When I was a kid, stories were short. We read short stories in class. Novels were short. Series were rare, and those tended to deposit the main characters back to ground zero, exactly as television did.
Since there was no internet, and not all the kids in my class were readers, I thought I was the only one who wanted to know “what happened after” when a story closed. I wrote some stories like that—inventing fan fiction, as many of us did—but mostly I returned to my own evolving series, because what happened after could be, in today’s term, canon. When I was a kid, I thought of it as real. As in, it really happened. Unlike a fan fiction, which in my kid mind couldn’t be real because the author didn’t know about it. Theories on transformative literature and ownership of the reading experience would come upwards of half a century later.
One of my intense delights in discovering Lord of the Rings at age fourteen was the fact that here were three books telling one story. Finally! All the side tales and the what happened afters, all in one story arc!
Clearly a lot of my age mates, and those coming up behind us, felt the same, producing the rich world of SF and F books and visual media now, wherein makers are no longer afraid of long stories.
The downside of writing long series is that the creator is not static.
Especially when writers are young, there’s this sense of realtime being suspended as one sinks into the story time. But that’s not actually true. Deadlines loom—often forcing one to work faster, so that the end might get crammed, but the author is unaware of it from their perspective of utter immersion. The emotional blowback can be deceptive, that is, not actually manage to get through the fingers to the story, but stay with the exhausted, and maybe exhilarated author.
I’ve noticed in this time of long series on television that this can happen to writing teams as well. Which leads to the other part of realtime’s inexorable cost: writers get older, though each morning when butt goes into chair, one feels largely the same. Incremental changes do happen. This year, maybe the eyes aren’t so good. Five years later, the hands hurt. Six years, the back aches, each added discomfort forcing one to stop earlier. There seem to be far more outside demands diminishing the writing time than there were ten, twenty, forty years ago, meanwhile the story has begun to ramify until it seems to have become a world tree that one cannot possibly control.
So I’ve got a lot of sympathy with fellow authors whose series seem to be suspended in storytime as realtime takes its toll in various forms.
Looking at that second drawback another way, especially noticeable when one moves up and down a series timeline, and that is, you are not the writer you were when you wrote the earlier portions of a long story. And that can lead to the fundamentals shifting at the tectonic level: where you thought the long story was going . . . somehow isn’t. Worst case scenario, everything goes adrift. Best case scenario, discovering a trapdoor that leads to a whole new level that binds everything together. If you’ve had the time to let it marinate.
From the general to the specific.
Today, DAW Books launches the first in a long arc series, written by me. The initial story arc is divided into three books, called The Rise of the Alliance. The first book is A Sword Named Truth. After this arc comes another arc, when the main characters introduced in this series hit adulthood, and the world shifts into crisis. Then there is another arc about what happens after.
These all have been written—some of them redrafted several times. The toughest to redraft were actually these early ones, which contain story threads written forty, even fifty years ago. To work it together, I—a visual writer—had to learn a lot about narrative strategies. I read a metric butt ton of literary theory, venturing way out into Theory of Mind and Semiotics, which was fun, but taught me little, because visual writer.
So I ended up rereading pretty much all of the nineteenth century classics that developed the novel, focusing on the various levels of omniscient narrator. And that gave me my handle on pulling it all together.
Anyway, reading and talking about long arcs, romans fleuves, series, whatever you want to call them has become my drug of choice—both as reader and as writer.
Also, yesterday Paul Semel hosted me at his blog to talk a little more specifically about the book and the series.
And another interview, this one more about me than about the book.