SQL for Sequels

Mixing my topics today and probably confusing everyone in the process including me.

SQL stands for Structured Query Language a method of querying databases to find results but often used to describe the database itself. It is normally pronounced sequel hence the connection.There are several databases that call themselves SQL including Microsoft’s larger server based system, right down to SQLite Personal Edition running on various operating systems. Why is a SQL database on my mind? Because my sequels are causing me problems.

Part Three of the Demise Conspiracy, An Agent’s Prize, Part Two of The Observer Series, Intervention and an as yet unnamed sequel to To The Survivors currently named TTS2 by file name. What has this to do with databases. Characters that is what. Characters and timelines and scenes. Of course it’s all my own fault for trying to write several books (not just these) at the same time, but now I have added to my problem. Which character appeared, when, in which book, and do I need to explain their role or half the story of the earlier parts.

As I have previously blogged, I use Scrivener to write and it is an excellent system to list characters and scenes within a manuscript. I have tried importing all the characters over from the earlier parts but that just makes the lists longer. What I need is a clever database that tells me when, where and in what context I wrote about the character or the scene. In other words i need to add all the meta-data and link all the appearances of the character in Scrivener. I also need to know how much I should cover of the earlier story in order to have the current actions make sense. Not sure any tool can help with that. Many might say it did not make sense in the first parts!

Currently, I end up re-reading long sections of the earlier books, using Scriveners’ tool set to find the relevant section, but then comes the real problem. I end up wanting to change the original for grammar, construction or even plot to fit in with the next part’s scene. Oh if only I had written it differently, called the character something else, not killed off xx. God knows how longer series writers manage. Did  J K Rowling have a database of Harry Potter characters? Now if I had a database of all my ideas, characters etc there would be one place to go. This would avoid one section I just had to change where I used the same character name in two different manuscripts.

So clever database designers get on it. Get me a SQL database with the right easy to use queries so that I can look it all up. My writing would increase in speed, I could effortlessly cross reference and the world would be a better place.

Of course I could just get better organised get the sequel written without SQL at all.

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Writing The Sequel

Keyboard

Thanks to several kind reviews I have been asked if I will write sequels for my first two books,  An Agent’s Demise and To the Survivors.  My third book The Persuasive Man doesn’t support a sequel for fairly obvious reasons.  If you check out my forthcoming books you will know that I am writing  a sequel to An Agent’s Demise called An Agent’s Rise.  So what’s the problem then? Well apart from the ever present risk of writers block, which this article is great about by the way, my real problem is plot.

I had never intended that either of the books would have sequels when they were written.  At one stage I was contemplating splitting To The Survivors into two books simply because it’s a big story and there was a lot to write about.  The scenario there does allow further stories about the world I have imagined either following the main characters or with new points of view, or even new locations set during the same timeline.  My problem here was not lack of potential for a sequel but the willingness to disappear for the months needed to write it.  To The Survivors was totally absorbing when I was writing it.  Even at 150,000 words I dropped several chapters and plot areas.  Now back in full time employment, my writing time is limited.  My fourth book The Observer Series – Book One – The World of Fives has been sitting resting unlooked at for weeks.  As you can tell from it’s title it has been planned from the start to be a series set in its own future time and place.  It’s a space opera and I have started to create a whole world around it with potentially a very large cast.  I hope to get some time to work on it over the winter but just now I’m back to the purpose of this article – a proper sequel.  So putting my other books aside  what is my problem with writing the sequel?

Plot

I haven’t lost it completely, but I created several problems in An Agent’s Demise and in retrospect I wish I had finished the book a couple of chapters earlier or at least left out a few components.  I tried to tidy up too much.  Consequently, even the start of An Agent’s Rise has proved difficult.  Where do I start, who do I start with?  The political context was also important.  The current timeline for An Agent’s Demise was 2005/6 with the news full of London bombings, and the ongoing rows about dodgy dossiers.  If I continue the story what is the political background;  more of the same or are there some other incidents I can use to blend in fact with my fiction.  I had several starting points and incidents before I settled on one start only to change it completely last weekend.  Now I need to follow the plot through and unlike the original when I wrote it I still do not know how it will end.

