Friday, September 21, 2012

Triple Play

by Sheila Connolly

It's finally happened.  I'm finishing the first draft of one book, due October 1st.  My editor sent copyedits for another book in a different series, edits due October 2nd.  And she's promised that she'll send first-round edits for the next book of the Museum series to me before the end of this month. Oh, and this is the same week as Bouchercon, a major mystery conference, when I'm supposed to be reading at least a sampling of the books of my fellow panelists.  Cue hysterical laughter.  I may have to skip sleeping for a week.

I could say it's a trifecta, a triad, a threesome, a trinity, a triumverate or a triptych.  But no matter how I label it, it's three books in process, all at the same time, demanding my attention.  Well, I asked for it.

Back when I first started writing (more than a decade ago), I was boiling over with ideas and characters and plots.  It was a very heady feeling, and I loved it.  I started from a point of pure ignorance—how long is a book?  What do you mean, there's supposed to be a structure?  What's a hook?  I have to have a body when?  But my ignorance did not stop me, and I just took the ball and ran with it.

The "on the shelf" shelves (not including
electronic versions)
Predictably my early efforts were awful.  For my third (I think) effort, I used three POVs.  When that received some negative criticisms, rather than streamlining it I added two more POVs.  Didn't help—it was all over the place.  It's on a shelf, as is Book #1 (I won't even talk about that one, except to say that I finished it).  Book #2 is sitting next to it, but I have mined that for some bits and pieces for later books (recycling!).

In the early years I regularly found myself writing more than one book at a time—for a while, it was three, sometimes even in the same day.  When I ran out of ideas or inspiration for one, I could simply shift to another one, with a fresh eye.  It worked well—for a while.

I sold a series.  Then I sold another series.  The first series went three-and-out, but rather than wallow in self-pity, I proposed yet another series, which my publisher bought, and another, and then a third series.  There are fellow writers who think I'm nuts (and no, I'm not partaking of any artificial stimulants to do this, legal or otherwise, unless you count lots of coffee).

But a decade after I started, I find it's not as easy to hop around between books.  I'd like to think that's a good thing, because it means that I'm more invested in both my characters in each series, and my plots.  I don't know if the plots have become more intricate, but I do hope my characters have grown in depth and complexity.  Now it's almost a physical effort to climb back into the head of one of my protagonists, to slip into a different persona. Maybe some of that is due to my age, but by now there are a lot of (fictional) people roaming around inside my head, and I want to make sure they remain distinct individuals, not generic space-fillers—you know, the Protagonist, the Sidekick, the Love Interest, the array of Villains, to be knocked out of the box one at a time until I arrive at the True Villain.  All of these appear in all of my stories, but they have to be clearly differentiated individuals.

So, now I'm back to three at once again, through no fault of my own, wrestling with an array of characters who have different voices, different viewpoints, different histories.  Sure, we're old friends by now, but how do I keep each of them distinct on the page?  Keep them fresh and interesting?  Allow them to grow, slowly revealing more aspects of their character?  How do I allow them to fall in love, without sounding repetitive from one book to another? I'm still working on it. 

Do you ever feel that established authors are producing cookie-cutter characters, without changing more than the name and the hair color? And would that make you stop reading that author's works, or do you find that character appealing?




Leslie Budewitz said...

Sheila, you're a goddess, pure and simple.

Melodie Campbell said...

Yes. Thanks for this, Sheila, because you have voiced something that- with only three books out (different series) I am already struggling with.
I write comedies (mystery/caper) and readers seem to want my protagonists to be smart-mouthed. They are disappointed when I vary from that. But how many different protagonists can you have who are smart, independent and extremely witty? As I consider a 4th series, I live in great fear that someday I may be recycling a personality I've used before, but with different age, hair and occupation.
Thanks for this!

Sheila Connolly said...

Melodie, I know what you mean. Funny--even though we write all those characters, people simply seem to like one protagonist better than another. And not everybody likes snarky (although I love to write sarcastic inner comments). It's also a problem with the male characters--is it all right to create a non-alpha one? Can he be flawed, or will that make him appear weak?

You must have a lot of fun writing comic stories!

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sheila,
I tend to have more than one book in writing mode because it helps freshen up the writing for each one. But not editing. I'm my own worst critic on editing and can focus on one and one book only.
I call snarky cynical. Both my detectives Chen (woman) and Castilblanco (man) tend to be cynical. Do all principal characters tend to be alpha, even the women? Dunno. Interesting question. Maybe that relates to problems associated with men writing about female characters (I did a blog post on that recently) and women writing about male characters. From my POV, female authors tend to do characterization a lot better than males, no matter what the character's gender is. I'm treading on dangerous ground here, I know.