Slide On The Ice


the-cold-eye-9781481429719_hrWhen Magical Words asked me to write up a post for January, to go with the release of THE COLD EYE (Book 2 of The Devil’s West, ready for you to buy TODAY!), I suggested “writing the second book in an open-ended series and how to keep your sanity while doing it” as a topic.

There’s just one problem with that topic. I have no idea how to do it. I’m not even sure if it’s possible, honestly.

Seriously, I’ve done this “open-ended, multi-book series” thing three times now (four, if you count the novellas). And each time, I hit the same second-book Oh Fuck moment, that coal-squishing pressure of not only keeping everything straight and connected and clear from book one to book two, but also setting up threads to be used in books three, four, and five (and maybe six and seven too, if you’re keeping options open).
At that point, you’re reaching for the antacids and the whiskey, wondering why you ever let your agent/your editor/your mother/your lizard brain talk you into this.
Talking to other writer-friends, it seems this is a common phenomenon.

“But why?” innocent one-off writers ask. Why can’t you just…plan better?
There are two ways, generally, a book series happens. One: you sit down at the very beginning and plot out the full arc of what’s going to happen to your characters, and how long it will take to get there.
Or, Two: you write the first book, come to the end, and think “Oh. Shit. There’s more to this, like another hundred thousand (or three, or four hundred thousand) words to it.”
And yeah, you would think that the first way is the sanity-saving one, right?
Nope. They’re both open invitations to hell.
Because, and this is a really big because, for many writers (myself included), Shit Changes During the Writing of the Book. And so what had seemed like the perfect and perfectly logical thing to happen in the outline of chapter 4 of book 2 is now utterly redundant, or needs to be saved for book 3, because what happened in chapter 3 changes the direction of the adventure/revelation.
It is at this point that the self-aware writer starts to feel her grip on sanity – not to mention the timelines – slip.
So. How do we keep from burning it all to the ground and running off to become yak herders? What’s the secret?
There isn’t one.
The truth is, no matter which approach you take, or how you try to hybridize them both into one workable plan, there will come a point when all the threads and all the details and all the character motivations and growth arcs become a whirl inside your head, and all the databases, spreadsheets and wikis can’t save you.
At which point, you have two more choices. Try to hold fast to the idea that you’re totally in control, you’ve got everything handled, you know exactly what’s going to happen and if you don’t you’ll figure it out before you have to totally revise book 3….

Or, you take the advice of the world’s greatest fictional psychiatrist, Dr. Sydney Freedman of M*A*S*H, and “pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

Trust me, the ice is more fun.


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