The challenges of writing my first sequel

Long time, no post. Now that I’ve taken enough of a break from writing, the narrative itch has returned to my fingers. Or is the itch more forceful in my psyche?

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Bent on redemption, a certain lone wolf returns in the sequel

No matter. What I want to impart in this blog post is my initial thoughts and feelings on writing a sequel, namely the sequel to my first novel, Waves of Reprisal. I have to admit, doing all the background setup and studies is fun. Since I am huge into mapping out things before I draft, in many ways it’s actually more fun than writing said drafts. Once I get going, I rarely tend to change anything major; my beta readers previously only ever pressed me to include minor elements to flesh out my stories, yet have nothing but exaltation for the central themes and overarching plots/subplots I draft.

This is the first time I’ve done a sequel, the first time I’ve continued off something I’ve previously established. The differences in prepping a sequel have already become apparent to me – they seem to involve less and more and same:

Less

  • Figuring out the foundation, such as worldbuilding which establishes the social, technological, political, ideological contexts. Certainly those things can (and will in my sequel) morph throughout the story, but not to the degree that they deviate from our present to the stories initial conditions.
  • Laying out character backstories of those returning from the first novel. Sure, if there’s a time gap between the end of the first and the beginning of the second, you fill in their activities. Shallow stories have their characters stand still. Nevertheless, depending on the amount of time that’s past, I cannot imagine tweaking existing characters taking more time & effort.
  • Same as above point in regards to reused locations. Streamline exposition on the look and feel of those old stomping grounds, and proceed to the point.

Same

  • Development of characters – exciting and new – as they join the fray in a sequel. They need just as much if not more tender loving development care as the original cast. Get cracking on those studies.
  • Technology – frightful and enhanced – also joins the fray. Perhaps it is more potent, more unsettling, more pivotal. In any case, the new tech (or new paint on old tech) needs its visual and practical elements developed alongside descriptions of the capabilities.
  • Exploration of new locales for events to unfold. There is a niggling feeling of wanting to make any new locations more fascinating, more impactful in their splendor. I find its best to put that urge after the urge to ensure new locations pragmatically fit the plot.

More

  • Execution and incorporation of new themes centered on the unfolding of the new plot & refreshed cast of characters. It’s best to not retread the same story with a new veneer; I think Mass Effect 2 did it best, while the Mummy Returns did it worst. Doing so requires a tenet of “constantly comparing to the original then constantly rewriting to contrast the original” be clear in the writers conscious.
  • Scrutiny of plot and its progression. Let’s face it, sequels are driven by their plot rather than setting the stage. There’s less establishing, more executing; agendas are in full force, reacting to the events of the original. The stakes rise, the emotions ramp up, the sides polarize. Juggling all of it feels more intense than in the first story (how many sequels have we seen that devolved into a dog’s breakfast of story elements?)
  • Making an emotional (and perhaps physical) impact. The compulsion to take the sequel to the next level/town/solar system is too compelling to ignore. Ultimately, fans don’t care about infodumps and premises over gripping emotions, people, trials, and tribulations. Everyone wants a Terminator-2-like fiber for the sequel to the original they enjoyed.

The lists might seem daunting, especially to non or first-time writers. Trust me, it isn’t, especially after you get some novels under your belt. If you combine enjoyment of writing with a drive to improve your style and approach, you get better at ironing everything out. Doing everything I’ve listed above is a labor of love, and it’s becoming more love than labor the more I do it!

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The Greatest Game novel released today!

My newest novel, The Greatest Game, has just been released across the multitude of major eBook distribution sites, most notably Amazon, Google Play, and Smashwords. Continuing the story of the Veerstras established in the prequel novella Playing the Greatest Game, this full-length tale introduces new characters, exciting locales, and intrepid themes unraveling throughout a pulse-pounding plot. Check out The Greatest Game, including links to where it can be purchased, on its dedicated page at the top menu bar.

