I’m currently writing the third draft of Dangerous Phoenix and as usual, this revision is focussed on style alone. But things aren’t working out like that. I have a problem and it’s one, I think, that’s specific to writing a series. Maybe specific to writing a trilogy which has as its base the protagonist’s development over a span of years and during particular events. Structure has reared its ugly head, and a little late in the day.
Before I started on this Indian trilogy, I’d never attempted anything similar before. I could see immediately that I’d need a clear idea of where I was going over all three books and not just in book number one - not necessarily the nitty gritty detail but the overall sweep of the story line. I’d have to drop clues or at least the shadow of a hint as to what might happen in future, otherwise readers of the later book would rightly complain that the plot didn’t ‘fit’ what had gone before. That was the only difficulty I could see with writing a trilogy. But I was wrong. There are others and I’ve just come upon one.
Reading through the ms of this second book for style, I’ve been uncomfortably conscious that at times the pace slackens and slackens considerably. As a reader, I’m thinking too much narrative, where’s the dialogue?, where’s the action? So what’s causing this hiccup? When I read back over the offending parts, I discovered they were all ‘back story’. Every novel has a back story, of course. The old adage is that you start writing as near to the action as you can and drop in little nuggets of back story as you wend your way through the plot. If you find you’re having to put in too much, then you’ve started too far in and need to go back and begin the novel at an earlier point in the story.
So far, so good. But what about when you’re writing something like a trilogy? If each story has a separate plot complete in itself, which mine do, that’s fine. In each novel, you need only minimal background details of your protagonists and where they’ve come from to ‘flesh out’ that particular story line. But what if your plot depends to an extent on protagonists’ reactions to events, and those events are heavily coloured by the past. Then the past needs to be part of the story you’re writing, and that can mean an awful lot of back story. And a problem with repetition, since some of the ‘past’ will have been detailed in a previous book. I’ve rewritten some of the narrative in dialogue and it’s certainly more dynamic now, but there’s an awful lot of back story still hanging around. I’m faced with the difficult decision of just how much I can include without losing my reader or conversely, how much I can cut and still make the characters’ motivations and actions credible. I’m struggling with at the moment and if there’s an easy solution out there, please let me know!