Wednesday, January 23, 2008

To Link or Not to Link?

Maven Darcy BurkeWhen I decided to get serious about writing historical romance novels in the summer of 2005, I picked up a book I started in 2000. I fiddled with it and then realized I didn’t want it to be the dreaded “first book” that may never see the light of day. I loved the plot and characters too much (still do!). That book was envisioned as the first of a trilogy starring three friends: a fighter, a lover, and a gambler. I still plan to write that trilogy, but for now, I’ve other fish in the frying pan.

The book I started writing then (the dreaded “first book”) was Notorious. As I wrote Notorious, there was a great secondary character who was a bit of a jerk. I loved the idea of giving him a book in which he became even jerkier (hit rock bottom) and emerged as a hero. That was Leo, the hero of Glorious. The original plot of Glorious included stuff from Notorious, such as the hero and heroine of Notorious showing up in a scene and looking all happy and in-love. More troublesome were scenes in Glorious that had to happen a certain way because of something in Notorious. The two books had to maintain continuity for readers. But, once I consigned Notorious to the magical mulch pile under my bed, I was able to free Glorious from its tether. I took out all of the Notorious references/tie-ins and you know what? Glorious was even better!

Did I learn from that lesson?

You know the answer to that if you read my comment to Maven Erica’s post on Monday.

As I wrote Glorious, I realized Leo’s sister was in desperate need of her own book. She was snarky, self-involved, courageous, and funny – in a word, an anti-heroine. Cue The Fox and the Hound Beauty and the Bandit Her Wicked Ways. As I storyboarded Her Wicked Ways I realized I had problems. Timetable problems that gave me a whopping headache. Her Wicked Ways would have to start before Glorious and conclude after because the inciting incident in Her Wicked Ways had already happened when Glorious started. And Miranda (the anti-heroine) is actually a key player during the latter portion of Glorious, which happens during the course of Her Wicked Ways but isn’t really important to the plot of HWW. That particular conundrum and how to write it was driving me a bit batty (even though I’d storyboarded it and had a plan for how to do it).

Because I keep writing secondary characters who seem to have these great backstories and come to me with their own story ideas (needy children!), I naturally had two more linked books that would follow Her Wicked Ways: Tess’s (Glorious’s heroine) sister and Leo and Miranda’s brother each needed a book and I had great ideas for both. They wouldn’t have been as intrinsically linked as the first two because they wouldn’t have taken place concurrently as Glorious and HWW do did.

Do I have a point today? Why, yes, I do. I think I’m prewired to write linked books. I like to read linked books (and by linked I mean both with overarching plot or theme threads or with characters that appear in multiple books), so perhaps that’s why. If that’s the case, why did I decide to unlink Glorious and HWW? For the reasons stated (no more convulsing to make the timetables match!) and because I haven’t yet sold them in a multi-book deal.

But, of course, if asked to link them, I can do it in heartbeat.

What do you prefer to write? Linked books? And linked in what way? Unlinked? What are your thoughts on writing linked books without a multi-book contract?

11 comments:

Carrie said...

Lots of great things to think about!!

I like to write linked books. Part of that is that as a spec fic writer I create new worlds and I hate to use them on only one book. I'm a fan of the companion book -- set in the same world, but different characters and almost wholly independant. Of course, that being said I'm now writing a sequel -- haha!

However, for me personally, I saw a danger in writing trilogies or very linked books before selling. First, it's harder to sell a book that relies on another book that was written earlier and didn't sell. Second, sometimes we need to step out of the safe worlds we've created and really stretch.

Christine Koehler said...

I like linked books, mostly because I like to read them. I grew up on Jude Deveraux's Montgomery series, which is loosley linked, but I loved the feel of it.

In writing, I've learned to write stand alones that don't necessarily rely on a previous story, but have a great deal in common with them. This way I have a beginning, middle, end, and a future.

Plus, I always like to see what's going on in characters lives (mine or others) after the HEA.

Bill Clark said...

Like Christine, I love to read linked books, because I like the characters and enjoy finding out what happens to them as they grow and mature. I guess it all started with my appetite for the Hardy Boys (static and unchanging though they were), and of course has been more recently fed by the Harry Potter books, in which characters other than Harry, like Ginny Weasley or Dumbledore, gradually emerge into the spotlight.

So yes, by all means link! My favorite set of linked books is and forever shall be the Narnia series, in which Lewis brilliantly creates back stories and forward stories and side stories all within a world of his own creating. So put me down firmly in the "link-lurve" column! :-)

Diana Peterfreund said...

Well, my first attempt at writing "linked books" resulted in my first book contract, currently a four-book series. So I'm a bit biased.