The Greatest Game involved an unprecedented amount of preliminary work. An enormous amount of research went into the geopolitical, sociological, and STEM aspects of the story. Laying out the groundwork (character studies, plot outline, historical preamble, descriptions of settings) prior to writing a single word took months.

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Cover art for TGG, courtesy AndrewGraphics

Greatest Game expands hugely on the setup established in the novella. I tried my damnedest to build a believable, internally consistent near future ruled by an omnipotent AI. The protagonists and antagonists flow around said world, exercising as much power as they can to reshape or maintain the status quo. I did not neglect action, but felt it needed to have an impact by being in the right place at the right time, given unfolding circumstances unfolding. As a writer, I have certainly progressed. I am more at ease with my style, yet allow it to evolve from professional feedback and ongoing autodidactic efforts. Chicago is becoming second nature to me, drilled into my cranium through dozens of hours of drafting and studying.

Thanks to those who supported me throughout the entire process. For TGG, I engaged the services of my reliable, thorough copyeditor pal Keith Morrill of Little City Editing; he caught my frequent passive-active voice mistakes and my penchant for waiving instead of waving. Cover artist Andrew Hess of AndrewGraphics was accommodating and collaborative, constantly revising the cover image with me until I was happy. Andrew is a magician with Photoshop, I a mere apprentice. I thank them both and, as with other freelancers I have worked with, highly recommend their services to any and all authors, especially indie authors.

Right now, Greatest Game is available for purchase as an ebook on Amazon, Google Play, and Smashwords. Coming very soon to Apple iBooks, Kobo, Lulu, and Nook. In the next couple months, I will be running giveaways on Goodreads of the pending paperback version. Stay tuned!

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Giveaway of prequel novella, Playing the Greatest Game

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In anticipation of next month’s release of The Greatest Game, I am hosting a limited-time-offer giveaway of Playing the Greatest Game, prequel novella to the forthcoming novel. The giveaway will last to the end of February.

Here is a brief synopsis of Playing the Greatest Game:

The United States of the 2030s has been usurped by an autocratic, illimitable AI. Kurtis Veerstra, a discharged Navy SEAL, has spent his last few years engaged in overseas conflicts waged on behalf of the AI. His combat experiences have colored his views: being ruled over by an artificial being for the remainder of his life is an unacceptable proposition.

The year is 2038. AI planetary domination is imminent. Amidst a critical proclamation by the synthetic overseer, Kurtis and his wife Melina try to enjoy a dinner date at their celebrity friend’s Hollywood mansion. Little do they know that an anti-AI faction has been observing the couple, intent on recruiting them into the fight against the usurper. As the night unfolds, the omniscient AI moves to extinguish the resistance, pitching Kurtis and Melina into nightmarish tribulations that spread over the breadth of Los Angeles.

UPDATE: Links closed at end of giveaway. Hope everyone got a copy. Feel free to give to your friends and family.

Enjoy! And keep an eye out for its continuation, The Greatest Game, coming in March 2017.

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A self-published author’s diligence

Throughout development of The Greatest Game, conversations with friends, family and colleagues concerning self-publishing consistently saw a certain opinion rearing itself:

Self-published books are dreck. Publishing traditionally filters out the dreck.

While not an analytically sound opinion, perception and personal anecdotes matter when it comes to the reputation of a book. I’m not surprised by the oft-repeated opinion, as I myself have scoffed at some of the books allowed to sell on major eBook retailers. For instance, a popular YouTuber I follow wrote a book and sells it for the Kindle. The first word in the book is misspelled. eBook retailers only care about the formatting requirements for their digital readers. Unless a ton of negative feedback forces their hand, they don’t pay attention to the quality of the written word.

So the question becomes, how does a self-publishing author alleviate such widespread apprehension? Not easily. Offering a large sample on major eBook retailers like Amazon is the first step—I personally always choose the longest allowed sample for potential customers to skim. Beyond that, I believe it’s up to the author to allay fears.

This post is intended to shed light on my writing & editing methodology. I hope it answers unspoken questions, and lends confidence to those not quite sure about trying out one of my works.

