I am very excited to have Michelle Gagnon as my guest, but she is definitely no stranger to TKZ. Many of you know Michelle was a former contributor extraordinaire to our blog and I’m excited to hear her thoughts on trilogies and her latest release. Welcome, Michelle!
Hi folks, I’ve missed you! So good to be back on TKZ.
With the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, trilogies are all the rage these days. In fact, when I first pitched an idea for a young adult novel to my publisher, they specifically requested a trilogy. I agreed, because hey, what author wouldn’t want to guarantee the publication of three more books? Besides, I’d written a series before. How much harder could a trilogy be?
The first one, DON’T TURN AROUND, turned out to be the easiest book I’ve ever written. The rough draft flowed out of me in eight weeks; it was one of those magical manuscripts that seemed to write itself.
I sat back down at the computer, confident that the second and third would proceed just as smoothly; even (foolishly) harboring hopes that I’d knock the whole thing out in under six months.
Boy, was I wrong.
Here’s the thing: in a regular series, even though the characters carry through multiple books (and occasionally, plotlines do as well), they’re relatively self-contained. In the end, the villain is (usually) captured or killed; at the very least, his evil plan has been stymied.
Not so in a trilogy. For this series, I needed the bad guy—and the evil plot—to traverse all three books. Yet each installment had to be self-contained enough to satisfy readers.
Suffice it to say that books 2 and 3 were a grueling enterprise. But along the way, I learned some important lessons on how to structure a satisfying trilogy:
So those are my tips, earned the hard way. Today’s question: what trilogies (aside from those I mentioned) did you love, and what about them kept you reading?
Michelle Gagnon is the international bestselling author of thrillers for teens and adults. Described as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets the Bourne Identity,” her YA technothriller DON’T TURN AROUND was nominated for a Thriller Award, and was selected as one of the best teen books of the year by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, Kirkus, Voya, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. The second installment, DON’T LOOK NOW, is on sale now (and hopefully doesn’t suffer from “middle book syndrome.”) She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Hosted by Joe Moore
Today I’m pleased to welcome back to TKZ my friend and fellow ITW member, Julie Kramer. Julie is an internationally published and award-winning crime author, and one of my favorite writers. Her latest thriller, SHUNNING SARAH (Library Journal starred review) was released yesterday and I hope you’ll grab a copy. Enjoy!
My fifth media thriller, SHUNNING SARAH, is out this week and I’m starting to think making my heroine a TV reporter might not have been such a good idea. One of the general rules of novel writing is that your protagonist should be “likeable.”
But just the other day a Gallup poll said the public’s trust in TV news is at an all-time low, almost as low as Congress. I can understand those stats. After all, two networks, in their zeal to be first, recently flubbed coverage of the Supreme Court’s ruling on government-mandated health care. Another network took liberties editing audio of a 911 call in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
Used to be, journalists were the good guys. America cheered TV shows like Mary Tyler Moore, Lou Grant, and Murphy Brown. And don’t forget, Superman’s day job was as a reporter for the Daily Planet. And Spiderman took pictures for his local newspaper. In Network, Howard Beale became a provocative folk hero for railing “I’m mad as hell and won’t take it any more.” And in real life, Woodward and Bernstein inspired a generation of investigative journalists, including me.
The tabloidization of mainstream media and the narrowing of the line between news and gossip have damaged the credibility newsrooms once took for granted. Are we heading back to the sensational days of yellow journalism? My heroine, Riley Spartz, sure hopes not.
I hear from readers who continue to appreciate her as a character because she reflects the problems plaguing newsrooms across America. Her voice is cynical, yet principled as she chases ratings and villains.
I know from a career in the television news business that words can be weapons. Satire and deadpan humor help Riley cope as news budgets are cut and bosses demand 24-7 coverage. Readers tell me they don’t watch news the same way after reading my books. It’s like sausage and laws. You don’t want to watch how they’re made. And my former news colleagues sometimes wish I wasn’t quite so candid.
“Did you have to tell them ‘if it bleeds it leads?’” they ask.
