*Warning! This post is very spoiler-y. If you haven't read books 1 & 2 of my Whitewashed trilogy, you're gonna be supa confused, and you'll ruin the series for yourself, soooo... don't proceed. Stop reading. Now. K bye.*
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you saw Star Wars in chronological order? Would the plot make sense, or is part of Lucas' genius that they must be watched 4-6, then 1-3? Like most millennials, I grew up watching the films in release order. I can remember seeing Phantom Menace and geeking out over the cherubic Anakin. "This kid's gonna grow up to be Darth Vader!" That foreknowledge is both a blessing and a curse. Because of it, I caught all the Easter eggs. And because of it, Anakin's downward spiral seemed contrived and disjointed. Lucas knew Anakin would turn, and that knowledge congested Anakin's character arc, painting him as an unlikeable creep before he'd killed any younglings.
Lest this post turn into a rant about Anakin and his feelings on sand, I'll shift gears back to my trilogy.
When I first came up with the plot for my series, I always intended to write the books in chronological order. It was my then-boyfriend, now-husband who suggested I tackle the first two books in reverse. "It would be really boring for the reader to know more than Ella does in Book #1," he said. "You should start the story after Ella's memory is wiped, that way the reader discovers the truth alongside her." Book #2 would really be the beginning, and Book #1 would be the aftermath.
That idea intrigued me. Imagine how many Easter eggs I could pile into Book 1! Imagine the delight of writing *this* scene, knowing it won't make any sense until Book 2! It'd be my own private joke that readers could appreciate later. And so, when I started writing The Trace in Astronomy class freshman year of college (correct, I was definitely not paying attention), I began Ella's story post-memory wipe. The first sentence - which has since been rewritten - read, for many drafts, "The first thing that hit me was the smell." Even THAT was an Easter egg! Why did the smell of her own home strike her as unique? Because she hadn't smelled it in over a year!
Quite a few years (and drafts) later, the full story is out there. Readers can walk through Ella's confusion in The Trace, then have all their lingering questions answered in The Integer when they learn about her past. "Ahh, she'd met all these cadets before! Ooooh, she didn't spontaneously become athletic. Eeeep, so THIS is why Chron acts like he knows her!" I love hearing my readers exclaim, shout, and gasp as Ella's story slides into place, but part of me always wondered (a very dangerous business, wondering is): What would happen if someone read the books chronologically?
- Would the story make sense?
- Would The Trace be boring because readers would know more than Ella does?
- Can The Integer actually work as an introductory novel to a series?
- Is it possible for my series to flow the way I want it to in reverse?
Of course, the only way to have these questions answered was by asking someone who's read the books chronologically. But who would ever think to do that? No one, because readers are intelligent creatures. If I wanted to get my answers, I'd have to find readers who knew nothing of the plot, then hand them my books - and some instructions - and let them have at it.
So that's what I did.
I shared my idea on Instagram expecting to get a few bites. When readers came out of the woodwork to ask more about this "weird" reading experiment, I realized I should preface every Instagram post with vague intrigue and mystery if I want to get any attention. (Just kidding. Sort of.) In fact, so many readers were curious that I decided to expand my reading pool from one to three. Then, because that didn't feel very satisfying, I opened the experiment up to any reader. Three readers received the print books, while the rest were emailed eBooks. Configuring the reading outline for the print books was doable, albeit time-consuming. Figuring out how to control the eBook trajectory was a whole other monster. Here's why.
The last chapter of Book #1 works as the first chapter of #2 - BUT, the prologue of #2 comes before the last chapter of #1. Readers had to go from #2 prologue to #1 final chapter; then, #2 Part I, followed by ALL of #1, and then back to #2 with Part II.
Yes. Yes it is. I got very mixed-up while planning this and had to ask myself a dozen times whether I was sure I'd gotten my own dang timeline correctly.
Anyway, by some miracle, my guinea pigs managed to follow along, though I did get lots of "Wait, so I do it THIS way, right?" messages. I sincerely applaud every eBook reader for having the patience to keep up! If someone asked me to jump from book to book on my Kindle, I'd be like, "Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. No thanks."
