08 April 2018

When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn

A week ago, SUNRISE, the sequel to my 2014 vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN launched and let me tell you it has been anything but a roller-coaster ride. In fact, when my personal copies arrived I was so excited I did not open the box for a day. Then I picked one up and routinely flipped through it to be sure there were no ink splotches on any page. You see, I've read it already - about 15 times! 

But I cannot let it be. There is a third book to write if this is going to be a trilogy. I kinda expected to give it the trilogy treatment when I started Book II. Of course, it's been three years since Book I came out. I thought that would be it, the end, one and done in the genre of literary horror. I am not even a horror author. I just needed to prove something to my teenage daughter: the truth about vampires! But I digress...

It was easy to set up Stefan Szekely's departure from his family castle, leaving his vampire parents behind. I simply replicated my own history with my parents. I extrapolated a vampire version and recited similar scripts. How does the adult child relate to the elderly parents? I got him away in good order but then what? A trip to the big city, to the bank, like anyone seeking to live lavishly. But things had to happen, had to have happened prior to his re-emergence into society - so I had to imagine the future based on the present. (You can read more about that process here.)

So I'm going along, describing Stefan's adventures - misadventures, more accurately - knowing exactly what is going to happen at a certain point in the story. I kept the mood in Act I on the edge of humor - dark humor, certainly. I let Stefan play (while introducing the new world he discovers), let his ironic view color his experiences. I knew eventually he would arrive at his destination and when he did I had to have something for him to deal with. I held back that moment, I rushed ahead, I held back again, waiting for just the right scene to introduce a plot-altering character I had hired. When that character arrived on stage, I had to stop. I could no longer let Stefan keep to his happy-go-lucky playboy ways. The humor had to stop. A sharp turn was coming.Everything was perfect up to that point - but what next? 

Complications, obviously. Rising tension. Climax and denouement. I designed an Act III that would test my hero, drive him to his limits, force him to change. I felt I was taking risks; readers who liked my narrator would not want him to become a bad vampire. Yet he had to. That would take a deft hand - and a lot of rewrites. 
My story had to make a sharp turn - without seeming to make a sharp turn. Like every writer knows, it has to seem seamless. Although highly crafted, the plot must flow smoothly and when things happen, events come together, everything must seem perfectly obvious and meant to be for the reader. I'm usually good at that behind-the-scenes work. I took an acting class once upon a time. And two different screenwriting classes. This time, however, I had to rely on strict muses who refused to let me do my own thing.

So bad guys appeared on stage - from opposite sides: vampire gangsters and State Security thugs - and Stefan finds himself caught between them. How to get out of the situation? I felt in my back pocket: nothing. I touched my arm: there was an Ace up my sleeve: deus ex machina. Sure, writing teachers will cut off your fingers if you try to employ it, but I felt I had ample justification. In Book I Stefan talks to God; whether it is a real conversation or it's just in his head remains irrelevant because he acts on it either way. That back-and-forth, from dismissive of God to acceptance, however, sets up a new conversation in Book II. Thus, I was able to get my deus ex machina card punched and still win a free trip to Hell for my protagonist. 

And that, my friends, is where Book III, SUNSET, begins. 

(C) Copyright 2010-2018 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

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