I had a radical idea last night as I was walking to the shops. (All my best ideas come whilst walking.) I was working over the plot of Book 2 in my head, and worrying that – even at concept stage – it suffered a bit from being Book 2. The sequel, the second album, the middle of three – it’s too easy to make it a bit of a bridge. You know the plot of 1, and the plot of 3, and there’s maybe a bit of explaining needed to get from the situation at the end of 1 to the situation at the beginning of 3. But is it worth a whole book? And that’s when it hit me.
Why not skip Book 2?
It was a daunting idea, for several reasons. The first, and least, is that this is flying in the face of fashion. Trilogies are so common that it’s practically expected, particularly in the fantasy genre. You either have one, or three, or a long series. Two? Almost unheard of. Looking over my bookshelf, I can only see one example – Lois McMaster Bujold with Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. As it happens, these are two of my very favourite gritty fantasy stories. I have no problems at all with following her example. So that’s that concern dealt with.
The second, and middling, worry is the massive restructuring of plot that will be needed. Take the planned outline from 2 and 3, mash them together, and get a stronger whole as a result that isn’t unwieldy or overly complex. This is really what lies behind the original idea – the plot only has enough gas to run for one anyway. So, in essence, this isn’t a concern so much as an exciting challenge.
The third, and biggest, concern was what I would lose by doing this. There are characters in Book 2 that never had another outing planned, who were already three quarters real in my head; passages that I had already sketched out which now wouldn’t be used; and a concept that I’d wanted to explore that would have to either be abandoned or accept way less screen time whilst guest-appearing in 1 and 3.
In the end I had to call my lovely friend, Penguin, to reassure me that I wouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The point of all this is: sometimes your ideas jump out shouting ‘boo’ a lot louder than you’re ready for. Okay, so this stuff may not be controversial or world changing, but it is something you’re emotionally invested in. You care about getting it right. Occasionally that requires you to grit your teeth, sacrifice a character to the god of editing, and say “what the hell, let’s go for it”.
(Incidentally, there are no relevant images on Google for ‘god of editing’. This is a sad state of affairs.)