Friday, September 22, 2017

Fresh Starts

Posted by: Shawna Reppert

One of the cool things about being a kid is that fresh start every fall. New school supplies, new teachers, new classrooms, new textbooks. A world of new possibilities. As a grown-up, you can wake up one morning and realize that you’ve been in the same job and the same house for over a decade, though both were intended to be temporary measures to see you through until you got to where you really wanted to be.
When you’re writing a series, it’s important to keep that Fall-fresh-start feeling for each book.  No matter how great the characters, the setting, the rising tension, it all starts to fall flat for the reader after a few books if nothing changes.  I’m sure we can all name series with good, sometimes great, writing that lost us because after a while the stories seemed all the same. The details and the names of the villains might change, but each sorcerous battle followed the same rhythm, the hero was always running for his life at the same point in the story and fell in love with the same type of woman who left him for the same reason at the end of the book. Worse, the protagonist shows no growth or change from book to book.
We also know series that hold our interest for book after book, season after season. Harry Potter took the world by storm and held it for seven books and beyond. It’s a great example to start with, because it actually follows the pattern of the school year. There's been a lot of comment about the sameness of the books, since each starts with the school year, generally with someone in the wizarding world rescuing Harry from the Dursleys and taking him to Hogwarts. Each ends with the end of the school year, and there’s at least one attempt on Harry’s life in between, usually toward the end of the year.  When you look more closely, though, there are a lot of changes from book to book to keep the world fresh and new. The challenges faced in the Tri-Wizard tournament are vastly different from those Harry faced in the year Umbridge came to ‘fix’ the school. The bleak, dystopian world of the last book was another thing entirely, and most of it did not even take place in the school. More importantly, Harry is growing from a child to a young man, year by year and stage by stage.
Not all growth of a series character is quite so literal. One of my favorite up-and-coming urban fantasy authors is R. L. King. Even though the books of her Alastair Stone Chronicles have plenty of sorcerous battles involving demons and other such entities, they are saved from being mere shallow action/adventure stories by the care that she takes with her character development. Even though her character is in his mid-thirties, he does a fair bit of growing in terms of learning to accept, and then to enjoy and even rely on, close friends within his circle. He also discovers that the responsibilities that come with taking on an apprentice bring their own rewards.
I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think about new beginnings with my own Ravensblood urban fantasy series. My protagonist started out the series ready to change his life or die trying. Literally. He leaves behind the life of a dark mage. In the second book of the series, adapting to a new life is more difficult than he anticipated, especially when some powerful people aren’t ready to believe that he has really reformed. In the third book, he is a little bit further along but still finding his footing—while trying to protect the people close to him from the vengeance of the former master he had betrayed and left for dead.
Raven’s Vow is the fourth book of the series, and will be officially released tomorrow. It challenged me to find a fresh turn. Raven has reconciled himself with his past and settled into his new life. But there are always new bars to be met as he learns to mentor others trying to find their way back to the light while fighting to save his new family from the shadows of someone else’s path.
What about you? What fresh challenges are you facing this season?

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