What if you’re writing a series and it looks like the last book in the series will be more exciting than the first? Is that bad?
Will posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m working on the first of what I plan to be a series of fiction novels. I’ve used the Snowflake method to craft outlines for three novels so far. My question is: what to do if I think the most exciting story is in the third book? It’s kind of like George Lucas debuting the Star Wars series with Episode 4, because he wanted audiences to meet Darth Vader as a fully formed villain, rather than the conflicted boy he was in Episodes 1-3. Should I skip ahead to write book 3, which will probably change parts of books 1 & 2, or stay patient and keep building?
Randy sez: Just to make sure everybody’s on the same page, Will is referring to my wildly popular Snowflake Method of writing a novel. He’s used it to plan out a whole series, which shows some serious dedication to planning.
Kudos, Will, for mapping out three whole novels in advance! That’s hard work, and it’ll pay off for you as soon as you start writing.
It’s hard to give advice when I haven’t seen your Snowflake documents and don’t know all the details of your story.
My view is that a lot depends on the answer to this question: “How good is Book 1 in your series?”
There are a lot of ways you could answer that, but let’s look at two possible extreme cases. You might respond:
- “Book 1 is wretched. My target audience isn’t going to like it.”
- “Book 1 is pretty good. If it was a standalone book, it would still make my target audience happy. But it just isn’t as good as Book 3.”
Now let’s look at those two cases.
What if Book 1 is Bad?
If Book 1 in your series is bad, then nobody is going to read Book 2 except your mother, and even she won’t read Book 3.
If that’s the case, then you need to rethink your series and figure out how to make Books 1 and 2 better.
It sounds like you’re still in the planning stage and you haven’t written any of them yet, so there’s no high cost to revising your plans. It’s much quicker and easier to revise a Snowflake document than a four-hundred-page manuscript!
What if Book 1 is Solid?
If Book 1 in your series is in good shape, and the only problem is that it’s not as good as Book 3, then that’s a wonderful problem to have.
Remember the Harry Potter series? Book 1 was very good. Book 2 was even better. Book 3 was way better. Book 4 was massively better. And Book 7 was the best of all. That makes for a wonderful reader experience. Every book is better than the one before.
I can’t see a downside in this case. By all means, think about how you might make Books 1 and 2 stronger. I’m a big fan of always writing the absolute best work you can write today. But once you’re done with today’s work, let it go. Then try to do better tomorrow.
I’ve tried to do that in my own novels. (And in my blog posts. And in my e-zine.) I may not succeed in always doing better with every effort. That’s not under my control. The only thing under my control is whether I do my best work on any given day.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to start with Book 3 and then go back and do Books 1 and 2. Since Will mentioned the Star Wars series, I’ll just say that I liked Episodes 4, 5, and 6, and I thought they made a complete series. Having seen those first, I found that Episodes 1, 2, and 3 didn’t work for me, because I was comparing them to 4, 5, and 6.
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