1. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Plot Bonsai

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ManOrAstroMan, May 8, 2012.

    Hey, everyone. I'm working on my first novel, an urban fantasy/mystery set in Seattle. I've got the basics pretty much worked out. I know who my characters are, I've got the magical details all ironed out, and I know who dunnit, and how it was dun. I've tried planning out each individual scene, to give myself a roadmap of where to go, but found that my best stuff has been coming from just closing my eyes and typing as the thoughts come.
    I'd intended the story to be primarily a mystery, set in a fantastical world: A man is murdered, my character finds out who, justice is served, and then we have cake. That much hasn't changed. But every time I start to work out the reasons WHY my killer killed, it keeps turning into this much larger, more epic thing with sinister overtones which would change the entire tone of the story and the planned series. I'd always intended for this series to start off with a couple of simple investigations which lead on to something bigger, badder and more world-shaking.
    Here's my question: Should I just roll with it, creating this elaborate plot for what was intended to be an introduction into this world/series? Or should I smack my characters around and tell them to straighten up and follow the program?
    I guess I'm scared that if I start with the dial set so high, I'll create a precedent for myself, and have to go bigger and bigger with each story.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Forget series. Every book must stand on its own. Write only enough about your world in your novel -- in each novel -- as is necessary for the story.

    Not only should you not be setting up for sequels, if you DO write a sequel, you have to introduce any background all over again, and do so in a way that won't bore the beans out of someone who DOES read both novels.

    Keeping it minimal carries its own bonus. Anyone who DOES read both (all?) books in the series will build a richer view of that world than anyone reading only one of the novels. NEVER assume they will be read in sequence!

    Even if it's a linear story arc, each novel must stand alone. The reader has to be given enough information to understand where the story stands at the opening, but don't dump excess details on the reader. Give them the incentive to seek out the earlier novel. Give them enough so they don't feel they hav e to set the novel aside until they read the prequel, but not so mush that when they DO read the first book, they feel they could have skipped it.

    Sound complicated? It is. And it's only one reason to not think of a series when you are trying to write and sell your first novel. The other is that publishers don't want to get locked into a series when considering a new writer, nor do they want your book to lead readers to the sequels published by someone else. If it smells like a series, that makes it a poorer risk even than a new writer already is.
     
  3. Sir Gosling
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    Sir Gosling New Member

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    That all depends on who your intended audience is. If you're writing for children, you may want to stick with the simpler plan.

    If you're writing for a more mature audience, however, I'd probably go bigger. What you described before ("A man is murdered, my character finds out who, justice is served, and then we have cake.") sounded too simplistic to engage even a Young Adult audience.

    You want to write a story that's worth the reader's time. I'm actually a fan of fantasy (all subtypes) and have read my fair share of murder tales. If I were a reader browsing the shelves for something new, what you described would not catch my interest at all. There are a lot of urban fantasies out there and a ton of murder mysteries. Those complexities (the "sinister overtones" or increasing richness of the world you built) that came to you as you wrote are probably what's going to set your story apart. That's what made it sound interesting and worth reading. Go for it, man.
     
  4. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    There are many times that an intended side story, sequel, or prequel ends up being written before the main one. If you feel you have to write it in order to write the other story, you're probably wrong. But if it turns out to be more interesting than the main story, run with it! I have a series that takes place a few years after the story I originally planned for this story, and the protagonist of the original story is a minor antagonist in the stories I've written. (She's an exiled princess with epic magical powers who helps her father retake their kingdom, and the main characters of the later story are supernatural monsters living in the capital city. She'd kill them if she found them, but mostly they manage to hide from her.)
     
