Second Time Around

An author’s first novel often represents the union of several gleaming factors. The writing shows precision in word choices, because so much time has been spent evaluating each sentence. The characters have true depth, because stops and starts as the book develops winnows out those who are less compelling. Most important of all, the book has a good concept. A subject struck a nerve at the very beginning, and the fleshing out of that topic proves how solid it was.

Where authors can fall short is the selection of the sophomore effort. Part of the problem is fatigue. So much effort was expended on the first book that a writer finds that, like Atlas, supporting one world feels like quite enough. To start from scratch and spend hundreds of new hours is a daunting prospect. At least the first time around, you had no idea how long it would take.

Juxtaposed to the weariness is your knowledge that you are a much better writer. In the latter stages of revision for the first book you likely found that the words you composed flowed out of your head faster. You were using certain techniques, like converting the most interesting word in a sentence into an active verb. So you want to put all that hard-earned training to work.

A first impulse with many writers is to pen a sequel. After all, you know the characters of the first book so well. Yet this is where so many writing journeys fall short. The concept for the second book may come to seem pallid compared to the first. Ten, twenty, maybe fifty pages into the new book, you find yourself losing interest. It just isn’t grabbing you, pulling you onward, the same as the first one.

That’s why, no matter which concept you choose, the first consideration needs to be how excited you are by it. Better writing skills employed on a less compelling central idea is a pointless exercise. You might as well perform black belt moves on a mannequin. 

How do you find good concepts? While some authors are bursting with great ideas—when will I find the time to write them all out?—most of us have to be more patient. You can move the process along by staying mentally sharp when you read news articles. Would that disaster in Dallas fit with the core characters you have in mind? Like many other gifts of the Muse, that ever elusive minx, you may find that by actively seeking, the perfect idea blindsides you unexpectedly.

Exercise: Context can provide the basic shape in which to fit the concept. Draw up a few pages of notes about 3-4 main characters you’d like to explore (whether from past books or not). In particular, what sorts of relationships between them would you like to develop? Now you have laid the tinder that can be sparked.

“Creativity and insight almost always involve an experience of acute pattern recognition: the eureka moment in which we perceive the interconnection between disparate concepts or ideas to reveal something new.”
—Jason Silva

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine

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Copyright © 2012 John Paine. All rights reserved.