That (Third) Difficult Second Book
So by now hopefully everyone has noticed that Princess of Blood is out – as of a few days ago, but I’m nothing if not disorganised about blog posts. You should really go buy it now!
Now you hear a lot about that difficult second novel, but in some ways it’s a regular thing if you’re writing series fiction. This is the third time I’ve had to do one, but it’s a slightly different beast each time.
You go into a series with an idea, sometimes the plot of a book, and some vague ideas about the future probably. Usually there’s something you’ve built the story around – the character, system of magic or whatever and that’s going to inform the rest of the series, but to a large extent that’s all. And with book 1, you’ve now done a lot of what you intended. You’ve explored this idea, you’ve made the character come to life, you’ve enjoyed the mayhem your cool new idea has resulted in…. but now what?
You could always basically write the same book again, and to a degree that’s what readers want. If they’ve got to book 2, they liked 1 and you have to retain some of that. But especially in secondary world fantasy, that’s not quite good enough. For the Laundry Files books, another mission for Bob will be fun to read because it’s a familiar setting and I enjoy the books within that settle. I’m interested to read the book from Mo’s POV because the author is evolving the series rather than pumping out yet another instalment only because it sells. But it’s set in a world I know, albeit with some tweaks.
For the God Fragments, it’s a different world and there’s a lot more yet to see so if I don’t show more then people are going to wonder why not. To take a tour of the same corner would be foolish even if what happened on that tour was still fun. Having conceived the series as individual missions, I want to do something a bit different but don’t want to lose what people liked. For a long time I was debating whether they should even go underground – whether the Cards should do something totally different or more properly explore a Duegar ruin. So I settled on a compromise – a ruin unlike the usual sort and more impact on the human world above. Not the Wisp settlement and tomb I’d originally planned, but something bigger and better.
The problem with these second novels is, as much as anything, you’re writing on faith. Someone bought book 1, they had an idea of what they were getting and wanted it. If book 2 is contracted, you’ve just got to hope they like it, that the choices you made nine months ago were the right ones. If they weren’t, all those cool little ideas you used to pave the way to your grand finish turned out to be just good intentions and you’re standing in the hell of rewriting.
Of course, the more you move the plot along, the more you need to keep the threads that tie the books together. Stranger was a simple story, easing people into the world, but there is more going on in the background and I would need to bring some of that in without getting too far away from what readers liked in the first place. All the while bringing in some of Toil’s past since, a) it impacts on events and b) she’s the title character who drives the plot. Much of the story might be seen through Lynx’s eyes, but he’s not the only one who matters. Toil joined the story later on than the rest so she’s got some catching up to do and they’re all busy about her agenda. You can’t leave a figure like Toil on the sidelines, she just won’t permit it.
All things change. When a story doesn’t, you’re in trouble. Of course, change it too fast and you lose what made it good in the first place. So the Cards still get drunk or high and Lynx still tries to be a good man. Toil still works to further her employer’s goals and people still die a long way from sunlight. New faces appear and new problems arise however – this time the world is watching events and the stakes are raised far beyond just a few dozen lives. It took me a fair while to work out what sort of book I wanted from Princess, but I hope you’re as happy with it as I now am.