So, as last time, here for grins and posterity is a glimpse into the complete story design for my latest, ARISEN Books Nine and Ten. (And also quite a lot about the remaining books in the series. Possible SPOILERS! Flee now!) This is also in the wonderful Scrivener, and shows the project for these two books, with composition window on the right, a notes doc in the middle, and the complete file tree on the left. Click on it for the expanded view, to actually read the document names. (Unless you're still reading the books and don't want spoilers, in which case go away five minutes ago!)
What I Did Wrong
If somehow you've made it this far, you shall be rewarded with the following confession: I'm not very happy with how either of these books turned out in the end. Why? I believe I forgot (or failed to sufficiently apply) a few very important storytelling principles, such as:
- Story is things happening. (Not internal reflection, not recapping of previous events, not clever dialogue.)
- Rule #1 is: "Push the story forward." So much of the material in these books didn't - and that's reflected in some of the (admittedly minority) critical reviews.
- Rule #2 is Unity of Story. Many of the events were not essential to the overall story arc.
- Instead, they were "episodic" - as in, here's some cool/fun stuff that could happen along the way, like a TV series.
- I badly failed to heed this principle espoused by David Mamet, who truly said, "The progress toward [solving the problem of the story] must be direct and all incidents essential either in the advancement or disruption of that progress."
- I was guilty of another criticism laid on by some others: outrageously bad luck, and everything going nightmarishly wrong, used as a constant crutch to manufacture excitement and drama. But nobody is that consistently unlucky. Ever. And it's lazy. (Relying on coincidence is always lazy.) Instead I need to ramp up the real forces of opposition against the protagonists (the dead, the Russians) so they have to grow to defeat them.
- In many cases, I used the first idea I came up with not the best idea I could conceivably come up with.
- In my enthusiasm to pick up Glynn’s storylines and characters, I gave short shrift to my own particularly Alpha, which being rather central to the story deserved more time and attention.
- The zombie animals. I took a real risk with that one, in order to keep things new and unexpected and to keep upping the stakes and peril. But there's a fine line between "unexpected" and "jumping the shark" (best defined as when a series strays so far from its original DNA that it loses what fans loved about it in the first place). At least a few readers clearly think I came down on the wrong side. (I can tell, because they used the phrase "jumped the shark" in their reviews.
I could drill down more, but suffice it to say I think I have a pretty good sense of where I went wrong. (*) And I am seriously fiercely determined to fix it to achieve redemption from these sins in Books Eleven and Twelve and the climax and conclusion of the series and overall story arc. This time, I'm not going to grind out two books at once, I'm not going to rush the story design process, and I'm going to produce at least 128k words (each) of pure story, drama, forward momentum, and character journey as expressed in the characters' actions (emphasis on action). Finish it right. I know I can do a lot better. And I'm going to make these the best two books of the series by far or else die trying.
The challenge has been set.
It's been said that any real artist is his own harshest critic. Fair enough. And I'm aware I mainly see the flaws and shortcomings a hundred feet tall in front of my face in all directions whereas they probably don't jump out at civilian readers so glaringly. But that doesn't mean they're not there.