Monthly Archives: September 2018

Why Completing a Trilogy is Terrifying

Last month I turned in my second round of edits for THE UNBOUND EMPIRE! This means that while there are still more rounds of edits to go, the story itself is more or less finalized. What ultimately happens to these characters I’ve written about for three books is unlikely to change.

I have, essentially, finished the story—completed my very first trilogy.

HA HA HA THAT’S TOTALLY NOT SCARY, OF COURSE. I’M NOT SCARED. ARE YOU SCARED?

(Looks at what happens in Book 3)

…Actually, okay, if you care about these characters, MAYBE YOU SHOULD BE SCARED. MU HA HA HA HA!

But WAIT! There it is. The thing I’m here to tell you about. The thing I didn’t expect to feel on wrapping up my first series.

Guilt.

I started out writing THE UNBOUND EMPIRE like I’d write any other book, merrily puttering along, coming up with various OH NO terrible twists to raise the stakes, like you do. But there was one huge difference in writing this book versus every other book I’ve ever written: I was writing it after the first books were already published.

I had real, live readers already invested in the story.

As I drafted THE UNBOUND EMPIRE, I’d do something really mean to Character X…and then some lovely reader would post something saying “I love Character X and I hope they’re happy forever!” And I’d look at the book like um, wow, uhhh, hmm. Define “happy.”

I finally made my decisions about how things wind up with Amalia’s personal life…and then saw people shipping various mutually exclusive outcomes and was like oh, huh, I guess NO MATTER WHAT some people are going to be disappointed. Eek!

Now, of course I KNOW that the vast majority of readers WANT me to torment their favorite characters, even while at the same time they want them to be happy. Because reading is just weird like that, and it’s probably best not to think about why we’re like “NOOOOOO DON’T HURT MY FAVE” on one level while on another we’re like “YESSSSSSSSS HURT MY FAVE MORE.” I DON’T MAKE THE RULES. THAT’S JUST HOW IT IS.

And of course I KNOW that you have to be true to your story. What we ultimately want as readers is for the story’s ending to be the perfect ending for that story, even if it’s not the ending we wanted. Or thought we wanted.

Writing the ending of a story isn’t giving everyone their own favorite flavor of candy—it can’t be. (THAT’S WHAT FANFIC IS FOR.)

But that doesn’t make it any less intimidating when you realize that chances are good you will let someone, somewhere, down. It’s scary! And it wasn’t something I saw coming. (I can only imagine it’d be EVEN SCARIER if I wrote really grimdark stuff. Hats off to writers who do!)

I know I can’t give everyone the pony they always wanted, even though ALL I WANT IS TO GIVE MY READERS PONIES. Instead of a sparkly snuggle pony, you may get a pony with eyes made of fire and half-rotted bat wings and a mane like the midnight sky…I’M NOT SAYING YOU WILL…but that’s a thing that could happen. MAYBE THIS IS JUST WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I MAKE PONIES, ALL RIGHT? DON’T JUDGE ME.

Look, whether that metaphor actually makes any sense or not, the point is: I adore my readers. I want to give you a story you’ll love.

And it was scary to realize that to do that, I had to push aside everything I might know or be able to guess about what my readers want, or think they want, and instead write the story the way it wanted to be told.

As it happens, I’m pretty happy with how the ending turned out. I hope everyone else likes it, too! But if you don’t, well, feel free to make a different ending for yourself and believe in that one. I won’t mind.

I’m so excited to share this story with you! Is it April yet?


Dramatic Tension

(Yet another in the series of Twitter threads I’m translating to blog posts! Enjoy.)

So I know I talk a lot about how you need compelling conflict and stakes to have a gripping story. But on a line-by-line and page-by-page level, what keeps me reading is their more nebulous cousin, dramatic tension.

Basically, dramatic tension is what gives you that feeling of OMG I HAVE TO KEEP READING. It’s what keeps you up past your bedtime with a really good book.

But the really wild thing about dramatic tension is that it can come from SO MANY DIFFERENT SOURCES!

The obvious one is I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! This is an especially great one to use with your chapter breaks—ending a chapter when your character has just been stabbed, or the main character’s dark secret has just been publicly revealed, etc.

But there are lots more, like:

  • I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST (when you darkly hint at the Tragic Backstory Incident for a while rather than just dumping it up front)
  • I NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON (when Mysterious Events are Afoot and we only have glimpses)
  • 

I KNOW A BAD THING IS GOING TO HAPPEN AND I’M DREADING IT (An inevitable confrontation or crushing revelation; an ambush the readers know about in advance but the characters don’t)
  • I KNOW A GOOD THING IS GOING TO HAPPEN AND I CAN’T WAIT (eagerly watching a romance build)
  • I KNOW A THING WILL HAPPEN BUT NOT HOW (In Hunger Games, the tension isn’t really over whether Katniss will win, but over knowing that for her to win, everyone else must die and she may have to be the one to kill them; you NEED to see how that plays out)
  • I KNOW A THING HAPPENED BUT NOT HOW (every mystery ever)

I could go on, but you get the idea…usually there’s something the reader NEEDS TO KNOW about the story or its characters, but what that thing is can be surprisingly subtle or complex.

Sometimes you can create MORE tension by letting the reader in on a surprise, so they’re anticipating it (either eagerly or with dread), than by just springing it on them out of the blue.

Sometimes withholding information for a little while can create tension through mystery (which can be a great trick in SFF to avoid early info dumps).

Ideally, you want your dramatic tension to operate on multiple levels, with different kinds of tension, short term & long.

One thing I ask myself when I’m editing is “What is keeping the readers turning pages in this scene/chapter? Why don’t they put the book down at the end of it?”

If I don’t have a good answer, I need to up the dramatic tension.