Imagining a Series
When I wrote Control, back in the days before I had an agent and publisher, trilogies were the thing. The Divergent Series was out there, as were the Hunger Games. So I knew I was going to query with this book that was “standalone with a potential for a series” (writer speak for “I’m not pushing three books on you, but they’re yours if you want them!”) Control ended up being a standalone book and was bought by Penguin as such, but I couldn’t let go of my trilogy dreams.
Book Two Argh-xiety
After I got a green light from my editor to work on book two, I cracked my knuckles and went to work. I was nervous. After all, I was really happy with how Control ended up, yet my brain kept saying BOOK TWO MUST BE BETTER. As comforting as it was to know that I didn’t have to world-build from scratch, I was now locked into a creation with rules that got in the way constantly as I brainstormed. I was my own best friend worst enemy.
Also? I couldn’t even begin to write a second book without knowing what was going to happen in the third, so I ended up plotting the third as well. Arghghghg. (<—this is an actual sound. I heard it in my head, for real.)
Charts are Your Friends
I wrote charts. Lots of them. Most of them were character charts. As in, what major obstacles (internal and external) would my characters deal with in the second book? How would it change them? How would those escalate to the third book? Are they bigger than in Control? Heck, I even made relationship charts. Because those evolve too.
I also wrote plot diagrams that started out resembling neat little snowflakes and ended up like savage amoebas. I also made escalating tension charts that looked like sideways, petroleum-fueled lightening strikes on an X-axis.
Zen and the Art of Conflict Management (aka—kill people and blow things up)
At the end of a book, hopefully there is resolution of many of the major conflicts occurring in the opening of the story. But if there is a book two, should you reopen conflicts that you just solved?
I didn’t want to rehash the first book over again. But what person (or character) has everything figured out, let alone at age seventeen? No one. Also, the stakes had to rise, as far as those pesky external obstacles. So I incorporated a game changer. I went outside the world that the character experienced in the first book and added new problems. Along with lots and lots of explosions. I figuratively broke down the walls of her life and added Bad Things.
Also? I killed someone on page one. * shrugs *
Literary Guar Gum
Guar gum is the gooey, filler ingredient made from seaweed that they add to stuff to make it—gummier. When writing a story that has to span several books, you may feel the need to add and stuff to keep things going. But the truth is, nobody wants to eat guar gum if they don’t have to. I didn’t want to put literary filler into my books, either. So…
The Three Become Two, and That’s Okay
In the end, my editor and I both almost simultaneously decided to turn the series into a duology instead of a trilogy. Why? I wasn’t confident that I could keep the tension and storyline strong through three full books. I was started to fret a lot because of the guar gum problem.
So I ended up rewriting Catalyst. It was intense and difficult, and there were some fists being shaken at the Steven King and Anne Lamott a few times (“Your books are not helping. Why can’t you sit next to me right now???), and I was unreasonably addicted to Salt n’Vinegar flavored anything for weeks, but…
I did it. In the end, instinct told me (instinct=not having fun while writing) the right thing to do. And I’m glad I listened.
LYDIA KANG is a young adult fiction author, part-time doctor, salt-lover, geek-girl, and hyphen addict. Her debut YA novel, Control (Penguin) is available now and its sequel Catalyst arrives March 24th, 2015. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram or on Goodreads.