Dawn Montgomery

Second Book Syndrome

In #amwriting, Arc Talk, Write Talk on August 14, 2013 at 6:05 am

Welcome new followers and subscribers! I try not to look at the numbers as it can be intimidating to wonder about audience reactions, but last week’s emails, subscribers, and interest (link backs and such) took a jump. Forgive me, but I’d like to keep the illusion that you and I are just sitting down and having chats about writing. 😀

This post deals with intimidation on writing the second book of a series (where the first one was surprisingly popular). It’s a current journey of mine so the post focuses on the three things I had to repair this week. As I go along, I’m sure I’ll hit other stumbling blocks along the way. Take what works from what you read and discard the rest. 🙂

Scroll down to the bottom if you’re here to see the Round of Words update for the week. 🙂

It has many names. Second Book Syndrome is my favorite. Your first book was successful ( by your standards, by other’s standards, by reader’s reactions, etc.). Everyone is waiting (in anticipation) for the followup and you are ready to write it. Then you start it and a part of you dies.

It’s not as fabulous as the first one. 

The characters aren’t interesting. 

The plot is stagnant. 

Nothing’s working. 

I’m not having fun. 

There is no energy behind it. 

I’ve spent the last four days combing through my favorite writers’ blogs trying to figure out the magic formula to a problem where the second, long-anticipated book is nightmarish to write. How do you overcome the fear of failing expectations?

Let’s look at what you can control.

1. Characters. Did you give them proper goals, motivation, and conflict to begin with (book, scene, chapter)? We’ll use the hero from my current book. Goal: Escape the lab he’s been imprisoned in…ultimate goal is freedom Motivation: Captivity is painful, dangerous, and killing him (literally). Conflict: The only way out is through the one bright point of his captivity…the heroine. The heroine’s GMC. Goal: Protect the hero without blowing her cover…ultimate goal is to shut down the facility. Motivation: The asteroid is a strategic necessity to win the Sheon/Valorian war (not to mention the havoc it plays on her conscience). Conflict: Ignoring the hero will kill him, but when he takes her, she has to get back to her job to continue the mission and save lives.

If you start the book without any idea what your character is doing or why, it’ll reflect in your story. Even those who write by the seat of their pants…consider this. Every person has a GMC at almost every moment of their lives. Lounging around the house all day (goal) is motivated by the need to “relax”. Conflict arises when friend/family/neighbor/work interrupts your down time. When a person becomes “numb” after a traumatic event, their goal is to remain numb (not think) and they’re motivated by the fear of pain. Reality’s intrusion is the conflict. See what I’m saying?

You don’t necessarily have to create fifty pages of background information on your characters, but you do need to know why they’re there and how to throw a wrench in what they want. I realized I had no GMC for either character in a section I was working through. Figuring it out helped so much.

2. Plot. If you know the beginning and end, you’re in a good place. Linear plotters (and there are many pansters who can follow this logic line) write from beginning to end. No stops, no skips. For many years I thought I had to write this way. I still do, especially with short stories, but when I write a novel, I find myself skipping around. There are tons of ways to make sure your plot is solid. and a bazillion websites showing the step by step process of scene development and plot progression.

Great advice…IF you know how to get from point A to B. What if you don’t? This was a problem I suffered through all last week.

What happens if you have no idea how the characters go from escaping the lab to blowing it up? Every step I made from their escape and return fell flat. Annoyed me. Was crap. Insert insult here. I kept trying to figure out the way forward, but maybe, just this once, I’d have to work backwards.

Work backwards: a lesson I learned when writing research papers back in the day.

My high school son received word (yesterday) that he’ll have a research paper due at the end of the first semester so, while keeping him calm, I was thinking through some old lessons my teacher had taught me.

I had the same English teacher for most of high school. He had accelerated learning curricula and I loved the way he worked. Unlike most of the other teachers, he treated all students with the same respect. I was a student aid in one of his Senior English classes. Research papers were second nature to me by then (we had to do one every year in his class. I was an old pro with four under my belt), but this class was the first time most of them would do one.

