On Writing the “Reclamation” Trilogy – part 3 of 3

Ah, we’ve reached the end of my little musings on how I wrote a trilogy. A little over a month removed from finishing the second draft and I still miss my characters so much. I have a difficult time with loss and letting go, so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for missing them.

Let’s get on to the final part of this!

What really got the writing done? What really made me better? The desire to do so, and actually doing it. All of those things I mentioned in the last two parts are window-dressing. The real improvement in my writing has always come from practice. The more I write, the more in tune with my thoughts I am, the more ideas and words flow from the fingers to the screen.

Given that I was writing a trilogy, for the overall story I turned to successful trilogies. I know it’s not books, but again and again I turned to Star Wars. It’s not a perfect piece, but the structure of the trilogy is beautiful. George Lucas isn’t a perfect writer, no one is, but the original trilogy has a pretty firm grasp of structure. I did my best to structure my trilogy like Star Wars.

Part of my reasoning was that Addy’s arc is the hero’s journey, just like Luke Skywalker. I read up on the hero’s journey and compared it to Luke. The structure was sound in the movies, and it was primarily these two sources I used to structure all three books. It was a loose structure and the events shifted like the image in an ill-focused telescope. But the major ups and downs, the feelings, were plotted long before I got to them.

KM also had something to say about writing a serieswhich reinforced I was doing it right.

In addition, I referred to Randy’s rules of a trilogy more than once.

Rules of a horror movie

Rules of a Sequel

Most importantly, rules of a trilogy

I especially considered the trilogy rules from the third video. What I found interesting was the way the story wanted to do that, anyway.

And that’s at the heart of the most surprising thing I think I learned about writing such a long story. These people became real (a phenomenon I wrote about) in a way I did not expect. I often apologize to beta readers when the story takes a turn I think they may not expect. And I apologize to my characters more often than I thought I ever would.

I’ve been criticized for this.

I try to say, “It’s not my fault,” but there have been occasions when my friends don’t believe me. But honestly, it’s not. There’s a certain subplot that took off in a completely different direction than I saw it going. More than that, I never dreamed it would end up the way it did. I can’t explain in detail, but it all began when I found that there was a chemistry between two characters I didn’t write.

I swear to you, I didn’t write it.

As one character’s back story was revealed and the story drew to its inevitable conclusion (one of the first two books), the reasons for the chemistry, both past and future, became clear. Events took place in the story, characters made decisions they shouldn’t, and the subplot began to shift.

No one was more surprised than me, I promise you.

So, when I say, “It’s not my fault,” what I really mean is, I created these characters. I gave them desires and hopes, a past, a lie to believe in (side note: I hate that term. It took me forever to really figure out what it meant, and I could only decipher its meaning through practice), and set them loose within their world. I impose the plot on them, yes, but I prefer stories driven by the characters. So it is their decisions about the plot which drive the story forward. I give them the puzzle, and let them put it together. Because they are whole people, they are able to make decisions and position the next pieces of the story.

I just didn’t expect them to surprise me the way they did. Certain situations require specific reactions from characters, whether I like their reactions or not. Were I to go against these organic decisions, I would be going against the very character I wrote. And just because I want a certain situation to go a certain way, doesn’t mean I can force it (square peg meet round hole). I cannot force their motivations on them once I create motivations for them to own. Instead, I must listen to their decisions based on those motivations and work out what situation that will create.

This writing fiction thing is a trip.

Sometimes, it’s like chess. Sometimes, like a jigsaw puzzle. And sometimes? Sometimes it’s like a bowl full of spaghetti. All noodles and red sauce.

I can’t explain to you how much fun I had discovering this story. I’ve just used a lot of words to try, but somehow I still feel I’ve fallen short. Putting it together felt a lot less like creating, and more like excavating. Rather than write the story, I discovered the pieces and articulated them into a full skeleton. I did my best to make sure the patella went over the knee joints and the femur went in the leg and the tibia and fibula were in the right positions but who knows? Hopefully if I screwed anything up, it was just a small little finger joint and not the whole skull.

I don’t know if I served the plot, but I know for a fact I served the characters. Allowing them to mold the story was, in the end, the only thing to do. I couldn’t have predicted exactly how most of the story came out, it’s just not my style to outline like that. But even if I had, the interactions of my characters with each other would likely have been a surprise. My main character reached the conclusion of her character arc just as I planned. It’s the how that made the difference.

Maybe that’s some kind of metaphor for life. Many of us end up in the same place. We spend our days with job and family, consuming our favorite entertainment. Be it sports, TV, books, music, philosophy, we all have a favorite thing. The framework is the same, even though the details are different. Each of us has a unique experience, even within the same framework. And so my characters completed their arcs, but in their own unique ways.

Seems to me, that’s one of the fun things about stories. They can be the same, and yet unique, because they are full of, and are made by, individuals.

I guess if I was going to give advice about how to do it, my biggest thing would be to just let it happen. Get to know the people you’re writing about as best you can, using whatever method is most comfortable for you. Just understand who they are. Give them a situation, and then let them react. Don’t overthink it. In fact, underthink it. Let the characters do the thinking. If you’ve made them whole people, they’ll be able to make their own decisions, based solely on who they are. I think this probably gets easier, so my only other piece of advice?

Write.

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