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WORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Plan a Series

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Plan a Series

I know I’ve discussed this little a bit in other articles before, but I wanted to talk specifically about the process of plotting a multi-book narrative. And how to make the ending satisfying because, from an emotional standpoint, this is the moment both you and your audience has been waiting for – the time when all the hints, all the adventures, all the hard work and suffering your characters (and you!) have gone through pays off.

First, let’s talk about the logistics of a series from a career point of view.

When do I start planning the series?

This is a complicated question because, depending on where you are in your career and in the book-writing process, the answer will be different.

If you’re an already-published or already-represented author, then you’re likely already quite familiar with the process of pitching a book to your publisher/agent. Pitching a series is not much different, except that you’d need to write a synopsis for all the books you plan to write in the series, and create a pitch document for the series as a whole, as well as for each individual book.

If you are querying agents or publishers for the first time though, it’s a different process. The first thing I would recommend you do is not write the series.

This seems counter-intuitive, if you plan to pitch the book you’re querying as the first in a series. But trust me. There are reasons:

  • What if the agent/editor/publisher comes up with something better? In discussing a novel with you, inevitably – if you are talking about doing a series – someone is going to say “So what’s happening in book two? What if you do XYZ?” and it’s very possible that this new idea might be a stronger choice or provide a more interesting outcome. In that case, you’ve wasted what is probably years on writing something that you may end up scraping.
  • You’re writing into a void, and without guidance. Your writing will improve as you work with your editor/agent on your first novel. Everyone would rather you wrote book two after having done all that work with your editor/agent, because it will inevitably be a stronger, better-written manuscript. It’s much better, and so much easier, to write a strong first draft than have to go back and rewrite a weak one. Or a whole series of already-written books.
  • Things can change in edits – a small change in book one can have a ripple effect in all the rest of the books, which can open you up to the risk of terrible continuity errors in later books, or even whole swathes of plot points or character moments that will need rewriting.
  • What if they don’t want the series, and only want the first book? It happens. (It also happens the other way around, too – the Accidental Turn Series was never meant to be a series, and I had never planned to write more than The Untold Tale.) They may ask you to put a less open ending on the book and just wrap it up, so there’s no further story to tell.  In that case, you’ll have wasted your time on the other books in the series, which can’t be published because your publisher likely has right of first refusal on works set in that IP, and has refused them. 
  • Your publisher may want to wait to see how book one does before investing more time and money in further books with you. And they may only want one or two more – even if you planned, say, five. You may need to restructure your story ideas to fit a smaller, or larger, number of books. It’s much easier to do that if the books don’t exist, because you don’t have the pressure of trying to make what already exists either squash or stretch.

So how do you get across to a publisher/agent that you’re querying that this is meant to be the first book of a series? These are the nine most important words for pitching a series: “This is a stand-alone novel with series potential.”

So what does that mean? It means that 1) you have to write a book that is fully contained, with a satisfying ending in and of itself, 2) that has enough plot seeds sown and open points where future plots could anchor that it could be the first of a series, 3) but not so many that if those seeds never get to grow or those open points remain gaping, it feels like a cheap and unsatisfactory ending. Think of it as a made-for-tv-movie that is also a back-door-pilot. If the MFTVM does very well, the producers may spin it out into a TV series. If it doesn’t, it remains just a movie. So it has to be both satisfying and stand-alone, but also useful as a kicking-off point to a longer and more involved narrative.

What’s different about writing a series?

The first, and most obvious difference between writing the books in a series and any other stand-alone  book, is that you have to draw the story out, and then finish what you start. Everything you set up, hint at, or have happen in previous books has to work toward the final climax scene in the final story, while also still providing satisfying novels individually.

It’s a lot to remember, and a lot to make pay off. (This is why I have a whiteboard wall and a pin-board in my office, so I can keep notes to myself about things I seeded when I started book one). 

And on top of that, you need to avoid Mushy Middle Syndrome – that is, writing books that happen between the first and last novels in the series that are clearly just made up of filler.  Each individual book in the series needs to be a whole story itself as well as part of the structure holding up the bridge of the overall narrative, and just as strong (ideally stronger) than the first book in the series.

 But how can you not only do this, but do it well?

As a Pantser at heart it pains me to say it, but the best way to make sure your foundation is solidly laid (and that you won’t have to go back and rewrite huge swaths of earlier books), you’ll need to Plan. At least a little.

