November 15, 2003

Writing A Sequel - Step One

Warning -- Spoilers for both Tinker books!

So I'm starting into writing TINKER TWO -- whatever I end up calling it. I realized that it was a good chance to think about how I write a book and let people in on the process.

To start, let's talk about why a sequel.

As I wrote TINKER, I realized that I'd set up a problem that had to end with the destruction of the orbital gate. Anything less would leave the book with an unresolved crisis. As long as the Oni had access to Earth, and from Earth, Elfhome, everything set up in TINKER would continue. The orbital gate had to go! But this left me in lurch that Tinker thinks about while pacing the bridge. If I put her on Earth, it really wouldn't be a happy ending and would still need a sequel to get her returned to the 'home' of her heart and those she loved. If I put her on Elfhome without Pittsburgh, it couldn't be a happy ending because you couldn't imagine her happy forever without her high tech toys and her various friends and family from Pittsburgh. The solution was taking the best of both worlds and stranding Pittsburgh on Elfhome with her. Of course, this immediately generated a need for a second book to resolve that little problem, but I loved the world and the characters and was willing to do a sequel.

I finished TINKER around March 6th. Jim Baen asked for a sequel after reading it. Selling a second book to a publisher is usually a fairly simple process -- unlike the first book. The first book you have to prove yourself, the second book usually just needs enough to prove that there is a story there to tell.

I sat down and wrote up a quick synopsis based on how I could see the second book going -- and discovered a problem. If I base the second book on "building a gate" its just a revamp of the first book. Obviously, there needed to be other problems where a gate system became a minor importance compared to the true 'conflict.' So what were ALL the threads I left hanging?

Well, obviously first was the mess at Turtle Creek. Windwolf said the land was "fluid." I had assumed that this problem would be a temporary thing and resolve itself. What if it didn't?

Secondly, there was a mass of Oni, Tengu, and Chiyo unaccounted for. Personally I loved Riki as a villain and was sure there could be other oni that would make great villains.

Thirdly, there was the whole elfin politics with the other clans trying to strengthen their positions in North America. Certainly Windwolf just lost his strongest power point -- the link to Earth.

And lastly, there was Tinker's own heart. She was in love, but was that enough to build a strong, lasting marriage -- and there was Pony.

So I wrote up two pages of spinning all those elements together in a story that had nothing to do with building a gate. I emailed it off to Baen and they accepted it, issuing contracts that we both signed. A check followed, which I cashed. So, come hell and high water -- there would be a sequel. I promptly put it on the backburner as I had to finish DOG WARRIOR and do SF conventions to support BITTER WATERS, build support for the John Campbell Award, and spread the word of TINKER's release.

Mid-November and I finish up DOG WARRIOR and here I am, half a year later, no longer sure what I actually wrote for TINKER and a little over a year to write a sequel with lots of interruptions. Sometime in the near future, I'll have to revise DOG WARRIOR and A BROTHER'S PRICE, which are both sold to another publisher. Also, I'm hoping that I can build support to get TINKER onto the Hugo ballot, so I'm going to be doing book tours and SF conventions. And of course, the family would like to see me time to time.

First step is to get familiar again with the material, which means reading the book with pen in hand. You might think this odd. Don't I remember what I wrote? Well, yes, but I wrote a LOT. The question is, what actually STAYED in the book? I have a tendency to write a section and realize that I took the story off in a direction that makes it impossible to continue. Oops, I cry, copy that section off to a "cuts" folder, and delete it out of the main story. Copying it makes me fearless to delete it. Sometimes some or all of that 'cut' section does work its way back into the story -- often at a later time in the story. What might not work in chapter three, might work fine in chapter nine. Or maybe I realize that the scene was fine if I change one of the characters. I had a scene in TAINTED TRAIL once where I had Sam and Max fighting and it wasn't working. I cut it but found that Sam HAD to be dealt with before the story could proceed. I pulled the fight back up, but this time, inserted Rennie, and boom, same fight but this time it worked. Where Max would be reasonable and coaxing, Rennie would be dangerously stubborn.

I read over, too the synopsis I wrote with the book fresh in my mind. Publishers don't require you to stick to the exact plotline in the synopsis used to sell a book. They realize that often what you plan won't work, but you can't foresee it until you're at the scene, fingers over the keyboard, and your writer's instinct goes ", that's not what would happen!" Publishers do like, however, that you get somewhere close -- like the same world and approximate characters you said you would use. I really need to write a book about Tinker's world, probably with Tinker appearing as a main POV character. If I want to pick up a second POV -- such as Riki -- I could. (Stop screaming! I haven't decided yet.)

Another thing I'm doing is building a bible -- which I should have done for the first book but didn't. This bible is a listing of all the characters used and anything I mention about them. Who did I say was head cook for Windwolf's household? Ah, Lemonseed. What did I say about her? Sweet tempered, looks barely older than Lain (who I never did give an age too) and was several thousand years old. Also I note that it was implied that Lemonseed like Tinker and fussed over her when she was feeling blue.

One surprise I find is that I never described Lain except via her crutch. I have a image of her, but I never put it into words. This leaves me in a bind. If I want to use that image of her in the second book, I need to find out what people thinks she looks like. If everyone is imagining a 5'5" brunette, if I suddenly say she's 6'5" red head, people are going to be annoyed.

Once I'm familiar with the material again, I can start writing.

Posted by wen at November 15, 2003 01:06 PM