I recently published my debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo. I also recently finished the first draft of the second novel in The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, so when Aidan brought up the possibility of a guest post, one of the things I immediately thought of was talking a bit about the differences in writing Book 2 vs. Book 1.
I had been wary of writing the second novel in a series for quite some time. That sounds strange, even to my ear, but it’s true. I didn’t used to think this way. When I first starting writing seriously, ten years ago or so, I thought a sequel would be a natural extension of the first book, and in many ways that’s true, but as I grew in my craft and began to go to conventions and get advice about writing a sequel, I grew … not worried, but certainly concerned.
Why? Well, there are a few things going on here.
First of all, you don’t want to be complacent. The Winds of Khalakovo was my first published book. Not my first book, mind you (I have a trunk filled with three others), but the first one I’d published. By the time Night Shade Books accepted Winds for publication, it had been workshopped and critiqued a number of times. It was tight, but it had taken a lot of energy from a lot of people (not just me).
The Straits of Galahesh, the second book in the trilogy, was a completely different story (pun not intended but cheekily left in place). I had a lot less time to get it ready. It took me about 2.5 years to reach the final draft of Winds, and I had only ten months go get the first draft of Straits ready for first submission. Now, in some ways I’m comparing apples to oranges here. My editor knew that the draft for the second book wouldn’t be as polished as the first, and he was there to help me if I needed help along the way. Plus I had the momentum from Book 1 going for me—the characters and the world were largely going to be the same.
But still, it’s a lot of pressure, and I definitely felt it. I needed to get 20,000 words written per month, and that didn’t leave much room for backtracking if I took a wrong path along the way. So one of the things I noticed was that I got better (out of necessity) at extrapolating from plot ideas to see if they would lead down a dead end. Sure, I was a better writer, and so some of that is a natural progression of learning the craft, but I took time to actively work things through in my head, more than I had in the first book, to make sure I could keep forging ahead.
Beyond the simple restrictions of time and the pressure that brings, I was also very conscious of quality. Have you seen “Project,” from Tales of Mere Existence? Take a look. It’s not only brilliant, it perfectly captures the storm of emotions that a writer (or any artist, I imagine) goes through when trying to follow up on a successful project.
As an aside, I think “Project” applies equally to sequels as it does to brand new projects, but in subtly different ways. But I digress…
The net of it was that I was very proud of Winds, and I didn’t want to let my readers down by coming up with something that didn’t live up to their expectations after reading it. It was quite a roller-coaster ride, and while there were many parallels with the writing of Winds, there were two striking differences. First, there was now something for people to compare Straits to: namely, Winds. I didn’t want to take a dip in quality and disappoint myself and my readers. Second, the same emotions from Book 1 were all still present—excitement, fear, pride, despair—only massively compressed since I needed to produce this draft quickly and well.
One thing that didn’t really strike home until I was reaching the end of Straits was just how hard it was to extrapolate from Winds. I’d concluded things fairly neatly in Winds, but of course left several things unresolved for the rest of the trilogy. Ever heard the term the muddle in the middle? It refers to the difficulty of expanding on the promises you made to the reader in the opening of the story, expanding on them, and then eventually reining them in so that you can work toward a smash-up ending. The middle is a difficult time in a book because there are so many swirling and competing possibilities. Well, the second book in a trilogy is the middle of that larger arc. It’s the muddle in the middle on steroids. It was a tough thing to expand on so much from Book 1 and pull the threads in in a satisfying way while still leaving things unresolved for the climactic ending in Book 3.
As another small aside, it boggles my mind when I think of what George R.R. Martin has accomplished with A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s no wonder he takes his time in the writing of his books. They’re ten times more complicated than my books are, and I have trouble keeping my stuff strait. All I can say to that is that I think he’s already given us five wonderful books to cherish (yes, it’s a given for me that A Dance with Dragons is going to rule), and I hope he takes whatever time he needs for the rest.
I’ve spoken a lot about negative and niggly concerns, but there were a lot of positives as well. It was lovely to return to the world of Winds. It was like picking up with old friends right where I left off, like putting on my favorite, worn-in pair of sneakers, like sitting in my favorite chair. It was nice. As is diving into Book 3 (which I’ve only just begun).
I also realized during the course of the book that time was ticking. I wouldn’t be writing in this world forever. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll visit again after writing this trilogy. This sounds like a negative, but I don’t mean it that way. There was a strong sense of nostalgia that arose, and (I’m hoping dearly that this doesn’t sound egocentric; it’s not meant that way) it was actually touching to relate to my own writing in this way. We can’t help but love our characters, yes? It was nice to connect with those emotions. It was reassuring to me that I loved these characters I was writing about.
For all the sense of familiarity I had with Straits, though, I didn’t want to be complacent about the characters or the world. To really bring this story home for the readers, I needed to push, both in terms of the parts of the world they experienced and the growth and change in the characters. So, while I’m a fairly plot driven guy, I certainly want to make the characters real people with real concerns, and that means they change over time, either by circumstance or age or both. And so, while doing this, I was both pleased and surprised by the things I discovered in the setting, the cultures, the characters, and their beliefs.
Thanks very much to Aidan for the opportunity to drop by A Dribble of Ink. It was a lot of fun to ruminate, and I hope to stop by again soon.