Steps to a Story: Prequel to Sequel

I have been struggling the last few days to find my way with Matthew’s story.  Oddly enough, I have images in my head, I have a good solid outline of the plot now, I’ve got a good feel for Matthew’s character itself.  The trouble I am having is the actual writing.

Unfortunately, when I tried to take the time to formulate some of the first scenes, my brain wandered over to the characters for the novel sequel.  More specifically, the new antagonists for the sequel.  I want to start the novel with these two discussing the lack of spies in Diaea and planning a way to prove their suspicions that it is not true.  This is the scene that my mind began to create.

Of course, as a writer, I had to take advantage of the moment.  I switched gears, at least for one scene, from prequel to sequel.  I’ve got a rough version of that first scene written, with place-holders instead of names for now.  I’m hoping to get at least a few of the more vivid images from Matthew’s story written while they are fresh, even if it means writing out of order, and then I might shift my focus for a while and go with Butterflies 2.

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Steps to a Story: Outline

Thank you to those who voted on my Steps to a Story intro poll.  It seems to be split – two want me to take on the challenge of a male perspective with my new short story for Serial Central, and my mom voted three times for the Butterflies sequel.  🙂 

I’ve decided that I’m going to need to write two things at once anyway, since I have to write the serial and I need to get started on another novel.  Writing two stories that take place in the same world, with the same rules, makes the most sense to me, so everyone who voted gets their way!

The first step I took tonight is one that I don’t usually do, but seemed necessary considering I will be juggling two stories at once (and I didn’t want to lose the third completely).  I outlined all three stories to the extent that they currently exist in my head.  This also required some data collection from existing documents, which I will explain in a bit.

The story that is going to be shelved had some existing outlining done in several documents, as well as one very hard to read training outline scribbled in my notebook.  These I streamlined, detailed a bit (for future Leigh), and saved.  Dragon story: shelved for the moment, in the best condition possible for later use.

The sequel had only one sheet of notes in one of my writing notebooks, labelled “Sequel Thoughts.”  These ideas have grown since, so I put them into a computer document that I can access later.  The outline is very rough, consisting only of an overarching plot idea and several sub-plots.  I know a little more than I wrote, mostly a couple of scenes that are rolling around in my head, but since this is a project I am planning to actively work on, the details seemed a little less needed.  Butterflies 2: rough plot ideas outlined.

The third story, the serial short story, is a pseudo-prequel.  I think that’s the best term for it; unlike Burden or even Bonded, the actual plot of the new story doesn’t directly impact the plot of Butterflies (other than the need for the main character to be in a position to father one of the main characters of the novel).  However, it is the back story of someone who plays a role in Butterflies, so I do have some preconceived notions of the story.  For this pseudo-prequel, I went through all of the sections of Butterflies where he appears or is discussed and made notes about what I already know about his story.  I also returned to the first draft of the novel – I streamlined my first few chapters in the second draft and some of Matthew’s story had been cut.  Going back allowed me to remember what I had originally created for this character; even though it is not in the current version of the novel, it did impact how I wrote his character, so it is relevant.  Plus, why re-create something if it already exists?  Short story: briefly outlined.

So tonight’s writing session was more a fact-finding, drafting session and not so much a creative session.  It was needed, though, and now I’m ready to start writing!

The Problem with Prequels

In case you didn’t know (and, unless you are new to my blog – welcome! – I’m not sure how you wouldn’t know), my short story for Serial Central (Burden of Knowledge) is a prequel to the novel I am trying to get published (The Queen’s Butterflies).  While prequels provide some benefits, such as knowing how the story has to end before you start, I have discovered a couple of problems with them as well.

One I’ve discussed in another post: writing characters so they live up to their legacies.  I’d summarize again, but you can just read the post.  Yes, I’m making you work so I don’t have to.  My prerogative; I’m the author.  🙂

The other prequel challenge I have discovered is continuity.   I have mentioned before that this is a pet peeve of mine, so I’m not about to ignore the dilemma.  For the most part, it isn’t a huge issue.  The story I am writing is several generations removed from the novel, so if some things aren’t 100% accurate, we can blame it on a tale changing in the retelling.  My continuity problem is an article of clothing.

Yes, I did say an article of clothing.  No, I won’t tell you what it is.  That would ruin one of my cleverly-crafted section endings, so you can just wait.  You’ll recognize it when you see it, don’t worry.  (If your response to this is “Just tell me, I’m not reading Burden” my only answer to you is, “Why not?”)

The difficulty with this article of clothing is tradition.  By the time of the novel, a certain style for this article of clothing has become traditional.  It is easy to explain why someone would wear it: it’s tradition.  However, the tradition was started by one of the characters in Burden.  It’s part of an important scene in the story. 

So why is this a problem?  The style is described in Butterflies as being “nearly scandalous” when it is first introduced (you know, in this scene in Burden that I’m trying to write.)  This leaves me trying desperately to find a reason for the first wearing.  It can’t just be any reason, either – it needs to justify flaunting social norms and make it okay even though the design of it might start a scandal. 

Clearly, I set myself up for this difficulty.