The Art Of The Sequel – Part 2 by Miko Johnston

 

Previously, we looked at some of the challenges of writing a multi-part series. Now a few tips on how to incorporate them.

 

1 – Study the masters

By that I mean writers whose series you read and love. Movies and TV series fall into this category, but since authors can’t rely on visuals, book series are particularly helpful in demonstrating how to update readers in each new volume. How does the author handle the reintroduction of characters, for example? Carry over events from the previous book? Deal with the passage of time? Regardless of the genre, you can learn a lot by analyzing other writers’ works, not to copy their ideas, but to emulate their techniques. I can’t overemphasize this.

 

2 – Review your synopsis

Do you write a synopsis for every book? You should, even if you don’t follow it exactly. It can even be written after you’ve finished the novel and kept as a summary of the story.

A good synopsis will feature the protagonist and the primary characters. It should cover the key plot points and steer readers toward the climax. Use this as a guide for what information should be updated or repeated in your next book. Also consider what will transpire in the newest novel. Anything relevant to the plot should be included. You can plant the seeds for a plot line that will develop in a future volume as well.

 

3 – Create a folder for organizational charts/files

Creating a place to store character bios, floor plans, timelines, synopses and other details is helpful when writing a book, but it’s essential when working on a sequel. Lots of interrelationships between characters? Chart it. Need to know what the town you invented looks like? Map it. Your character’s office? Diagram it.

You don’t want to describe morning sun streaming through the bedroom window in book one and watching the sunset from that same window in book three. You also need to remember how old your protagonist is, whether Joan is his first or fourth ex-wife, and if Harry is his uncle or his barber.  You can create an electronic folder, or file hard copies instead.

 

4 – Build on what you already have

If you get stuck when writing a sequel, reread your earlier book(s) to see if something there can be used to launch a new plot point. A scene in my first book inspired a mystery subplot that I introduce in book three and will complete in its sequel. I realized what happened could be interpreted in more than one way and was amazed by how well that scene pointed to the culprit. The unexpected turn surprised my beta readers – they didn’t see it until the final reveal, but it made sense to them because I’d laid the groundwork.

If you’ve ever had a reader come up with a fascinating interpretation of something you’d written, something that you never saw that way, then you understand how this could happen. For that matter, some writers have gotten inspiration from readers who’ve had questions about a plot point in an earlier book. If one of your readers asks or suggests something useful, run with it and see where it leads.

 

5 – Move the story forward

You don’t want to rehash the same old business in each new installment. Characters have to develop – marry, divorce, give birth or lose loved ones. They’ll have personal and professional triumphs and setbacks. People will enter and leave their lives. These elements can be integrated as backstory or put up-front and center, but they must be there.

Those organizational files/charts that I mentioned earlier will become invaluable in keeping your overall journey on point, intact and moving along. If you don’t have a good idea of where the saga will eventually end, then you should sit down and think about it. You don’t have to have a precise path for the character’s journey, but you ought to have a destination. Then, with every installment, check to see how far along that path your protagonist has traveled.

 

 

Writing a good series is challenging, but rewarding for readers who love them. I know I do. Part of the pleasure of reading each sequel is following the characters’ lives along with them in each new book. It’s like a reunion with old friends, for that’s what they’ve become.

 

What challenges have you found in writing sequels? Do you have any tips to share?

THE ART OF THE SEQUEL by Miko Johnston

As you are reading this, the third novel in my A Petal In The Wind series is about to be published and I’m starting to write book four. I’m in good company. Since the founding of The Writers In Residence, I’m proud to say that seven of our eight members have published at least one book. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many of us have written or are working on sequels.

 

And why not? As Jackie Vick confirmed with her post last week, sequels are a great way to win readers. Like the best movie or TV series, book series attract audiences with interesting characters we get to know over time. Series offer engaging stories as well, that make us laugh, or cry, or worry, or all of the above.

