Friday, May 4, 2012

About Series and Standalones


I sold DUALED as a standalone. I went through revisions and edits never thinking otherwise. So when my publisher came to me about writing a sequel, it was both heady (they want more! yes!) and grounding (the thought of letting down my publisher and future readers of DUALED absolutely terrifies me).

As a reader, the question of whether I prefer a standalone or series is easy. If a book is good, I’ll always want more. Unlike junk food, gorging on a great read will never leave you feeling guilty. But when a book is clearly reaching for more when there simply isn’t more…well, I’m not merely unsatisfied, I’m disappointed. In all honesty, I’ll probably feel a bit annoyed, too, as though I’ve been ripped off or fooled in some way. And I’ll end up wishing I had those hours back.

As a writer, approaching the process for a series is very different than approaching one for a standalone. All kinds of things have to be considered: mini-arcs within each book; a grander arc that encompasses the whole series; the timing of cliffhangers; overall pacing; resolving plots while still maintaining tension. Staying true to your world and your characters. Raising the stakes. To include enough backstory that a reader can still understand what’s going on if they haven’t read the previous book, yet not too much that you’re boring the crap out of said reader if they have.

All of these points come down to ensuring ONE thing: that each book in a series is strong enough to stand on it own. Just as you can’t end Book One on a huge cliffhanger in hopes a reader will pick up Book Two, you also can’t write Book Two to be little more than a bridge to Book Three, etc. It goes the other way, as well—just as some series are stretched too thin, sometimes there’s simply too much story to fit into a single book. And if you’re working with word count constraints (which a lot of debut authors feel pressured to do, no matter how soft these constraints might be), it can be hard to properly flesh out an ensemble cast of characters and super complicated, winding plotlines.

As it is, I’m finding that writing a sequel isn’t necessarily harder than writing a standalone. In some ways, it might even be easier—the backbones of your world and characters are already there. It’s just…different. You’re still chipping away to get to the good stuff, but you might have to use another set of tools, that’s all.
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Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, BC, before graduating from the University of British Columbia with a BA in English Literature. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and two children, where she writes to either movies on a loop or music turned up way too loud (and sometimes both at the same time). She is represented by The Chudney Agency and her debut novel DUALED will be released by Random House in February 2013, and a sequel in February 2014. Find her at her blog or follow her on twitter!

8 comments:

  1. Congrats on Book 2! That's wonderful. Writing a follow up book would be a huge and thrilling challenge. Nice to hear your insights on it.

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  2. Very inciteful post! I wrote my first book as a stand alone, but always knew that the characters had more to say if the publishing house was interested...which they were, thankfully. Still the pressure is almost more intense this time around because as you said, the second book needs to be just as strong as the first, filling you in on backstory without bonking you on the head with it. Different tools are needed for sure.

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  3. Thanks Karen and Amy! Writing book 2 IS a challenge, but I'm really fortunate that I'm even getting the chance. And I'm definitely tackling it from a different perspective than book 1!

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  4. Sequels scare me more than clowns. Good luck writing that baby, Elsie.

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  5. Huge congrats on your sequel, Elsie! I'll be cheering you all the way with it (and I bet it's AWESOME)!

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  6. Thanks, April and Emma! Seriously, if I don't think about it too much, everything seems perfectly reasonable. Living in a state of denial is surprisingly not that hard :)

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  7. I'm also writing a Book 2, Elsie. I'm using it to improve on all the things I wish I'd done better in Book 1!

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  8. Claire, this whole book 2 thing helps remind me how writing is always a learning process. So, yes, me too!

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