Nalini Singh wrote a very interesting article on the structure of a series. In my head – brace yourselves, an author is gonna authorsplain to you how to read her books – the Kate series is one very long book with three parts. It breaks down like this:
Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds – Kate the Merc.
Magic Slays, Magic Rises, and Magic Breaks – Kate the Consort.
Magic Shifts, Magic Verb I and Magic Verb II – Kate the Sharrim.
It wasn’t planned that way, but it ended up that way kind of naturally and by Magic Rises I was aware of the pattern. The first book in each part is setting the stage, so it’s probably less emotionally dire. Then the second book ramps up tension and the third/fourth finally resolves it. 🙂 It’s easier for me to think about the series in those terms.
You mentioned in your 5/26 blog needing to plan out the plot for your next book step by step. I’ve been really intrigued by what you are doing with Clean Sweep and Sweep in Peace–how clearly you must have to know where you are going from start to finish when you can’t go back and make changes. John Fowles wrote in the The French Lieutenant’s Woman about that moment in a novel when the characters take over, refusing to do what the author wants them to and making their own choices. I know you have more than enough writing to do that is more time-critical, but if you ever have a moment I’d love to hear if that ever happens to you and if you find yourself in tension with your characters when you’re writing a serial.
That never happens to me. This is not a democracy. Gordon and I are ruthless dictators, and we are always keenly aware that the characters aren’t really separate entities but simply the products of our imagination. I know that some people state that their characters rule their narrative and they are only helplessly recording, but I suspect it’s a shorthand for describing the creative process veering away from the prepared outline.
It is an interesting phenomenon and I think it happens because we change. Every day you are slightly different from the person you were yesterday and the one you will be tomorrow. You are affected by new unique events. What may seem like a good outline one day may appear to be stupid the next. Some people describe that as characters fighting against them. I view it more as a conflict between what the story should feel like and what it feels like now. Despite being logical, I operate mostly on emotion when I engage with books, our own and others’. My emotions change from day to day, sometimes drastically from hour to hour. Every day when you sit down to write, you run the risk that you mind will become fascinated by a different aspect of the story and sometimes, when you are struggling with the narrative, and suddenly your brain presents a different route to get where you are going, it feels like true, genuine inspiration.
For example, Jeaniene Frost and I were chatting about the challenge of taking the side characters and making them into main characters, and I mentioned Derek as an example. Derek is a great side character, but he felt a little flat to me. He is so straight forward that a novel with him as a narrator wouldn’t be very interesting. Then, a few hours later, I was tired and bored waiting for Gordon to get home, so I picked a movie on Amazon Prime, mostly because I didn’t have to wait for it. It was a badly written movie and I quit it thirty minutes in, but at some point a man describes an assassin zeroing in on someone almost as if he could smell they were still alive.
In that moment, I got Derek’s voice in my head. I will sketch a short with him if I get a moment later, so you could see what I meant. Was it inspiration from a movie? Was it because I subconsciously tried to work through the thorny problem of making Derek a main character? I don’t know and honestly it kind of doesn’t matter.
So to answer your question, we knew how Sweep in Peace would end. That’s why there is foreshadowing in the first few chapters. Actually there is so much foreshadowing that I felt we were beating people over the head with it. But the precise course of getting there was dictated by largely day to day brain storming and, to a lesser extent, by reader comments. If the majority of readers was confused to something, we knew we needed to clarify it within the next scene or two. The characters – as separate entities capable of making their own choices – had very little to do with it.
This may make it sound as if I am hyper-critical of people who “let their characters take the wheel” as one writer put it to me. I am not. The only thing that matters is the final product, the narrative. If it helps the writer to imagine their characters as separate entities capable of making their own choices, then by all means, the writer should let the characters take the wheel. In fiction, there is only one rule: if it works, do it.