Booking Through Thursday: One or Many?

Vampira2468 asks:

Series or Stand-alone?

I know this question is about reading books, whether you prefer reading a series or a stand-alone novel, but since I’ve answered that before (somewhere… don’t quote me) with a resounding “Well… both….” I’m going to instead look at this today from a writer’s point of view.

Forgive me if my answer stays more or less the same. Do I prefer writing a stand-alone novel or a series? Well… both.

If you look at my “Works” page, you can see that my two main WIPs at the moment (though really, I’m letting the one wait in line as I finish the other) are a stand-alone (Daughter) and what I at least hope might have the meat to pull off a series someday (Jethro). Both of them are very different writing experiences. One is an epic-fantasy-adventure that’s somewhere between The Princess Bride and Anastasia (figure that one out) and the other is about a bunch of high school kids in a small town who have to face the fact that they all have unexplained powers. One is focused very closely around one main character and a few of her closest connections, while the other technically has a main character, but also has an ensemble cast list as long as my arm.

I cannot tell you which one is more fun to write.

I really can’t. And I’m not going to make any comments about it being like picking between two children (though really, it is) but what I will say is that both stories have their own challenges and benefits, and I love that. So let’s talk about those challenges and benefits… let’s call them bonuses, though, because that’s what they really feel like.

Writing a Stand-Alone Novel (One or Two Main Characters)

 Challenges:

  • Typically you only have one (or two) perspectives to work with, even if you’re working in third-person. Unless of course you’re working in third-person omniscient, but that’s not often the case. This can make it hard to show the audience something without letting your character see it, which is sometimes vital.
  • Your character also has to be strong enough to carry a full-length novel. There’s really no half-ways-ing on this. Either you have someone who feels like a real person and is exciting or relatable, or you don’t have anything. Really. Because if your character doesn’t hold up, nothing else will. There’s no room for it to.
  • This is your one shot. Everything you want to say in this story, has to be said in this book. It’s a little bit different with the internet now, because we have the opportunity to do ebook tie-ins and things like that, but it doesn’t change the fact that if there was something you wanted to happen in this story and it didn’t make it there, it will never be there. The end.

Benefits:

  • The story has a clear-cut ending. This may not be the case with a series, at least with an ensemble cast like I’m planning. The story could well go on forever in an ensemble piece, but with one character, it’s easier to see where to say goodbye. (Clarification: this does not make it easier to actually SAY goodbye!)
  • You get to really fall in love with your characters. Not saying you can’t do this in a bigger cast (and obviously you can if your series is all based around one character, but that doesn’t seem to be the way I work), but fictional characters are often enigmatic and untrusting, and it takes time to peel away their layers. You get to do this if most of your time is spent with only one or two of them.

Writing a Series (Ensemble Cast)

Challenges:

  • Think making one character strong enough to carry a book was difficult? Now you have to have half a dozen (or more!) characters and they each have to be different enough to feel like different people. No use having a lot of characters if no one can tell them apart.
  • You also have to be very, very careful that your characters don’t fall into archetypes. Or if they do, that they have something about them that really makes the archetype worth it. Make sure there’s a twist. If the character just really needs to be an archetype, make sure that they feel organic. Avoid clichés as best as you can.
  • You have to make sure that your ending lets everything be said. Again, this is a little different now that we can offer side novellas and what not, but if you have half a dozen important characters, you have to make sure they each get their due and that their storyline ends by the time you say “The End.” This may not be an easy thing to balance out.

Benefits:

  • So. Many. Voices. Really that’s what’s fun about an ensemble cast and the time a series will give you to feature them. You get to experiment with so many different characters and write in their distinct voices. You don’t get “stuck” with one or two characters.
  • Time. Really a big benefit of a series is that you have room and time to get to a lot of things. In my case, a lot of different characters with personal storylines that play into the bigger story arch. You can even end a book halfway through one character’s personal struggle… it will bring some back to read the next book, to see how it turned out.

So… sorry to turn a reading question into a lecture about writing… but really, I’m not. I wonder if anybody else can think of benefits and challenges to the two?

Music Monday: Somedays by Regina Spektor

“Somedays” by Regina Spektor

Background: I love Regina. I really, really do.

Favorite Line: “They’re so much stronger than the friends you try to keep/by your side.”

My song history: I found this when I was immersing myself in as much Regina Spektor as I could lay my ears on, and this is one that kept coming back to mind.

What drew me in: I love this idea that a day can work outside of you and against you. That some days “come and go like someone else’s days/They come and leave you behind someone else’s face/And it’s harsher than yours.” That last bit is SO key for me. Because you know it’s true… there are days when you say things and you react sharply to other people, and you know it’s not you, but you couldn’t stop yourself in the moment.