As a trained playwright and screenwriter, I personally choose to write my books according to the three-act structure. 

Writing a book with the three-act structure generally looks like this:

When writing a series, each book will be structured to have three Acts.

BUT, when you are writing a series, (let’s say a trilogy for simplicity’s sake), each book itself becomes an Act in the narrative of the whole story.


So when you’re planning each book, not only do you have to write a whole, complete, compelling novel in and of itself (with no saggy middle book!), you also have to ensure that the tale you’re telling in each individual novel serves the overall narrative as well. Which means the final book in the series will be especially fussy to plan, because it must function both as a stand-alone novel, but also behave like the third act of the series and wrap everything up satisfactorily, and in a way that is not rushed.

To complicate things, you need to figure out what kind of story you’re telling, and what the structure tropes are for that particular narrative style. Going with my above example, The Accidental Turn Series is about a quintessential Tolkien-esque fantasy hero who never knew he was the main character all along, so had been acting like a sidekick. As such, each book follows the Hero’s Journey narrative map, while the characters deliberately attempt to escape from the Hero’s Journey cycle:

So each individual book looks like this:

But when you blow it out into the full series, the Hero’s Journey for each book looks more or less like this:

As you can see, some of the narrative beats overlap, because if there was a clear division between books, it would mean the first book has no real ending, the second book is filled with adventures that don’t culminate in any kind of climax, and the third book would be mostly denouement and return. So you do need to balance where the Revelations happen, how often, and how they drive the plot of not only that particular novel forward, but that of the whole series.

Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, or the only way you can divide up a series.  For The Skylark’s Saga, as a two-book series, I organized it like this:

Which meant a lot of conversations with my editor, a lot of scribbling on that white board, and what turned out to be a whole heck of a lot of rewrites, as the original ending wasn’t strong enough to finish off a duology and we had to reformat the final act of book two a few times.

No matter how you plan to plot your series, knowing which story structure you plan to use is vital, so you can mirror that structure into the layout of the series as a whole. Beyond the Three Act structure, This article offers a few more options for how to layout the narrative foundations of your novel.

For my next novel, The Maddening Science, (which is going to be a stand alone), I’m venturing away from both the Hero’s Journey and the Three Act Structure. I’m not sure exactly which model I’ll be using, but Steve Seager lists some other fascinating possible story structures that I want to explore in more depth before I swing into this novel for NaNoWriMo

I’m also really into the way Alan Moore structured the overall graphic novel Watchmen. I’m enamored with the idea of seemingly disparate stories coming together to create a solid understanding of the world and a shocking realization as the climax is playing out. All the different tales come together in the end to form one picture – like different coloured threads knotting together to form a friendship bracelet – and that is what I’d like to explore in terms of storytelling next.

Shall we call this the Woven Structure? Maybe let’s see if I can make it work before we name it.

The point is, no matter which structure you use, having a solid understanding of how it works, and which beats you’re going to put in which books, is an extremely important part of planning a book series. Mapping the structure of the novel onto the series as a whole is a simple (if brain-knotting) way to ensure that the series conclusion is not only satisfying, but gripping.

Okay – so we’ve talked the plotting.

But what about the emotional payoff?

So here’s the meat of series. You have to satisfy all the promises you made in the prose of the previous novels.

I’m not saying this means you must create Happily Ever Afters for all the heroes and Come Uppances for all the baddies. Nothing so trite. I am saying that you have set up expectations in the prose that things that are brought up, actions that occur and events that happen, will be resolved.

For example, Lucas couldn’t just tell the viewers that Darth Vader is Luke’s father and then not address it in the later movies, and not resolve Luke and Vader’s relationship in the final climactic battle. It’s a revelation that promised satisfaction to that emotional arc, even if viewers had to wait for the next movie for that satisfaction.

There’s also this article on how to use the Chekhov’s Gun approach to plant promises in your text, and explains the concept in further detail. But it boils down to this – make sure you’re closing all the doors, tying up all the loose threads, and addressing all the questions. 

Again, this doesn’t mean you need a seven-chapter denouement or an explanation of what happened to each character as the adventure ends. It just means that the ending you choose to give the novel has to end the series well, and leave readers content with the information that you chose to impart, and a feeling of being happy with knowing all they know.

As a big fan of fanfiction, I’m also okay with writers not closing every plot off. It is nice to have space to think about what might happen next, especially with side characters whose endings might not have been explained in greater detail or happened off screen.

