Today’s guest blogger is Kea Alwang, author of the Based on a Dream series. Book one, Treehugger, is free on Amazon from July 14-16. In this two-part session, Kea shares her experience ensuring continuity across all books in her series.
ADVENTURES IN CONTINUITY
Star Trek V comes to mind whenever I hear the word “continuity,” causing me to recall a rather unfortunate blooper. Perhaps you’ve seen it? Spock sports rocket boots while shooting up an Enterprise A lift shaft, passing by levels that run something like this: 35, 52, 63, 64, 63, 64, 65, 52, 77, 78.
Oops–someone can’t count. But it gets worse: Trekkies well-versed in Star Trek canon will tell you there are only twenty-some-odd levels on the Enterprise A. (The exact number is not an argument I’m willing to start.) Anyway, I remember sitting in the theater, startled over how blatantly the numbers went out of sequence, and then it hit me: Wow. Even the big-shot storytellers screw up.
That scene forever sparks my resolve for staying organized with the canon of my Based on a Dream series. Goofing up continuity when writing a science fiction or fantasy series is not hard to do. After all, you’re asking for trouble when creating strange landscapes, odd beings, and outside-the-norm nuances and customs. So by the time I began the first book in my series, Treehugger, I had notebooks. By the time I began Book Two, Risktaker, I had nit-pickier notebooks. I had drawings. I had what equated to encyclopedia entries. I had big plans. Good girl, right?
Maybe, but who knew meshing all that meticulous world building into the second book of a series was so time consuming? Well, plenty of people, probably. I, however, had been expecting an easy-breezy, lemon-squeezy experience after cutting my teeth on Treehugger. After all, if I didn’t know my world and the story I wanted to tell, who did?
Eventually, I worked my way out of the chaos, and from the feedback I have so far on Risktaker, I managed to do it well—sanity not too far away from intact. In the hopes of giving newer fantasy authors more perspective than I had going in, here’s what I learned writing the second book of my series:
OUTLINES ARE VITAL.
I’m hardly alone in hating outlines. Anne McCaffrey, for one, didn’t use them because she thought they ruined her writing experience. (How I’d love to get my hands on her notes!) But I found that Anne McCaffrey is a better woman than me, because there was no escape from some form of outlining for the rest of the books in my series. I wasted a lot of time re-reading and re-editing before surrendering to that idea. Even though my remaining books were all in very rough draft, I found that my work on Risktaker would inevitably change those drafts.
It had been easy enough to set up everything I needed for Risktaker while writing Treehugger because nothing was set in stone before the first book. I had free reign behind me and before me. The trouble came when editing Risktaker because I was compelled to add scenes and dialogue to the rough draft and rip out other sections. I found it wasn’t so easy to have one book behind me that I couldn’t change and create a second book that absolutely had to put characters, motivations, and concepts in place for Books Three and Four.
My Advice: Whether on screen or on paper, keep the outlines for each book handy for adjustment and save copies of the old versions.
Character personalities need to ebb and flow without causing the action to stall out—especially if you like your stories character driven. My biggest flaw as a writer is that I’m never 100% satisfied with the depth of my characters on paper. As much as I know about them, I always want to reveal more to the reader. So they “change their minds” about things, causing the problems that led me to outlining. But I had to lay down the law from time to time because it’s important to make sure your character’s growth or demise flows or you mess with the story’s pacing.
For example, if my moody heroine pitches a fit over something trivial in Book Two’s rough draft, but I added her getting past a similar situation in my final edit of Book One—specifically written to show her beginning to mature–I have messed with that character’s growth. If I don’t change the scene where her behavior reverts or at least justify it, her journey through my series would become stilted. I found that, as I nipped and tucked to make the story satisfying in my head, I had to make adjustments that caused these time-consuming domino effects. Adjusting my outlines as I went might have saved editing time by revealing those effects to me sooner.
Either way, My Advice: Pay serious attention to your characters’ emotions, motivations, and decisions. If they don’t seem streamlined to you, your readers might not jive with them. Even unexpected behavior from a character can work if appropriate motivation for such behavior was set up somewhere along the way.
Kea Alwang lives in New Jersey building worlds, reading, and indulging in severe caffeine and chocolate addictions. Her podcaster husband, film-obsessed son, book-munching daughter, and self-absorbed parakeet are among those who put up with her unnatural attachment to the keyboard. Despite creating characters who can’t wait to leave this planet, she actually loves the Earth, but wishes bullies and the word moist would just disappear.
The first two books in her series can be purchased on Amazon (Treehugger is free from July 14-16), and you can read more of Kea’s thoughts and musings on her blog and facebook page.