Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Blog with Caragh O'Brien: Completing a Trilogy

Caragh O'Brien has thoughts on completing a trilogy!

For me, completing a trilogy involved both the practical side of the project and the emotional side.  Of course, they’re entangled with each other because I never would have been working on the Birthmarked trilogy if I hadn’t cared enough about it in the first place, but the characters and the world grew on me over four years, changing me, and that complicated matters.

Some writers conceive of their projects as three books right from the start, as Patrick Ness did with the Chaos Walking series, but I did not.  I thought of Birthmarked originally as a stand alone, so coming up with two more books involved expanding the way I thought of the world and characters.  I went back to the ending of the first book to change it, and while the simple answer is to say I made it more open-ended so I could carry on the story, I actually gave it tighter closure and made it bleaker.  That set up the second book better and focused the story back on Gaia and her independence.
Writing Book 2 is notoriously awful, and I was not spared that madness. I don’t care how often other writers and artists tell you to take risks with your work, it is not comfortable to do so.  It can be downright painful.  To write Prized, I was compelled to reexamine my personal morals around independence, women’s rights, and abortion.  I did not realize what I was getting into as I began the novel, but eight drafts in, I found myself falling off a new cliff.  I’m glad now, that I went over it, but at the time I resisted.

A curious thing about working on a trilogy is the overlapping of the books in different stages.  They sort of tumble on top of each other.  For instance, I was doing several library visits focused on Book 1 around the same time that I was revising Book 2 and writing the first draft of Book 3.  It made for a mix of mental jumps, but it also had advantages.  I was able to tweak things backwards a book when I realized I would need some detail to carry forward into a later book for continuity.  It made me wonder what it would be like to write all three books together, as a set, before any of them were published, the way Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings as one massive volume.

The third book, Promised, presented the expected challenges of raising stakes and trying to develop key characters even further.  Beyond this, I was also stumped by having essentially two complete casts from books 1 and 2 and not enough room in the third book to give full attention to all the characters I cared about.  I also ran into more soul searching as Gaia, once again, made complicated decisions about responsibility over life and death.  It was not easy to write a resolution that would feel right for the world I’d created and wrap up all three books sufficiently.  There, too, I took some narrative risks, and I’m thankful that my editor, Nancy Mercado, was completely supportive through the process.
In the end, for me, completing a trilogy was a little like moving out of a house you’ve lived in for four years.  You reach a moment when your gear is all packed in the moving van and you lock the front door for the last time and step off the porch to look back.  No matter how much you may wish to return, and no matter how often you drive by to see if a new swing set is in the back yard, even if the new owners invite you back in for a tour, you’ll never really live there again.  It’s over.

That’s where I am with the Birthmarked trilogy, and if I sound a little wistful, perhaps I am.  I liked living in Gaia’s world and generating its life.  I was fascinated to see how Gaia, Leon, and my other favorite characters would change, and though I hated making them miserable, I relished doing it, too.  Though I’m leaving them and their world behind, I’m taking something forward with me into my next project.  I know now that I’ll hit problems that seem insurmountable at first, and that I’ll wrestle with myself about whether I should really write about what I’m thinking.  Already I feel like the next world I’m entering is bigger and more intricate than I can possibly handle.  That’s a good place to be.

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