 

You may think it’s easier to write a sequel than a completely new novel. After all, you have your characters developed, your tone set, and your readers hungry for more. Maybe, but if you’ve ever remodeled a house, you know that sometimes it’s easier to start from scratch. Like remodels, sequels have their own set of challenges. Here are some to think about:

 

1   How much of the story bears repeating?

All books, whether sequels or not, should read as a stand-alone – anyone who hasn’t read the previous book or books in the series should be able to figure out what’s going on. Characters and situations have to be reintroduced. However, you don’t want to bog down a sequel with too much repetition from the earlier books. Finding the balance between too little and too much is tricky. A good rule of thumb: include only what relates to the sequel’s plot and avoid frontloading your first chapter with backstory. Throughout the early chapters, recap with a paragraph or a few sentences to reintroduce, or update, the reader to the characters – who they are, what they look like, and what they’re doing.

An excellent example of this technique is Daniel Silva’s description of one of his recurring characters, Eli Lavon. A tracker, a.k.a. street surveillance artist, Silva reminds us that Lavon “could disappear while shaking your hand”.

 

2   How will your characters grow throughout the series?

Comic strip characters rarely change or age over decades, but most writers of successful series account for how much time, if any, has elapsed between books. Each sequel will show characters aging and all that it entails – coupling and break-ups, promotions and job changes, births and deaths. In the Miss Marple series, Agatha Christie describes one minor character as a teenager in her first book. In her eighth, the same character is mentioned as being grown up and in a successful career.

 

3   Are you staying in the same realm?

Whatever you write, you should maintain a consistent genre throughout the series. Readers will be thrown if in later installments your cozy mystery suddenly turns gritty, your political thriller morphs into satire, or spacemen appear in your Regency romance. If you want to write something significantly different from your previous novel, make it a stand-alone.

It’s fine to tweak sub-genres; sometimes you must. For example, my historical fiction series, A Petal In The Wind, begins with my protagonist as a child. In the second book she’s twenty-two, so I added a romance element. However, every book in the series is a love story, only it’s not romantic love in book one.

 

4   Is there more to the story?

Some stories can be told in under 400 pages. Others require more time to develop. Series abound in genres like thriller, mystery, and sci-fi, where the characters continue to save the world from evil, solve another murder, or explore a new planet. Historical fiction series follow a group of characters through an era or period of history, while characters in contemporary fiction series deal with the challenges of our modern age. Romance often appears as a sub-genre in sequels, like Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series.

Often publishers will not accept manuscripts that exceed a set word count, citing higher printing costs. Many readers and book clubs won’t touch a book that’s too long. If your manuscript is over 100,000 words, consider splitting it into two books. If it’s well over 100,000 words, you’ve got the beginning of a saga.

 

5   How do you connect the books?

If you plan to serialize your novels, is it going to be a limited series, such as a trilogy, or open-ended? Limited series are appropriate when you’re tracing characters over a period of time, such as a family saga, a finite era like a war or political reign, or, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries, you have a pre-set number of books in mind. Action/adventure, mysteries, covert ops, and political thrillers can be open ended, for there’s always another bad guy (or gal) to catch, or another adventure to be had.

Aside from the continuing characters, sequels should leave some story threads untied, to be picked up in a later installment. Other characters may disappear for a while, only to reappear a book or two later.  Or a clue in book two may not come to roost until book four. Little nuggets like that give pleasure to the faithful reader.

 

 

Once you know what to do, the next step is figuring out how to do it successfully. We’ll look at that in the next installment, which will post next Monday.

INAPPROPRIATE MATERIAL – WHEN TO SAY ‘NO’ by Miko Johnston

               Bother: to disturb; cause physical pain to somebody

               Offend: to upset; cause somebody anger, resentment, or hurt

 

Twenty years on I can still recall my reaction after reading Kathleen Woodiwiss’s first book, “The Flame and The Flower” – a romance novel in which Heather Simmons falls in love with Brandon Birmingham. Lest you think they ‘meet cute’, during their first encounter he rapes her. Then they fall in love. Sorry. I can’t get into a novel where the heroine falls in love with her rapist or an equally despicable person. Of course, no one is forcing me to read anything like that.

 

Unless it’s presented in one of my critique groups.

