Some of my readers have requested a sequel to my recent novel Scar Jewelry. While I am thrilled that they care enough about the characters to want a part two, I suspect the requests come from desire to witness certain conversations and interactions that, well, frankly, won’t ever occur, even if I were to write a sequel. Such additions would make the story more tidy, maybe – but no longer right.
Here’s the bottom line: at any moment, life stretches in all directions and sometimes the options feel endless. But most of those options are fleeting opportunities and it can really be too bad if we don’t say something or do something or change something when we have the chance.
If this is a spoiler it is an enigmatic one that shouldn’t harm the reading experience.
Typically, plots of my novels start with a collection of images, moments, vignettes, and other idea snapshots that feel related to me, although I do not always know why. Gradually, I discover the connections as the planning and writing evolve. During that evolution, there will always be ideas that turn out not to fit, after all, and I have to scrap those.
Similarly, my characters start as a pastiche of attitudes, actions, and problems, which may be drawn from people I know, situations I have experienced, or stuff I’ve overheard in passing. (Beware discussing your life while standing in a grocery store line. There may be an eavesdropping writer nearby.) As the book progresses, I inevitably discover that multiple characters have conflicting traits that all belong to me. Real humans tend to be more contradictory than even the most complex of characters. Perhaps on certain levels I use the characters to work through some of my contradictions.
When it comes to a plot, like anybody I want a story that hangs together — and for me it is so satisfying to get to the end of the book and find that all of the subplots were intrinsic and pivotal to the main plotline. However, when it comes to a plot, what I most cherish is surprise. This is a consequence of my many years working as a motion picture story analyst. At the rate of 5 novels or 10 screenplays per week, I read and critiqued materials submitted to movie studios. After several years of this, you’ve seen it all, plot-wise. That was a long time ago, but unfortunately I still anticipate most plot twists. Sometimes I like an otherwise mediocre movie just because it has some story element that I didn’t see coming. I am less charitable with mediocre novels; I suppose that is because my emotional investment in a novel can be so much greater.
One of the (many) things that hooked me on the Potter books was how many surprises J.K. Rowling conjured. I think I was in book 5 before I anticipated a single surprise. Ahhhhhhh.