(Editor's note: The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a terrific profile of Lois last Sunday; click through the link above to read. AND Passage is the #1 e-book at Fictionwise.com (http://www.fictionwise.com/topstories.htm#how -- congratulations, Lois!)
I've had an interesting time playing with series structures in my fantasies for Eos, and working through the various kinds has made me very conscious of their differing strengths. In my earlier science fiction, I went with what I think of as the “Hornblower model”: a collection of separate adventures all centering around a main character aging in something like real time, which, when put together, form the story of his life. It’s a flexible, natural structure, also used heavily in mystery series. Its main internal advantage is how it allows, over many books, some pretty deep explorations of character growth and change. Its main external advantage is how it allows a reader to pick up a book about anywhere in the series and still get a complete read, although, as the pertinent backstory grew and grew, that became trickier for me. Its main disadvantage, for an SF or fantasy writer with entire universes and the depths of time to romp through, is the stories being constrained to such a modest segment of one’s potential stage.
With the Chalion books, as they developed, I conceived the idea of a thematic series, with one independent tale for each of that world’s five gods, which would allow me to move around more freely through time, setting, and character. I am at present three-fifths of the way through this plan, and I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it, but the uncompleted pattern niggles. As a structure, this runs against both reader expectation set for fantasy epics that tell continuous tales, and one of the natural strengths of episodic stand-alone series, reader attachment to on-going characters. In addition, I have had to re-train my readership who, by repeated conditioning, had expected more of my former series pattern, which, for all its merits, had grown dangerously close to being locked-in.
With the Sharing Knife books -- or Book -- I set myself free to explore yet another pattern, the single big story spread over several volumes. This again has required some adjustment from my readership. This actually wasn’t quite what I’d started out to do -- in the beginning, what I actually wanted was to see what would happen if I set a romance as the main plot of a fantasy novel, genuine genre-blending.
This turned out to be a lot trickier than I thought, once I got into it, and not just because some F&SF readers failed to recognize a romance as fit material for a plot, or even as a plot at all. In the cross-overs I had read by other writers, it seemed to me that the romance crowd tended to stint the world-building -- it didn’t always seem to go all the way to the edge of the page -- and the skiffy writers in turn didn’t deliver on the emotions of the romance. What I discovered in the writing was that the two genres had profoundly different focal planes for their tales, to steal a metaphor from photography, which may be shorthanded as “personal versus political”.
I expected to learn a lot about romance through writing one, and I did. I was more surprised to learn something new about F&SF -- which is how profoundly, intensely, relentlessly political most of the stories in these genres are. The politics may be archaic or modern, fringe or realistic, naive or subtle, optimistic or dire, but by gum the characters had better be centrally engaged with them, for some extremely varied values of “engaged”. Even the world-building itself is often a political argument. I had not noticed this the way a fish does not notice water; only when I’d stepped onto the shore of the neighboring genre and breathed air did I discover there even could be a difference -- and what a difference it was.
In fact, if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe most F&SF as fantasies of political agency. All three also may embody themes of personal psychological empowerment, of course, though often very different in the details, as contrasted by the way the heroines “win” in romances, the way detectives “win” in mysteries, and the way, say, young male characters “win” in adventure tales.
In any case, to satisfy both sets of readerly demands I ended up by somewhat dividing the personal and the political parts of the plot, tightly braided as they are, between the two succeeding duologies. The first two books emphasize the personal side in the courtship-story of Dag and Fawn, even while the characters themselves embody the main cultural conflict of the books. This sets the essential foundation for the second pair of volumes, where the focus turns more outward. If the first pair of books may be described as the formation of a couple from two separate and unlikely people, the second pair builds a family, of a sort, from even more disparate elements, and eventually, in Horizon (due out Feb. ’09), a community from a wider pool still. (I’ll have more to say about the political/personal argument of the books when Horizon comes out.)
Most of all The Sharing Knife as a whole does not have a villain-driven plot, fun and cathartic as those can be. (I know: I’ve written a boatload of them.) I set Dag and Fawn to wrestle with a much more difficult and diffuse problem, not of merely destroying the villain du jour, but of building connections and friendships and fresh ways of doing things that will allow both their peoples to meet the challenge of many new dangers in the future. Building is harder than destroying. “Winning” in the usual sense is not what’s going on, here, but the prize is certainly their world.
(Editor's Note: In case you haven't clicked through in either of Lois's previous posts, samples of all three of the Sharing Knife books are available at the HarperCollins Web site, through the "Browse Inside" feature located just under the jacket image. Passage; Legacy; Beguilement)