Characters

An Agent’s Demise was criticised because of it’s large cast and extensive use of aliases for the lead character.  Some of this was deliberate, the lead character accidentally creates a name, Mike, which is inadvertently shared with other Mikes, Michaels, and Micks in the story.  The large cast prompted me to include a cast list at the start of the book.  So starting the new book and wanting to introduce new characters, how do I remove others and narrow the cast to reasonable proportions? This is further complicated by the need to include back story elements.  If I kill off a character, well remove them from the story, can I legitimately bring them back.  Would the reader want a back story on that part to explain where they had been.  No Dallas shower dreams to render huge chunks of storyline irrelevant but the Bourne films managed to bring the lead back from his escape as the main story – nice technique but not one easy to replicate or amend.  Of course that process can influence.  Police procedural series always have a new case, a new killer because that is the nature of police work, some of these series have led to plenty of books featuring the lead protagonist from Poirot to Morse to Rebus.  The Jack Reacher series has several thrillers, but these heroes never seem to get older, slower and don’t forget Bond, the films change the lead character to refresh and has spawned whole new plots that Ian Fleming never envisaged.  The plot links are tenuous, suddenly old friends or past incidents that were never mentioned in the first books appear as back story in the new book.  Travel never takes time, daily routine never interferes, apartments are always immaculate or sparse, no clothes are washed.  Life doesn’t exist in these stories.  I appreciate people don’t want reality in a story but that leaves a sequel in more trouble.  At the end of every Bond film (not the Daniel Craig series interestingly), Bond is left with a girl but in the next film the girl is gone.  The only exception is the killed wife who is occasionally mentioned.  Still those sequels have had huge success as books and derived films.

Back Story and References To The First Book

How much back story should be included?  At one point it felt like I was re-writing the first book in précis form which was even more confusing due to the large cast.  I have backed off from this but it will need further revision.   I want the book to follow on but I also want a new reader to enjoy the book on it’s own.  Is that an impossible ask?  Are my only readers going to be people who have read Demise?  Lots of authors have had to solve this problem even JKR doesn’t try to make the Harry Potter Series as stand alone books.  Neither does Tolkien with Lord of The Rings.  Some authors do, some more successfully than others, but I have also read works where the book is impossible without having read earlier parts – I just wish I knew that before I purchased the book I tried to read.  I have resorted to making some references to the previous story with a quick explanation back story sentence.  Whether this technique will be successful or not I’ll have to wait and see.

The Writing Bug

Will this story be it or will it again lead to a new story?  A Book Three, at the moment I simply do not know as I do not have an ending.  I barely have a middle!  The other question is of course should I even write this sequel.  It’s too late for that now, I have to write it, it’s now an itch I have to scratch but it’s more than that a need that must be fulfilled, just like writing in general.  During my unemployment I wrote a lot three/four books and the starts of several others, now I’m working again I have much less time to write, but I need to, I just have to.  I don’t mean blogs or tweets I mean disappearing into an imaginary world, however close to reality, and letting characters that run around in my brain at inconvenient moments put down their thoughts onto my computer’s paper.  I was on the tube the other day and a man opposite looked around the carriage immediately my head was full of my lead character doing the same action.  Last weekend that incident transformed into a piece of counter surveillance technique on a New York Metro, thanks whoever you were.  I explained this compulsion and the characters taking over to a friend at dinner the other night, she had just flicked her hair in a particular way and I said that a little thing like that would appear as a tiny half sentence in a character and she would effectively be in the book, it is already.  The dinner was on Friday night, by Saturday afternoon that tiny inconsequential gesture was part of a character.  Nothing like my friend but the gesture was there.  Is this what psychosis is therefore do all writers suffer from schizophrenia with their multiple personalities as their characters.   When I am absorbed in writing whether a sequel or not I disappear, but when the book is finished I want to leave the characters behind, going back to some of them isn’t always like visiting old friends you haven’t seen for ages, sometimes it’s like visiting a school reunion, yes you might want to see how people turned out but do you really want to meet the school bully who made your life hell, or see that old girl/boy who you had a crush on.  Visiting my favourite characters for the sequel is a mixed blessing.  Still enough blogging more writing, there was another incident I watched that I want to write about, just a police car speeding down Marylebone Street… blue lights flashing as Mike walked by with barely a glance at the noise of the blues and twos…

What The Hell Is YA?

