HOW TO FINISH A SERIES – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Today’s great tips and guest post were provided by popular Australian author, Ian Irvine. Ian is visiting on a blog tour to celebrate the release of The Calamitous Queen, the last book in his Grim & Grimmer series.

HOW TO FINISH A SERIES

By Ian Irvine

1. Tying up all the loose ends

There’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of a series and discovering that half your questions remain unanswered, either because the author forget that he’d raised them in earlier books, or didn’t know how to answer them and hoped no one would notice.

One way to keep track of all the plot threads is to simply read the book through, note down all the questions raised and tick them off as they’re answered. A more visual approach, because you can see how all the threads interact, is to mark them on a huge wall chart. You can also keep them on index cards or in a spreadsheet or database. It doesn’t matter what system you use, as long as you have one.

And this isn’t always easy. My epic fantasy quartet, The Well of Echoes, is 910,000 words, and itself forms the middle section of the 11-book Three Worlds sequence which all up is over 7,000 pages. It would have been impossible to keep track of all the questions raised and loose ends without a good system. More about these books, and the first chapters, here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html.

When you’re writing a series, remember that you have both story questions and series questions to answer. The story questions must be answered at the end of each book, but the series questions can’t be fully answered until the climax of the final book. The series questions (e.g., will Harry Potter finally defeat Voldemort, and can Harry survive it?) create the suspense that keeps your readers reading to the end.

In Grim and Grimmer, the key story question in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, is: can Useless Ike overcome his name and nature and make up for accidentally betraying Princess Aurora by rescuing her, or will the Fey Queen kill the princess first? This question is answered at the end of the book (though not to Ike’s entire satisfaction. In the great storytelling tradition, this victory actually makes things worse).

There are three series questions: Can Ike free the Collected Children from the wicked Fey Queen? Can he clear his parents’ names? And can he discover the secret of the Gate Guardians in time to free Grimmery? Despite striving with all his might, Ike makes little progress on any of these goals until well into the final book, The Calamitous Queen. He can’t make better progress, because if he did it would destroy the suspense and readers would feel so let down they might not bother to read on. Covers, blurbs, reviews and first chapters can be found here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/grimgrimmer.html.

2. Deciding when and how to end a series

I normally know how each book and the series is going to end before I begin writing, though I rarely know how I’m going to get to the ending. I do a lot of planning for the first book in a series, but when I start writing I have little idea what will happen in the remaining books. This is deliberate. Planning a book can be a dry and largely analytical process, and for me the story never seems real at this stage. It only becomes real once I’ve written the first draft. In writing it I often have much better ideas than I could have in the planning stage, and I create new characters whose individual choices take the story to places I could not have imagined in advance.

This is an important point to bear in mind – different characters must, necessarily, make different choices in difficult situations, thus taking the story in different directions. Therefore, for me, detailed planning of later books at the beginning is a wasted effort. I only plan each book as I’m about to write it.

But a series isn’t always under the author’s control. I originally planned Grim and Grimmer as a 6-book series, but when I sent my proposal in, in the middle of the GFC, the publisher was concerned about the economic situation and reluctant to commit to more than four books. If I’d planned the series in detail I would have had a lot of cutting to do. Also, it’s not common, if a series is not selling well, for a publisher to suggest that it be cut short. Sometimes the author feels burnt out and can’t bear to write any more in the series, and pulls the plug.

On more felicitous occasions, if a series is doing brilliantly, readers and the publisher will be clamouring for more. For all the above reasons, it pays to not close off the story options too finally, as Conan Doyle did. He killed off Sherlock Holmes when he couldn’t bear to write about him any more, then, after being deafened by the clamour for more Holmes stories, had to find a plausible way to bring the great detective back to life.

3. Deciding outcomes for your characters

Though they’re relatively short books, the Grim and Grimmers have a considerable cast of wild and zany and outright mad characters, and because these were humorous books I wanted to bring all the key characters back at the end (at least, all those who have survived) so I could devise suitably humorous farewells or ironic fates for them.

In The Calamitous Queen there’s a gigantic feast and honours night at the end, after Grimmery has been saved (and most of the story questions resolved), and everyone is there. Not just Ike’s allies, but also his enemies Emajicka the Fey Queen, Grogire the firewyrm, the vicious little imp, Nuckl, plus a host of demons and other villains. This gave me the opportunity to show what happens to each character – such as the fateful romance between the disgustingly unwashed hermit, Gorm, and the violent but fussy old granny, Fluffia Tralalee, each manipulating the other to try and get what they want, and each doomed to failure.

And I wanted to send Ike off with full, humorous honours. He does achieve all his goals in the end. Then, in what is supposed to be Ike’s proudest moment, he’s about to come down the stairs from the upper stage, to be honoured by a grateful princess, when he’s waylaid by our old friend Creepy Cripts the hunchbacked troll. Creepy Cripts demands that Ike fix the troll-bum door he created at the end of The Headless Highwayman. And the only way it can be fixed is from the inside, in front of the assembled nobility and Ike’s gleeful enemies.