Now, you probably want me to get to the point. How did it go? Were readers able to keep up with the plot? The answer to that was a shocking, resounding YES. The books work in reverse order! I'm as amazed as you are.
To streamline the results in a readable way, I'll do a list of pros and cons. There was a general consensus to this, though a few readers felt differently.
In conclusion, every reader at least enjoyed the series, and most would agree that #2, The Integer, is their preferred book. I'd have to agree. The Integer not only goes far more in-depth with the characters--it's also my second stab at a book, which means my writing is stronger. If I follow the same trajectory, Book #3 will be the best!
Overall, I'm happy with how this turned out. My hypothesis was that readers would feel disconnected from #2, having not read #1 first, but no one complained of this. I also suspected #1 would drag, and while the beginning did for some readers, most appreciated knowing more than Ella. My Easter eggs in #1 were noticed, and the side characters (Ethan, the cadets, One) were viewed in entirely different lights.
This being said, I stand by my decision to write the books in the order I did. Following Ella's emotional journey properly is crucial to understanding her character arcs, and the shock factor is entirely lost when the reader knows 1) Ella's memory was wiped; 2) Grifters aren't evil; 3) Sanders/Leader/Eugene Andrews is the real villain; 4) One is an individual Tacemus; 5) the reason behind the cadets' behaviors; and much more. While it's cool to know Ella's backstory before she does, that perspective does ruin what I wanted to do with this trilogy.
To all my readers: thank you so much for sticking through this convoluted experiment. Your feedback was enormously helpful in scratching that curious itch. Now I can rest assured knowing that, somewhere out there, people actually know how my story works in a chronological order. It was a weird itch to have, but authors are allowed to be weird. (We are. Don't argue.)
P.S. In case you thought I was lying about everyone commenting on Ethan, I present this reader feedback:
You heard it from them first. Read my books, because Ethan is amazing.
Guess what? The Integer will offish be releasing November 2018! It might seem a long way off, but I know a way to make the time fly, something that'll satiate your curiosity and give you an exclusive look into the backstory for The Integer. I'm excited to announce the launch of Project Anamnesis.
The world of Whitewashed began long before Ella entered the scene. She's a mere blip in a story that's spanned for generations. Project Anamnesis is a collection of vignettes from that greater story; it's a glimpse into the tales Ella can't tell because she doesn't own them. Each month, I'll be releasing a short story or two from the perspectives of characters we love, characters we hardly know, and characters we fear. These vignettes will be available only through my newsletter, so you won't find them anywhere on my website or through Evolved Publishing. To gain access to these stories, just sign up for my newsletter. It's literally that easy!
I have a million stories in my head that I've been wanting to tell. Now, I finally can. Project Anamnesis is the culmination of too much daydreaming; but, more than that, it's a reminder that our own stories aren't the first, nor will they be the last. Stories existed before us, and they'll continue long after. I'll let Tolkien finish making my point here.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
Book 2 had a title, and then it didn't. It had a title that I thought was pretty cool, but the more I researched the word, the more I realized that anamnesis is something far too deep and complex to be attributed to a single book. Anamnesis is a more encompassing word that, in my mind, is the crux of the whole trilogy. So Book 2 became title-less again.
I remember how long it took me to come up with a name for The Trace. I tried variations of different things for weeks until I finally settled on a title that I thought worked. The Integer came from a two-minute search. When I read the full definition, it clicked.
No, this post is not about the Relient K song. It's an honest piece about the fact that, sometimes, I feel like I'll never be done writing.
Here's what happened.
I decided that, for my first serious approach to writing, I was going to start with a trilogy. (Note: this was a really dumb idea.) Sure, I'd begun about twenty books before. I'd even completed a draft of one or two. I'd never, however, decided that I was going to pursue a book to its total and final completion. Then came The Trace, an idea that festered and stuck around long enough to reach its conclusion. Thus, my first time writing a book that I really wanted to finish, was a complicated trilogy that only got more convoluted the more I wrote.
