Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Proposals and Series Vs. Standalone pt .1

Part 1: The Blueprint

One of the bigger changes in my mental model of writing over the last five years is that I no longer loathe and fear synopses and proposals. In fact, I have actually come to enjoy writing them. In part this is a function of practice. I've done a lot of these at this point, something on the order of 30, and as with all writing tasks, it gets easier with repetition. But even more, I think it is because I've spent the last five years working in the WebMage world with all its interesting bugs and limitations.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love WebMage and it's been enormous fun to write. At the same time, it's not a story that was originally intended to become a series. In fact, it wasn't even originally intended to become a novel. The process went like this:

It started out as a short story. Then it grew a second (never published) short story. Then those two merged into the first half of the book. Then I wrote a third short that eventually became the opening of book II which grew from there. Then I had to come up with one more rough plot, CodeSpell, and a sketchy idea, MythOS. Then I wrote a series closer that had to incorporate all the earlier stuff and tie it up into a neat package.

This was a lot of fun but it also involved a lot of work in terms of making it all fit together and look like a cohesive whole. Picture a one room cabin that slowly accretes additions until it becomes a small mansion. It can be done in a way that produces something with architectural integrity and style, but it's a hell of a lot more work to do it that way than it would have been to start out by designing a mansion from the blueprints up.

The same is true of series book proposals. In the past five years I've written series proposals for four separate series, two with a complete book attached, two with chapters. In all four cases, I knew from the first moment that I was writing a multi-book saga and was able to put all the story equivalents of pouring the slab, electrical runs, plumbing, and facade into the blueprint ahead of time instead of ripping out and replacing the original inadequate hookups or simply making do.

The end result of that advance planning should be a much more cohesive and seamless whole. In the case of one of the series (a trilogy actually), where I went ahead and wrote book II on spec as well, I was able to see how much simpler it was to get book II written and running with all the foundations waiting for it. It wasn't a perfect fit and there were things in book II that made me go back and make minor adjustments to book I, but overall it was a much simpler and stronger process. The proposal is the blueprint, and if you get that right it means a lot less work and kludging down the road.

But more on that later.


Stephanie Zvan said...

I keep thinking about this, and I'm not sure that the WebMage series would necessarily be as rich as it is if it had been conceived as a series. Of course, some of that is probably offset now by you being a more mature writer. Hmm.

Kelly McCullough said...

That's hard to say. I think that it might be more rich on some levels because I could have spent more energy on story and less on retrofitting world-building. But it's entirely possible that some of that retrofitting drove interesting story stuff. The interaction is too complex to make any clear statement but I feel like the set-ups in both the Looking Glass World and Aqua Vitae allow for a richer set of options. Of course, both of those were built 8-10 books on from the original build of WebMage, so who knows.