Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Same again?

Waiter with bottle of wineSecond books are tricksy things, as I’m sure any writer will agree.

No longer can you meander along at your own pace, letting your story take shape as it will; you’re on a contract now, and you have deadlines – you know, those things that Douglas Adams loved for the whooshing noise they made as they flew by. People are Counting On You.

So you deliver the script, and in due course a book happens and is launched upon the world, and feedback starts to come in. This is not nearly so daunting as it was for your precious-baby debut, but is oftentimes more perplexing.

For instance, you get the reader who adored your first book, but is lukewarm about the second one. It isn’t anything to do with the prose, they say, or the plot, or even middle-book-in-a-series-itis. It’s more that you took their beloved characters and put them through the wringer, and they came out the other side a different shape. You broadened the scope of the story, so it wasn’t so tightly focused on one individual, and these other characters are now perceived as some kind of distraction from the main event. Even though the reader doesn’t actually say it in so many words, you can’t help but feel that they’re not so keen on Book 2 because it wasn’t the first book all over again.

I can understand where they’re coming from. I’m a reader too, and I know what it’s like to fall in love with a character, to gasp when they get hurt and swoon when they fall in love, then cheer them on from the rooftops as they go into battle. But the thing is, if you put someone through a life-changing event, they will not be the same on the other side. They can’t be, because that’s kind of what ‘life-changing’ means.

Maybe they’ll have been improved by the experience, transformed; maybe it’s unlocked reserves of courage or self-reliance they never knew they possessed. Or maybe they’ll come out of it broken in ways they can barely articulate. Either way, the event has left its mark on them, for good or ill.

But I also understand that whilst some authors have made very nice careers out of basically writing the same book umpteen times, just with different names in, I am not one of those authors. My books are driven by the characters, not by plot, and that means those characters have to grow and change on their journey through a story. Sometimes that growth only comes as a result of taking them into dark places to find out what makes them shine.

And if my characters aren’t growing as a result of what they’ve seen and done, then I’m not doing my job properly.

Image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

 

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5 Comments

  1. Ellie

    You tell them, Anne! Blummin’ characters, swanning round like they own the place – they need to do what they’re told!

  2. I’m a few months behind you in the publication stakes, Ellie, so I’m waiting nervously for reactions to my second book! Unlike you I don’t introduce new protagonists but I do take the current bunch somewhere else and of course things have changed for them since the first book happened.

    If anything, though, I most anxious about the third book (which I’m writing now) because it’s going to be significantly different from the first two. Can’t be helped, though – I’ve set up this situation and now the characters have to bloody well deal with it!

  3. Hi Ellie:
    I Know exactly what you’re writing about in this post. I haven’t read book #2 (if luck’s on my side I’ll have to wait until Febraury), but I knew there was going be some turn in your characters after what happened at the end of book #1.

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ursula K. LeGuin’s GIFTS trilogy, but there’s a diametral turn of events between books 1 & 2, and then again in book #3 all the characters meet at one point but you cannot follow then just as a straight line.

    Also Tolkien did it more than 50 years ago…and now Martin with his Ice & Fire series is showing us that we cannot fall in love with a character more than a few pages in time.

    So for those who wants you to write & re-write your first book again and again, plase GO FIND ANOTHER AUTHOR!!!

    Keep on writing, please. Do it for you, with your own vision….and forget about those who wants Gair to be always the apprentice.

    Greetings from Havana, and I look forward to read your 2nd book….and the forthcoming ones.

  4. Juliana fom Brazil

    Just one small reader’s voice among all the others, but I enjoyed your second book a lot! I discovered your work recently which meant I was lucky enough to be able to read both books at one go…

    In my opinion you have just the right measure of character change and growth going on (plus some lovely new voices). Keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading the next installment.

    • Ellie

      Thanks very much – I’m delighted to know you enjoyed them both. P.S. I think this is my first feedback from Brazil!

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