 

One of the challenges in writing groups is dealing with material that individuals may feel unable to fairly critique. Sometimes it’s a matter of not understanding what has been written or having an aversion to a particular genre. If I don’t ‘get’ your poetry, I can’t tell if the problem lies with what you’ve written, or me. I’ll always begin my critique of anything paranormal with the caveat that those storylines don’t appeal to me because they strain credibility. I’ve known others who take issue with profanity, graphic violence or sexuality, religious affronts, child endangerment, and most often violence against animals. When critiquing sensitive material we should express our bias and move on. But on a few – mercifully few – occasions I’ve found myself subjected to unacceptable material in substance or presentation.

 

My first experience with this involved an ‘author’ who kept bringing in pieces that read like letters to Penthouse Forum, wild sexual encounters that defied believability. Our group had no policy in place for dealing with such material, so after a few weeks of explaining that, shall we say, he misunderstood what was meant by a story’s climax, we finally told him to seek out another group. I should note that the graphic content didn’t offend me as much as the intent of the writer to shock and titillate his audience, like a flasher who inflicts anatomical words instead of parts.

 

Once I’d been exposed to this issue (yes, that pun was intended) it made me wary of it happening again, so in my next group I suggested creating a policy for a comparable situation. The members laughed it off as unnecessary. Less than a year later, I received pages to critique via email that glorified pedophilia. I wanted to scrub my computer clean in every sense. Since no policy was in place it took a village to expel that writer; angered at our group’s united refusal to read his pages, he dropped out.

 

I included the definitions for Bother and Offend to make a point. I’ve always thought of offend as being much stronger than bother, so I found it interesting that bother relates to a physical discomfort while offend describes an emotional uneasiness. It makes sense, though. Being bothered is more concrete; you know what’s causing it and how it’s affecting you. But offence is harder to pin down; like Potter Stuart’s legendary Supreme Court determination that hard-core pornography was hard to define, but “I know it when I see it”.

 

Having gone through this experience more than once, I’ve come to believe that having a written policy best addresses the problem. Individual wording will vary depending on the group, but in general no one should have to read material that is ‘unacceptable’, a more concrete and less emotional term than objectionable. I define unacceptable to include any material that presents what is generally considered heinous – ethnic cleansing, nonconsensual sex, child rape, enslavement – in an agreeable or glorified manner. Simply put, the hero should fight evil, not be evil.

 

My writers group recently updated its by-laws, so I brought up the idea of including a clause on unacceptable material. Some members agreed that a written policy in place would be wise while others felt that common sense should prevail, otherwise we might be perceived as practicing censorship. The subject initiated more debate than all the other sections put together. Ironically, one member of our group submitted chapters from a religious philosophy book he’s writing and complained about the personal nature of the feedback. Apparently members found his reasoning ‘unacceptable’ and commented not on the writing, but the philosophical ideas behind it.

 

So am I wrong in thinking issues like this should be headed off at the pass, or left to a case-by-case basis. And where should the line be drawn? What would you advise?

We continue our series of animal posts. Today’s contributor is Miko Johnston

I grew up in New York City, where outdoor wildlife was limited, particularly in winter. Pigeons, sparrows and the occasional squirrel coexisted with alley cats and leashed dogs until the robins and blue jays returned in spring.

The reverse was true in Los Angeles, where many bird species wintered in my backyard, at the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains. Some birds left by March, but not all. Red tailed hawks circled the hills, crows commandeered the scrub oaks, blue jays screeched from fences, and the largest hummingbirds I’d ever seen buzzed from yard to yard in search of nectar.

Other critters visited our neighborhood. The ever-present lizards scrambled across walkways and along fences, or lazed in the sun, doing push-ups to attract a mate. Squirrels, chipmunks, and skunks vied with deer for their share of fruit from garden trees. Less welcome were rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion or bear.

I now live on an island in Washington, by an inland sound teeming with wildlife. Cormorants love to perch on the buoys, their wings outstretched to dry. Herons stand patiently on the beach at low tide, searching for fish. The sight of the birds hunched on tree branches reminds me of Gru from “Despicable Me”, and when they fly their prehistoric ancestry is evident. Seagulls and crows use our driveway to crack open mussels and cockleshells. As fall winds down, white-crown sparrows, golden nuthatches, robins and finches go into a feeding frenzy, devouring every blackberry left on the vines and then, as a last resort, the tiny red berries of our hawthorn tree. (Yuck. They taste like petroleum jelly.) In winter, when daytime tides are high, packs of mallards and scoters peacefully cohabit in the calm water near the shore.

