So I’m back from another fabulous retreat with some of my writer friends. (Hard to believe we’ve been doing this ten years already!) Contrary to what my family probably thinks, we don’t just eat and laugh all weekend…we work, too. Really, we do. Saturday is our work day. We usually send manuscripts out ahead of time and then on Saturday we spend half an hour discussing each person’s project.
I sent what I have on my sequel to Do You Know the Monkey Man (chapters and synopsis). Several people had trouble with the way I began the book, and one even said she had expected me to begin at the moment where… [SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t read Do You Know the Monkey Man and plan to in the near future, you might not want to read the rest of this post] Sam and T.J. meet for the first time since I was telling the second story from T.J.’s point of view.
I thought it was really interesting that she said that because I started planning the sequel to Do You Know the Monkey Man before I ever finished writing Do You Know the Monkey Man, and I always planned to start it at that point where the two girls met for the first time. (I’ve also gotten e-mails from kids who have told me I should 1) write a sequel and 2) start it where the two girls meet!) But when it came time to actually talk to my editor about doing the sequel, she thought it should start where the first book ends because the two girls meet halfway through book 1. If I start book 2 there, I’d have to include some of the same scenes that were in the first book…which I knew…but I’d be writing those scenes from the other girl’s point of view, so I thought it would be okay. But my editor thought beginning where book 1 ends was a better choice, so…that was what I did.
But I have to tell you, it was HARD writing it that way. Considering this was a book I really wanted to write, a book I had planned for years, I had a hard time getting started. I’ve never had so much trouble starting a story. And then when I did start it, I’d write a chapter and it wouldn’t feel right, so I’d abandon it and start over. (You can read my blog entries from a year ago if you don’t believe me.) I started twelve different beginnings to this book before I found one I was relatively happy with. And every time I started over I thought to myself, “this needs to start where the girls first meet.” But I never actually tried beginning there because I didn’t think my editor wanted me to.
One or two of my retreat friends thought my beginning was fine, but the vast majority had a problem with it. And the problems they have would go away if I could begin where my gut told me to begin all along. It’s hard with a sequel because you have to write for both the kid who read the first one and the kid who’s never even heard of the first one (and considering this book will come out 5-6 years after the first one came out, there may very well be a lot of kids who haven’t read the first one). The best way to write for both kids is to begin where the two girls meet.
But this book is sold. I sold it on the proposal and two sample chapters…which begin where book 1 ends. Is it okay to go back and change the proposal? Especially when my editor already told me to start where the book ends? Obviously I need to talk to her about it…so I’m trying to figure out my argument.
Point #1: Lisa Yee did it! She actually wrote three books that all take place during the same period of time and show several of the same scenes, just from someone else’s point of view. If she can do it, can’t I do it?
Point #1a: Brent Hartinger did it, too…but his two books are both combined in the same flip book entitled, Split Screen. You read Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies on one side of the book. Then when you get to the end, you turn the book over and start reading Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies.
Point #2: Junior High Kid is writing a novel…he knows all the characters and the conflicts and how the story is going to unfold, but he didn’t know where to begin. I told him he had to begin at the moment where everything changes for his main character. The moment where life as the main character knows it is irrevocably altered. Where is that point in MY project? Well…the point I began is a big moment of change for her…but it’s not as big as the moment where she met Sam.
Point #3: These women I spent the weekend with are brilliant and I trust them implicitly!
Point #4: It’s MY book…though it probably wouldn’t help my cause much to come right out and say that…besides, when you write a book, it really ISN’T just your book. Your book also belongs to your editor, the other editors, the copyeditor, your publisher, your readers who may have a different experience reading your book than you intended…
But ultimately, there does come a point where you need to trust yourself to write the story the way it needs to be written and not get too caught up in what other people say you should do. And a good editor gives you room to do that.