To make sure I don’t miss anything like this, every time I make a Big Promise in my novels, I write it down on my whiteboard. Example: “Kin and Bevel have to talk about Bev’s desire to be a father / possibly agree to have a kid?” This was brought up in book two of The Accidental Turn series, as well as in the novellas Arrivals and Ghosts, in the short story Health, and the final novel. This promise was satisfied in the novella Magic, and finally tied up in the short story Pride (all of which can be found in The Accidental Collection).

These don’t have to be detailed notes – just a scrawl on the wall is usually enough to remind me when the time comes. And who doesn’t like checking things off a list when you’ve accomplished it?

There are lots of ways to make sure your final book packs an emotional punch. I asked fellow writers on Twitter to chime in, and these are the tips they offered:

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Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How to Plan a Series
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WORDS FOR WRITERS – How To Write a Synopsis

WORDS FOR WRITERS – How To Write a Synopsis

Having to write a synopsis is the single worst part of being a write. THE WORST.

I see you “tagged in a negative review on Twitter” and I raise you “having to condense 80k words worth of my beloved precious lyrical story baby into a summary.” Bad reviews happen, but they happen to you, they are not of your doing. But a synopsis? This is a torture you must visit upon yourself.

(Can you tell I love writing these things? Ha!)

Okay, seriously, a synopsis is hard. But you know what?

A synopsis is the most valuable tool in your pitch package.

I promise. Really.

Beyond being a really great intellectual exercise for you as a writer to use between drafts (“Does the book I actually wrote match the book I think I wrote?”), a synopsis is an invaluable tool by everyone else on your publishing and marketing teams too.

How?

  • If you are unagented, potential agents use them to assess the quality and content of your story, and of your ability to use writing as a medium to communicate. It helps them decide if this is a novel they want to try reading, or something they’d like to pass on.
  • If you have an agent, then the synopsis helps them have a blueprint of the story you’re trying to tell, so they can help guide you through revisions. It also becomes a valuable part of their own pitch packages for publishers.
  • Publishers review the quality of your writing and your stories to see if they’d like to read your book and / or sign it. Editors use it as when their pitching to their higher-ups in favor of signing you, and also to extrapolate potential series value. And like an agent, they use it as an outline for guiding revisions.
  • The marketing team at your publishing house uses it in their packages to entice reviewers, as the basis for blurbs and press releases, and to help craft back cover copy and ad copy.
  • Reviewers sometimes read the synopsis for the first book in a series if they’re asked to review the second, so they know what happened in advance. They may also refer to a synopsis after reading a book to help write their review.
  • The synopsis is sometimes given to moderators, speakers, and interviewers who won’t have the time to read the whole book before engaging with you for press.
  • Adaptations agents / entertainment agents / producers and screenwriters, and anyone else working on any sort of adaptation of your work may use it in their own pitch packages, or as a guide for what you the author consider the spine of the story, and all the same reasons literary agents do.

So, it’s really important.

It’s also important to know what we’re talking about when we say “synopsis” here. Sometimes the term ‘synopsis’ is mistakenly used interchangeably with Back Cover Copy or Pitch Copy or Hook Copy to mean the small paragraphs on the back of a book or in marketing materials.

A synopsis is actually a 1 to 5 page summary of all the major characters and events that happen in the book, including the ending (surprise your readers, not your agent.) This isn’t the ad copy you use to hook a reader, this is the full narrative laid out in easy to read language.

Sounds a lot simpler than it is, because it’s often difficult to figure out which parts of the narrative should be mentioned in the synopsis, and which shouldn’t.

Here are my biggest synopsis-writing pieces of advice:

