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Monday, 27 May 2013

Are you suffering from Sequelitis?


What makes a good sequel? It's something I've been asking myself a lot now that I'm writing my first sequel. To a lot of people 'sequel' is a dirty word, but not for me. I love a good sequel/series. If you fall in love with the characters and are captivated by their story then you want to read more, right? That said, I don't believe in extending a stand-alone story for the sake for it, some are perfect as a once-off entry. I'm also not-so-keen on film sequels—unless they were originally intended that way—as they can taint the original. I'm thinking specifically of a popular sci-fi film trilogy in the late 90's that should have stayed a stand-alone film. The first film was perfect on its own; audiences don't need every question answered, we're smart enough to fill in the blanks.

But anyway, back to books. Often the first book only glimpses at the potential of the world being developed and sequels are an enjoyable return to these worlds, allowing the author to delve deeper and expand their universe. However, the stigma that sequels are never as good as the original remains true for novels. I can think of two or three sequels that I thought were as good, or better than the original book. Sadly most feel rushed, or the magic that kept you glued to the page has gone. Perhaps the sequels were too close to the original, making the story feel tired and derivative.

I decided to look at all the series I've read in the past few years where I quit reading before the final book. Surely I could find the culprit to sequelitis! The trend singled-out book two as the main cause. So what was it exactly about the second entry that turned me off reading the rest of the series? I narrowed it down to three main issues:

Unnecessary new love interest
This drives me crazy and is very prominent in YA Speculative Fiction sequels. Why would I want to read about a new character that breaks up the main couple that I've invested in? Who is this new character anyway? Why should I care about them? Usually I don't, and they're just a plot device to keep the main characters apart. I've read a few books where this new character has felt completely tact-on and out of place. This pulled me out of the story as I could feel what the author was trying to achieve: they wanted to tear the main characters apart only to bring them back together at the end of book two, or in book three. I'm not against having a new love interest if there is a point to that person, aside from them being an obstacle to our main characters' happiness.

Obstacles for the sake of obstacles
Relating to the above point, where you feel a new storyline is thrown into the mix just to prevent the main character/characters from achieving their goal, with no connection back to book one or the established mythology. This can be in relation to lots of new characters being inserted (again, why should I care about them?) or some left-of-field plot twist. I believe the best sequels are when book two leads directly into the plot of book three, and no, I don't mean by ending on a cliffhanger. If you can skip book two and feel as though you haven't missed anything, then chances are the author has inserted obstacles for the sake of obstacles.

I don't really care what happens
This one is the hardest to define as it's more of a feeling than a concrete reason to say why I don't continue to read a series. Often it's because I never really cared enough about the characters in the first place. This can be due to the characters not being likeable, relatable or interesting enough, or it could be that the main plot or theme never really captivated me in the first place. This comes down to personal taste, as one theme will appeal to readers more than it will to me. Perhaps I was lured in by the cover, or the blurb, but by the time I've reached book two (if I even made it that far) I can't imagine spending more hours reading about characters and plots that I'm not really invested in. For example, if I read one more book about angels I might start tearing at the pages like a wild animal. That's not to say there aren't well-written books about angels but I feel it's currently overdone and I'm ready to read something fresh.

Next time I'll post about what I do like about sequels. In the meantime, let me know what annoys you about sequels and hopefully I won't make the same mistakes!

Until next time,
Astrid

Sunday, 12 May 2013

What on Earth is Speculative Fiction?



Yesterday I attended the NSW Writers' Centre course: A Whole New World: Writing Speculative Fiction. Some of you may argue that I appear to be addicted to writing courses—those of you may be correct. But no matter how many courses I do, there is always something new to learn, especially if the course is taught by the wonderfully talented and inspirational author Pamela Freeman.

I think yesterday's course is edging out all the other courses as being the best I've attended to date. Not only was it extremely informative, packed full of great, read-to-apply information, but it was also specifically about Speculative Fiction—try saying that five times!