4. What happens to the author once the series is finished

I’ve been known to finish a big fantasy series in the morning and start another one that afternoon, though that was a while back and I dare say I’m not so obsessive these days. I know writers who immediately go down with the flu (or total immune system collapse) and can’t get up for days. Others spend a week grieving for the world and the characters they’ve spent years and thousands of hours immersed in. Or run amok. Or get drunk.

I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need for any of the above, but it is important to both celebrate the ending of the series, and punctuate your writing career. Celebrate the ending with a night out or a trip overseas, a massage or a special little reward for all your hard work. And punctuate your career by having a total break from writing for a day, a week, a month or whatever is needed.

Finally, don’t forget to look after the friends and family who have been neglected in your single-minded drive for the perfect ending. They deserve some thought as well.

Then, while you’re waiting for the final book to appear, start work on the next series. And if you have some free time, do pop by to my Facebook author site, where I’m giving away 10 of my books a week all year, plus there’s plenty of other fun things going on: http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Here are the other great blogs Ian is visiting or has visited already on his tour.

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TUESDAY WRITING TIP – CREATING THE MAIN CHARACTER FOR A FANTASY SERIES

Today we welcome Ian Irvine on his blog tour to promote book 3 in his Grim & Grimmer series. Ian has generously agreed to share his writing tips based on how he created his quirky and endearing main character, Ike.

Hi Dee, thank you for the opportunity to visit your blog and talk about my humorous fantasy series for children, Grim and Grimmer, and how I wrote it. I hope everyone finds it interesting and informative, and a little bit of fun as well.

1. Some really bad things seem to happen to Ike, like being forced to eat maggot soup and having to win contests against lying cheating, desperate dwarfs. Have you drawn from personal experience when creating his character?

I suppose so, though not deliberately. Ultimately, the only person a writer can really know is himself or herself (assuming the writer isn’t prone to self delusion, and many are, but not me, lol). Thousands of people would have touched my life in some way or another, over the years, but even those family members and friends I know best, I only know from the outside. The one person I can know from the inside is myself, and so, in a way, every one of my characters (male, female, animal, beast, alien, ghost or whatever) is created by drawing on aspects of myself, my life and experience, and then changing it to suit.

Having said that, gruesome food is a feature of many of my children’s books, and this is certainly inspired by meals I’ve had in my travels. For thirty years I’ve been a marine scientist working on pollution problems. I’ve worked in a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region and on these jobs I’ve eaten some astoundingly horrible local dishes. Since I had to suffer, I also like to make my characters suffer, ha ha.

2. How did you find the ‘voice’ for Ike – the things that distinguish him from other characters? Did he just arrive one day and speak to you or did you have to spend time with him, peeling away the outer layers to see what was underneath? Or perhaps he is based on someone you know?

Ike isn’t based on anyone I know. I never base characters on people I know, or have read about, because I like to make characters up myself – it’s part of the fun of writing. Besides, all the characters in the Grim and Grimmer books are rather eccentric, if not downright weird, and I don’t know anyone weird enough to qualify for a place in these books. (Note to self: must get out more.) To create Ike’s ‘voice’, I spent a lot of time working him out and trying to understand him – and once I felt that I did, I just ‘winged it’.

3. How have you made Ike a character that readers will engage with?

I believe the most important storytelling task is to find ways to get readers to relate to the characters, so that when we read the story, we personally feel the emotions of the viewpoint characters as though we were there. We identify with these characters, and this is a deep and powerful need in all humans. It’s why, when we watch the news about a disaster on the other side of the world – a tsunami in Japan, say – the factual reportage is broken up by interviews with survivors. Only by hearing their tragic or heroic stories can we identify with such a distant event, and it’s the same in storytelling.

To identify with the hero, the writer has to uncover his or her true character, and the best way to do this is through conflict ­– by putting the hero into difficult situations where he’s forced to make awful choices that reveal who he really is.

This is what I’ve done with Ike. In the Grim and Grimmer books, Ike is always in conflict with someone, whether it be the imp Nuckl who wants to eat his liver, the Fey Queen Emajicka who is desperate to steal Ike’s nightmares, the desperate dwarf Con Glomryt who is using Ike to try and return from exile, or Ike’s dearest friend, the apprentice thief Mellie, who is so different that they hardly ever agree on anything. Each of these encounters puts Ike to a difficult choice, and each is another step on his path from Useless Ike at the beginning of Book 1 to Ike the Hero of Grimmery at the end.

4. A character’s greatest quality can sometimes be their greatest flaw. Would you say that’s the case with Ike?  What do you see as his greatest flaw?

