. They alter your reality and suck you in to their mind, their heart.

So if you're a pantser, and all this awesome information is revealed by your character at the END of the series...(something you SHOULD know all along) how do you--the author--make it work?

Me. I wait. Well, I've wait so far. All of my stories have been complete and completely worked through beginning all the way to end to make sure it works. We all know outlines can change. We all know characters don't always let you do what you need to do for the plot. But, it's time consuming writing three 100K books. It's worse when you finish that first one, want to submit it to get the ball rolling, but know you can't because you didn't finish the whole story.

But now I understand WHY I do it. I understand that my head works in an epic fashion, that my characters take on their own personalities and lives and don't always share the juicy bits with me in the beginning. Like any relationships, my characters need to trust me and tell me things when they're ready. However, as a writer, you sometimes have to give a little insight to keep the reader interested and invested in the character.

So what's the problem? Well, this new idea I have has epic written all over it. Super epic even. It's also the first time I've written a stand alone book with potential for a series. It will follow the more traditional series type in the romance world. Two different MC's for each book.

I have no idea where it will go. I have no clue what these characters want. But I know that they will all be connected, fluid, one large story centered around a small group of people. Three books are already doable with the characters I have fleshed out in the first, but the potential is outstanding.

I'm curious how series writers deal with this. What happens when something in book three or four has a connection to book one but you didn't write about it in book one? Something that is obvious or essential to the character, something we should already know. How do you tell the readers the news without it being forced or seemingly placed there just for continuity? I would love to hear thoughts on that.


Sarah Westill said...

Well, I try to bring it out as naturally as possible. In conversation or with an event that reminds the character of the situation/event from books past. Everything has a trigger, good memories or bad, so what would bring those memories out naturally in your character? Or, if its an important event, what are the similarity's to the present events that make it relevant? Back-story is a tricky beast, I tell you... Great post, Jenn!

LoriMarie LaSpada said...

I remind my reader about the scene in the first book which brought the idea to my attention. I use my characters to look back and remember the scene for the readers.

Jenn Nixon said...

Great insight Elaina & LoriMarie thanks for the tips! Much appreciated!

vikkibakus said...

Jenn, for starters, you possess an epic personality! In many ways, you have demonstrated the tenderness and integrity toward your characters. Isn't that what we all wan, characters included?Even if we have to wait. Our characters are patient so they can be shown fully, truthfully and honestly.
I have no insight for you and your journey into a stand-alone with epic potential except to say, with all of my heart-you will find a way.
Great post, Jenn :)