Friday, October 07, 2011
Technical Topic -- You're Out of Order
"When it comes to publishing a series, can I start somewhere in the middle and fill in the blanks as I go?"
Well, of course you can.
People do weirder things than that every day of the week.
You can start anywhere in the timeline and slip the next book in before or after, as you please. This is what I do.
I'm headed into planning the sixth book, the PAX STORY, and it'll hit about midway through the series, timewise.
If I were giving advice, I'd say:
-- Every story should be standalone.
This doesn't just mean each story has a full story arc and that you've shovelled in the needed backstory.
It means your twelve-year-old minor character doesn't telegraph what he's going to be at twenty.
You suppress foreknowledge. Even though you know a character will die six years after the close of the book, you don't write her as 'doomed'. In this book, she's not.
Certainly, leave Easter Eggs for your insiders. That's part of the fun. But these references have to be invisible to the novice reader.
-- Be stingy with backstory
Well, one is always stingy with backstory.
But in a discontinuous series it's especially wise to avoid handing out all the particulars of, 'what has gone before'. You may want to write something cool ten years in the past. Something that hasn't occurred to you yet.
Give yourself room to maneuver. The more you've tacked down the past, the more you limit what you can do there.
-- Every book is trapped in its own moment of time.
We deal with this all the time when writing historicals.
We know the French Revolution turned out badly. Folks in 1789 didn't. They had high hopes. When we write what characters thought and did, we can't let our knowledge of future events creep in.
-- Imagine the entire lifetime of the characters.
When you write your fifty-year-old man, try to image him as a twenty-year-old and a twelve-year-old. You may someday need him in that capacity. You want to make him a useful character, doing interesting things at all ages of his life.
I find it easier to imagine forward than to imagine back, as it were. Easier to see the old man who grows from the young dude than pulling the young dude out of that old man.
-- Leave big empty patches in everybody's life.
When we write chronologically, we're free to build any future. ("Always in motion is the Future.") We are so powerful and unconstrained.
When we set a story in our fictional world's 'what has been', the action must be consistent with and lead to what comes later. Our feet are all tangled up.
Some of it we can avoid somewhat.
I mentioned above that we don't get specific with backstory. Being vague about our character's past is particularly important. We try not to just randomly predetermine our character's life left, right, and center.
So we might be specific about stuff that won't affect anybody's action but coy when we assign life events that do constrain. We'd say, 'he was promoted to lieutenant in 1809,' rather than 'he fought at the battle of Corunna'. That way we don't sit down to write a scene set in Paris in 1809 and suddenly notice, (by way of those charts we're keeping -- see below,) that somebody we need is off fighting in Spain.
And we leave some years in the chronology just as empty as we can. We don't say what anybody's doing. Those years are vacant lots where we can build something.
From the first chapter you set down in electrons, make notes. Make charts, year by year and even month by month over the whole period covered by your books.
What's going on in the world? Where is everybody? What have they got themselves up to?
If you don't write this down, you are not only going to get stuff wrong and feel like an idiot, when somebody points it out to you,
you're going to get cross-eyed with looking things up when you have three or four books out.