Sequel – how many is too many?

30 08 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about sequels. How many can you have? How many stories about the same hero can you write. I think Clive Cussler has over 30 about Dirk Pitt. How about Captain Johns and Biggles, Conan Doyle and Sherlock, Blyton and her five or seven adventurers. Sometimes you have no choice but to write more and more and more.  Doyle tried to kill off Holmes but wasn’t allowed. Wodehouse occasionally bored of Jeeves but had to keep popping back for more.

Some would say I am more semantically discussing series rather than sequels but the dividing line is blurred. Following a single life through multiple adventures seems to me to be a series of sequels but should a sequel follow concurrently to be a sequel rather than a series? Does it ultimately matter? Let us assume for now that it doesn’t. Sequel = series.

So how many is too many? Should the author choose or the readers? The rise of fan fiction would indicate that for some readers there can never be enough. The hero resonates so much in their own lives that they want to take them to new places, given them new experiences. Do I, as an author, own my character, own my heroines? I think I do. Unless I say to the world that their lives are their own for others to develop then I think that I do. Mrs Vintner belongs to me and I do with Penny B what I wish. Or, strong women as they are, I do with them as they wish!

There is no limit on the tales to tell about a hero, a band of brothers, a dynasty, a country. Each links to the other and builds to create a world which your reader wants to live. If you, as a writer, do get bored of it and need a new direction then you can do no worse than to let your creation go. But before you give them into the hands of all and sundry who daily contribute to the slushpiles of creation why not consider the ghost writer, the co-writer – you can’t stop having ideas about the people you created so why not let someone you trust write their lives for you.

Don’t kill off your Holmes, outsource him!





Writing with film in mind

27 08 2013

Should you write a book, a story, a tale of woe, always with a thought of the film rights dancing around in your head?

Does your hero look remarkably like Tom Cruise or Tom Wilkinson or heroine have the same hair or eyes as Jennifer Aniston or Helen Mirren? As dialogue flows in your head is it spoken in the manner of someone you have created or someone stolen from the big screen?

This is a difficult path to follow. A scriptwriter can write with some bare bones around the dialogue whilst someone putting a story to bed needs to ensure the reader dreams the situation, they add the flesh to something you have already given musculature and definition to.

Sequels are different. If you have a book already up on screen you would be foolhardy not to start adding affectations to your text. Your director has recruited (hopefully) strong actors who will have taken the screen adapted words of your book and given life to the character – probably not everything will be as you expected but that is the way of film. To even recognise your own story is sometimes hard enough after twenty different screenwriters have all tried their hand at making a complex, thought-provoking book into a 90-minute cinema-filler.

But to return to the theme. Should you write your novel with a film in mind? It can’t hurt to contain some scenes in the same location if location is less important – it makes for cheaper production costs. If the cast of thousands add nothing to your tale but bluster then burst that bubble. Ultimately though, you are writing your story. I say this again and again. You are writing a story for you. If your story needs to blow up the Houses of Parliament there are good CGI studios out there who can do it for the cost of hiring Colm Meaney’s left thumb for a play.

Just get on and write!





Is too much detail drowning your readers?

24 08 2013

How much imagination do you have? How much should I, as a writer, assume you have? Can you see your way through an allusion to an Egyptian deity or are you stumped by a simple simile or metaphor?

I ask because I am intrigued. I read an action book the other day. Non-stop rollercoaster ride of guns, explosions, capture and miraculous escape, mysteries quickly solved and a handsome, strong, lucky and brilliant hero (with obligatory wise-cracking sidekick). I turned my imagination off and just read and read and read and it was great.

Then I opened the book at random and read a page or two critically. Do I need to know the exact engine specification of the Bentley Continental or just that it is big and black? Does it help me visualise the action? Do I need to exact model of the gun, the specification of the telescopic sight or a comment on the range and capabilities? It was a sniper rifle handled by an expert marksman – they wouldn’t choose a toy cap gun would they?

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. I don’t tend to give too much detail – just enough, I think, to let readers make their own pictures in their minds. Which is the right way to do it? Are my books too hard to read and put people off or are his too easy to read and … put people off?

Each to their own. Each genre has its own requirements. I didn’t think the nameless action book was a literary masterpiece but I did think it was a cracking read.

But I will only read it once!





Topical fiction – It’s Alive! Alive, I tell you!

