Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To Be Continued (We Hope)

I promise this is not a query. I need advice on how to split a long, continuous story up into more than one book!
I recently completed a middle grade novel that took on a life of its own and decided to segue directly into a second book. In the sequel, the kids in the fist book must travel to King Arthur’s England to find a spell book and stone to break a spell cast by Merlin’s son in the first book. At the end of the first book, the main characters have resolved some things and are safe, so it sort of ends that “chapter” of the story, but they are in hot pursuit of another character and don’t have time to stop and celebrate.
Is it OK to have the book end at the beginning of the next story (they all arrive safely and are sitting by the sea in England) or does there have to be some more concrete ending to the first book (they are all ready to travel on to the next adventure, but sit around smiling and patting each other on the back before they go?)
It is too long to be one book (41,500 words.)
Surely you have read some books / series that do this? More than a couple, one hopes?

I just want to pause and remind everyone that my advice all alone is not useful to you. If you haven't familiarized yourself enough with children's books and with the craft of writing to have some good sense of your own, no matter how good my advice is (and I do my best), you won't be able to avoid misapplying it.

Good, now that that's out of the way: before you go rushing off to work on book 2 or 3 or 17, put all your effort into making book 1 as awesome and polished and whole as you can do. How to do this varies per book, so you have to use your own good sense in making this story the best it can be before your characters set off into a sequel.

If you can't get an editor excited about book 1, the ending to your series is going to come even sooner than you thought.

15 comments:

Marcia said...

I have to take issue with the last sentence: "It's too long to be one book (41,500 words)." This is not extremely long for MG fiction. Just as three examples, The Penderwicks books are 54,000 and 63,000 words, and The Candymakers by Wendy Mass is 102,000 words. The length alone doesn't demand two books; in fact, it's not at all atypical for one. (Figures from AR website.)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Also, read some midgrade adventure books. Lots of them. After all, The Mysterious Benedict Society comes in at 118,000 words.

Word counts for children's novels aren't that strict-- you just have to make sure that every word is a NECESSARY word.

Melissa said...

Thanks, editorial. Glad to have you back!

In case it can help, I just want to add that there are quite a lot of 41,000 MG books out there these days. Especially fantasy.

Candice.Abraham said...

Great post! I am dealing with a similar structure for a MG trilogy I'm writing. I am aware of other YA and MG series that end Book 1 and on with a "to be continued" or a a cliffhanger. The Hunger Games and His Dark Materials are what immediately come to mind from ones I've read. Can anyone suggest others here?

Adam Rex said...

Surely 41,500 words is not too long for a middle grade novel? My first MG had 86,000 or so. Harry Potter and the Whatever had more than that.

That's not to say that a MG novel can't be much shorter. I'm just sayin'.

Kim Kasch said...

Applying advice . . . hum, I try but maybe it's something we all struggle with. From the time we're little, parents tell us what we SHOULD do. Unfortunately, our inclination is to push back against sage words of wisdom :(

I'm just glad you're back.

Marissa Doyle said...

Er, is 41,500 really too long for MG?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone who pointed out that there are plenty of middle grade novels that are longer than 41,500 words. This is very true, and I would have noted it myself if I hadn't been blogging too fast and failed to note the number. There should be a blogging speed limit.

Anonymous said...

"The Hunger Games and His Dark Materials are what immediately come to mind from ones I've read. Can anyone suggest others here?"

The Monster Blood Tattoo series by D. M. Cornish

Deirdre Mundy said...

Hunger games didn't really end on a cliff-hanger. There were hints of danger to come, but the book could have stood alone.

Basically, you want the book to have a satisfactory ending, but one that doesn't tie EVERY LAST THING UP. That way, when there's a sequel, it's met with a joyous shout of "I always WONDERED what happened next!"

(Jessica Day George does a good job with this, as does Ally Carter. And their books are appropriate for Middle graders. So you may find them worth a read.....)

Anonymous said...

A book that I loved but that did not end satisfactorily is Maryrose Woods' The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. It's only a single act of novel, not a full novel. I can see why this was done for commercial reasons, but as a reader who loved the book, I was frustrated.

And of course I will read the sequel

Candice.Abraham said...

Thanks for your comments Deirdre and Anonymous - actually I should have been more clear there about The Hunger Games - I was just referring to the full trilogy but it's Catching Fire that ends on a cliffhanger. At the end of the Golden Compass one book ends and another begins. Can't remember how The Subtle Knife ends though but it's definitely only a continuation on to The Amber Spyglass. Thanks again!

Mary Witzl said...

I'm glad others have pointed out the MG word count issue; I've just hit 65,000 on my WiP and I'm not quite finished.

(And I'm glad you're back too!)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Candice-- I think the key there is that "Catching Fire" was the SECOND book in a Trilogy--

It's usually acceptable to end book 2 or a 3 book series on a cliffhanger, because you know you'll get one more to wrap it up.

If book one ends on a cliffhanger and there IS no sequel, you readers will hate you and swear you off forever!

Think of it like the original Star Wars Trilogy:
1. Star Wars (complete)
2. Empire (Major Cliff Hanger)
3. Jedi (Complete.)

Even the initial Harry Potter was a complete story in and of itself-- no cliffhanger.

LOTR breaks the rules, but that's because it's really one HUMUNGOUS book broken into publishable chunks.

Alternatively, George R.R. Martin has alienated many of his once-fans by ending books on cliff hangers and then never writing the next book.......

So my vote is for a resounding NO to cliff hangers. Unless it's the second book in the trilogy and you already have a publication date set for book 3!

(As is the case with Catching Fire. As I was screaming "NO! I HATE YOU! DON'T DO THIS TO ME!!!!!" I could also mark the release date for Mockingjay on my calendar.......

Candice.Abraham said...

Deidre - Yes I do see your point! And thank you for the tips.

I think you make a very good case but my vote is always to never say a resounding NO to anything - I see that in the majority of cases ending Book 1 of a trilogy on a cliffhanger isn't a good idea and most especially if there is no Book 2 and 3. Actually it surprises me that a publisher/author would write/publish any book that ends on a cliffhanger without a manuscript and hopefully a publishing contract for the continuation(s). Isn't that the only time it would work?

In most cases I never vote a resounding NO on any writing rules. I find nine out of ten times certain rules make your writing better and should be followed but there's ALWAYS an author - or an artist of any kind for that matter - that takes a certain rule and turns it on its head and creates something amazing.