I’ve watched deer eat the fallen apples from our trees and had the rare privilege of seeing a stark white fawn. I’ve observed families of river otters sprinting along the beach, and seals hunting in the eelgrass a hundred yards away. Rabbits nibble on our lawn (and tomatoes). In spring, when our hawthorn tree erupts in white flowers, it attracts so many bees it hums louder than a generator.

Several bald eagles nest in nearby trees. One of my great pleasures is watching them soar effortlessly across the sky, circling overhead and diving into the water as they hunt, hearing their distinctive twitter. It takes a few years for the birds to grow into their good looks. Eaglets, with their mottled feathers and ungraceful stance, remind me of awkward teenagers with acne. That was reinforced when I saw one youngster standing on the beach in front of my house, his parents observing from farther away. Crows began to pester him and he finally flew to his parent’s side as if to say, ‘Mom, they won’t leave me alone!’ Later, mom caught a fish and dropped it back in the water for Junior. He went for it, but couldn’t lift it out, so he extended his wings and swam back to shore. I once observed two cormorants fighting over a fish too large for either to swallow whole, when an eagle swooped down and stole it from their mouths. Priceless.

Don’t you agree that animals give an instant sense of place, time and mood? It’s a great technique for setting a scene, which can go beyond the visual:

By midnight, fog had rolled in from the coast, blurring visibility outside and misting the windshields of cars parked on the street. Around three a.m., a howling pack of coyotes in the foothills set off a chain reaction of yelps and barking from a chorus of neighborhood dogs, gradually settling down to a few whimpers as a dark car cruised slowly past the houses on Stargazer Circle.

Animals also make great similes: slippery as an eel, gentle as a lamb. And metaphors: black sheep, lone wolf. In my short story, “By Anonymous”, animals symbolize the disparity between my protagonist and his wealthy client. She lives in a luxury gated and guarded SoCal enclave carved out of coyote wilderness. He, an auto body mechanic working in a downscale industrial zone a few miles away, observes:

Here the gates are chain link topped with barbwire; the guards have four legs and the coyotes, two.

Birds make instant scene setters because they’re both universal and unique to their place – penguins and Polar regions, macaws and rainforests. I used avian references to show a different time and mood in one novel. The first time my protagonist walks through the forest, she hears songbirds and calls it, “God’s music”. Later, after a horrific incident, she’s back in the forest, but she experiences it differently:

Shrill cries pierced the sky and she jumped, sending her ball of laundry tumbling out of her hands. A hawk circled above the treetops, hunting for prey.

She maintains her fear of the forest for years. As an adult, she once again steps back into the woods and finds it peaceful:

Her feet sank into the mulch as she treaded deeper into the forest, her senses alert to danger. Birds rooting for food rustled the dead leaves, intruding on the silence. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye; turning, she watched a hare scoot away.

It’s no exaggeration to say animals are all around us. Many of us enjoy their companionship. Historically we’ve depended on them for food and labor. They provide adventure and entertainment, whether it’s hiking in the woods or going on safari. For some that means hunting, though I prefer to shoot them with cameras instead of guns.

When animals appear on the page, we see them as recognizable characters whether they’re there to comfort, amuse, or terrify us. Without their presence, the real world would be diminished. So would the worlds created on the page.

 

GET YOUR STORY PUBLISHED by Miko Johnston

Have you ever tried to get a story accepted into a writing contest or juried anthology? Wouldn’t it be advantageous to have a confidential resource who can give you a competitive edge? If so, then read on because I am going to share with you my secrets for getting your work published.

First, some background. Several years ago, I tried to get a short story accepted into a Sisters In Crime anthology. I wrote what I thought was a good story that fit the theme and technical requirements. I ran it though a few critique groups to help me polish it. When I got the notification that the piece wasn’t accepted, I was heartbroken. I made it my mission to get my work accepted into the following anthology. The result: my story “By Anonymous” made it into Last Exit To Murder, published two years later. I succeeded in more ways than one; having a story in a prestigious anthology helped me win a publishing contract for my novels.

The experience taught me that it takes a lot more than just writing a good story to get your work into a competitive publication.