While I was entering grades into his books, he was teaching the basics. One student, a stereotypical jock who’d rarely had to crack a book in high school, asked a question. He wanted to know why we had to have a thesis statement before we began the paper. I almost laughed (self-important much?) but realized no one else in the class was laughing. They were all curious. My teacher (after giving me a withering glare, he caught my amusement) said it was a good question (he would have snarked us to death if any one of our class had asked such a thing). He said the libraries we were going to were vast (they were) and we had one day to get all the work done. Knowing what you wanted to prove saved time, effort, and money (cost of copies).

Another person raised their hand and asked why it had to be a statement to prove/disprove and not a general statement about the subject.

He smiled and said…if you know where you’re going, you’ll have a roadmap to get there. By knowing how it ends, you can work backwards to get what you need. By this time, I’ve stopped entering grades and I’ve got my chin propped up on my hand.

Another raised his hand and my teacher held up his. He pointed to the jock from earlier. “How many sheep do you need for next year’s show?” The guy was in 4H, something I didn’t remember until that moment.

Three was the answer.

My teacher asked him what it would take to get the sheep ready for next year. The jock listed them quickly. Feed, grooming, vet visits, show practice, etc. My teacher smiled and pointed out that knowing the end result told him how much work would be involved leading up to it. He then showed examples using farming, baking, car repair, and summed it up in the research paper.

After class was over I asked him a lot of questions. The first was why he’d talked to them that way when he would have treated us differently. His answer stuck with me all these years. No one learns the same way. In our class, if someone didn’t know something, we’d talk to one another (and make fun), but in academics we had confidence enough to speak our mind. They, on the other hand, had questions but would never ask out of fear of being made fun of by a teacher rumored to be extremely intelligent (he was).

Why did he teach them to work backwards but never told us that…

He said people like me loved the library so could pick up a book, read a bit, and create a thesis on inspiration alone. Unlike those in the class I aided, I understood where research materials were stored, how to get from one point to another, where to ask for help, etc. For someone who doesn’t find writing to be intuitive, you give them a roadmap. They take their thesis and then, at the library, search for five sources. Those sources will provide the information they need to formulate a provable paper. He continued in his explanation. There are times, he said, where you have to change the way you work. Getting stuck is part of writing. When that happens, go back to the basics.

I woke up at 1 am this morning with his advice on my brain. Writing book two in a series is new territory for me. I’ve done it once before (with mixed results) so going back to the basics might work.

I took my book and broke it down by asking the question…what got the characters to this point? (What tools did they need and how did they get them?)

Strangely enough, my mind clicked.

Now I’ve written through the gaps in my plot and the words are flowing again.

***Note: Mystery writers have been known to use this type of process, so it’s hardly a new concept. In a mystery, the author knows how the crime was committed. The key is to figure out which clues (and in what order) to give the hero as he cracks the case.***

3. Acceptance. Accept that you can write to the best of your ability. Trust your instincts to guide you. Know that you have no control over the audience reaction. Give yourself permission to suck in the first draft.

*sigh* The hardest of all. Fear is a big drain in all three areas, but this one most of all.

There’s only one sure thing…not writing it will leave your readers disappointed and you disappointed with yourself. Lots of weight on the shoulders.

So that’s where I’m at, all. I’m finally in the middle of writing the second novel in a series and freaking myself out. I can’t remember what it was like to write the first book, only the frenzy involved in whipping it out. It became far more popular than I expected and I buried myself deep trying to ignore everyone telling me to write the next one.

I’ve avoided the ‘net for the past week in my attempts to get this baby on a good trek. I wasn’t there until this morning. So here I am. Writing again.

#ROW80 update


Last Week’s Goals: 

  1. Hidden Confection I didn’t make 7.5k, but I’m on target to finish the book in the next few days.
  2. Last Rites now above 25% overhaul. I’m also using a new program to help with edits. Will give a review later in the week.
  3. Finished the unforeseen edits. *sigh* Wasn’t happy about them, but they were necessary.
  4. Voodoo Carnival I’d set up a goal to write a scene a day, but it only came out to 500 words a day. I’m going to let it be until the kids go back to school.

