I've always been drawn to series – from my early love of Nancy Drew to Tolkien to Lois Lowry's The Giver quartet (and many others). Maybe it's just that when I get into a good story, I hate for it to end.
It's only natural that my writing follows suit. To date, the only novels I've ever finished are parts of series. I'm currently editing the middle novel of a trilogy. After revising the first book four times, I thought I could safely concentrate on editing its sequel – until I woke with a middle-of-the-night brainwave.
While I usually welcome brainwaves with open arms, this one will necessitate a complete fifth revision of the first book, not to mention hefty changes for the unedited second. I could just ignore it… but the more I think about letting this new idea go, the more I realize what a mistake that would be.
It's during this part of the writing process that I wonder if the likes of J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, or C.S. Lewis ever went through forehead-slapping moments like these. "So, Jo," I'd like to say to J.K. Rowling, "when exactly did you come up with the vanishing cabinet bit in The Half-Blood Prince?"
How do the writers of great series do it? The one I finished reading most recently, Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, is a series he started writing when he was 15 – 15! While Paolini did a lot of growing as a writer over the years his series was published, he certainly knew where his story was going from the start. Little bits of relevant information are sprinkled throughout all four novels. Viewed as a whole, these seemingly thin threads hold this vast work together.
Of course, not all authors of series are created equal (which is sometimes painfully obvious). For example, three or four books into a series, the protagonist suddenly has a peculiar birthmark. Shouldn't it have been mentioned before? Well, it would have… if the author had thought of it when writing the previous books. Whoops. The opposite of Chekov's rifle hanging on the wall that doesn't go off, it's the gun that wasn't there but appears out of nowhere to kill the bad guy – the worst kind of Deus ex machina.
In my moments of doubt (am I the good kind of serial writer or the bad?), I remind myself that no matter how many millions of copies they've sold all over the world, the greats are mere mortals, too. They've admitted to being frustrated by difficult characters. They've suffered through writer's block. They've even had second thoughts after publishing. (I love the interviews when an author says, "I wish I'd written…")
Wouldn't it be funny to hear someone like J.K. Rowling say one day, "I thought I was done, and then I realized that Snape was trying to protect Harry"? Okay, I doubt that, but wouldn't it be interesting to know if the part of the story that we take for granted, that makes everything come together, was the last piece to fall in place for a particular author's plot puzzle?
It's little things like that that continue to make the writing process both harrowing and rewarding – and that makes great stories. I can only hope that someday, I can say the same about my own books.
About Sarah Cotchaleovitch
Sarah Cotchaleovitch is a freelance writer and editor who resides in Northeast Florida with her husband and two young sons. She is a founding member and editor of the University of North Florida's online literary journal Fiction Fix. She posts a weekly blog atfulltimewritermom.com. She wrote and illustrated a children's book,Hero, with her son, Peter. Most recently, she collaborated with educator Karen Saltmarsh on This Tree Has a Story, a creative writing book for kids K–12.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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