I       THE MORE SPECIFIC, THE BETTER

It’s hard enough to figure out what editors will consider ‘good’ or worthy of publication, but it’s even harder when they don’t clearly define what they want. If getting published is your goal, your odds are always better with a single genre competition and a clearly defined theme. Focus on competitions with a limited scope. ‘Stories under 500 words’ is vague , but ‘Heartwarming stories about rescued animals’ is more specific.

II      READ THE SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES CAREFULLY AND BELIEVE THEM

Every contest or anthology will issue submission guidelines that contain vital information. Guidelines begin with an explanation of what the stories should contain or be about. For example, mystery anthologies generally want stories that include at least one murder or serious crime. If there is a theme, the guidelines will often state how the theme should be incorporated. Remember: the more specific the requirements, the easier it is to figure out what the editors want. Pay attention to technical information such as word count, page set-up, method of submission, and deadline for entries. Take that information seriously; consider them demands, not requests.

III     LEARN FROM THE PAST

Writing contests and anthologies are often sponsored by established organizations. Unless the sponsor is new, go back and read their previous publications. Determine what type of writing appeals to them. If everything they’ve published is dark, obscure and literary, your hilarious page-turner probably won’t get accepted. If the mysteries tend to be cozy, save your gruesome piece for another publication.

The sponsor’s website can provide invaluable help. Search online for any information about the selection process or editing of past competitions. I read through the Sisters In Crime L.A. website archives and located an old interview with the editors of an earlier anthology. All of them agreed that stories about previously unknown aspects of the city were more interesting than those that focused on familiar places and events. The anthology selections supported that. Which brings me to the next point:

IV      AVOID THE OBVIOUS

If the theme is U.S. landmarks, leave the most popular choices to ‘Family Feud’ and go with something less familiar. There are two reasons for this: First, many writers will select something famous like the Hollywood sign or the Statue of Liberty. Since editors may want one story based on that location there’s more competition. Or they might get bored reading story after story about the same place and reject them all. Secondly, as already stated, stories about unknown or unusual places and events appeal to editors. Think how omnipresent the White House has been in films, but we vividly remember Mt. Rushmore in “North by Northwest” or Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” because they stand out due to their uniqueness.

V       WORK IT, WORK IT, WORK IT!

Everything I’ve shared with you so far will give any writer a competitive edge. The rest is up to you, though. You have to write a unique story. Start early, as soon as the announcement comes out. Brainstorm a few possible themes and work on them until you have a strong idea for a story. Take every advantage you have. I submitted one story to that first anthology although two submissions were permitted. For the next anthology, I finished my story months in advance and decided to write another before the deadline. I’m glad I did; the first piece was rejected, but the second one made it into the anthology.

Will any of my tips guarantee your story will get published? Of course not, but I assure you it will increase your chances of success. Good luck!

 

 

The Wisdom of the WInRs by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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I sincerely hope you, our readers, find The Writers In Residence blog as enlightening as I do.

Madeline’s recent post on story endings reminded me of a project several writers and I undertook earlier this year. We analyzed different endings, both satisfying and disappointing, and came up with a list, but nothing as contemplative as Madeline’s. There’s a difference between knowing a subject and conveying that knowledge with eloquence.

Gayle’s piece on mining your past reminded me of the importance of authenticity. In fact I touched upon that subject in my earlier blog post on killing your characters. My protagonist loses someone dear to her very unexpectedly. I summed up her reaction in a brief paragraph, taken from my own experience with an identical situation. I still get choked up when I read it, and more than one writer giving critique has as well. Mining your life goes beyond knowledge and experience. At the deepest level you hit real emotion. To ensure that I do, I’m following Kate’s suggestions regarding beta readers.

Creating authenticity in our writing has been a thread recently. Bonnie’s post on research, Jackie Vicks’ on writing what you want to know, and Jackie Houchin’s story based on her missionary experiences in Malawi reminded me of that. My current novel takes place during World War I on the lesser know Eastern front. The subject hasn’t been covered in English language literature, which makes it both unique and challenging. But the challenges go beyond research for me.

