Ending the first novel in a series

As I near finishing draft five of The Thieves of Traska, the ending is a problem child again. How do you end the first novel in a series when the story isn’t yet over? The end is supposed to tie up all those pesky loose ends and satisfy the reader. But now it also has to entice the reader to obtain the next book and continue the adventure. Yikes!

Just about every how-to I’ve looked at says the end of book one should feel resolved, but still have a few loose ends. That way the reader can be satisfied, even if they don’t go on to the next book. In theory, that makes perfect sense. In the trenches of novel-writing, however, it doesn’t offer much direction. Which part is supposed to be resolved? Which part isn’t? Does that mean I have to do a cliffhanger?

I’m of the opinion that the ending of the first book should not be a cliffhanger. Leave readers wanting to know what happens next? Yes. Introduce a new, life-changing problem at the end and make the reader wait through a whole other book to resolve it? That’s better suited for book two. So let’s take a look at what to close and what to leave open at the end of book one.

Resolve: What brought your character into the story?

Your inciting incident gets your hero involved in the events of the story. It might relate to the overall plot, but it’s also personal to the hero. Why else does he leave his old life behind? I refer to this as the character’s selfish goal.

Why “selfish” and not just “personal,” like so many others call it? It’s a simple goal ignoring the reality of the character’s situation, and how it affects others. Your character has three ways to resolve their selfish goal:

  • Achieve. One option is to have the hero get what he was after in the first place. It resolves the main conflict of this installment, but not the series plot (winning the battle as opposed to the war). For an ending, it’s the point where the hero could stop and still be satisfied with their accomplishment (just like the reader). But there is still much to do, and the hero has made the big problem his problem.
  • Abandon. Another way to resolve the hero’s selfish goal is to have him abandon it. The person/thing he’s been searching for is dead/destroyed. He decides not to take his revenge. Like the previous option, the hero’s main conflict is resolved and the series conflict remains for the later installments. He lost the battle, but the war is still ongoing.
  • Postpone. At first glance, this resembles the previous options. As far as the reader knows, the hero has either achieved or abandoned his selfish goal. But they are in for a surprise. That person isn’t really dead! It was stolen, not destroyed! He had it with him all along! They caught the wrong culprit! But all that happens after book one.

Leave open: What keeps your character in the story?

Remember, the ending of book one is where the hero got (or thinks he got) what he wanted. He could turn away from the greater conflict, but then there’d be no need for a sequel or two. This is where he declares his heroic goal. It’s the daunting, nebulous task the hero chooses to take on.

Just because I call it “heroic” doesn’t mean that goal has to be saving the world. If you’re working with an anti-hero, the heroic goal could involve revenge or something equally not so goody-goody. It could be a broader selfish goal, like rising in power or conquering an enemy.

Whether your hero decides to do something good, bad, or a bit of both, he should have some vague idea of what that thing is. The “why” should already be answered by the events of book one. The “how” is the plot of the rest of the series.

This declaration is an invitation to the reader to proceed to the next book. The ending answers most of the questions, so the reader could stop there. There are just enough unanswered questions — about how the hero will reach his heroic goal — to interest readers in the next installment.

What are your hero’s selfish and heroic goals?

Reader-response time on The Thieves of Traska excerpt!

As I mentioned earlier this week, I wrote a brief scene in The Thieves of Traska that has me conflicted. While writing it, I didn’t go into too much detail because the action and violence wasn’t the focus. But that little editor voice we all have in our heads won’t let me proceed until I figure out whether it reads like it should, or like the writer downed too much coffee too late in the day and just blazed through before bed. And it also shouldn’t read like I’m putting Claire through the wringer just to win some sympathy points.

That’s where you all come in! Please read through the scene and leave a comment!

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A shadow moved through the light seeping through the cracks around the door, and before Claire could reach for it, the door swung open. With his arms crossed, the muscles built by years of hard labor bulging ominously, Reed filled the doorway. His lips were pressed together in a thin line, his face almost as red as his hair.

A lump formed in her throat. Had she really hoped he wouldn’t already know what she’d done? Stupid. Reed always knew what she was up to.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Cold fear trickled down her spine. She almost wished she was back in the windowless cell. “I came home.” She winced inwardly; she sounded weak even in her own ears.

