Book One Problems

Hello everyone!  Brandon here. Sorry it’s been a couple of months since my last post. The past few months have been pretty hectic (I’ve been in the process of plotting my new book, writing the outline for it, working on submissions for writing contests, and dealing with life in general), but I’m finally back with a new post. In my previous blog post, Beginning (Almost) From Scratch, I talked a bit about reworking, and eventually rewriting, the earlier books in my series, The Indigo Chronicles. I spent years tweaking them, especially the first book, Tomb Terror, trying to find a way to perfectly set up the series, the characters, and the world they inhabit. I will admit, I had a very definite idea of what the entire series would look like. I knew the titles of each book in the series, and where in the series each book fell. The problem was, Tomb Terror always wound up being two stories in one; the first few chapters were basically the setup for the series, but Tomb Terror’s main plot didn’t even begin until three or even four chapters in—not good. I wracked my brain, trying to figure out how to set everything up seamlessly, while introducing the main plot sooner, and almost always wound up getting frustrated when it wouldn’t work out the way I wanted it to. I found countless articles online that stressed the importance of a good first chapter, because, as I knew quite well, a well-done first chapter can mean the difference between someone eagerly reading the entire book cover to cover, and someone putting the book down after just a few pages and never returning to it. I even consulted “book ones” from other series, and noted how the authors established their plot and main conflict for the novel itself, while still introducing elements that would span the entire series. Of course, I found myself listening to the Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone audiobook again and again, especially the first two chapters. The first few minutes of the audiobook almost immediately raised several questions to keep the reader invested in the story (“What’s up with this strange cat on Privet Drive?” “Who are the cloaked people Vernon Dursley encountered?” “Why are the Dursleys so afraid of the Potters?” “Why are there owls flying around in the daytime?”), and by the end of the first chapter, had already set the groundwork for much of what was to come in the rest of the series (including clever, throwaway mentions of Sirius Black, who would not be seen until book three; and Dumbledore’s crooked, formerly broken nose, which would finally be addressed in book seven). I marveled at how well it was all written, and then remembered that J.K. Rowling herself once said that she rewrote that first chapter fifteen times because nearly every version of it gave away too much of the plot. As I continued to examine my own work, I began wondering if everything I’d written beyond chapter two or three of Tomb Terror would work best as the second book in my series, instead of the first. Over the past several months, a nearly steady stream of ideas on how to expand the first couple of chapters into a new, full-length “book one” flooded my mind, and it wasn’t long before I realized that this was what I needed to do, though I initially resisted the idea, because it meant changing things about the series that, in my eyes, had already been set in stone. Though my new “book one” is still in the outline stage, it already feels far more cohesive than its predecessor. The backstories of my characters had to be tweaked a bit, and while it was a lot of hard work, it feels worth it to create something that truly feels (at least, as of right now) like it is working, and seems to be moving in the right direction. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s okay to have a plan for your series. In fact, I highly recommend it. But don’t become so married to a plan that you become unwilling to tweak it, and make full-on changes to it. Sometimes you’ll make changes that you don’t like, or ones that don’t work, and in those cases, it’s okay to go back to the original version and start again from there. And sometimes you’ll make changes that you wind up loving, and feel right. If I hadn’t come around to the idea of building a new “book one” around the first few chapters of Tomb Terror, and pushing Tomb Terror itself back to book two in the series, I’d likely still be struggling and frustrated and making very little headway.  The more open you are to new possibilities, the better.

Happy writing everyone!

Until next time,

Brandon

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