  • Echo the voice of the book.
    • A synopsis is commonly written in third person present omniscient (“Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit of the Shire”), but can sometimes work in another tense and POV. 
    • Most importantly, use the same words, the same style of sentence structure, and the same idioms as your narrator or main POV character. The book should sound like the synopsis. 
      • Example – Book text: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
      • Example – Synopsis text: “Bilbo Baggins is a gentlehobit of good breeding, and he, like the rest of his kind, is very much not interested in Adventures, thank you very much. They are nasty things that make one late for dinner. So when the wizard Gandalf the Grey arrives at his doorstep with thirteen dwarves looking for help reclaiming their lost homeland, Bilbo is more than a little miffed.”
  • Create three different versions in three different sizes, and write the longest version first.
    • Write the 5 pager first. It’s much easier to trim down than pad a synopsis, so get it all in the big one first. Then trim to 3 pages, so you have that version on file. Then trim to 1 page. By then you’ll know what’s the really important stuff.
    • Start by writing a character/story introduction paragraph.
      • Basically, “this is who the character is, and where they are in the world and in their life, and why the following events will be welcomed/hated/a burden/etc.”
    • Then, ignoring the length of the synopsis for now, write one summary paragraph per chapter in the book.
      • Sometimes all the events in a chapter need three or four sentences, sometimes it needs just one.
      • Be clear about motivations. Not just “Bilbo doesn’t want to be seen with the dwarves,” but “Bilbo is embarrassed to be seen with raucous, rowdy dwarves while within the boarders of the Shire, where his reputation as a staid and reliable gentlehobbit is at risk.”
    • Then write a final conclusion paragraph that explains how the world and people in it have changed as a result of what they’ve experienced. 
    • If you go over 5 pages, go back and start tightening it up.
      • Decide if every event needs to be reported, and cut those that don’t.
      • A good rule of thumb for this is to only include events that directly effect the outcome of the climax, or directly effect the main character’s emotional arc.
  • Focus on Cause and Effect.
    • Lay it out as: THIS happens and as a result, THAT happens, and as a result THIS OTHER THING happens. Show the reader how the plot interlocks, one action after another, and how they all build to their inevitable climax.
  • Also focus on Character Growth.
    • Zero in on the lead, and maybe one or two side characters.
    • How have these events changed these people, their beliefs, and their perspectives. Tell us where the characters end up.

And remember, however difficult it may be to distill your baby down into so few pages, it will totally be worth it in the end. Polish, refine, get beta readers, and work your synopsis just as diligently as  you do your book, and I promise you won’t regret it.

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Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – How To Write a Synopsis
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Granny Le Guin

Granny Le Guin

Image result for ursula k le guin

I know I’ve said it before, but I didn’t really grow up in a family of readers. Mom is constantly reading books passed to her by relatives and neighbors, and she passes them on after that –  mostly thrillers and dramas, though, not the sort of thing that interested me at an impressionable age.

At no point that I recall did someone hand me a book and say “Here, I want to share this with you.” Aside from some minimal librarian guidance when women manning the school counters saw me gravitating to this or that genre, I mostly found my favorite reads and authors by devouring everything on a shelf or through online fan forums.

This means I somehow utterly missed Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t know how, or why. You’d think schools would have a thousand copies of The Left Hand of Darkness on the shelf. Or that at some point I’d be forced to read it for class. (The only sci-fi books I directly recall reading for class was The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughs for a grade seven project on worldbuilding, where I deliberately chose the one book no one else did so I wouldn’t have to be in a group.)

It wasn’t until the after-school programing block on YTV introduced me to anime (Sailor Moon! Inu Yasha! Escaflowne! Gundam Wing! Dragonball Z!) that I ever heard of Le Guin, and that was only because in 2006 Ghibli Studios announced “Tales from Earthsea.”  I was living in Japan at the time, and the English section of the local bookstore was quite slim. But they did have the Earthsea series in an omnibus volume, and I took that home and consumed it in a weekend to prepare for the release of the film.

(I was disappointed, of course. I don’t know why Ghibli has a habit of taking a great story and turning it incomprehensible. They did the same to Howl’s Moving Castle, too, another series and author I discovered because they announced the adaptation).

I can honestly tell you that the Earthsea books – aside from the multitude of Stargate: Atlantis fan fiction I was consuming at the time – was the only story to directly influence my debut novel Triptych.  I began writing the original incarnation of the novel, a novella titled (Back), in January 2006, or thereabouts.

Reading the Earthsea books made me think a lot about the standard Fantasy Narrative, Hero, & Land that I’d consumed via Piers Anthony and Anne Rice novels up until then. It was the first time I had been confronted by my own inherent racism – why was I surprised to realize that Ged wasn’t white? – and by the privileges I had enjoyed as a reader until now.

It made me think a lot about what kinds of stories weren’t being told, by which kinds of characters, from which kinds of POVs. While I didn’t go as far as retroactively would have liked in making the cast and locations more diverse, or the discussions and displays of sexuality more complicated, I certainly would not have been thinking about these things at all were it not for Earthsea.

Many people have compared Triptych to Stranger in a Strange Land, or Canticle for Leibowitz, or The Left Hand of Darkness. None of which I read before I wrote the book (the first two of which I still haven’t read since), for which I’m glad. Because I might not have dared to write Triptych if I had read The Left Hand of Darkness first.