“You think I’d let a lying thief sleep under my roof?” He crossed the distance between them in three strides and took her by the shoulders, shaking her. “Do you?” She shook her head mutely. She knew where she’d be sleeping tonight. “Filth like you belongs in a gutter.”

She closed her eyes when he drew his hand back. She felt each stinging blow, felt the blood on her face, and eventually the cold ground under her cheek. One eye cracked open, searching for Reed’s blurred outline in the darkness. He was there, one hand around her ankle as he dragged her to a nearby tree. Without a word, he propped her up against it and tied her hands on the other side of the trunk. It was always the same whenever he caught her stealing; he’d make her return whatever it was, then she spent the night tied to this tree. In the morning, she’d go back to work in the fields.

She rested her head against the tree, clarity slowly returning. “Reed,” she croaked. “What happened with Garrison?” Silence stretched on so long, she thought he’d already gone inside. Then she heard his voice right in her ear.

“I told you he was arrested.” He paused. “Did you see him while you were in jail?” She nodded weakly, wincing at the bark grating her face. “I would have thought they’d hanged him already.”

“Tomorrow,” she said. “The jailor said he’d hang tomorrow morning.”

“Good. There’s a rope for every mangy thief in the world. I’m glad he’s found his. And if you ever try stealing anything ever again, I’ll put the rope around your neck myself.”

She heard quiet footsteps and sighed in relief that he was leaving. Darkness was starting to drag her under, and she welcomed it. Rest called to her, and not even the pained cries and sounds of fighting nearby would keep her from it.

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Writing Process Blog Tour

Dave Higgins invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour (and, incidentally, wrote the best bio paragraph of me I’ve ever read). I greatly enjoy Dave’s writing and his input, and I’m glad he’s given me this opportunity to ramble on about my writing process.

What am I working on?

The main focus of my efforts is The Thieves of Traska. I finished the first run-through two months ago and am currently filling in gaps and fixing plot holes.

Last week, I started a side project called Asra the Shade. It centers on one of the side characters in The Thieves of Traska, and was originally going to be a webcomic to help promote the full novel. However, since the all the sequential artists I’ve contacted have fallen through, I decided to turn the story into a novella.

My self-imposed deadline for The Thieves of Traska is fall 2015, but I fully expect to have Asra the Shade done first.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I tend not to peg a genre first. Sometimes it’s obvious (Alien invasion? Smells like science fiction!), but other times I just work with the idea and figure out the genre later. With The Thieves of Traska, I wasn’t clear on what genre it fell into at first. It’s certainly an adventure and it has action, but the locations are all made up. It’s currently resting in fantasy, but I’m a bit hesitant to call it that.

Our protagonist is, as the title implies, a thief. Her successes are all based on breaking laws and doing bad things. Even so, she has a strong moral compass. She still steals things and gets into fights—and doesn’t feel guilty about any of it—but she’s dedicated to doing the right thing for the other thieves, even if they’ll resent her for it.

Why do I write what I do?

I like the antiheroes—the people who do bad things for a (relatively) good reason, but also have something to gain. It creates tension between selfishness and selflessness that’s fun to play with.

With The Thieves of Traska, I really wanted to write about a thief. Instead of having her realize the error of her ways, give up thieving and do something for the greater good of humanity, I wanted her actions to be for the greater good of bad without being “evil.” I spend a lot of time thinking about morality and where the line is in various situations. It’s something I like to put my characters through and see what compromises they make.

How does my writing process work?

Each project begins with some random little inspirational nugget (if you’ve ever had a bug fly into your eye, it feels pretty much like that). After a couple hours, I usually have a name for the main character or some basic idea of who they are and what the main conflict of the story is. Hopefully I have a title, but I’m seldom that lucky.

For The Thieves of Traska, the first half of that inspirational nugget was the name Mackinley. I had a roommate last year with that name, and I really wanted to name a character after her. The second half came when I was walking home from my fiction writing class. I’d been plotting a short story about a thief for my next assignment when it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried writing a full-length novel about a thief. It was kind of mind blowing since I love thief characters.

There’s a lot of writing in my notebook after that. I get a basic outline of the beginning, an idea of where it might end, and I’ve probably changed the main character’s name a few times. (Fun fact: Claire’s name used to be Adelaide. It changed after I read the first chapter aloud and discovered how much I hate saying “Adelaide” repeatedly.)

