Jeanne: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Apple and forkOne of the things that’s different about writing in a series, versus writing a standalone book, is that the world-building requires a lot more planning. It’s kind of like playing chess. They say that chess masters, for each potential move, project out the next five possible moves before choosing one. That’s probably why I don’t play chess.

To be perfectly honest, my brain is not the least bit strategic. Back in my days of working as an IT manager at a Fortune 1000 corporation, they used to hold these planning sessions where people would sit around for days, blue-skying about all the things the company might want to do, and jawing on and on about all the potential outcomes for each scenario.

Those sessions made me want to stick a fork in my eye.

I would come up with any excuse I could (the shipping system is down! the file system  is full!) to get out of there. I was good tactically–you figure out what you want to do and I can make that happen–but I stunk at long-term strategy.

It was when I was finishing up  Book 2 in my Touched by a Demon series that I realized this may be a problem in my new career as a novelist, too. In Book 2, Keeffe, my protagonist, has Lilith, her antagonist and she demon, sign a contract in blood. Keeffe’s demon boyfriend later tells her she’s brilliant, that contracts signed in blood are the only kind that are enforceable in Hell.

Okay, that sounds reasonable.

Except it made me realize that Dara, the protagonist in the first book, signs a contract with Satan, but there’s no mention of blood. Since the first book hasn’t been published yet, I was able to go back and add that in.

But now I’m a little concerned.

I’m planning at least seven books in this series, one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins. What happens, down the road, when I have three books out in the world and I want to expand on the world I’ve built in some unforeseen way?

Before I publish the first one, I think I’m going to need to give some strategic thought to the entire series.

Could someone hand me a fork, please?

6 thoughts on “Jeanne: A Series of Unfortunate Events

  1. I sympathize with this problem, because I’m lousy at blue-sky stuff, too. I never really understand this, because we’re creative, right? We make stuff up, right? So why can’t we strategize? But, oh, well.

    I have two thoughts, both of them from other people. 🙂 The first is from Joss Whedon, who said about Buffy that he never gave anyone or anything more background than it absolutely needed at the time. Because later, he might need to add something in, and he’d need to make it work. Miss Calendar is the notable example there, where she showed up as a teacher one season with no explanation or backstory at all and then many episodes later when Whedon needed it for Plot, Miss Calendar ran into trouble when her Gypsy Curse was revealed. I haven’t read your books, but maybe you didn’t really need to put the “signed in blood” part in book one—maybe the readers of book two would just *assume* Dara had signed it in blood, because it was a rule in book two. (If they thought about it at all.) I’m not sure how you wrote it, of course, but maybe you don’t need to make every detail of your world explicit going back to book one. As a reader, I know I wouldn’t need that.

    The other thought is related. Many years ago I was one of a large panel of judges for a short-short story contest. The entrants were given a dramatic set-up, and the writers had to finish the setup in a given number of words. The winner got the prize with a seven-word finish: “With a single bound, she was free.” No explanation at all of how she got free in a single bound. But we all agreed that was the winner, because it was short, it was funny, and it resolved the crisis in a satisfactory way. So—maybe no explanations are needed for some of your world-building, either.

    However, if these thoughts on not worrying about it don’t get you anywhere, maybe try Scrivener (or something similar). I don’t use it, but I understand that it helps you keep track of series bibles and so on.

    • Thanks for these words of wisdom. I don’t write much backstory (because I had a college professor who was kind of a freak about “No backstory!” And I write pretty sparse description because I believe that the more work you make the reader do, the more engaged they are in the book. Plus, what’s the point in writing stuff people are just going to skip?

      I’m probably worrying more about this than I need to, just because life has taught me that my failure to think ahead creates a lot of problems for me that other, wiser people seem to side-step. On the other hand, I haven’t done so badly, ricocheting from one impulsive decision to the next….

    • I have a series bible in Scrivener (I actually have two bibles — a series bible and a history/research bible…I like using Scrivener because I can import entire web pages and refer to them later without being online, plus I can organize them better than I can in Firefox, and add comment if necessary). I think you all know I think Scrivener is THE SHIT. I love it.

      I am also planning a 6-book series and right now, the only things I know are the barest details about each one (except for the last one — clueless there except the one character who is in it). Some characters have been fleshed out more than others already, only because they make an early appearance in this first book, but for the most part, I’m making it up as I go and taking notes where necessary.

      Kay, I like the idea of not revealing anything unless you Need To Know. I’m going to take that to heart!

  2. I feel your pain, Jeanne. I’m sure it would be a good idea to lay out the fundamentals of the entire series, if you can, but I’ll bet that no matter how carefully you plan it, you’ll still find yourself annoyingly constrained, or find a great idea that would work perfectly if only you’d seeded it several books ago. I suspect the only way to avoid the problem would be not to publish anything until you’ve written the entire series, or go for some shameless cop-out like the legendary “Dallas” TV series from the late 1970s, where the producers wrote off an entire 31-episode series (the ninth season) after it had aired by revealing that it had all been a dream 🙂

    • That was back before I knew anything about story (other than what I instinctively understood, which wasn’t much) and even then I thought that was a bs move.

      It will all work out, one way or another.Unless I write something later that directly contradicts something earlier, I can always just say, “Oh, I hadn’t mentioned xyz? Yeah, xyz is totally the way things work in Hell.”

  3. You know, I used to think I was a pretty good strategic thinker. In my day job, I had to really live down in the weeds, tracking every detail, adjusting on a dime to keep things on track, and then picking my head up periodically to keep my eye on the horizon. I thought I got the whole ‘blue sky’ in doing that. Then one day, in the midst of a super-stressful project, I was talking with my boss, and we seemed to be talking at cross-purposes. Finally, she stopped and said, “You’re such a brilliant tactical thinker! But what I’m talking about is more strategic…” Which was her nice way of saying I sucked at the strategy part. Oh well.

    I’m with you about the difficulty of such long-term (multi-book) thinking. Just last week, I added a few lines to my novella because it was a pithy way to define the differences between the three friends who turned out to be the heroines of books .5, 1, and 2. Yeah, I hadn’t planned that because – hello! not strategic enough, but since it happened, I realized I need to at least acknowledge some things about that friendship in the first book where we meet 2 of the 3 women.

    Ugh. This writing thing hurts my brain.

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