Nailing two out of four ambitious goals aren’t bad. 😀

New Goals for the Week (update on Wednesday next week):

  1. Hidden Confection completed
  2. Last Rites edits done. I expect to be working on the synopsis/submission by next check in.
  3. Feral Hunger edits. I’m not in a rush with this one as I have some in depth changes that need to be made. My goal is to make it through a chapter every three days or so. I’ll pour more of my energy into it once the kids are back in school and I can focus with less interruption.
  4. Voodoo Carnival continue at 500 words a day (equates to a scene every couple of days or a chapter every four or so). It’s working for me, and anything working is going to stay that way. LOL. Until it’s not. 😉

It’s now the midpoint to August so let’s see how we’re doing on the month’s goals: 

  1. Submit The Collector by August 1st: LOL! Wrong submission day. *sigh* But I still have a short story to submit at a later time. 🙂 
  2. Finish and Submit Voodoo Carnival by August 5th: Didn’t make August 5th, but I decided to keep going and submit through traditional channels. Still a work in progress, so I’m still happy with it. 
  3. Work on the super secret pulp fiction project (goal is 20k by August 31st): Coming along well. Story is outlined, first chapter is started. It’s my freewrite project on the weekends. Since I do the writing away from my main computer, I don’t keep track of word counts until it comes time to put it on my active projects list. 
  4. Submit Feral Hunger by August 31st: Still working on this one. Edits will pick up once the kids are back in school. 
  5. Work on chapter one for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest. Chapter is written (book is, actually). On schedule to start edits on this in next week’s challenge. 
  6. Polish up (and update) a novella I wrote back in 2008. Submit it for publication as soon as it’s ready. Last Rites is this novella. 

I’d wanted four submissions in August. So far one (The Collector, with a polite rejection) has happened. Feral Hunger is still an unknown for the end of the month submission. Hidden Confection is up for submission, but not this week. 🙂 Last Rites is on schedule for submission next week. Wow. Completely surprising. 🙂

So, there you have it, I spent a week digging in deep and trying to find my way. My Christmas Story Red Velvet: Hidden Confection is coming along well. Lots of edits on my plate and books to submit and turn in next week. Not a bad haul at all. It feels good to be busy again.

I’m part of a fantastic group called A Round of Words in 80 Days, and if you’d like to see how everyone else is doing, check out the list HERE.

Would you like to be a part of our writing challenge? Check out the rules HERE.

Keep Writing!

  1. Great tips Dawn and well done on all your work. You have a lot on and it’s going smoothly. Keep it up! 🙂 X

  2. Dawn,

    For decades, I jotted Star Trek fan fiction in random notebooks, writing until I got stuck or distracted, coming back when I had a new idea or lots of time on my hands (long winters…).

    When I realized that I had the makings of an interwoven double series – the fanfic, and the original fantasy that grew with them, I already had the shape of several novels.

    Because of the order in which I wrote them, I already have 4 drafts complete. I am currently writing the “first” (and either the second or third; I’m not sure which yet).

    It’s chaotic, but I will be far along in subsequent books by the time the first are offered, that I may not ever have the “second-book syndrome”.

    Even if I don’t, though, your advice was solid and valuable, and I will be sharing it. As an evolving pantser who likes to work on multiple projects at once, I currently have a WIP that I did not plan, and intend to finish that way, because trying to shft at this point would stall me out and tangle my mind. I also have two WIPs I have GMCs for. I did a rough scene-by-scene outline, following the suggestions in Rock Your Plot, and detailed out the key scenes. As I write, I fill in the GMC (and the DIsaster) a few scenes ahead, which allows room for the story to develop in a more pantsy way, while I have a framework to guide me.

    I am so impressed at the difference, I am now starting edits on two WIPs, using Rock Your Revisions.

    I’m glad you took the week, to get into what you needed, and that you have so much great advice for you and your son. =)

    Two out of four goals sounds great, and it seems like the insight you gained, although not so easily measured, will pay off well.

    May your week delight you! =)

    • I haven’t heard of Rock Your Revisions but it’s so awesome how it’s helping you work through your books!

      Hon, it took seven years for me to get to a point where I even had to worry about it. It wasn’t a big deal until recently. That’s why I had to go back to basics.

      I hope so. Catching up isn’t possible, but maybe I’ll be more efficient. 🙂

      Have an awesome week!

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