From there, I just write the scenes in order. I tend to skip over a lot of setting description and the “breather” scenes between plot points. Once I get to the penultimate chapter, I stop writing. I let it sit for a couple weeks, then start revising.

This is when I fix the plot holes, add in descriptions, set up the mood of scenes, add filler bits, etc. Once I’ve gotten through that, I can write the ending.

Hopefully this insight has got you curious and not sent you running for the hills. Time to hand it over to some other writers:

 Jordanna East – Journey of Jordanna East

Jordanna East is a wonderful person and author of the infuriatingly delicious thriller books Blood in the Past and Blood in the Paint. She’s something of a role model for me, and I sincerely hope you’ll mosey on over to her blog and check out the latest with her.

Cassidy Frazee – Wide Awake But Dreaming

Ms. Frazee identifies herself as a Roleplaying God and a bit of a nut, but what writer isn’t? She has delightful posts on her blog, and she can also be found frequently posting in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group. I’m looking forward to seeing what great things she brings us.

Tristan Lueck – The Aberration

old-manTristan is a fellow SCAD student from the writing department, as well as my future roommate in the fall. She’s sent me a bit of her novel-in-progress and I can say I like where it’s going (but I won’t spoil any of it for you!). Blogging is a new practice for her and she’s still getting into the hang of it, but her posts are well worth the wait.

The Thieves of Traska Giveaway Winners!

The giveaway has ended, and I’m happy to announce that Hannah Jones is the winner of the prize package! And since the giveaway only got 89 entries, that means there is a second-place winner. That is Meagan Corrado! She is going to get three customized Molskine journals, featuring some of the characters from The Thieves of Traska.

Thank you to everyone who entered! For those of you who didn’t win, don’t worry. I’m already planning the next giveaway and assembling the prizes.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone who participated and to all my readers!

Another Thieves of Traska Excerpt (and a giveaway update!)

Have you entered my giveaway yet? If not, don’t panic! There’s still plenty of time. For those of you who have entered, I have two things to say to you. 1) I’m blown away by the amount of entries already. Truth be told, I expected maybe 25 total by the deadline, but it’s more than double that. Thank you so much! 2) Please don’t be a party pooper and click that you commented on the giveaway post when you really didn’t. I and the rest of the world can see who actually commented and whose pants are on fire.

On to the excerpt! Some of you had a chance to read the previous excerpt long before I posted it, so here’s something new to the second draft!

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Claire chewed her lip. She was in enough trouble as it was; did she really want to dig herself a deeper hole by breaking out of jail? When Garrison started coughing again, she revised her question: Did she want to let him die even if Reed wasn’t responsible?

“What do I need to do?”

In hushed tones, he instructed her to pull two thin strips of wood from the walls and break them into short, sturdy lengths. Her hands shook the entire time. She slid her hands back through the bars and inserted her makeshift picks into the lock on the other side. Garrison kept quiet while she worked, allowing her to focus.

She held her breath, making slight adjustments with every sound at her fingertips. Her arms ached as she worked, growing heavier as the candle burned lower and lower. Sweat gathered at her scalp. She pressed her face against the bars, thankful for the cool metal. The refreshing chill it sent down her spine crept into her fingers, revitalizing their deftness.

A satisfying click and the lock gave.

“Sounds like a job well done,” Garrison said cheerfully.

“Not quite,” she whispered back. She withdrew the picks and pushed on the door gently, a thrill of excitement going through her as it opened. Pulling it shut again, she put as much misery in her voice as she could muster and called out to the guards. “Do you have any more water in there?”

Some grumbling came from the next room before the door swung open again. It remained open, as it had before, the sudden light painful to her eyes. When the familiar outline appeared in the doorway, she looked past it to the other guard. At least there were only two.

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The Thieves of Traska Giveaway Prizes!

As I promised last week, I’m ready to unveil the prizes for my first ever giveaway!

giveaway prizes1The full list of prizes includes a few things not shown above:

  • Five handmade bookmarks (with surprise illustrations on the opposite sides!)
  • One leather-bound notebook with unlined parchment paper pages
  • One brass wax seal (with letter of the winner’s choice)
  • One stick of sealing wax (color is winner’s choice)
  • One Thieves of Traska canvas tote bag

Pretty snazzy, right? The wax sticks and the seals shown are my own, simply there for illustrative purposes. Once I have a winner, I will email the person to get their choice of wax color and letter seal.

