The musical opus… a musical composition or set of compositions usually numbered in the order of its issue according to Merriam-Webster.
Or maybe symphony would be a better analogy…a long piece of music that is usually in four large, separate sections and that is performed by an orchestra.
Even better, perhaps, is concerto… a piece for one or more soloists and orchestra with three contrasting movements. That feeds into the fact that the analogy I’m making is to a set of books, each of which has a different main character.
A composer does not create and release a symphony one piece at a time, hoping that the audience will like each bit before he can move on to the next. A composer creates the entire work, as a whole, and then it is released…performed for the patrons and adoring crowds.
A writer doesn’t have that option. Especially an author like me, who’s just starting out. We query an individual book, and we hope to sign a contract for that book, and maybe it will even be a two-book deal.
The exception, of course, is the self-published author who can decide to put out one novel in 50 separate chapters, or release their 12 volume magnum opus as a single PDF file. But I digress…
I have two books sitting on the shelf, awaiting Lent, when I shall do the first round of edits. They will be queried when I’ve done at least two or three rounds of editing and rewriting.
Meanwhile, the book I took off the shelf to work on has turned into something I really like. It’s not a story of boy meets girl, they like each other, have a few issues, then eventually have a happily ever after. It’s polyamorous, so boy meets girl who meets another…etc. But it’s even more complicated than that.
Complication is necessary to good fiction, but it can easily go too far and leave the reader lost or bored. My WIP (Under the Radar) is a story in which the characters’ young adult lives (and to a small extent, their childhoods) affect the main romance in the book, which occurs in their late 30’s (measured in Earth years.) The rough draft was 90k of their young adult lives, which is, honestly, mostly just exposition for most of them.
After splitting The Jubilation of the Southern Cross and Hearthsong into two novels, I decided to do the same for Under the Radar. It worked perfectly. But whereas JSC and HS take place over the course of a few months, one immediately following the other, UTR covers years of the characters’ lives.
It’s like a symphony. JSC is a scherzo. It’s a rapid, somewhat humorous story in triple time. There are three main characters. HS is an allegro, where several more characters are added to the first three.
UTR is five books. I think concerto is apt…because each one concentrates on a different character, or soloist. The only books that are simultaneous are #1 and #3. At that time, the main characters are completely separated from each other. Book #2 focuses on the character who is slightly older, and tells more of the backstory. Book #4 is the main climax, bringing them back together, but without the satisfying Happily-Ever-After. They only get a Happy-Enough-For-Now. Book #5 delivers a twist and the Happily-Ever-After.
Following different characters is not the only difference in the books. They each have a very different tone. To use an example from the traditional romance-writing world, I know that a novel written by Stephanie Laurens will have a certain level of steam in the relationships. A novel written by Debbie Macomber will have less steam, and more sweetness. Anything written by Tiffany Reisz will curl my toes. The five UTR books each have a different heat level. In one, the main characters decide to postpone their sexual intimacy. In another, the main character is studying to be a companion.
I love the different ebb and flow of the books. It is working out very well. I think the overall story is being told in an interesting way, with some of the backstory happening in flashbacks, and some simply alluded to. Although each book is a complete story, not every volume ends with a satisfying Happily-Ever-After. This is a problem in the world of Romance novels, where the Happily-Ever-After is a requirement of the genre. And although each story is complete, there is a sense that this is only one part of a greater story. I hope the reader feels that they want to keep reading, and doesn’t feel cheated.
One way to ensure they don’t feel cheated is to release the symphony of books all at once, or at least very close together. Since I have to write them all at the same time for consistency’s sake, going back and forth to change things in a previous book when I have a revelation in a later book, this is a feasible plan from a writer’s point of view.
The problem is, most publishing houses won’t want to take a risk on a five book series from an unproved author.
Fortunately, I’m not planning on UTR being my debut work. JSC and HS come first…maybe under the title Brave New Whirl. Then there are a couple of others that should come next, especially since the main character of UTR #5 is a secondary character in The Scar.
Let’s hope the first novels do well. Because Under the Radar is a story I really want to share with the world.
Now that I’m writing this, I’m starting to outline The Coward of the County which belongs in a symphony with The Scar. Eep! Too much! Too soon! Slow down my OCD brain!
For those who are curious, the five books that make up Under the Radar are:
- The Postman in Shining White Armor (Iresh’s story)
- Doing the Right Thing (Kevin’s story)
- Let’s Try This Again (Simeon’s story)
- Fool Me Thrice (Scharona’s story. Scharona is also the overall #1 main character in UTR.)
- The Keystone (Courtney’s story.)
Now, before I finish the rewrites on these, I have to go back and re-read Tiffany Reisz’ Original Sinners series. Firstly, because one of the book uses significant flashbacks to tell the story, and secondly because Tiffany makes us hate a character and then love him in…spoilers. My original idea for UTR was to take every horrible (not abusive, just bad) thing any guy I’ve known or my friends have known and put those things into just three different guys. Well, it ended up being two guys. I want the reader to initially think the worst of them, and then come to love them. Tiffany does so eloquently, sneakily, and thoroughly. I hope I can do the same.