Writing the sequel to my spy novel has been a lot like trying to refuel a plane in mid-air: There are so many things at work simultaneously; one wrong move can lead to a fiery explosion. Or re-write. Whatever.
The characters might be mine, but they think for themselves more than I think for them. I picked out this totally cute outfit for Zellie the other day – a flouncy black skirt, teal tights and shiny red ballet flats – and she dissed me in favor of a black running suit. What a bitch, right? Nah, she’s just being the kick-ass girl I wrote. And still love, no matter how many times she makes me crazy.
Case in point: Chapter One of ‘Nero.’ It’s been nearly two months since I put aside my partial, 60,000-word, almost-done alien love story in favor of the sequel to ‘Manas’ – and I promise you that two months has been spent deciding how to start. I have my adventure, I have my new characters/love interest, I have my clues and subplot and more than 36 pages of random scenes from future chapters. But, that darn beginning had me stumped for 8 solid weeks.
Everything’s OK now; I capped the chapter with a killer one-liner over the long weekend, and I’ve plowed forward at a dizzying pace into Chapter Two. But, I feel the need to examine why in the name of JK Rowling it took me that damn long to write 14 pages, double-spaced.
You see, sequels are funny things – much more so than a regular novel. With a regular novel, you are the master of the world. You make up the rules, dress your characters in clothes and personalities, and make them say anything. (Even if it’s corny and dumb; I’m looking at you, SK). But now … well, those things are already done for me. I’ve been confined to a mold I lovingly created, edited and honed to this ferocious, fast-paced novel, and now I have to navigate my way out of it without writing myself into a stereotyped corner. (I’m looking at you, Friends.)
But, if Zellie has taught me anything it’s this: When one door closes, you have to break out your lock-pick set and brute-force crank that sucker open.
In the two years since creating ‘Manas,’ I’ve changed as a writer. The original ‘finished’ document is similar only in its bones to the beauty now being submitted to publishers. What used to take me 5 or 6 drafts (spaced months apart) has translated into 3 drafts written under a much shorter time frame. I’m honing my craft and impressing my husband along the way.
So, what’s the hard part? The recap. If you’ve ever picked up a sequel, you know what I’m talking about. There are plot points introduced (and lived) in the first novel that the reader needs to be reminded of before the sequel can really begin. And, what about those poor people who picked up No. 2 first? They need to know what’s going on if they’re keeping pace – and, with my Zellie novels, that’s dizzying even when you know what’s going on.
It’s all about distilling relevant information – much like a real spy would, actually. You have to think ahead and realize that this chapter will most likely evolve the deeper you get into the story. Be OK that your first draft (no matter how many goosebumps it gives you) is a *first draft* and will only get better.
Keep moving forward, and I’ll see you back here soon! ; - )