Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Writing a Fantasy Series

Part I of a stumbling series of blogs about the trials of grappling with writing a fantasy series...

Wrap up story in first book:

Here’s my experience… I wrote the first story for SufferStone in the 1990’s without a thought that the “planet story” may grow into a series.  The action of the first book comes to a conclusion and all loose ends are tucked in at the denouement.

I should have thought ahead and allowed a bad guy to escape as George Lucas did in Star Wars when Darth Vadar survived the destruction of the Death Star. This villain returns to trouble the rebel forces in a later story.

The urge to satisfy reader interest in Book I is difficult to resist. Take, for example, Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Phedre is a servant of Naamah that places a high value on a tattoo along the servant’s back. She is loved and guarded by a Cassiline brother named Joscelin. When the Book I wraps up, she has inherited an estate and can ease into motherhood, except how does that whet the reader’s appetite for Book II? The last chapters actually push Joscelin away so our young heroine is available for new adventures.

By way of comparison, JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a stand-alone novel and embarked on the LOTR series only after the success of the first book.

Wrap up story over three books:

So I got started with Book II titled HeartStone and pushed the story into the next generation, following characters who were children of the main characters in Book I. Favorite locations were revisited; the vocabulary grew with terms that held leitmotifs; and pressures on the residents of Dolvia were similar -- so part of my work as a writer became familiar, like greeting an old friend.
I also had big themes I was pursuing such as how do women solve problems within a segregated community, and how do the tribes bind together to become an emerging nation.

The second book became part of a story arch that, I thought, would be resolved over three books as Brianna Miller is introduced as a teenager and grows into a capable businesswoman and politician for her tribe. Good plan, huh?

What happened to me was that a section of Book III titled StrikeStone blossomed into its own story line with a new narrator who I could not resist, so the plan to “wrap up” the story in three books is abused. I’m so grateful for the series of six or twelve books from other writers so I’m not a pathfinder for returning to Dolvia for a new go-around with familiar characters.
I wonder if you (as a writer) had similar experiences where the characters take you to (delicious) places you had not imagined months earlier?

For example, Robin Hobb wrote the Farseer series, followed by the Liveship series. I could see hints that she would combine the two because the worlds were similar enough to become tangent. The Farseer series mentions stone dragons and memory stones, but real dragons are introduced later as part of the reader learning more about the milieu.

Keep the characters alive for a series without becoming formula:

I enjoyed The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling, but the mystery of the twins is resolved in Book III before a final battle scene that ties up all story lines, so I cannot imagine why she would begin again with this characters. Maybe she has already moved onto developing a new milieu.

In The Curse of Chalion by Lois MacMasters Bujold, the ingĂ©nue Iselle wins her true love and plot points are tucked in nicely after the bad guy dies.  The following book Palladin of Souls follows the adventures of tangent characters so that Iselle who became a ruler of the kingdom, and Caz, the narrator of Book I, are only mentioned in the later stories. Bujold has a tendency to provide character studies within an otherworld with several planets (or castles) and several tangent sets of characters rather than the growth of one hero/heroine during a war or regime change.

So the arch of a series in fantasy is dictated more by character growth and changing action than by a formula the writer has sketched out in advance. My question today concerns controlling elements of the story and what experiments from writers seemed to work, and which ones may have been less effective.

In Magic Study, I think it was, Book III of a series by Maria Snyder, the main characters travel over a mountain pass to speak with a sibyl and meet a new tribe who happen to show miniature dragons as a curio, much like the baby dragons in (which one, Book V??) of Harry Potter that never re-enter the story. Here are fantasy elements that titillates but are left undeveloped.

What are your experiences with writing/reading fantasy series? Which ones lacked the magic? Which ones were overloaded with fantasy elements?

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