For my writing: This song is for my dear Savannah. She’s a character in Jethro that I know a lot of people won’t like. She’s gorgeous, untouchable, and she rules Jethro High with an iron will. But Savannah is also vulnerable. She’s been hiding behind the mask of perfection so long that when things start to get out of control she just about loses it, and she tries her best to make enemies of the very people that should have her back—she just can’t feel comfortable with the fact that they also know all her secrets.

A through… ahem…

So, the A-Z challenge didn’t work so well for me. I didn’t even quite make it halfway through the challenge, and then I stayed away from my blog to avoid my shame. We really do get silly about our blogs sometimes.

I’ve been up to my elbows in edits for Drollerie the past couple of weeks, and am likely to be there for some time. It’s pushed writing to the corner of my mind, but I’m trying to keep the story talking in my head. I’ve been working on the mythology behind Jethro a little bit, talking it over with Isabelle Santiago. She’s helped me to realize that I still had thrown-out ideas that would work, and that maybe I should re-incorporate them. Previously I had taken them out because they were a little too complicated, but talking them out, I found solutions for a few things I hadn’t thought of before.

In other news, I feel a bit sheepish that it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’ve been given a Creative Blog Award by Deirdre Coppel of A Storybook World.

Thanks Deirdre!

J is for Jethro

Jethro, Arizona isn’t on any maps. That’s mainly because it’s plucked straight from my imagination. I was traveling all over the southwest a few summers ago, on business with my dad. Luckily this was made interesting on account of my father knowing the southwest like the back of his hand, and his willingness to travel off the beaten path.

I had a story in my head that, while not exactly just beginning to form (it had been a story before, you see, but it had been demolished and salvaged for scraps when it had gotten out of control and unpublishable), was definitely in the beginning stages in most cases. A lot of my time on this trip was spent writing poetry about desert lizards and musing on this story.

I was looking for a place. I knew it would be in the desert, but it had to be somewhere special, somewhere that was mine. And then I found a place that was almost perfect. We drove through Jerome, Arizona, a small mining town that’s all topsy-turvy and thriving on tourism alone, with intrepid architecture and dangers of mine shafts all round.

I knew that I had found something magically close to where I wanted the setting of my story to be. I regret that I haven’t woven more of its magic into the story yet, as I feel that will be something left up to the rewrites, but it’s all the glory of the modern world in an older western settlement, with the beauties of the hot Arizona desert, a desert I’ve grown to love in my years of traveling across it time and again in my youth. This is a story I love, so it’s fitting for it to have a setting that I love, too.

And I’ve just realized I now have two J entries… le sigh.

Writing bumps (and successes!)

Sometimes writing feels like walking in the dark down a bumpy road. I’ve had a lot of bumps in my writing the past few months, mostly in the form of minor freak-outs that I just can’t cut it. I’ve been lucky, though, that I always have someone waiting to listen to me as I worry, and miraculously a lot of my worries have been followed immediately by a light clicking on, and my being able to see that much further of my path.

What do I mean? Well, I’ll tell you.

Firstly, I had a BIG block on Jethro… I’m talking about a month and a half’s worth of block. I knew who my bad guy was, I could see him, I just didn’t know how to get him to find out about my characters… and how can he hunt them down, if he can’t find out about them?

I avoided this block for a long time. I basically didn’t even open my manuscript because until I knew how to connect point A to point B (or more like point Q to point R, in relation to the story) I was sure I couldn’t get anywhere else. I was in California living with my sister at the time, and she basically called an intervention, worried that I wasn’t doing any writing, which I was specifically there to do. I flipped out on her pretty much, spilling all over to her about my seemingly impossible situation. Then after talking through the complexities of it to her and virtually draining myself of anything I could even think on the subject, the answer popped into my head a few days later. And it was the simplest thing in the world. So obvious, in fact, that I was really tempted to knock my head against a wall like they do in movies sometimes. (Movies? TV shows? Does anyone ever do this anymore?) (Maybe I should say, I literally wanted to headdesk.)

I had a similar freak-out on my Secret Project. I was worried that the middle wasn’t exciting enough, and there was a lot of middle. A part of me thought that this was going to have to be the story I shelved for years and years until I was “good enough” to write it. I talked to Isabelle Santiago about this one, and she assured me that what I had was good, that I already knew what I needed, just like I had before, and that this was a story that needs to be out in the public. (It’s so nice to have a friend who fangirls your WIP unabashedly.)

