Jason LaPier: Five Things I Learned Writing Unclear Skies

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Rogue cop Stanford Runstom blew open a botched murder case and was given a promotion – of sorts. But doing PR work for ModPol, the security-firm-for-hire, is not the detective position Runstom had in mind, particularly when his orders become questionable.

Despite being cleared of false murder charges, Jax is still a fugitive from justice. When ModPol catches up with him, keeping his freedom now means staying alive at any cost, even if that means joining Space Waste, the notorious criminal gang.

When ModPol and Space Waste go head to head, old friends Runstom and Jax find themselves caught between two bloodthirsty armies, and this time they might not escape with their lives.

The middle child wants to be her own book.

The second book in a trilogy is a bridge between the start and the finish of the full arc of a story. But she’s also her own book, and she wants to do her own thing. The trick is to find a balance between getting the novel to go where you want it to go, and giving it the room to be a complete story unto itself. In the long run, this is better anyway: even when a book is planned as part of a trilogy and never meant to stand alone, it still needs to have an arc that can stand alone. You have no guarantee that your readers are going to burn through all three books in one sitting, so the second book should feel complete on its own.

The second book is an opportunity to Go Big and Go Deep.

There are two aspects to this that come to mind: characters and world. In the first book, characters are introduced and their backstories drip in as appropriate. Stretching into the second book, these characters need to go even deeper into their former selves, into their histories, their failures and accomplishments of days past. They also need to start looking harder at their futures, because there needs to be more at stake. Likewise with the world of the story: the scope can expand to include more of it, and the conflict can expand to put more of it at stake. This might mean more politics, deeper conspiracies, and more ambitions, cultures, and ideals butting heads.

Finding the right place to end the second book is hard.

There is a balance between hooking the reader for the third book and not leaving too many open threads. This lesson builds on the first two: it’s because the scope of the story has expanded that more questions arise. And in some ways, because the middle book trying to be its own story, it starts acting like a first book: it wants to create new threads to build off of. Fortunately, my editor helped me immensely during the revision process by identifying all those unanswered questions so that I could choose to answer some and move some out to be asked (and answered) in the third book. Her perspective was such a huge help!

It’s still important to set the table.

The second book wants to move: it’s all action. My editor called the first draft “pacey”; which is not really good or bad, but something that needed addressing in any case. Since I had built up such a satisfying plan to carry the end of the first book over into the second and on to the third, I too wanted to move, and it became clear in the writing as it jumped from action scene to action scene. But a good meal isn’t all steak! During revision, I went back and added space, and added breathing room. Action scenes sometimes work better with the right setup. And I needed to take the time to immerse my readers in the setting, as well as take the time for characters to be able to reflect post-action. The good news is that I found this process easier than the reverse, which is to take a sluggish manuscript and cut out the fat to speed up the pacing.

My support system is more important than ever.

Putting the first book out there was a thrill, and a dream. But with the second book comes enormous pressure. What if it’s not as good as the first? What if readers are sick of these characters? What if none of this makes any sense? These questions can make you feel like a crazy person, but the reality is that they’re all perfectly normal. In fact, when it comes to any creative endeavor, to have zero doubt is an abnormal state. But when you’re stuck in your own head, it’s hard to remember this. That’s why it’s so important not to close yourself off from the world, and to seek the counsel and support of other writers. They’ve all been there.

And it helps to talk to friends and family members, even if they aren’t writers, especially those closest to you. Those are the ones you’re going to have to look at and say, “look, I know I’m acting aloof lately, but I’m writing a book right now.” Writing a book is a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. It’s always in your head. It just won’t shut the fuck up, and what’s more, you don’t want it to shut the fuck up. So it’s ever more important that the people closest to you don’t make you feel guilt or shame – whether intentionally, or most likely unintentionally – by reminding you how much effort and energy you’re pouring into the act of making stuff up. It’s hard enough to ignore the internal voices that are telling you this is all a waste of time, and to counter those you need cheerleaders. The ones that get that? Hold onto them the hardest.

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Born and raised in Upstate New York, Jason LaPier lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and a couple of dachshunds. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew.

Jason LaPier: Website | Twitter

Unclear Skies: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Google | iTunes

7 comments

  • I’m in the middle of plotting a trilogy (the whole flipping thing at once so I can see where things go, and where things bork in case books one or two need groundwork), and this post is SUPER helpful as I drive for a non-saggy middle. Much appreciated.

    • Likewise. So, so helpful.

      “Pacey.” Haha! The zero draft of the second book of my trilogy came out at 68k of careening madness. There’s a lot of room for going back and building that worldbuilding and complexity, I’m just daunted at the prospect of tackling it.

  • “In fact, when it comes to any creative endeavor, to have zero doubt is an abnormal state.”

    Such a great quote. I’ve been riddled with some self-doubt lately and this quote tells me I need to embrace it rather than have it paralyze me.

  • Ack… the middle child. It can’t be a shadow of its older sibling or babysitter for the little darling to come. Ya gotta give it room to grow on its own and become its own unique individual. It won’t disappoint, it won’t suck. However, it just might spit in your eye and go its own way. Ack…

  • I found early on when writing book 1 of my trilogy that book 2 was going to be a prequel to book 1. This has helped ground the book, and (hopefully) will stop it sprouting wings and wanting to do its own thing…..but its nice to know that others have the same issue with the problem child.

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