Ike has so many flaws that it’s hard to pick on one, the author chuckles. At the beginning, his greatest flaw is that he thinks of himself as Useless Ike, a kid who is hopeless at everything. But then, in Mister Flogger’s classroom just before Ike is expelled, he realises that he can’t go on like this. He has to change and make something of himself, and this is the choice that leads all the way to his transformation at the end.

Ike’s greatest virtue is that he’s really enthusiastic, and never gives up, but the reverse is his recklessness; he acts on impulse without thinking things through. He often has a good idea and immediately acts on it rashly, as when he decides to run down to save Princess Aurora in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, but gets it wrong and accidentally betrays her to her enemy, the Fey Queen. Also when he takes the trioculars in the middle of the night, after Mellie has warned him not to, and the Fey Queen realises what a danger Ike is to her. And when he rashly becomes a night-gaunt to save Mellie, only to almost kill her; and when he makes the disastrous wyrm-dung fuelled rocket that explodes and nearly wipes them both out. He’s always doing it.

5. How did you decide what Ike would look like? Did you use a picture, a photograph, did you draw your own picture – or is he just a product of your imagination?

He’s a pure product of my imagination, I’m afraid. Occasionally I’ve attempted to sketch characters but it’s never been very successful. Unlike Ike, I’m not much of an artist. I wanted his physical appearance to mirror his inner self, though. Ike’s tall with big feet and a big nose, not at all good looking. He’s lanky, clumsy and uncoordinated, and no good at any kind of sport, but he’s strong and good-hearted, qualities which carry him through many dangers to his final transformation.

6. Do you have trouble making bad things happen to Ike or are you one of those authors who loves being mean to their characters?

I’ve always believed that if the characters are having a good time, the reader isn’t. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of happiness, fulfilment and joy – of course there are – but for most of the book Ike and his friend Mellie are in dire trouble and physical or emotional pain. Or both!

I like to make my characters suffer, to put them through every trial and indignity that human ingenuity can come up with. Ike even dies in the second book, The Grasping Goblin, after the mad hermit Gorm forces him to pick up a piece of frozen lightning. Alert readers will realise that, since Ike appears in the third and current book, The Desperate Dwarf, he must have been restored to life somehow, and this is all set up beforehand so that it’s not at all miraculous.

7. How did you decide which Point of View to tell Ike’s story from? Did you experiment or did it just happen naturally for you?

The story is told entirely in the third person, from ike’s point of view. In the Grim and Grimmers, which are mainly for readers in the 9-14 age group, I did not feel that more than one viewpoint was warranted (though there were times when I regretted not being able to tell Mellie’s side of the story). I might also have used first person from Ike’s point of view, and it might even have worked better and been more involving. Perhaps next time I will.

8. Do you have any tips for new writers about how to create a character like Ike?

There are many ways of creating characters – for example, completing a character checklist (many such forms are available on the net and can be googled up), or doing an in-depth interview with the character, for example. But I get bored filling in forms (it feels too much like hard work) and I don’t like interviews much either. Character creation also depends on the kind of story you’re telling – for instance, a humorous adventure series like Grim and Grimmer does not need the deep characterisation of a human drama.

I work out a few fundamental points about a character (eg: what are Ike’s most fundamental needs – To survive? To save his friend Mellie? To clear the names of his dead parents?) and have these colour everything he says and does.

Another important point: every character in the book has to serve a purpose, and there should always be some kind of conflict or friction between them every time they meet or talk. This reveals another detail about the character. No character should be there just as a decoration or diversion, or merely to provide some piece of needed information.

Thank you, and I look forward to your comments and questions.

Ian Irvine

Thanks, Ian for some great insights into how you write and how to create a great character. If you have a question or comment for Ian feel free to write it in the comments section of this post.

Ian is touring his latest Grim and Grimmer tale, The Desperate Dwarf and on his travels he is visiting these great blogs:

March 21, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog/

Kid’s Book Capers                                    Review and competition – 3 BOOKS TO BE WON!

March 22, 2011                                         https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

Dee Scribe                                                  Writing Ike’s Character

March 23, 2011                                         http://bloggingwithianirvine.blogspot.com/

Our Lady Of Lourdes School                 General Writing

March 23, 2011                                         http://tristanbancksflow.blogspot.com/

Tristan Banck’s Blog                                Creative Process/Workspace

March 24                                                     http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

Kid’s Book reviews                                   Top 10 Writing Tips

March 28, 2011                                         http://www.robyn-campbell.blogspot.com/

Robyn Campbell                                        About the writing life and this book

March 28, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I enjoyed most about writing this book

March 31, 2011                                          http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I found hardest about writing this book

April 6, 2011                                               http://dcgreenyarns.blogspot.com/

DC Green                                                     Where the character and story ideas came from

April 11, 2011                                              www.buginabook.com

Bug in a Book