21 08 2013

Sometimes an author gets lucky! They’ll be beavering away, writing hard about, say, a dark psychological view of a man’s twisted world. Then they’ll be taking a break and see on the TV news that their anti-hero was real. There was someone out there who’d just been caught doing exactly the same thing. Something that some in the real world would call a crime!

Two things would run through that author’s mind. Firstly – they are not alone in the dark. Second – is this prime publicity for their book?

Is it? Should he quickly finish it off, even if second rate finishing, just to get it out in time to get some fillip from the fourth estate, ride some wave of rich ghoulish publicity? Or should he continue on his way, writing what he wants to write – perhaps taking some elements of reality into fiction – but not letting the world’s priority impact his inner creative urgency?

A third thought comes…

This was a particularly dark tale from suburban American. If he doesn’t get the book out soon, will some pulp fiction author steal his thunder with a piece of reality-based-fiction and leave him with only the dregs and reputation as a coat-tail-hanger, a genre-stealer?

No – if the public want tales from beneath ground level, they’ll get what they want!





Sequel threads – lay the groundwork early

18 08 2013

Unless you are setting out on a saga of such length that you know it will take three tomes to get it finished then you are writing a one-off. You are pouring your heart and soul into this book, this tale. Giving life to the concept which came to you over a bowl of cornflakes or perhaps was years in gestation. It is a story, a one-off.

Now you’ve nearly written it, your mind has to flick forwards to life-after-novel. What next? You’ve spent so long with these characters, this situation, you must start thinking about whether you could write some more about them. The Series is born.

Before you finish your first novel you therefore should be looking for seeds to plant. Loose little threads you can pick up and develop and turn into something new. If you don’t leave these pointers and plan them out, even if not in great detail, then you will find yourself having to scratch around for a sequel.

Why give yourself the angst?

Just add a sentence or two about your hero’s mysterious sister or something deeply significant in the setting’s past. Think about which bits of your story you like most, which people have the most interesting lives you have created. 

Your editor will probably also give you some pointers but one way to help get that editor is to show you are savvy and aware of the benefits of having a customer base already bought in to your characters, already emotionally invested.

So leave a loose thread, weave a flaw in the pattern, knit one, pearl one, drop one.

Then you can enjoy finishing off your book and start to leave hints in your own blogs and on your website about where your heroine is going to next.  Give your readers an inch and they will make up the mile themselves.





First books – how autobiographical are they?

16 08 2013

First books are autobiographical.

This is something I have always known, both intellectually and anecdotally. The proof sits on the shelves of any bookseller. First novels are where authors pour their naked souls only to edit and rewrite to take some bits back, hide themselves away again, disguise and disfigure to bring new heroes and villains to life.

I have often wondered if I re-read the first novels of each of my series, would I see different facets of the creative mind in each heroine. Does Mrs Vintner hide more darkness than Penny B? Will Mischa give people a view of my lightness of spirit at times?

Or…

Or is the first novel which no-one sees the one where you are most naked? We all have that first book – it may not be finished – it may never have fully left your mind– but we authors all have the first embarrassing secret text where we gave too much and could not edit it enough to hide our true selves from the readers

To quote some advice given in my latest work:

“This is your first novel. There are always autobiographical elements. Don’t worry about it, there has to be. But if you don’t give Mischa her own face, her own voice, she will assume the readers know her as well as you know yourself. You, the writer, are just recording her actions, her thoughts – not your own – no matter how similar you might think she is.”





A Writer’s Retirement – the promised land?

14 08 2013

You don’t retire on book one. Or two, three or four. In fact, if you’ve got four over the line you don’t retire at all – the ideas keep coming, the books keep coming. Life is retirement because you are doing what you love to do. And loving what you do is what counts in life.

I knew a man once. He enjoyed his work. Loved it. Spent every waking hour he could at it. I used to have a job and when the working day was over then my commitment to it ended. He said to me that if you don’t love your job, don’t do it. It is where you spend most of your waking hours so if you don’t like it, don’t love it, just don’t do it.

Nice to have the choice, I thought!

But as time passes I see his point. I love what I do and who I do it with, for, about. Love it.

Would I stop? Only if I was forced to by circumstance, failing health or policy intervention. Luckily, I don’t think I will ever give cause for the constabulary to pay me much attention.  Then again, I do like to take the odd risk.

If retirement was forced upon me by the walls of a prison could I continue writing? Would I find sufficient raw material to shape and mould? Would my publisher still talk to me or would a new pseudonym have to come to life?

A new one? Does that mean I have one already?  JK has a lot to answer for, bringing the subject to the top of people’s minds!