When constructing a full-length novel, my due diligence goes as follows:

  • First, I spend months doing preliminary background research: Social studies, worldbuilding, exploration of technologies, character studies, and a rigorous plot outline mapping the story from beginning-end. Altogether they results in thousands of brainstormed words (The Greatest Game’s outline ended up a whopping 50K words) and a few dozen images. The following slideshow showcases some of the visual inspirations and sketches I produced:

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  • Before I start writing the first draft, I brush up on the writing style that’ll be employed. Typically in my case it is the Chicago Manual of Style. I hit the library and peruse the Chicago style offerings. My editor also reinforces the style.
  • As I write the first draft, I tend to write two–three chapters straight, then go back and thoroughly edit the chapters. Thus completes the first draft.
  • With a finished first draft in-hand, I beta read with select family, friends, and colleagues. In order to get an overall feeling of appeal across the elements of the story, I include a mix of fans and non-fans of speculative fiction for the beta. After receiving feedback, I make developmental adjustments. Sometimes entire sections disappear—I tend to overwrite, so new sections rarely appear.

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  • Then I send the draft to my editor, Keith Morrill of Little City Editing, for some copyediting. Keith’s credentials stem from his years as both a Latin and English teacher, his magazine editing, and his copyediting certificate from UC San Diego. Suffice to say, Keith is no greenhorn. We do two copyedit passes together via Track Changes.
  • After finishing with Keith, I do a complete, thorough final edit. This edit usually involves trimming down wordiness, pointless filler sentences, and correcting the rare stray errors neither of us caught.
  • Finally, after all that, I let Microsoft Word, with its squiggly blue and red underlines, tell me what’s wrong with the manuscript. Based on readability and logic, I accept or reject the software’s advice .

There you have it. My writing methodology as it currently stands. Of course, this methodology is not written in stone. It evolves as I evolve as an author. But as it stands, I believe it’s thorough and diligent. I trust that spelling it out alleviates apprehension.

Or at least ensures readers I’m not one to misspell the first word.

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Greatest Game on SOOP

As the release of my next novel, The Greatest Game, approaches, I thought I’d try out a publishing platform that caught my eye. It’s called SOOP, acronym for Something or Other Publishing. Different from traditional publication methods, getting a publishing contract with SOOP involves canvassing for votes on the book idea an author has. Two thousand votes are needed to snag a contract with SOOP – two thousand representing their threshold for general public interest in the idea.

So I though why not? My first novel, Waves of Reprisal, was an attempt to see if I could actually succeed at writing a proper, full-length science fiction novel based on one of my concepts. Now with Greatest Game, I want to press further ahead. See if I can snag a deal with a publishing house or equivalent.

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SOOP is offering an avenue of opportunity, but I need your vote to seize it. If you’re interested in another quality, character-driven sci-fi tale by yours truly, please head over to this link and vote for The Greatest Game: http://soopllc.com/blog/book-ideas/greatest-game-malcolm-little/

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Playing the Greatest Game giveaway

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Tome Tender is hosting a giveaway of Playing the Greatest Game, the prequel novella to the impending Greatest Game full-length novel. 5 eBook copies can be won by entrants interested in the post-apocalyptic adventure.

The giveaway ends November 30. Head over to the site to submit your details: http://tometender.blogspot.ca/2016/11/malcolm-littles-playing-greatest-game.html

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So I caved and got a Twitter account . . .

twitter-icon-horizontalWell, less like caving, more like realizing the necessity of having the platform to reach out to potential readers of my works. With Waves of Reprisal, my ultimate goal was to see whether I could actually write a full-length novel and self-publish it. Other factors were of secondary importance.

Now with the release of my next novel, The Greatest Game, looming on the horizon, I’m exploring these other factors. Beyond Goodreads and this blog, Twitter is the next logical choice. Little tweets of 140 characters, though somewhat anathema to an author, can perhaps provide glimpses into what I value in my writing and the craft in general.

So follow me on twitter if you have an account. I’m at @Vadrosaul, or use this widget:

And stay tuned for more updates on Greatest Game.

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