30 September 2010

Con report: day 4: part 1

I took in five panels on my final day of the con, so here's the rundown.

"The series question: big books chopped up or small books glued together" with Ian Irvine, David Cornish, Kate Forsyth, Lara Morgan and Mif Farquharson (although, looking at my notes, I haven't written down anything she said so it may be she was very quiet, or perhaps she wasn't there. I can't remember now.).

Cornish said the most disconcerting thing for a writer is to have readers not just waiting for the next book to come out but the next book with a better plotline. Hmm, we hear a lot about second-book syndrome, but this would really put the pressure on! In a discussion about the problems with continuity over such a large work, he said he leaves questions at the end of all his ideas so he has room to change things. And he said he couldn't tell whether an idea was a short story or seventeen volumes until he'd written it.

Irvine said his first book went through twenty-two drafts over twelve years, which gave him time to tweak the plot. His research and worldbuilding were so extensive he even had charts of moon phases. He talked about how many viewpoints were reasonable to handle (few can handle six to eight well [note to self ...] -- that each time you add a viewpoint character you dilute the reader's investment in the other characters.

For Forsyth, continuity is part of the enjoyment. She charts the time of year against the main character groups, what they are doing and where they are. She also writes timelines for each character and wrote an encyclopaedia of several hundred pages for Eileanan -- each country had an entry of eight to ten pages. Wow! I thought I had quite good worldbuilding, but mine looks paltry next to that. She constantly updated hers and kept it open on her screen as she was writing so she could constantly switch back and forward. With Gypsy Crown, she made sure she'd written all six books before it was published because she found with her first series there were things she would have liked to have changed when writing the latter books, but she couldn't because the first books were already published.

She said that every book in a series needs a sense of completion, resolution or something achieved, and that this along with paying attention to the structure of each story would help avoid sagging middles or the weak second book. Each book is part of an overriding arc and each book must increase in tension and importance -- something it is easy for writers to forget this as they could get bogged down in the subplots and characters. She added that she likes to make subsequent books bigger and brighter as a reward for readers for returning. Isn't that a nice idea!

She said her imagination had an epic grandeur about it [I like that!], so she couldn't write small and didn't like short stories, but she always knows exactly who she's writing for. She also talked about being completely absorbed in what she's currently writing, dreaming about it, thinking about it all the time, and so her favourite book is always her current one. Before cons, she always does a brief refresher course on her past books so she can answer reader questions.

Morgan, in her trilogy, gave each book one big event to keep them all exciting. She killed off characters because she realised she had too many and although she cried while writing these scenes [or this scene?], she said the book was better for it.

In fact, that was such a long report, I might just leave it at that.

1 comment:

Sherryl said...

Kate Forsyth is such a good speaker about her own work (and writes about her processes really well too). I do agree with her about making later books bigger and better than the earlier ones, plot-wise. I find I'm doing that with the historical series I'm writing, although I do worry then that the first book might seem weak in comparison.
It's definitely the advantage to writing all of them before any are published!