However, my first published novel, Shadow’s Son, was originally written as a stand-alone. I suppose I had an idea that publishers would be more inclined to take a chance on a single book from an unknown writer, so I was shocked when my agent came back with a deal for a three-book series that would become the Shadow Saga. I’m not ashamed to admit I was also a wee bit terrified.
How in the seven hells was I going to write a trilogy? I had never written anything longer than a single book before.
And each of the sequels has a contractually-agreed deadline? AND they want outlines for books two and three right away? Gulp.
Despite my trepidations, the adventure of reaching out into unknown territory was also thrilling, so I dove in head-first. What was the big deal, right? Writing a series is probably just like writing three separate books, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
My personal philosophy is that every novel must contain a complete story. That means my books each have their own plot that begins and ends within those pages. However, with a series there is also a series arc in play, another plot (super plot?) that starts in the first book and continues to develop through each subsequent novel to the very end.
Writing a single novel is difficult enough, but giving each book its own separate identity while maintaining a continuous theme/story is a hefty task.
You might think writing the sequel is easier, because you don’t need to introduce the main characters and setting in-depth again (if they carry over into the next books). Yet I often find it more difficult because much of the joy of a first book in a series is the newness of it all.
Readers coming back for the following books need to be amazed all over again, but in a bigger and better way. The pressure can get intense.
So how did I deal with that pressure while writing my first series?
Not very well. The second book, Shadow’s Lure, was really difficult at times. Not the writing so much — the basic story was always clear in my mind. No, it was the revising that ate me alive.
It had so many moving parts — the changing themes, each character’s personal story, the novel’s story, the overarching plot that joined books one and three, the change in setting, the evolving magic system, etc. — that I couldn’t keep track of it all as precisely as I did with the first book.
Somehow, I got through the process and got that book out the door. Looking back, it may be my favorite book of that series, in part because I know how hard I had to work for every scene.
For some reason, writing the third book, Shadow’s Master, was a little easier than the second. Perhaps because I knew the characters so intimately or because the story was going toward what I felt was a natural conclusion.
Then I got to the climax and things started going haywire. The ending I had been so sure about suddenly felt wrong, as if I’d gone off the tracks somewhere. This made revisions more extensive and frustrating than the previous books.
Nope. As soon as I typed THE END on Master, I began plotting my next multi-book epic that would become The Book of the Black Earth. While set in the same world as the Shadow Saga, this series takes place in a different region with a new cast of characters.
But what was different this time? Had I learned any lessons from the first series?
My biggest takeaway is that I know I must have a plan. I’m not one of those authors who’ll tell you they know everything that happens in the entire series from the very beginning (as if it came to me in a dream, Kubla Khan-style). I know how I want the series to end, but I really have very little idea how we’ll get there.
I take each book one at a time, creating the best story I can like I’m building a house. The first book, Blood and Iron, was the foundation.
Now I’m in the revising stage of book two. As with other middle books, I’m balancing a lot of plots and details, but this time I’m more focused on the overall series story. Sure, you’ll be able to read Storm and Steel all by itself and not be too lost, but you’ll miss a huge amount of context.
All in all, I love writing series. It gives me room to explore my characters and world setting, while still allowing me to improve my craft with each book and bring those new techniques to the next stage of the project.
At least, that’s my goal. Ask me after this latest round of revisions how I’m doing.
Jon Sprunk is the author of the fantasy epic Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). For more on his life and writing, check out www.jonsprunk.com.