Series Writing: Writing with the Third Book in Mind

My oldest brother, Matt decided to impart some of his driving wisdom one day when we were in the car together.  I was a teenager at the time and had little understanding of the dynamics of traffic flow.  He said; pay more attention to the vehicle two cars in front of you than the car directly in front of you. If the car directly in front of you is going to do something unpredictable or erratic, it is more than likely as a result of the actions of the vehicle in front of it. Your ability to respond and take evasive action, if necessary, will be faster – likely just as fast as the car directly in front of you, and enable you to avoid an accident.

This story is an excellent segue into the approach I use when writing my series. When I was writing Exiled, my first novel, I knew it was the first in a series.  Actually, I had the series name, The Never Chronicles, decided before I had the book name decided.  Anyway, as I wrote, in the back of my mind always sat the question, how is this going to tie into the third book? (What was the second car up the road going to do?)

I’ll be the first to agree that is a strange way to write anything –especially since I mentor others to focus on one project at a time.  I’ll also be the first to admit that my writing technique isn’t exactly normal.  I find it hard –nigh impossible, to write a linear story. That is, when I’m writing, I will end one chapter in one place and time and begin another somewhere else.  It could be back-story, it could be front-story (is there a technical term for a flash-forward?) or anywhere between.

When reading Exiled, you will notice that I decided to employ my ‘Lost’-like writing style (if you’re a fan of Lost, you’ll get it) into the book layout.  There are two timelines. The first follows the main character, James on his journey. It is linear, spatial and temporal. (same place, same time) The second is non-linear and jumps through time and place.  This second timeline adds depth and understanding to the characters.

The complete story of The Never Chronicles is epic. A vast, multigenerational tale, that couldn’t possibly be told in one book. In fact, when I completed Exiled, I had actually competed Exiled and the second book in the series.  I realized it would have been far too long a novel for my target reader had I kept it in its original form so I cut it in half.

Back to the point.  When writing my series, the non-linear chapters can literally be moved virtually anywhere within the story and still provide the necessary information and maintain the flow.  Each time I write one of these chapters, which I seem to find more enjoyment in writing than the linear chapters, I always have the future of the timeline in mind.  How will what I’m writing today impact what will happen when the linear timeline reaches a certain point?

I intentionally leave clues and hints throughout these chapters so readers may find enjoyment in picking up on them as things click together –so don’t get mad when something isn’t explained, it most likely will have a tie-in later on in the story.  When I say I’m writing with the third book in mind, I understand what I am working on today will impact directly or indirectly the story down the road (or up the road depending on the when) and need to make sure I’m not painting myself into a corner.

Rather than a series where each book is a new and different adventure, The Never Chronicles recount the main character’s single journey through several books.  This gives me the luxury (much to the frustration of my readers, I imagine) to leave open ends knowing they will be closed as the timelines come together.

There is a craft to weaving all the non-linear chapters with the main story.  It can be a daunting task.  The technique I use, while extremely simplistic, is quite effective.  The good old corkboard is an excellent method. Red ink indicates the nonlinear timeline chapters, green ink, the linear.  At a glance, I can move the see what I’ve got going on and, if necessary, move the chapters around to help the flow of the story, add drama or bring absolution to a sub-plot.

Without looking two cars ahead, I would find this process extremely difficult and can imagine the re-writing would be an almost continuous task.

J. R. Wagner was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania during a blizzard. The snow made travel by car impossible, so his father called an ambulance when his mother went into labor. The ambulance became stuck at the bottom of their home’s driveway, prompting the dispatch of a
fire truck, which towed the ambulance to the hospital where he was born. Maybe it was this experience that destined J.R. to love adventure. A competitive cyclist, triathlete, mountain biker and adventure racer, he once received a medal for saving a woman’s life during the kayaking section of an adventure race. And the adventure is hard to miss in his debut novel Exiled (Live Oak Book Group, June 5, 2012), the first book in J.R.’s young adult fantasy series The Never Chronicles. He’s got a day job to keep him “grounded”; J.R. helps run his late father’s Downingtown, Pennsylvania floor-covering business.
J.R. first started writing at 10 years old with his sequel to “Return of The Jedi” – the self-proclaimed “Star Wars geek” had lofty aspirations of working with George Lucas on filming the project. In 1990 he began filming his version of “The Lord of The Rings” in his parent’s basement, but the plug was pulled after he nearly burned down the house. Since then the storyteller has also written a full-length science fiction screenplay, a thriller novel and a second screenplay.
After graduating in Kinesiology from Arizona State University, J.R. returned to Downingtown, where his creative fires were re-stoked by his two beautiful daughters. J.R. also endearingly considers his wife Lisa his muse. It was during their trip to Maine he began writing Exiled.

Author blog:
@JRWagner2 WhatisTheNever