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-adult_fiction) defines YA as the following:

“Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often abbreviated as YA),[1] also juvenile fiction, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, although recent studies show that 55% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age.[2] The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen.  Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the genre as literature as traditionally written for ages ranging from twelve years up to the age of eighteen, while some publishers may market young adult literature to as low as age ten or as high as age twenty-five.[3] The terms young-adult novel, juvenile novel, young-adult book, etc. refer to the works in the YA category”

 So what exactly is YA?   Should I be writing for this market, which seems to dominate many categories or other genres or is this just a marketing gimmick? What distinguishes this genre from other categories?  When I was in this age category I read grown up fiction to prove I was an adult.  Children’s books consisted of Enid Blyton and the classics of Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Kidnapped.  I also read The Hobbit.  I have of course read as an adult the Harry Potter series with my own children but also for myself.  Being from the Neolithic age pre-Internet, I regard all these stories as children’s books.  Classic books were what we studied at school in English classes, I love Shakespeare, I have read Jane Austin, some Dickens, are these YA?  Do I have to reclassify Romeo and Juliet as a YA targeted story?  So maybe it’s my upbringing and age that causes my confusion and I am back to what exactly is this genre.  I browsed the list of books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/young-adult and I am none the wiser.  There were 549 group discussions tagged as YA on Goodreads, but the definition still escapes me.  I certainly do not wish to offend any of the clearly millions of YA readers or the thousands of YA Authors.  So what is it that distinguishes this category?

Adult themes appear such as abuse, despair, and the struggles of modern or historical life.  There are fantasy and Sci Fi stories, YA Romance, thrillers, short and long books.  So is it the content I should look at or the language used.  There may be non-explicit sex and violence, but many traditional genre books hold back from one or more of these.  Relationships may not be consummated in YA, but Romance genre has lots of looking and gazing and very little actual sex.  Is it the literary complexity of the language that dictates a YA novel or just the absence of swearing?  One forum discussed the use of YA lead characters in the story as a guide, but that doesn’t seem to hold true for all the stories.  If I read a Sci Fi novel about teenagers fighting off werewolves is it YA, Sci-Fi, Horror, Fantasy, or a romance because one character dreams of kissing another?

My books tend to have fairly robust, some would say explicit, sex and violence and some swearing, does that mean they cannot be considered as YA?  My second book To The Survivors has several YA age group characters.  Is Lord of the Flies a YA novel?  Who decided that this category even exists?

I turn to the marketing industry for guidance, and I am even more lost by tweens, teens, YA.  They separate the three as individual target audiences.  As adulthood is a cultural and legal definition, is a sixteen year old, a YA, a teenager, or a child?  As a sixteen year old I positively avoided reading anything labelled as for a teenager, or a child.  I wanted to be treated and saw myself as an adult, I read newspapers and adult fiction.  I read Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg and Clarke in Sci Fi.  I read Heller and Updike, but added Le Carre and Deighton, whilst at school we had more Shakespeare to name just a few.   I also read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and other D H Lawrence books and I sneaked in to watch the 18 rated films until they came on TV.  I craved adult content that dealt with sex and violence not some pastiche of a 1950’s Hollywood movie where Rock Hudson and Doris Day are married but sleep in separate beds wearing more clothes than the did in the day time for fear of falling foul of the censors.

So is YA another form of censorship?  The US TV market (excluding cable), gives us a guide, no sex, no swearing but endless violence is fine.  Twilight the books and movies have chaste kisses and dreamy looks whilst violence and death surround the protagonists.  Is this YA?  If it is, then no thanks.  If I ever write a children’s story it will not have sex, violence or swearing.  My other fiction will be written for…. Well I suppose I am writing for me.  I have blogged previously on this subject https://phenweb.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/how-far-should-i-go/ so I’ll try not to repeat myself.  For the YA market, I think if you are a YA then you will like my books because they feature adult themes, but they are not in YA.

I’m not in YA, I don’t understand the category maybe someone else can explain the definition of this alleged genre to me.