I have two completed manuscripts. My friends know that the plague novel is intended to be the first book in a three-book series and that I actually have books two and three roughly outlined. But when I finished it, I put it aside and started writing something completely different. So why, then, did I go on to write the Flight Novel (different characters, different setting, different genre) instead of writing the second and third books in the Plague Novel series?
Because I wanted to try different genres. My short stories are all over the place (fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, science fiction, I just go with whatever idea pulls me in), and I don’t want to be the writer doing horror novels only to later discover that not only do I love writing fantasy, I’m actually better at it than I am at writing horror. So now I have a horror novel and a fantasy novel. And book three is a science-fiction novel. Because why not. These are the genres I read.
But at some point, regardless of whether I sell the plague novel, I’m going to have to go back and write books two and three. As much as I enjoy exploring different characters and settings and ideas, I don’t want to be the writer who can only write first books. You know the writer who writes the first chapter over and over is and now very good at writing first chapters but not good at writing anything else? I don’t want to be the author who is only good at writing first books and not good at writing second and third books. The second book in a series is going to need to have a different structure than the first book in a series, and the third book in the series is going to be a different creature than a second book. The only way to get good at something is to practice. I’m going to have to practice writing second and third books.
So I’m not going to go back to the Flight novel until after I’ve written the Touchdown novel, which I’m preparing now. I don’t know when that will be. After I finish plotting out Touchdown, I’ll probably go back and start revising Flight. Touchdown might not get written until Nanowrimo of this year, so the second Plague novel book might not happen until some time in 2017.
Of course, all of this will go out the window if querying the Plague novel actually ends up in an offer of representation. If an agent wants to pick up the Plague novel and says hey, do you have anything else in this series, my answer will be OMG YES let me show you the outline and also let me start writing on it right away so we can market this as a series. In the end, all plans are just that–plans.
I was helping one of my old writing group buddies by reading the final version of the story she is self-publishing and it got me thinking about managing reader expectations and pacing. One of the things I struggled with when reading her story was the pacing. And I realized that part of my problem was probably that I was thinking of it as a different type of story than it was probably supposed to be.
Given the setting and characters, I was expecting an action story. But the pacing was really more suited to a drama. Not that there weren’t action scenes, because there were. And it seemed like they occurred fairly frequently. But there was a whole lot of exposition, and the focus of most of the story was the main character’s internal struggle. Once I had that in mind, it mitigated a lot of my problems with the pacing. I decided that if she manages her readers’ expectations by marketing the story so that it’s clear it is a drama, rather than an action story, fewer of the readers that purchase her story are going to walk away disappointed.
One of the reasons why it’s important to read in your genre is to keep current with the less tangible things, like how successful authors are handling pacing. A lot of pacing conventions in the genres I read have changed over time. Managing my story’s pacing is just one more thing that I can do to help manage readers’ expectations.
One of the things I’ve had to wrestle with involving my current story is that, because the protagonists in my novel are teens and young teens, I’m writing in the YA genre. On the one hand, that doesn’t feel fair to me, because I don’t think ‘young adult’ is a genre in the same way that fantasy is a genre. In my opinion, it’s not a genre, it’s just a marketing category. In some ways that’s freeing, because it seems that YA writers more freely cross genre boundaries.
In another way, it makes me grumpy. I’m writing a story I would want to read. I’m twice as old as the protagonists in a lot of YA fiction. I read the crap out of current YA and enjoy it immensely.
So why do I care? I care because it’s going to change how agents and publishers approach my story. It definitely needs to be something that young adults can read an identify with. Does that mean I need to dumb it down? Absolutely not. First, I don’t think it’s necessary. So my story is dark and violent. A lot of successful YA right now is dark and violent, so that shouldn’t keep me from selling it. Besides, the things I used to read when I was 12, 14, 16… lots of Stephen King and Christopher Pike. Talk about dark and violent.
Besides, I enjoyed those stories because they didn’t dumb it down. So I’m going to shoot for believable and identifiable characters, good storytelling, and an interesting plot, rather than focus on the fact that my work will probably be marketed to teens.