Like many writers, I struggle to balance writing time with all the other obligations in my life. I’ve lost my ability to multitask as I’ve grown older – or maybe it’s the lack of time pressure now that I no longer work – but time seems to move faster as I’ve become slower. That’s why Rosemary’s post hit home with me. Years ago I found a very effective organizing system called the Funnel Method. Picture a letter-sized page in landscape format. Divide it into three rows across and seven columns down to create 21 boxes. Label the seven top row boxes with categories of what you need to do: appointments, errands, writing, etc. and list what you need to accomplish each week in the appropriate box. Then use the boxes in the middle row to prioritize your lists, from most to least important. The third row is your weekly calendar; assign a day and time for each task based on its priority. It works brilliantly if you follow it. Unfortunately, I don’t – I rebel against micro-management; like Rosemary, ideal time management eludes me.

So thank you fellow WinRs for sharing your insight and wisdom. It’s made a difference in my writing and, I suspect, has helped other writers who read this blog. I’ll end this post with my contribution – the list of endings I mentioned earlier. See if you agree.

SATISFYING ENDINGS:file3171299616544

Summation – where you bring the previous elements back into play and sum up the action or make a statement.

Partial Summation – where some story lines are tied up, but a few are left unresolved for the sequel (common in serialized novels).

Cozy – where everything’s gonna be alright; it settles down at the end and they all have a cup of tea.

Cinematic – zoom in from the setting to the character(s), or out from the character(s) to the setting (like a movie).

Emotional – tug at the heartstrings and pull out the stops; needs to be carefully handled to avoid crossing over to sappiness.

Bookend – where it mirrors, and often clarifies, the opening scene.

Ambiguous/Cliff hanger – promotes discussion as well as sequels; doesn’t tie everything up into a neat bow.

UNSATISFYING ENDINGS:

Trite – there’s no surprise element; clichéd.

Incomplete – story doesn’t resolve or too many important threads left undone.

Abrupt – too rushed or sudden, like a curtain dropping; doesn’t provide satisfaction.

Prolonged – too slow or dragged out; destroys the tension of the climax.

Martians landed – euphemism for a scenario dropped in without being set up.

Cheap shot – solving the issue without input from protagonist.

Mismatched – ending doesn’t have anything to do with the beginning.

Incoherent – ending doesn’t make sense or is rambling.

Sappy – emotionally overdone; turns maudlin or trite.

 

A Life in Pages by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko JohnstonMiko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Please excuse me while I wipe tears from my eyes. Someone very dear to me has died. Or to put it more accurately, I had to kill someone very dear to me.

Now before you dial 911, let me explain that the person I killed was one of my characters, someone beloved by my other characters as well as my readers. It was difficult, but necessary. My continuing saga would not have the same impact, nor would the surviving characters develop as they must, if this character were allowed to live. As Star Trek Commander Spock famously said, “Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

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I also needed to do this to prepare myself for what will be coming. My historical fiction
series revolves around a Jewish family living in what is now the Czech Republic. I’m working on the third book, set during World War I, but the final installment will take place after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. As you may surmise, this will not bode well for some of the characters.

Although my story is loosely based on my family history – my maternal grandparents endured pogroms in Russia and Poland, and my father survived the Holocaust – it has been suggested that my characters could escape prior to the invasion and make their way to America, thus sparing their lives. After all, I’m writing fiction. I can change it at will.

But can I? I think not, because when you’ve been involved with a story for over twenty years, it takes on a life of its own. I wish I could change their destiny, but it would ring false to me. Early on I made decisions about the characters: who they were, what they would do, and to an extent, how they would develop over time. However, after awhile some of them began to make decisions on their own. Most were simple and minor – a preference for a particular color or beverage – but one unexpected action taken by two of my characters resulted in converting my trilogy into a ‘quadrogy’.

In a sense, I gave birth to these characters. Early on I guided them, taught them, made sure they were always where they were supposed to be. Now they have a life of their own, and I must respect that. Within reason. I still have final edit. But I can’t ignore their wishes and directives, no matter what I, or some readers, may think. Why? As Captain Kirk observed, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

When you create your fictitious world, is it set in stone, or do you change it at will? Have you ever found yourself letting your characters decide where they’re going and what they’re going to do? Or do you maintain full control over them?