Honestly though, I don't care either way. Series or no, as long as the book is good.

However, what really interested me about your post was the idea of wanting or not wanting something to be the "dreaded first book that may never see the light of day."

A while ago, agent Kristin Nelson posted something about how a lot of her clients had taken "four books to sell" or something similar which caused a huge uproar. One poster said that she was suggesting writers rush through three bad books so they could write the magical "fourth book" that sells. Silliness.

I don't think that's what you're saying here, but it could be interpreted that way -- i.e., save the "good" story because everyone knows first books don't sell, and just write a throwaway idea. Which we can all agree is a bad idea, right?

I had to believe every book I wrote was a book that I could sell. Writing a book is a lot of work. Why would I write something if I thought I was just "getting it out of the way" as some kind of preliminary "must-have" before I could get onto valuable stuff? the only thing I can see to that is that you end up with a useless exercise, and looking at a "first book" all over again.

Having said that, I certainly came up with ideas that I felt I was not ready to write, so I put them aside. And you know what? Without fail, when I came back to them, later, I found they weren't actually the ideas I'd thought they were, and that now, with my new skills, I had much better ideas cooking.

Darcy Burke said...

I saw a danger in writing trilogies or very linked books before selling

Carrie, I tend to agree with you, which is another reason I unlinked.

Christine, I totally agree re: HEA. (And I love Jude Devereaux!)

That's it Bill. I love the secondary characters too and almost always find myself wanting to read/write their stories.

Diana, interesting comment! Yeah, I'm definitely not saying the first book can't sell or can't be a great book. I know people who have sold first books and people that have written many, many books before selling. (And I'm reminded of the oft-repeated story of Teresa Medeiros who revised her first book something like 10 times, but wouldn't give up until she sold it.)

When I started to get into the actual craft of writing historical romance, it became evident to me that the trilogy I envisioned would be complicated and I wasn't sure I could properly execute it yet. The books were more plot driven than character driven (something I didn't even really understand at the time) and at least the first one was fairly research-heavy. I guess the best way to say it was that at the time I didn't feel I had the tools to write the book I wanted to, if that makes sense. So, I wrote something else and definitely needed that first book exercise that taught me so, so much about the craft. But that's me and shouldn't be seen as a "must do exercise" for anyone. That said, nothing improves our writing more than simply writing.

And make no mistake, as the Mavens will tell you, I was convinced I could sell that book. It wasn't until I wrote the second book twice as fast and it was twice as good did I finally realize that it needed more work than I had in me (read: I was ready to move on).

Diana Peterfreund said...

So, Darcy, the idea you put aside.... do you still like it? I never do. "Never look back, darling," as E says in THE INCREDIBLES...

Darcy Burke said...

Diana, I like elements of it, such as a scene between the hero and Miranda who is the heroine of the book I'm currently writing. I also liked Leo, who is the hero of Glorious. Basically, I expanded on the bits I liked with new books and tossed the rest. I kept another secondary character (a mentor type) too and may include her in other books. But overall, no, I'm looking forward, dahling!

lacey kaye said...

I was convinced I could sell that book. It wasn't until I wrote the second book twice as fast and it was twice as good did I finally realize that it needed more work than I had in me (read: I was ready to move on).

This is so, so true. I guess I don't have much to add to this except Amen.

Tessa Dare said...

Well, secondary characters from my first book became the protagonists of my second and third books. However, when I still wasn't sure if my first book would sell, I made certain I could make the second one stand alone if I needed to, and just send it out on its own.

But the first book did sell, and the interested editors were only too happy to have a linked trilogy proposal. I do think the genre has something to do with whether it's advisable. In historical romance, series seem to be the norm. So I don't see any problem with an unpublished writer thinking like a pro and writing books with "series potential".

And even if you do get a contract for a linked series, it's best for each book to be enjoyable on its own. That's the challenge I have right now - making my book two heroine understandable to people who didn't see her supporting role in book one. Tricky...

Jackie Barbosa said...

Well, you know I'm an inveterate "linker," but I agree that there's definitely some risk in doing so if the plots of the books depend upon each other in any significant way, especially if you haven't contracted the first book in the series. On the other hand, I'm not sure I see much downside in writing a "coupled" book while trying to sell the first one--as long as you can see how to uncouple them should you strike out with #1 and need to move to #2.

In my case, I tend to link books more by characters than by plot, so that makes it easier to have each story stand on its own. I just finished the sequel to my Cobblestone historical and, while the main characters are featured in Carnally Ever After and events in that story play a minor role in the sequel, but the first one isn't required reading!

Erica Ridley said...

of course, if asked to link them, I can do it in heartbeat

I think you have a great attitude about the project, D!!

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