So it’s 2012 and I am trying to write a novel, despite characters seeking independence, stories inflating to epic proportions and the looming specter of SF’s accursed “infodump”. How to keep it lean and clean but coherent and credible?
With a bound, our aspiring author was free!
Solution = prequel!
I simply shift the start-point of the whole story back a millennium and dispense with backstory. The “prequel” novel would be ongoing story that would become the backstory of the later novels! Result! In this earlier time-frame, I would explore new characters who stand in the midst of the great events which lead up to the stories I had started to write.
Great idea! I started tapping away, outlining and sketching and watching with horror as these new characters also sprouted independent personalities and self-awareness. Again, these new story lines expanded beyond the bindings of a single book.
Oh, no! I was writing a trilogy to prequel the trilogy I wanted to write. But I was already swept up in their epic stories; this was good stuff. I could not falter now – I would press on and create two excellent trilogies!
However, there were still a few technological aspects that merited more than just a casual reference. Was I going to have infodumps in my infodump-avoiding prequel? Never! But how to avoid that?
Instead of a page of rushed and intrusive technical explanation, I could deal with these aspects in a leisurely way, exploring them in a series of short stories within the same universe. The entire emerging epic would then be spread across two series set a thousand years apart and an array of short stories filling-in the gaps for those who really want all the nitty-gritty (and hopefully, bite-sized chunks of entertaining story-telling).
Ambitious? Hell, yes! Why not?
So instead working on both parts of a two-part novel, I had actually started and/or sketched-out storylines for about six, plus a few related short stories.
Had I learnt anything at that point? Well, yes, sort of…
- Give your characters room to expand, but within limits
- Plan and outline – then let the story flow within limits
But what are those limits? How do I set them?
I needed help. I realised that I needed more than a good, exciting story with strong, sympathetic protagonists facing up to credible antagonists and unexpected setbacks. I needed to tap the experience, the wisdom, the skills of the literary giants…
After so many years in the service of the InterWeb, it was payback time. I began to search the Web for guidance, seeking some understanding of these self-imposed “limits”. How do successful writers actually do their successful writing?
Like any deal with the devil, I got not what I asked for, a lot less than I wanted and a lot more than I needed.
(… to be continued)