Characters make a story. Every reader and writer knows this. That is why creating characters is such a scary, intimidating, and stressful endeavor. It's also pretty great.
I have a few favorite characters from Whitewashed (halfway there!). Ella is my automatic number one because she's the protagonist and she's been with me for so long. Of course I have to say she's my favorite–and, well, she is. Besides her, my favorites vary between a few others, people who are goodies and baddies. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I might prefer one character over another. A constant, however, is Ethan.
When I first started writing The Trace, the main characters were totally different than they wound up being in my final draft. Ella was shallow, Kara was selfish and rude, and Ethan was the angsty, brooding, impatient guy with anger problems–the male love interest every teen has come to expect from a YA novel. He was short with Ella, cryptic, and a little possessive. Why was he like this? Because those were the types of male characters I'd read about, and I thought that was all a teenage guy could ever be.
Initially, his name was "Ian." Actually, I guess his name was originally "Josh" because all my male characters from childhood were named "Josh." Josh turned into Ian, a rude guy I didn't really like.
My favorite part of writing has come: the part where I've finished an entire rough draft of a book and am now ready to begin editing the crap out of it. This has only happened once before, so I'm still not used to the feeling. It's a really exciting feeling.
I'm going to be real blunt with you. The state of Book Two (whose name has unfortunately not yet appeared to me) is rough. Imagine waking up and seeing that your hair has grown secret rooms amid the tangles. Imagine throwing spaghetti and pine cones into a bowl. Then transfer those images into a Microsoft Word document and call it "Rebecca's Rough Draft."
I think it started out okay. A year ago, I was pretty optimistic in my ability to stay concentrated on a single scene before moving onto the next one. That was clearly before I became a real person, a real person who isn't patient and apparently has no attention span (when did that happen to me?). As I struggled to tell myself that I was the type of person who could successfully write a complete scene that was fully woven into the rest of the book, I remembered that I'm a holistic lady. I gotta see the whole picture before I can figure out what's wrong with it. That's when I started saying, "Okay, this scene is crappy and rushed, but keep moving before your eyes fully expand out of your head." Once I'd repeated that enough times, I was able to stop over-analyzing the current scene and move on to the next. That's when my pace picked up quite dramatically.
When I wrote The Trace, I put everything in there. I fully developed each and every idea without considering whether that idea had a place in the book. That's why my first draft was like, erm, 160,000 words...The polished version is around 101,000, I believe. What's interesting to me is that Book 2 is around 88,000. I think that's a good thing. Better to start out with less and build upon it, rather than have too much excess that just confuses you. That's what happened with The Trace. That poor book was a huge mess that needed about 403 drafts in order to be anywhere near complete.
Anyway, when I told Nathan that I'd finished the first draft for Book 2, his response was, "You mean you finished your rough draft." Nathan is the one who taught me that, just because something says "The end", doesn't mean it's anywhere near finished. I didn't understand the concept of drafts until Nathan demanded to see the second draft of one of my school papers, and I just blinked in response. Second draft? What is that, some upper level software term along the same lines as interface and matrix?
Nope, it's something that every single writer in the world understands.
I like to say that the mangled thing that is Book 2 is my first draft; Nathan says it's my rough draft. I don't know who is right. Probably him. At any rate, it's a draft, and now it's time to go to Staples and see if the printer guy remembers me from before. All 368 pages will be spewed from the mouth of The Printer and into my welcome arms. Then I get to carry a cardboard box around with me that is stamped CONFIDENTIAL so that people passing me on the streets will look at me with envy and wonder how important I must be, to be happily toting a confidential box. When I open said box, its contents might throw up on me. That will have to be okay. I will begin to tear apart said contents of said box. Highlighters will be depleted, lines will be deleted, and, hopefully, a book will be completed.
That rhyming was unintentional, but it was cool. Rhyming is cool. Like bow ties.