  5. bakalove
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    bakalove Member

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    I dont get why your so against series i do understand that the books should be able to stand alone but to the point where if you read book 5 of a series that you'd be fine to read book 2 then 3 then 1 in that order and completely understand it doesnt make sense. Its like if i go buy the hunger games and read them backwards people dont do that if i read the third hunger games i would not understand whats going on. If its a series it should be read in order. I do believe that book one should be able to stand up on its own without another sequel i have learned that from you and i understand why it should be like that. But if you write the first book and your offered to write a sequel the sequel shouldn't have to explain past events. Or explain details that the author assumes the reader should know. But you are right "if it smells like a series" it wont be easy to get it published which is why its valuable to tell people to make the first book work without a cliff hanger write the first book with an ending but leave it open, not to the point where it would need a continuation but where the book could go into a series without being clunky.
     
  6. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not everyone reads a series in order. Sometimes it's difficult to do that, too. In the foreign publications of one of my favourite series (Haruki Murakami's Trilogy of the Rat) the first two books are difficult to find because only a limited number were printed in other languages. There was also a fourth book published called Dance, Dance, Dance (which is even more popular than the final book in the trilogy despite being more accessible than it's predecessors) that continues on where the trilogy left off but despite holes in the text many of these people don't even realise that it is a continuation.

    Sometimes books go years without a sequel coming out and not everyone goes back to re-read the first book before they pick up the next (or, like the above, the reader may not even realise they're reading a sequel). Even if they have read it you can't expect the reader to remember every little detail that has happened. It's not necessary to go back and explain everything - just what is relevant to the second story. It's like when people write a standalone book and something in the character's past, prior to the book's beginning, is relevant to the story: you have to somehow give a hint about their back-story, right? But you don't need to give the reader their entire life story. In a way the first book is the second book's "back-story".
     
  7. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    This is simply not true. The FIRST book should stand on it's own yes, but any subsequent sequels can follow on as part of a larger plot. So that means plot points going unresolved across books, cliffhangers, recurring characters etc. Of course past events should be referenced, but if a reader needs a recap of the last books entire plot, and can't keep track of plot points that aren't resolved in a single book....well, that simply not the type of people I'm writing for personally.

    Now whether a new author should be writing series' is a different question, but again if that's what they want to do they should do it. So long as they're not deluded that they can debut with a 10 part fantasy epic a get picked up by a publisher there's no reason why they can't write series' as long as they like. Which is why I'm planning to get some stand alone novels published before I try getting my 10 part fantasy series published.
     
  8. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I'm not very familiar with this sort of genre, but I would say, based on my reading of Larsson's texts is that is exactly what he does. There is the major "crime" that involves solving a murder that happened fifty some off years prior, but then there is also a sub story about Blomkvist (one of the MC) and trying to bury this terrible CEO Wernstrom (sp?) There is also another plot entirely and the three sort of converge somewhere near the end. The following two books in the series directly play off of one another and are very different from the first.

    I'd go with it and get the first one written, then see about the next two. I think we think about the future far too much.
     
  9. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I can understand your meaning here, I think. And I sort of agree. I do plan on doing this as a series, if for no other reason than the characters have several stories they want me to write down. But I completely understand the concept of Each Book Shall Stand On Its Own, and I know that this is especially true for the first book of a series.
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first example that comes to mind. It has its own storyline, with a clear ending--but you KNOW there's more stories to tell with these characters and this world. If JK Rowling had stopped after that first book, the world would have been bummed, but it wouldn't have been left wondering, "Well, how does it end?" Many, if not most, mystery novels are series. Most of them don't need to be read in a specific order, as the crime which catalyzes the story is solved by the end. I know that this first story is going to come to an end, even if what happened has future consequences, and I have an aversion to books having cliffhanger endings.

    That being said, I think that sort of helps me make up my mind. I'm going to need to reexamine things, try and find a simpler, or at least more immediate, motive for my murder, and keep the Big Conspiracy on the back burner.
     
  10. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    Some series I've read simply have a one-page prologue that recaps the plot so far. If you remember it, it's easy enough to skip. If not (and it may not be stupidity or anything - what if you read books 1 and 2 five years ago?) then you can summarise the plot of most stories pretty quickly.

    Also, most books in a series have the main plot being resolved by the end of the book.
     

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