by Bruce Blake
I read an article the other day about a company that is taking 1800 Fisker Karmas (an electric supercar, but the company went bankrupt) and replacing the electric drive systems with corvette engines. They are effectively turning the ultimate green machines into gas-guzzling land rockets, an outcome I suspect the folks at Fisker never thought would come to pass. It reminded me of a question I’ve asked myself more than once in the past:
Do authors always know where their stories are going?
I ask this question on a broader scale than the short story, novella, or even stand-alone novel. No, the inquiry is leveled more at the writers of series.
The first time I recall pondering this puzzle was sometime when I was reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in Geroge R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (something I read a number of years ago…long before Peter Dinklage ever donned tights, swung a sword, and waxed on about the troubles of being a Lannister imp). As the story developed (and characters I thought were main players met their ends), I moved on to A Storm of Swords about the time A Feast for Crows came out, and it was common knowledge even then that the series was going to stretch on longer than expected (in word count as well as time between installments). As I read, I began to wonder If George had any idea how the whole mess was going to end. On a smaller scale, when he wrote about Jaime throwing Bran out the window, did he already know about the Red Wedding (to use TV phraseology)?
I won’t go too deep into my own speculation about Mr. Martin’s story planning here–both because I’d most likely be incorrect and because I don’t want to spoil anything for the three people left in North America who aren’t either watching or reading the series–but I can talk about my own experience.
Since that time I began wondering how far in advance an author plans, I’ve published a trilogy, three books in an ongoing urban fantasy series, and the first two books of what might best be called a long-form epic fantasy serial. (For the sake of this post, a series is a group of related books, usually with the same character or characters, where the series may have a larger story arc, but each individual book can stand alone. A serial is a group of related books that form a larger story in which each is an important piece but does not have its own traditional beginning-middle-end story. Thus, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files or Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse are series, while A Song of Ice and Fire might be considered a serial. Debate in the comments, if you like.).
Let me tell you about each of mine.
First, the Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy.
As this was one tale told in three volumes, the bulk of the story was laid out when I began writing. As has been discussed in previous posts on this blog, I am a plotter who leaves room for improvisation, so a few things came to be through writing but, for the most part, I knew in advance. Except, of course, a few details about the ending but I figure if something in the ending doesn’t surprise me, how will it surprise the reader?
Next, the Icarus Fell urban fantasy series.
This is, in my opinion, exactly what a series is. Each of the three books is a stand alone story. There are elements that carry over from book to book that a casual reader may not grasp completely if they read book 3 without reading the first two beforehand, but there’s enough in each to make for a satisfying read. And the answer to the above question? I have a couple of ideas for future books, but no firm guide to where the series will go. What happens as I write will help determine what comes in future books…that and the fickle muse.
Finally, the Small Gods.
I’d throw this one into the category of a serial…one long story that continues from one volume to the next. Start at the beginning or you’ll be lost. I spent a month planning around the first book–partially on the plot, but a lot of world building, too. By the time my fingers started tapping keys, the first book and portions of the second were already planned. More of the second book developed as I edited book one (I specifically kept notes of bread crumbs I’d dropped that I might want to go back and use). Beyond that, I have a few highlights I know I want to hit, and a few thoughts about the final climax, but every once in a while, something completely unexpected happens. That might show up while I’m writing–one idea leading to another, leading to another–or the muse occasionally just wallops me over the head. I had a thought the other day about one storyline that, should I decide to follow it, I expect to add one more book to the series (I’ve been expecting 6 books, just so you know).
So, I can’t answer my query on behalf of Mr. George R.R. Martin, but I can answer it myself…
The author is having fun on a voyage of discovery, not unlike the one the reader takes.
How about the other authors out there? Who writes series? How much planning do you do? Do you think George Martin has planned the entire thing?
Bruce Blake is the author of 8 novels, none of which he particularly planned, and he’s really quite unsure how he managed to finish them. If he’s not careful, he’ll likely write a few more by accident. Look for one in the spring.