In 2010, first-time author Foz Meadows saw the publication of her urban fantasy novel, Solace & Grief. It got great reviews and much interest. (See my previous posts: “Books with bite” and “Authors with bite”) Then, in 2011, the sequel was published. But writing a sequel is no easy task. Just ask Foz. Actually, don’t bother — I’ve already asked her. 🙂 Take it away Foz…
Writing a sequel
By Foz Meadows
The thing about sequel volumes is that, even when you’ve planned them, they have ways of unplanning themselves.
Much like Tamagotchi toys, characters thrive when you play with them; and if you do it for long enough, they have a disconcerting tendency to evolve, Pokemon-like, into new and exciting forms. (90s pop culture references, I has them.) It’s a beautiful thing when the people who live in your head start to take on lives of their own, but an absolute bugger where plot outlines are concerned. Because the thing about real people – and, by extension, real characters – is that they have free will. In a situation where being an author is roughly analogous to being the supreme creator of a parallel universe, one very soon realises that, all powers over life and death aside, your creations can still defy you. Characters who were meant to choose one path choose another, while those who were offered no choice at all start bashing at the walls of the world until they’re given one.
This is true of all books, of course, because characters are mercurial and tricksy, but it’s especially difficult when it comes to sequels. For one thing, the characters have got the bit between their teeth by then: the momentum of the previous story carries them forwards, but not always in the right direction. And for another, you can’t go back and rewrite the previous volume to fit with any subsequent changes: you now have a canon to keep in mind, which means there’s a real possibility of throw-away comments coming back to bite you on the posterior.
All of which is what happened when I sat down to write The Key to Starveldt, the sequel to Solace & Grief. I had plans for my characters! They would do my bidding! They would get drunk and have karaoke in a pocket dimension! There would be a magical trial and the accidental acquisition of a sentient wolf! And then, three quarters of the way through the first draft, everything fell to pieces. The wolf vanished; the trial became impossible; the karaoke was set aside. I’d been making my characters go where I wanted without considering whether it was actually something they’d do, and once I realised that, it was back to the drawing board. It took me several abortive attempts to figure things out, but once I did, I could feel the difference immediately. The story moved more smoothly; the character interactions made greater sense. Where before it had increasingly felt as though I was tugging the story through syrup, now I was skating on ice. Not that I didn’t still encounter pitfalls, but the lesson that, creator or not, I couldn’t just force my protagonists into whatever shape I wanted, was an important one.
The Key to Starveldt is a book I’m hugely proud of, not only because of what it taught me about writing, but because of what it taught me about my characters. I might have given them life, but they’re the ones who ultimately choose how to live it – and even if I still have to nudge them from time to time, they’re grown up enough to take the hint.
George’s bit at the end
Want to know more about Foz and her books? Check out her blog.
Catch ya later, George
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