As for the surprise parts of this, I couldn’t resist. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve already seen the fronts of those bookmarks. But what’s on the backs? And what does the bag look like? My dear reader, you will just have to wait for a winner.

I tried to come up with somewhat practical prizes (things that can be used over a period of time, not just occupy space and look pretty). The giveaway itself will go live two weeks from today. Stay tuned!

Welcome Back to Jordanna East!

Author Ava Easterby (pen name Jordanna East) is no stranger to my blog. Last time I interviewed her, she talked about her less-than-ideal job working at a bookstore. Now, she’s here to talk about Blood in the Paint, her new book coming out later this year. And as someone who has already read it, I highly recommend it! (And, if you’re a book reviewer, consider getting your own ARC!)

Amanda Surowitz: My first question for you is why is Blood in the Paint coming out in winter?! Why not sooner?

Jordanna East: I am the biggest perfectionist I know. Simply put. That’s why Blood in the Paint didn’t come out sooner. I actually wrote Paint before Blood in the Past. It was finished last summer, but I took some time off to work on a totally new series before getting back to work on Paint. I read through it dozens of times, tweaking and adding, before I gave it to the beta reader team. When I got it back, I was at it again, tweaking and adding, before it went to my editor. When she sent it back, I took so long–you guessed it, tweaking and adding–that she emailed me to ask if everything was alright! I have a few more steps to go through (my proofreader and formatter), but hopefully it will be the best possible work I could put out there. That’s my promise to my readers.

AS: How’s it feeling to have your second book coming out this year?

JE: Putting out a second book has been entirely terrifying. What? Was that not the response you expected? Haha. My first release, Blood in the Past, did better than I expected. It wasn’t a mainstream bestseller, but it reached the top ten within several Amazon categories more than once. I read somewhere that very few books sell more than 100 copies, whether traditionally or independently published. I’ve been fortunate enough to have surpassed that by quite a bit, without counting free downloads which number in the tens of thousands.

So why am I terrified? Because what if my next release doesn’t live up to the minor hype my first book created? What if my earlier success was just a fluke and in reality, I suck at writing? These are the types of questions I grapple with on a daily basis and they often impede my productivity. Now that I’m inching closer to Blood in the Paint’s release day however, I’m finally starting to feel less scared for my life and more excited for my future. I’m reveling in it for the moment, since I have to begin outlining the next book in the series soon.

AS: Do you have a working title for the next one? And how many books are you planning for this series?

JE: It’s funny you should ask about working titles. When I first started writing the series, the working title was simply “Lyla Kyle.” But when I decided to break it up into the prequel novella and the first novel, I renamed them Blood in the Past and Blood in the Paint, respectively, to differentiate them, expecting to change them later. After a while, the titles grew on me and I kept them permanently. The next novel in the series is tentatively entitled Blood in the Paper, in keeping with the theme of the previous books. Since that novel is only in the outline stages, I can’t say for sure if I’m going to keep that title, too, but you never know, it could turn out like the working titles before it!

As of right now, there will  be three full-length books in the series following the prequel.

AS: Blood in the Paper sounds intriguing–and considering all the surprises in Blood in the Past, I don’t know what to expect. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to throw your readers a hint or two? Haha

JE: About Blood in the Paper? Hmm. It’s in its infant stages still, but I can tell readers that my characters will continue to be tested. Brighthouse’s ambition and credibility will be called into question, as will Lyla’s guilt. Why you ask? Because I introduce a new character whose obsessions are perhaps the most twisted to date.

AS: Oh gosh, I don’t know if I could handle that! Your twists are amazing and agonizing (in the best way haha).

JE: Haha, I try very hard to make them that way and I hope my readers enjoy all the dark paths I lead them down.

AS: I’m sure they will. Is there anything else you want to say about Blood in the Paint?

JE: I would just like to remind my readers that Blood in the Paint can be read as a stand alone novel, but I do recommend reading Blood in the Past as well to become familiar with the nuances of the characters’ backstories. Other than that, I hope everyone enjoys my new release and I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks!

Blood in the Paint will be available Winter 2014

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Visit Jordanna at her blog, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @JordannaEast.