But it’s important for my writing to accurately reflect the state of the news business, good and bad. Because I love news. I’m addicted to knowing who, what, when, where and why. And I honestly believe a free, objective press is one of the best things our society has going. I like it when reviewers praise my depiction of behind-the-scenes action in the newsroom – warts and all.
But what I really need is for the new HBO series, The Newsroom, to take off big and get viewers rooting for TV news again. Then maybe I could sell film rights, and Riley could make it to the big screen.
How big a role does a character’s profession play in what you write or read? And if you simply need to rant about the media, I won’t take offense.
Investigative television journalist Julie Kramer writes a series of thrillers: STALKING SUSAN, MISSING MARK, SILENCING SAM, KILLING KATE and SHUNNING SARAH—set in the desperate world of TV news. Julie won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Mystery as well as the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Best Amateur Sleuth Awards. She formerly ran the I TEAM for WCCO-TV before becoming a freelance network news producer for NBC and CBS. Visit her website at http://www.juliekramerbooks.com/
Today, our guest is my friend and fellow South Florida writer Nancy Cohen. Nancy is the author of 15 novels including futuristic romance and mysteries. For many years, Nancy and I have served as beta readers for each other’s work.
I like to discuss story development because despite all the advance plotting we do, fiction writing still remains a magical process. My agent is marketing a new mystery series proposal of mine. Here are some insights on how the story developed. It may help you with your own mystery.
I’d written the first 20 pages but then I came to a halt. I was nearly to the point where I had to introduce the suspects, but I needed to know them better first. I’d made a list of the people who were family or acquaintances of the victim. Next, I gave them each a dirty secret so they all appeared to have a motive for murder. The next step, and one at which my subconscious came into play, was to connect the suspects to each other. This is when the story really starts to get more defined. Think of the Milky Way and how the planets swirl in a big sweeping motion around the central core of our sun. They start to condense, tighten, draw together. That’s what happens in my head. The story comes into focus.
Here is where personal experiences come into play as well. An acquaintance told me she sells an anti-aging product, and she handed me a flyer. Cool. One of my characters, a pharmacist, will be a snake oil salesman who markets a false product he claims is derived from water beneath the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. That’s where he lives, and I’d already planned to go there on a research trip.
Then I overheard a conversation in our beauty salon. Marla Shore, heroine/sleuth of my Bad Hair Day series, would have been proud of me. One lady spoke about how someone was running down ducks in her neighborhood and the cops were trying to catch him. The police would arrest him on charges of animal abuse. I gave this nasty act to another one of my suspects. It shows his perverted character.
For my people’s occupations, I used a book called The Fiction Writer’s Silent Partner by Martin Roth. This reference is a great source of inspiration. It lists all kinds of things related to character background, plotting, slang, genre conventions, and more.
Once I had the bare bones of my suspects, I searched for pictures to represent them. Here I plowed through my character file, where I keep photos I’ve cut out from magazines. I wait for that “Ah ha!” moment when the person’s face matches my character. This inspires the physical description and maybe adds more background on the individual’s personality.
Each suspect gets a page in my notebook with their picture and a brief description. The heroine/sleuth gets a full page with what I call my Character Development Tool. This includes physical traits, strengths and weaknesses, short and long term goals, dark secret, etc. See Debra Dixon’s book: GMC: Goal, Motivation, & Conflict for excellent advice on this topic. Besides the suspects and victim, then I have to develop the recurrent characters: the sleuth’s friends, family, colleagues, and love interest. Book one requires laying the groundwork for the entire series.
Once the character development is done and the relationships defined, the plot takes shape. Then I can write the synopsis. At this point, the words are ready to spill out on paper.
Do you develop your characters before plotting the story or vice versa? Or are you a pantser rather than a plotter?
Nancy J. Cohen is a multi-published author who writes romance and mysteries. She began her career writing futuristic romances. Her first title, CIRCLE OF LIGHT, won the HOLT Medallion Award. After four books in this genre, she switched to mysteries to write the popular Bad Hair Day series featuring hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles made the IMBA bestseller list. PERISH BY PEDICURE and KILLER KNOTS are the latest books in this humorous series. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors & Poets. Nancy’s new release, SILVER SERENADE, is a sexy space adventure and her fifteenth title.