When Dr. Mike Perschon invited me to speak at the Grant MacEwan English Student Conference in February 2017 to speak in his English course “Topics in Race and Gender” – where he was teaching my sophomore novel The Untold Tale he mentioned the names of some of the other books on the syllabus. And I realized that I was about to step in front of a classroom filled with people who were expecting me to know at least one of the other authors I was being taught alongside and panicked.

Oh crap.

I read it on the plane to Edmonton and whoa nelly was I glad I did. Those students were way more prepared for my weekend than I was. And again, I was so, so happy that I had not read Left Hand before Triptych, because there were choices that Le Guin had made in the novel that would have made me want to veer opposite in response. Because I would have wanted to explore the areas her narrative hadn’t. In being unaware, I got to explore some of the same fees, but in a different, parallel light.

I always thought Ursula Le Guin would get a kick out of that. Though, of course, I don’t think my work was as thoughtful as hers, so I would have been terrified to even consider to put it into her hands. She was, by all accounts, the kind of woman to call out cowardice and shallowness when she saw it. And in reading Left Hand, she made me wish I had been a braver storyteller when I’d put Triptych on the page.

Luckily, I had not yet finished edits on The Silenced Tale when I read Left Hand. And I think I did make the harder, bolder choices with that novel. And I know for a fact that I went back into some of my notes for future novels and changed up the ideas in there, too.

Ursula K. Le Guin made me a stronger writer, not once, but twice.  I wanted to one day thank her for that. This is the closest I’ll ever get, now.

 

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On the day Anne McCaffrey passed away, her son Todd emailed a group of people, me among them, and told us that the announcement was going to go out that day and to prepare ourselves. I’d only met Todd the once, when he decided to crash the launch party for Triptych, and he’d given me a beautiful blurb for my debut novel as a result.

Todd barely knew me from Eve, but I appreciated the heads-up all the same.  Because it gave me time to excuse myself from my dayjob desk and go have a private sob in the ladies’. I took an extralong lunch that day, and went to the book store, and purchased myself a copy of the very first Dragonriders of Pern book. I’d read McCaffrey before, but never the Pern books. I don’t know what I had been waiting for.

I only knew that now was finally the time, to connect to McCaffrey through her most famous work by buy a book that I would never be able to get her to sign for me. In reading the novel  I was reminded that she was one of the great founders of not only modern fantasy and science fiction, but one of the pantheon of women who I have nicknamed “Gran” in my head, because they were the ones whose work were a direct influence on my own, the way they have directly or indirectly influenced so many writers who have come after them.

Grannie McCaffrey was gone.

In the last few years, I’ve lost another of my Grans – Diana Wynne Jones, author of the Howl’s Moving Castle books. That left Gran Lois Lowry, Gran Jennifer Roberson, and Gran Ursula K. Le Guin

And now I’ve lost another of the great beloved women of my literary genesis and the dreams of my childhood heart.

She was never mine, not really. Not in the way she was her family’s, or her publisher’s or her agents. But she was mine in my heart, in my imagination, in what she taught me as a feminist, as a storyteller, as a teacher. I looked to her and her work the way a child looks to their grandparent for advice, and a kind word, and good stories.

I hoped one day to shake her hand. To maybe even call her Gran to her face, though I would have to explain why. To thank her.

Part of the reason I started pushing my own work for Hugos and Nebulas was because I wanted to get the chance to sit beside her, to look her in the eye in the middle of the acceptance speech and say “This is yours, in part.”

 

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There’s a joke, in The Accidental Turn series, that my character Elgar Reed is a literary magpie. He’s the author of  “The Tales of Kintyre Turn”, a 1980s style sword-and-sorcery epic of either novels about a lord’s son who rejects his pampered upbringing to go swing an enchanted sword on the front lines of an inter-racial magical war.  I imagined Reed as the kind of writer who figures the best way to get famous is to do exactly what everyone else before him did – his work is a Lord of the Rings knockoff, with elements he’s grabbed from everyone who came after the Professor. To the point where there are moments where

He’s the kind of self-important author who thinks that he’s cleverer than his readers, and that he can pull the wool over their eyes, instead of realizing that a reader and a writer are a team that tell the story together. See, he thinks we won’t notice.