For those of you who are asking: 'what on Earth is Speculative Fiction?' Well, it's an umbrella term for the sub-genres of Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Fiction of the Fantastic, Horror, Paranormal, Alternate History, Historical Fantasy, and of course: Kids/YA which includes all of the above sub-genres. Basically, Speculative Fiction encompasses my favourite shelves in a bookshop. And yes, I'm one of those weird people who still buys books from a bookshop. Sadly, we are a dying breed.

The first book in my YA trilogy crosses multiple sub-genres in Speculative Fiction, mostly Fantasy, Paranormal and a bit of Horror thrown in for good measure. Seeing as I am currently plotting and planning my sequel, I was specifically interested in hearing how to best structure stories which arc over multiple books. I had been struggling with Plot Point 1 in my second book, but with Pamela's help, I was able to see that Plot Point 1 is actually the climax from my first book! Finally, everything started to fall into place and my fingers itched for a keyboard.

It was a really great and an inspirational day, and as always, wonderful to meet like-minded people who share my passion for writing and reading Speculative Fiction. Hopefully, in a few years time, there will be many more Australian Speculative Fiction authors on the shelves of bookshops. Of course, I'm hoping my name will be amongst them!

Until next time,

Astrid

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Australian Hunger Games - yes please!



Over the last few years, I've been on a researching and fact-finding mission for any information on how to become a published author in Australia. Whilst there's a wealth of information online, it can often be a little overwhelming. Sometimes you just want to be told what your next steps should be in a concise easy-to-digest format from someone who's been successful in the process. Enter the Australian Writers' Centre's 'How to Get Your Book Published' course!

Armed with my new blog, written on the back of my work business card—classy!—I attended the two hour course with much enthusiasm, preparing to leave the session knowing exactly what my next step would be. In the past three years I've attended four other courses at the Australian Writers' Centre and they have each been fabulous in their own way. I've completed Creative Writing 1, Creative Writing 2, Into to Novel Writing and Blogging for Beginners. The courses are always full of like-minded people who want/need to share their writing, which is always one of the great joys of these classes—being surrounded by kindred spirits!

The course was presented by Geoff Bartlett, author of Comedians in the Mist, the adorable Cattitude and Mutterings. Most information I've garnered from different courses and festivals tend to leave me a tad overwhelmed, and often, a little disheartened, but Geoff was very encouraging whilst remaining realistic. Although the stats remain the same, 95% of submissions are passed based on proposals alone, he delivered the material without leaning towards the doom and gloom version, which I really appreciated.

Here's a few nuggets of wisdom I learnt on the night:
It takes between 12–18 months to publish a book. *Sounds pretty fair to me.
The media will always back local talent over international talent. *Yay for Australian authors!
Think outside the box for marketing opportunities *Still mulling this one over.
Literary agents are mostly interested in authors already published or a celebrity. *Sadly no and no for me.
Literary agents have a 50% hit rate with manuscripts they pitch to publishers *That's pretty awesome! Now I'm wondering how I can become an instant celebrity...
On a full moon all the lunatics come out *Ha! Must remember not to behave like a lunatic around publishers...



But my favourite part of the night was Geoff's theoretical scenario:
“Let's say Astrid wrote the Australian version of the Hunger Games...”
To which I replied, “I like the sound of that.”
“Then literary agents will be interested in representing her, pursuing other writing opportunities for her, such as writing for film or an episode of Home and Away.”
Whilst I wasn't so keen on the Home and Away offer (no offence Home and Away fans), I started imagining that my book *will* be the next Hunger Games, one can always dream!

So what are my next steps? Well, it sounds like an agent is off the cards for now, so I will be crafting a kick-ass proposal for publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts. Slush pile here I come! ;) 

If you have any questions about publishing, or suggestions on how I can become an instant celebrity, please let me know in the comments. For other aspiring authors, I highly recommend the 'How To Get Your Book Published' course, here's the link: http://www.writerscentre.com.au/sydney/getyourbookpublished.htm

Until next time,

Astrid