Starting in January I joined a critique group through Authors Incognito, a group of LDS writers (that’s writers who are LDS, not necessarily writers who write LDS books)(and yes, I’m LDS too). I’ve been having the chapters of Jethro critiqued—so far just the first chapters of Jethro, the ones which flowed like water onto the screen that I’d thought were so good. I’ve gotten them back torn up and abused, with red ink all over them… and then I had another freak-out, this time needing both my husband and Isabelle’s assurance that firstly, Jethro was good, and secondly, this is a first draft… all the little things get fixed in the editing, which is way more fun than writing. (Would you have ever believed that back when you were in school? I sure wouldn’t have.)

Part of me wanted to run into a corner and hide, and bury my poor little manuscript under a shroud of anonymity so that it would never be critiqued again. But most of me was starting to realize, yeah, these are things I need to address in my writing. I have good, gripping prose in me, I know I do… but maybe I don’t have it in my first drafts, and that’s okay, so long as it’s in there by the end.

My latest flip-out experience was also Jethro, and it was just the other night. I’d been reading a bunch of blog posts about writing the book from the right character, and even though Jethro is really an ensemble piece, suddenly I was terrified that the character I’d chosen as the “main” was wrong. And I’m talking about thinking  this nineteen and a half chapters into writing it. One of my secondary characters just sparkles so much more, and I know she has some serious demons that’ll be in her path very, very soon, and I thought maybe the character I’d picked just couldn’t hack it, couldn’t carry a full-length novel that would keep teens and adults reading.

This was maybe my biggest heart-attack yet. How could I have so misjudged? How could I have gotten it all so mixed up?

But then logic kicked in… the character I’d chosen had to be right. Considering who she was, what her personal history was, there was no way she was wrong. She was the one. The only one who could tell the story as a hero. Well, maybe one of two… but that’s a bit of a secret.

Still, this presented me with a problem. Luckily, this problem also turned out to be a solution. You see, I knew the answer to this question, too. The question being, “How to make my main character be more exciting,” or more to the point, “How to torture my main character just a bit more?” I knew because it was already in an earlier version of this story, but it was something I’d thrown out because I’d wanted to involve another character in that story arc, a character that it was vital to the plot that she be involved.

So again, I panicked a little bit. I had 1+1+1, and I needed it to equal 2, because in this case, 3 just wouldn’t cut it. 3 would be preposterous.

I ranted at my husband about this problem for a few minutes, but he was working on other things and I was talking too fast to really understand probably, anyhow. In this instance, I pulled out my trusty notepad and just started scribbling. I basically did a web-diagram, in the messiest, fastest cursive that I can claim.

And you know what? My problem worked itself out. In a way that not only was simple and logical, but that actually solved another little problem I’d had with my plot, and had me feeling like standing up and cheering for my characters, because they’d just proved to me how awesome they really could be. I jumped from that to writing almost a full scene, only stopping because it was late and I was bone-tired.

The one other bump I’ve had recently had nothing to do with writer’s block, but more with my laptop charger, which died on me unexpectedly about a week ago. Without a charger, my laptop turned into a big ole’ paperweight for a few days, and stealing time on my husband’s desktop wasn’t fully cutting it. I got my new shiny charger in the mail from Amazon the day before yesterday, though, and while I was out pretty much most of the day yesterday, I got on today to find that Jethro had actually crossed 40K while I wasn’t looking. I’m excited! Secret Project has over 55K, but not in a solid, chronological block like Jethro. I can’t say this is the longest thing I’ve ever written (I was a fanficcer, once upon a time… ssh… it’s a secret!) but it’s the longest I’ve had of a wholly original story.

Success suddenly seems a lot closer in hand than it ever has before.

(And hey, while I’m here, check out my contribution to The Hollow Tree today. We post free reads there every Friday, don’t forget!)

No time to dilly-dally!

Okay, I really can’t sit still and blog right now… I have more important things to do, like get words on paper as quickly as possible, because last Thursday I had a big revelation as to how to finish up Jethro.  All of the major dots are now connected in my head, and it all works together so beautifully that I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.  I spent most of Thursday night hashing it all out in my head and with Isabelle Santiago, along with generally freaking out about it as much as I could.

Friday I didn’t get much writing done, as it was New Year’s Eve and I had some partying to do (with some extra reason to celebrate!) and I went with my husband and some very good friends to Salt Lake City’s EVE party, where I partook of live music, improv comedy, dancing, fireworks (of course!) and general frivolity.  Also, bounce-houses.  It was a blast, and I really enjoyed it.  Today I had some editing I needed to finish up, so I’ve been doing that most of the day… after sleeping in late to recover from last night.

So, anyhow, a few vital things that need to be said:

1) Welcome to 2011!!! I hope it’s a great year for us both. 😉

2) This novel suddenly seems much more like an eventuality than a possibility, and that’s an amazing feeling.

3) I could never have gotten this far without supportive family and friends.

That about sums it up for now.  I’m off to get my writing in gear!