Lydia here. Today we have a very special treat! Janice Hardy, fellow blogger and author of The Healing Wars trilogy, is here to discuss her experience with writing a sf/f series. As spec fic writers, having your own series is a common goal, but as yet-to-be-published novelists we often read comments in writerly circles that we should refer to our "book one" as "a stand alone with series potential" and then hope someone out there will grant us the powers to expand the story.
Book One: The Shifter (click here for my review) was Janice Hardy's debut novel and the start of a trilogy. So how exactly did she manage that?
Welcome, Janice! I know a lot of sf/f writers (including myself) would like to know about the process of writing a good trilogy/series. What’s yours?
When BLUE FIRE came along, I wasn’t sure where to go. I knew where the story went, but not the plot. I knew Nya’s (my protag) worldview had to change. I knew she needed to be on the run after what she did in book one. I knew she needed to be drawn deeper into the problems and gain more notice from the Duke (the bad guy). I had to explore her past more, flesh out the secondary characters more. The problems I left dangling (and there weren’t many, more like hints of problems) had to be addressed. And it all had to lead up to the final war I wanted for book three.
The first draft was a disaster. It wasn’t its own story, it had way too much backstory and rehashing of THE SHIFTER. It set up book three but didn’t resolve anything in book two. It was one big, soggy middle from start to finish. Even worse, the stakes from page one were the same as the climax. Nothing ever escalated. I rewrote it five times before I felt it was good enough to send to my editor, and even then it wasn’t good by any means. We did three more major passes with it, and by then it was finally coming together. I lost perspective on it, because to me, all I saw was that horrible draft I struggled with. Even though folks were telling me they liked it better than the first, I didn’t believe them, convinced they were just being nice. Eventually the reviews started coming in, and reviewers known for being hard on everything praised it, so I finally relaxed. All that work paid off in the end.
It wasn’t about taking one story and stretching it over three books.
Then came book three. I spent more time plotting before I started, learning from my mistake with BLUE FIRE. It went together a lot easier, but by the end of the first draft it felt more like I had a wrap up to the series, not a personal story about Nya and how she ended this long journey. It was “a” story, not “Nya’s” story if that makes sense. My crit groups confirmed this and offered lots of good advice on how to fix it. I rewrote it, but I used the same basic plot, just from a different perspective.
What I realized, is that I had written the background for the war. I figured out who all the players were, how the city had become divided, who controlled what, who was on what side, how folks felt about the situation, etc. The stuff I needed to figure out before I could see how Nya fit into it all. Once I made that mental shift, it was a pretty easy rewrite. I just looked at it all through Nya’s eyes and made her role and participation in those same events matter to her on a personal level. I kept asking, “How can this situation affect her personally?” I also looked at my theme and the ongoing internal struggle Nya’s had the whole series about her abilities, and how I could connect all that into events as well.
One of the more challenging things was tying up all the loose ends. With three books and all those characters, everyone had their own little tale to tell. Finding the balance between wrapping up a small, but well-liked character, and still staying on target with Nya’s story, was tough at times. I’ll be working on more of that I’m sure as soon as my revision letter from my editor comes back (anytime now, eek!).
I’d do it differently next time. For one, I’d spend more time planning the full series arc so I had a solid conflict in each book. I’d use the stepping stone technique more – where the first book causes the next problem, the second book fixes that but causes the next, etc. Pieces that are all part of the big problem, but can be solved independently. That way I’d get a better idea of how all the pieces fit together so I wouldn’t be thinking of something for book three that would have been awesome if only I could go back and edit book one. I’d also limit the number of characters, especially if I planned to have those characters come back. Book three got a little unwieldy at times trying to juggle them all. I’d also love to write first drafts of all three before I submitted the first, but that might be unrealistic. Would be nice to get all the brainstorming out and the basic story down first though.
How much (if at all) did THE SHIFTER change after getting the book deal?
THE SHIFTER changed very little after it was sold. It was tightened up in the slower spots, clarified in the more vague areas, but overall it was pretty much the same book I submitted. However, I did go through some edits with my agent. She liked the book, but felt the ending needed some work. My stakes flattened out in the third act, and really didn’t escalate for the climax. I needed to make it more personal for Nya, and give her a really good reason for going back into trouble. I did two rewrites (I didn’t really get what my agent had said the first time around) and came up with something I’m really thrilled with, that I wouldn’t have done had my agent not pushed me.
The ending has a clear lead-in to book two. Did you have to change the original ending, knowing you'd be putting out a sequel?
It wrapped up the story in the original, because I had no idea if anyone would want that book let alone two more. After my editor bought it, we adjusted the ending so it didn’t wrap things up quite so nicely. I like series where they give you a little hint at what the next book is going to be, so I added the lead-in. I’ve actually had reviewers ding me on that, so not everyone feels the same way. If you want to provide a lead in, go for it, but don’t feel you have to. Lots of books don’t. And I’ve discovered not everyone likes that. (grin)
Did you originally write it as a stand alone with series potential?
Total stand alone. This is the first series I’d ever tried actually, and I’ve learned a ton from doing it. My ideas had always been one book stories before, but halfway through THE SHIFTER I saw a bigger picture and more problems that Nya could be part of. She was connected to the overall conflict of the region in ways she didn’t even know, and as she discovered them – and the bad guys discovered her – she could be pulled right into the middle of it all.
That’s what I think made the real difference. The story was something that had layers, and as each layer was revealed, it provided just as many questions as answers. It wasn’t about taking one story and stretching it over three books. I could have tried to make the whole trilogy about saving Tali from the problem in book one, but I think it would have failed miserably. There just wasn’t enough conflict or stakes to keep it going. Too many scenes would have been the same obstacle with new details (like getting info, escaping, getting into someplace). But each problem in each book created the next problem, and everything grew. The stakes went up (larger repercussions to more people on a grander scale) but at the same time they also went in (became deeply personal to Nya and what she was struggling with internally). Keeping it Nya’s story made all the difference. It wasn’t just a premise.
Had you already started BLUE FIRE when THE SHIFTER sold?
Nope. I was actually 60% of the way through the first draft of a YA supernatural thriller. I set that aside and dived into BLUE FIRE. All I’d done at that point was write a one-page synopsis for BLUE FIRE, and a half page synopsis for book three. Just enough to let editors see where I was going with the series.
Writing one book and writing three really took slightly different skill sets. I found that surprising, because I always figured a trilogy was just a bigger “book” in parts, but I found that wasn’t the case. Every time I thought about it in that way, I got into trouble. As long as I focused on each book being its own story and plot, the writing flowed much easier. Part of me wants to never do another series, but then another part thinks now that I know how, I can do so much more with the story than I could with a single book. Dig deeper, span wider. I have a few stand alone stories I really want to write, and I plan to do some of those, but there’s another series brewing as well. I don’t think it’ll be long before I dive into that one.
Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us today, Janice!
Book Two of The Healing Wars, Blue Fire, is available now!
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.
Click here to order.
For more about Janice Hardy and The Healing Wars, check out her website:
And her blog, The Other Side of the Story: