Just yesterday, I turned in the final draft of a book, THE DARKNESS, that will be published in December. This was an exceptionally difficult book for me to write, not just because I believe the scope is larger than my previous books but because this book is actually the send part of a two-part series (the first of which, THE FURY, will be out in October).
Why was this difficult? Well, for starters, having a plot that was interesting enough to span two books was quite daunting, and made me doubt myself a few times. If the reader started the first book, didn’t like it, my chances of them picking up the second were shot to hell. But even more than that, I had to write the book with two goals in mind:
1) That the book would be a seamless continuation of the story begun in THE FURY
2) That the book would stand on its on for newcomers to my series
So how does one go about writing what is essentially a sequel, without making it necessary to read the book that preceded it? The answer? I’m not totally sure. All I can say is that I tried hard to make it possible. I stayed away from going over the details in the first book, except for larger, opaque references. I didn’t go into the ending, instead staying with a theme that occurs early on in the first book and doesn’t give anything away by mentioning it. And, most importantly, the story in the second book, I think, does stand on its own.
What I tried to do in these two books was tell one big story, that was made up from two smaller ones. Each story has its own insular world and individual plotlines, but when read together gives a much broader vision (I think). But each story also was written in an attempt to create an individual plot with unique stakes and emotions.
When I look at authors who write back-to-back-to-back trilogies, the very idea of that scares the bejesus out of me. I mean, there’s a LOT at stake in that first book! Think of it like this: New Line spent something like $300 million dollars shooting the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy back-to-back to back. Now, this seems like a great investment now, but in 2001 or so this was a HUGE risk. I mean, the LOTR books are classics, but they’re not as timely as Twilight or Harry Potter. It’s comparable to WATCHMEN–a classic story, but one that is not easily adaptable and might not appeal beyond the geek crowd. There were no big stars, the director was known more for his low-budget horror movies, and one of the lead roles was played by the kid from “Goonies.” Had “The Fellowship of the Ring” bombed, New Line would have been screwed on the next two movies and lost more money than Donald Trump’s casinos.
If the first book in your trilogy doesn’t work, you’re up a creek without a paddle. You’ve already committed the time and effort, and your publisher has committed the same (plus money). Perhaps the ceiling for success is higher, but as is the cellar for failure.
Now, these books are not technically back-to-back (one comes out in October, the next in December), but it’s close enough that I consider them as such. I think they’re the best books I’ve written, but of course writer’s perception of their work compared to reader reaction can be a wide, wide gulf. If the books tank, critically and/or commercially, I’ll be pretty devastated. I care about these things, and I do hope they expand my audience. If the books do well, there will be a major sense of relief. But until then, I’ll be biting my nails. When these books come out I want them to have taken the reader somewhere. I don’t want to have put in all that effort just to end up in the same exact place.
Did the latter two LOTR books (or movies) stand on their own? Perhaps. They were all good enough to work on their own terms, but it’s impossible to argue that you wouldn’t enjoy them more had you seen the other ones first. So I hope people will read THE FURY, and then to continue on with THE DARKNESS. If they go the other route, hopefully the story will work on its own.
So what do you think? It it possible to write a duology, trilogy or quadrilogy while maintaining separate stories for each book?