Monday, November 7, 2016

I Like Series

If I went back in time and could have a talk with younger self, I’d probably tell me to tell me to shut up. I think I had a lot more going for me when I was 18 than I do at 27. I’m not saying I dislike who I am today (exactly), but most of what I learned was about the journey, not quippy tips I could give. There’s also a lot of unlearning I need to do. I doubt that most of what I could say would help me. 

However, if I had to give my younger self advice in my writing career, it would probably be, “Don’t be a snob.”

Literary snobbery prevents experimentation and restricts us to trends. It dismisses good books for the wrong genre and, on many occasions, prevents us from doing what we want to be. It can appear in unexpected ways; we don’t have to merely dismiss romance novels and idolized literary gibberish. Maybe we hate novellas, best sellers, anything mainstream, prologues, abstract absurdity, award winners, academia, or, of course, series.

I’m a snob in that I don’t like change. I do attempt to combat that snobbery at every end, giving things a chance; it doesn’t always end well. It’s hard to listen to your gut when you’re actively ignoring your first impulses. For the most part, if I become aware of a snobbery, I will analyze why I feel that way and attempt to overcome it.

I have fifteen unpublished manuscripts right now, but none of them are series. There’s several reasons for that, a big one being I have many ideas that would be easier to sell as a standalone first. Working on a sequel while I could be working on a new novel seems to be a misappropriation of time; I’ll write a series when I’ve been already contracted for one.

However, as I pull myself out of the Great Depression of ’16, am I slowly finding my interest piqued again. I’m easy in some ways—I like beautiful covers or titles—but after spending so much time incapable of enjoying anything, I’ve started to really consider why certain things appealed to me.

People say to me a lot, “Do what you want.” When it comes to writing, I have a strong opinion on parts, but not all. I can write an entire novel only using ‘said’ for dialogue tags. Should I? Do I want to? It’s not as though I’m invested in not using it either. All I know is that you are bossing me around, so I’m inclined to do the exact opposite.

Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, it becomes very difficult to just ignore them and do what’s natural, especially if it’s not anything you paid attention to before.

There have been occasions when I stubbornly refused to do something others suggest. Sometimes I later realized I was shooting myself in the foot. Other times I would come to understand with why they wanted a change and be really, really glad I didn’t do it. Sometimes I’m make a change and be shocked with how much the work was improved. Other times I’ve had to spend months undoing the damage. Often enough, a slight, anal change didn’t do much of anything at all.

So, yes, I find it important to consider advice, and no, I don’t think, “Do what you want,” is typically a good solution when grappling with someone’s request.

Long story short, it helps to be more attentive to what works for you outside of the criticism box.

As I said previously, in recent months I have been finishing up reading a hexology (that’s six books), plus several short stories and companions all set in the same universe. I wanted to like the story so much, but there was something missing in most of them—a lot of the action happened “off screen”—for one.

I have the tendency to stalk authors. It inspires me in ways, entertains me, gives me an excuse to procrastinate from writing, all of the essentials of a writing career. I will continue to look at their pages whether I loved their books or not. There are many writers who I am a fan of even though I don’t like their work.

Sarah J. Maas is one such author. I admire her in many ways. I was drawn in by the beautiful cover of her book and the concept of her series. I was so excited to read it when it came in the mail—and very disappointed once I began to read.

I won’t go into detail about why I didn’t like it—it was the little things, not liking the character, not agreeing with Maas’ view on literature or take on catty women—but it was the one that got away for me. I wanted to love it. The book gave me a little tingling of warm inspiration when I imagined what it could be.

So much in fact that though I was not impressed with her first book, I am strongly considering giving her another chance with her next series.

I find that one of the things that draws me back to Maas and my little hexology was the fact that they were series; they had their style of writing, their rules of the world, their little niche, that was fleshed out with several successful stories.

I want to have a series.

A second reason that I don’t is that I’m not the most monogamous of writers. I can be devoted without a second thought, but a manuscript? Nah. I’ll flit from one bed to the next, one right after the other. I’ve even called protagonists by the wrong name. How embarrassing.

Sometimes I don’t always, sometimes I’ll be enamored with one and stay focused, but I have to say that our time spent together always had a light at the end of the tunnel. My characters piss me off and I want them to get their shit together. I spend a whole book trying to set them up so I don’t have to worry about them anymore.

I always considered connecting my books in some way—all the characters are reincarnations of previous protagonists, they’re the same people, but in a parallel universe, or everyone lives in the same world—but that would take a kind of commitment I don’t have in me.

I have an idea for a series. I have the first couple of pages written out some time ago. I was in a discussion with a woman about whether or not we should focus on one book at a time or write the ones we’re inspired for—I absolutely think the answer depends on your personality—but I prefer to work on scenes while I’m first excited for them because they always, always come out better for me—to which she said she was like Stephen King and believed bad ideas would be forgotten. That hasn’t been true for me. Even if the vague idea I had for a plot disappears, I still have a scene written in passion that I have used elsewhere. My favorite manuscript of all time began as a patchwork of these scenes that I workshopped into a fully formed plot.

So, I have a beginning to a book that I always thought would make a good origin story—the truth behind the myth. The characters were humans snatched from “our” world and left into a literal sandbox. I wanted to combine an idea I had for “the last author on Earth,” with an idea that I had for telling truly human stories about gods, with an idea for having each of my novels history affect the history of the others.

But I never wanted to commit to it.

I have a lot of other works in various stages of completion, plus The Stories of the Wyrd, which is a serial too, all of which take up my time and make the likelihood of me focusing on a series—especially, as I said, when selling a series upfront proves so hard—very unlikely.

People judge series, acting like the author is limited in ideas or trying to cling to past sales. Which happens, fairly often even. Cassandra Clare, the author of The Mortal Instruments, writes prolifically in one world and was accused of selling out. I found her response very profound, even prior to my ever considering whether or not I would create an extended universe:

There is a reason you see people extend successful series or keep writing in universes in which they have previously written popular books.
Because they can.
And I don’t mean because they can in the sense of "I DO WHAT I WANT!”
I mean it in the sense of “because they are really really lucky, lucky enough to get to write what they want.” Successful series get expanded and writers write more in that world because when series are successful, publishers will publish more books related to that series. This may seem blindingly obvious, but apparently not. Series that make money continue on because publishers do not publish series that do not make money. The only way you get the opportunity to continue to write in the same world is if your previous books in that world have been financially successful. 

A lot of people would prefer to write series over standalones, they just never get a chance. Is it because they’re lacking ideas? Sometimes. Is it because a sequel to a successful novel is easier to sell? Sometimes.

I like reading series. I don’t actually know where the judgement comes from, even though I too tend to assume series aren’t as rich as the standalone—wrongly, I know.

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