Dark Ice, book two in the Mercenaries trilogy, is a different beast than its predecessor. By that I don’t just mean that it’s a different novel, but rather that the types of challenges that you run into when putting together the middle book in a trilogy are wholly different than writing a first book, and I found that some of them impacted the book in unexpected ways.
Today’s post touches on those unexpected challenges, while Wednesday’s will look at the ways in which a second novel can be easier and more fun than the first.
- There’s less setting to develop – Depending on the type of author (or reader) you are, this could be a strong positive. Because the world was, to some degree, developed during the first novel, there’s simply less of it to deal with here. Concepts don’t need to be explained, returning characters don’t need to be introduced with the level of detail as new ones.So why is this a challenge? Because it forces you to change up your beginning. Dark Ice starts more rapidly than the first book because the characters are, for the most part, where they need to be. From a writing perspective, this gives you less runway. Your characters aren’t busy describing who and what they are, so they have to do something. As a result, your plot has to carry a faster pace.
- Character arcs have to continue – Hope your characters didn’t solve all their problems in book one! With Dark Ice, I knew I had to keep my characters moving on their personal journeys, even as the overall plot continued marching forward around them. This is why creating one-note characters leads to all kinds of problems – in a series, it’s going to get real boring if a character never changes, never has to confront their own faults. It was actually fun digging deeper into the backgrounds, the minds of the Wild Nines crew to find out their worries and concerns.If you’re struggling with this in book two, though, it’s not impossible to go back to book one and find the seeds of another fault. In book one, for example, Viola struggles with the harsh realities of life beyond her Ganymede bubble. In Dark Ice, she’s a full-fledged member of the crew and has to carry her own weight. Thus she still has an arc, and has to deal with the consequences of actually being a mercenary. But getting that far into your characters isn’t easy.
- The Middle is, well, the Middle – I’m a big believer in having a complete story in every book, even if it’s in the middle of the trilogy. Dark Ice has a definite resolution, even if the overall plot arc isn’t concluded by the end of the book. It was challenging coming up with a meaningful antagonist and conflict that would grow the characters and advance their story when that resolution couldn’t be complete. I’m also not a fan of hard cliff-hanger endings, meaning where the book ends with the characters in a true state of peril. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, I just don’t like to do it.
So, with those guidelines, Dark Ice had to present a complete story that nonetheless didn’t start or conclude the overall plot. In some ways, this actually provides some freedom – because I wasn’t dealing with the big bad guy, I could take the time to explore an entirely different setting and idea. Introduce some new characters and grow the world. It’s still a tricky dance to keep the reader invested in a book that they know won’t end with the full payoff, though, so that’s the challenge.So those are my main three challenges with writing a second book in a trilogy – most of the other ideas I thought of weren’t specific to a second book, so weren’t worth listing here (also, how many words do we need in a blog post, really?). I do, though, like the way Dark Ice turned out. It’s even faster-paced than Wild Nines, is full of action, but, I think, explores a unique setting in the frozen atmosphere of Neptune with plenty of the lasers, starfighters, and sinister villainy.