Archive | July, 2017

The Prequel or Parallel Series Or; On the Importance of keeping notes

7 Jul

When I started writing this, I was thinking mostly my own experience in writing the Prequel that is Witchslayer’s Scion, but I realized that this advice can be used for supplemental novellas or shorts, and isn’t limited just to prequels. So for starters, let’s start with some definitions:

Prequels: Events-wise most of the story predates a work that comes out first – like the Magician’s Apprentice in the Narnia series, which chronologically came out book 6 but is book 1 in the sequence, or the Dunk and Egg novellas, set in the Song of Ice and Fire Universe about a century prior to the main books. This is not about a flashback, or about stories like ‘Til We Have Faces when the narrator is telling an event that happened, although a framing device can be used, such as in The Hobbit movies.

Technically, the main series isn’t picked up yet, but in terms of what order I wrote them, Witchslayer’s Scion is a prequel.

Parallel Series: A parallel series would be novels that take place within the same universe, and may or may not have influence on each other. I tend to think of things like Agents of Shield as they reflect on the larger Marvel Movie Universe.

I could go on and on – but these are similar ideas I’m just lightly going to mention here.

Interbetwequels are essentially things like The Lion King 1 ½ that focuses on different characters, or told from another perspective, like Grey by E. L. James.

Shared Universes would be something where both authors agree and work on different stories, such as the Malazan Books worked on by both Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont.

Finally, Extended Universes would be stuff like supplemental Star Wars novels that expand on an established story – which in this case is a terrible example due to new movies tearing down something like 20+ years of books.

I haven’t done any of the last three, but I suppose taking notes would be helpful in all of these cases to help you be consistent later – you never know where your creative process will take you, and while you might think to yourself, “Why would I want to go back and revisit X?” keeping notes helps you quickly relearn something when you might have shifted your focus to another project. Because the publishing process takes forever, it might be prudent for you to be working on other projects and for you to be able to get back into the groove quickly.

Also for the sake of this post, I’m speaking mostly about series with an epic scope, as opposed to a more intimate character-driven series. In other words, one can dive into the extended mythology of say, Middle Earth, but reading The Children of Hurin isn’t essential to enjoying The Lord of the Rings. I mostly think about it as another means of exploring the world you’ve created.

I’ve spoken on writing the Uber Series before, but there’s a difference writing a sequel as compared to a prequel. On the surface, they’re quite similar; you’ve established rules, and most likely, characters and settings. Unlike the sequel, you already have more than a vague idea where the characters need to end up. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at my first attempt in revisiting a series, but going back in time and focusing on a very different cast. My MCs in the main series are more or less traditionally heroic. My MC in Witchslayer’s Scion is more of a traditional anti-hero.

I started writing it for myself to flesh out a character’s backstory, and decided to keep going. It’s one thing to have a bunch of point-form information and characters to reference events that happened in story, it was another thing to imagine someone setting out from home and to really delve into his mindset and what it must have been like to be in those situations. I knew who certain characters had to become – but it made me think about similar themes as they were handled by a different cast, as well as made me as an author ask questions. Moreover, I got to explore part of the world where I didn’t get to spend as much time in the main series, so I had a chance to flesh it out. It feels like it belongs and is consistent in tone, but is different enough where I feel that it’s relevant enough to the series overall.

For my writing process, details are key to getting into a character’s mindset. It’s one thing to say “He was involved in battle X.” But it was another thing to plunk him in as a conscripted man who didn’t want to be there, and watch him essentially flee the first chance he got. I quickly established that, being in a tropical area, they dressed much more differently than the colder countries in the north, and watched the MC flounder once he lost the home team advantage. But, moving away from the character, I found while I had established general rules, I had to now be more specific. He was from the north and everyone had practical clothing – especially in winter months – but moving to a more tropical area, there could be way more differences between the way the classes dressed. I referred to the Nation we spend the most time in as an empire – so it was made up of different kingdoms. How long were certain areas in the Empire, and how did they interact with one another? For me, it was especially fun to delve into an area that interested me but I couldn’t focus on, if only because the other series established the world and had a big plot. In a way, I told what felt like a smaller story and I felt like I could let the prose breathe a little more, if only because I didn’t feel that I had to get. Every. Detail. Established. And, when I went back and did subsequent rewrites, I was able to make it so both books could start as an entryway – that it didn’t matter where the reader started.

So for me, it was a positive experience that helped me revisit a story I’d been working on for a while, and examine the same old big sandbox with a different focus. Obviously, you can revisit any character or event – I’ve got enough notes where I could start following someone else with the same established rules – that I could spend my entire time only writing on this series.

Don’t think I want to, as I tend to have more ideas than time. But, if you’re considering the idea, here’s some seemingly simple questions to ask yourself:

Who do these characters become? What effect does this event have on the other story?

Does this story affect how the readers may interpret other established material?

Personally, I didn’t think we really needed to know what happened in Rogue One. Now, there’s no shame in writing something that never sees the light of day, but serves as information for you, writer, to make the main story better.

How is this story different?Or is it?

I was joking with another writer at Keycon that I could redo the same plot over and over again and probably be successful. I think it’s fun to revisit the same world, but at the same time, I don’t want to only be known as a one trick pony. Readers like revisiting the same world if they’re a fan, and I also think there’s a fine line of giving the audience what they want and pandering. But then the question becomes: When am I deviating too much from the original idea – and when am I simply rehashing what I’ve already done?

And as a final point: If the entire story makes what follows or just followed moot, the audience has a right to be a wee bit upset. Keep this in mind when writing your sequels, as well.

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If you end your movie saving the kid as the climax… maybe let’s not kill the kid offscreen in the next story…

 

Well, I don’t know if I touched on everything, but I have been meandering through a bunch of topics and I figured I should hurry up and post this one. I’m trying to get myself to When Words Collide next month; I had the time banked and I have a ticket, but I have to deal with work and someone from payroll who can’t do math. Huzzah~

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