And this sort of meta storytelling gave me the opportunity to use his selfish magpieshness to fill the my books with my own tributes to my Grans. A pub that Bevel and Kintyre frequent is called The Pern. And the land in which they venture is called Hain.

I so wanted to be able to share that little wink and nod with her. And the gratitude.

She reached through her prose and made me braver – not just as a writer, but as a feminist, as an activist, as a bi woman with a disability, as a human over all.  I’m sure I’m not the only one, too.

So I guess the only thing I can say now is:

Thanks, Gran. They’re all yours, in part.

 

JM FreyGranny Le Guin
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Editing Thoughts, and Angst About Character Description

I am doing edits on The Forgotten Tale (The Accidental Turn Series novel #2).

These are feminist, meta-fantasy novels about what fantasy teaches its readers, and the messages that fantasy readers – men, women, readers of all faiths and ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, and sexualities.

And thus, these stories are set in a very stereotypical “Western Concept of Sword and Sorcery Fantasy World”.  It’s meant to be Middle Earthian, and like every other white-centric fantasy realm that has been inspired by Middle Earth.

This is the point, because when my MC arrives, an Asian-Canadian from Vancouver, she looks around her and goes. “Oh FFS. Are you kidding me? You can have a half dryad in the taproom, but not a black dude? Not a brown girl? Jeeze.”

It is deliberately meant to be a commentary on white=goodness in these sorts of narratives. Which of course goes with black=badness.

It’s pointed out, it’s referred to, it’s actually discussed, within the narrative itself.

I, as a white woman, have been cautious and I have tried really, really hard to be respectful, and careful about how I construct the exposure and subversion of these tropes.  I have second-guessed the crap out of every choice I’ve made, and discussed it from here to kingdom come with lots of author-types.

After getting ripped to tiny, quivering chunky bloody pieces by Requires Only That You Hate for Triptych, I can tell you I’m nervous AF about this. I want to talk about it. I want to. I want to be a good ally. I want to do this right.

So, part of the subversion is that I’m slowly populating the Hero’s Party with PoCs who are genuinely good people. The Hero, of course, is white. He’s power-fantasy jock type who sleeps with everyone he can. But by the end of the series, I’m aiming to have him outnumbered by PoC.

And it makes me squirmy-yucky cringy, but I’ve decided to make the pirates black. Because in these sorts of books and films, black=badness. I hate doing it. I hate reinforcing this stereotype, even consciously and for the exact point of inverting it. So there’s this pirate character who is a Good Guy, and that’s the point. He’s black, but he’s not evil because he’s black. He’s just a dude. Who just happens to not be white.

Speaking to my beta reader last night, she said that she didn’t understand that one of the characters, who I introduce in the middle of the first act of the book, was black. That I hadn’t been obvious enough about it and …

uuuhg.

The thing that always bothers me is that characters are Assumed White Until Proven Otherwise. And then the PoCs are described as food-coloured which… no. PoCs are not consumables, and do not exist to be some sort of sensual sensory experience. I try very hard not to describe any character’s skin colour as a consumable, unless I’m doing it for all the characters.

So I try to avoid describing my PoC characters any differently than I would my white characters. I talk about facial structure, eye and hair colour, the tone of their skin if they’re blushing, or ill, or sunburned, etc. or the way their colouring is set off by an outfit.  (Something that ROTYH missed when she lambasted me for Triptych. She said there were only two PoC characters in the book. She’s wrong. And then, in my next book, where the Book Boyfriend character was black – as they so rarely are depicted – she accused me of Exotifying The Other. Like, jeeze, lady. Make up your damn mind. Which is it? Do you want PoC leads or not?)

Only it appears that I’ve been too subtle in my description of the black fellow in The Forgotten Tale. And now I am feeling all squirmy. Because I could easily go back in and add more descriptors to make it clear that he’s black, but then … that feels like unfairly singling him out and Othering him. I don’t say, “BTW, Kintyre’s white.” Why should I have to say “BTW, Wyndam is black”?

But on the other, other hand, Representation Matters, and I want it to be clear to all readers that this character is a PoC. That, yes, there is a black guy in this epic fantasy book, and he is a thoughtful, good, intelligent young man with a big heart and good intentions. I want there to be no mistake.

And now I am sitting here, staring at the blinking cursor, feeling all kinds of uncomfortable, uncertain how to approach this. Do I leave it as is? Or do I try to find a way to indicate Wyndam’s blackness without being offensively obvious?

JM FreyEditing Thoughts, and Angst About Character Description
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