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Writing the Series Novel: Writing Series Endings with Maria Snyder

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This interview was originally posted a little over a year ago, but it bears repeating as a wonderful way of wrapping up our series on Series.

Maria V. Snyder changed careers in 1995 from being a Meteorologist to a Novelist when she began working on her first novel, Poison Study. Published in October 2005, Poison Study won the 2006 Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, won the Salt Lake Co. Library’s Reader’s Choice award, was a 2005 Booksense pick, was nominated for four other awards, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly. Maria’s second book, Magic Study was published in October 2006, is a 2006 Booksense pick, and is a RITA Award Finalist.


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Since, for the most part, my blog readers won’t be familiar with your work, tell us a little about your series.

My “Study” series starts with Poison Study. Poison Study is about Yelena who is in the dungeon waiting to be executed for murder. She’s offered a choice of being the Commander’s new food taster or the noose. She chooses life and ends up getting into all kinds of trouble. Magic Study continues Yelena’s story. This time instead of learning about poisons, she’s trying to learn about magic and how to control her powers. Problems arise unexpectedly and she’s tangled in a plot to reclaim a throne and has to deal with a soul-stealing serial killer who is after her. Fire Study came out in March 2008 and it is the last Study book with Yelena as the main character. In Fire Study she battles a Fire Warper, comes to terms with her conflicting loyalties, and fights the lure of power. The Study series is considered adult fantasy with romantic and suspenseful elements, but I have many young adult readers who are enjoying the books, too. [For more info on Fire Study, click here.]

Did you know when you came up with the story idea that it would be a series?

No. When I wrote Poison Study, I thought it would be a stand alone book.

When you started writing, did you already know/had you already written the ending?

No. I’m what’s known as a “seat of the pants” writer (aka pantser). I like to discover the plot and twists as I write. However – I usually have a general idea of where and how the book will end, but I wouldn’t write it out until I reach that point, because it can always change.

How did you determine the plot structure for each volume and how each would fit into your overall plot for the series?

As I said before – I’m a pantser so there wasn’t any overall planning for a multi-book series. But what I did discover as I wrote the second book was little subplots in Poison that I could use and expand on for Magic or Fire. For example, in Poison I mention the Kennel Master – who is in charge of the Commander’s dogs – there’s rumor that he might have a magical connection with the dogs so everyone avoids him. That was it – the scene was to demonstrate the Commander’s strong intolerance for magic that makes a rumor ruin a person’s reputation. But in Fire – I used the Kennel Master’s hidden magic for a whole subplot. This is a technique that can be used for someone plotting a long series, planting info and events that seem minor at the time, but will become very important in later books.

How did you decide which subplots to tie up and which to leave hanging at the ends of the first and second books?

I believe you have to tie up all the major plots at the end of each book. I tried to make each Study book a story of itself so they could be read out of order. I will leave a subplot or two without a knot at the end – usually because life is messy and nothing ever gets pulled together completely at the end. My biggest complaint about trilogies is the middle book tends to be just all middle story – nothing is solved and I find myself very frustrated with them.

How did you determine how much information from Poison Study to include in the opening of Magic Study so that new readers could follow along and those who’d read the first book wouldn’t feel like they were being dragged back through the whole story?

That was the hardest part to write! I tried to tell the new story straight on, but when ever I came to a place where the reader needed a little background info, I added an internal thought or some dialogue like when Yelena’s mentor chides her about climbing trees, mentioning she had no trouble before – which leads Yelena to think about the time she had climbed through the tree canopy to avoid being captured.

Have you written the ending of the series? If so, how did writing the end of the last book differ from the first two?

Fire Study is not the end of the series, but it is the end of Yelena’s story. The difference was getting her to a place (both physically and emotionally) where the reader knows that Yelena has fought the good fight and is now a better person. By that point all the questions about Yelena needed to be answered – but I could still leave a few mysteries for future stories.

When you pitched/submitted the series to publishers/agents, did you have a synopsis/3 chapters of each book or just of the first book with a more general synopsis of the sequels?

I submitted the complete manuscript of Poison, and when LUNA books called they offered me a two-book contract. Good thing I had 18 months to write that second book, and that I had an idea for it. The original ending of Poison was revised to be more suspenseful and to mesh better with Magic. I knew I needed to write Fire half way through Magic – and for approval – I sent my editor a 4 page synopsis and they offered me a three-book contract. At that time – I had no idea what books 4 & 5 would be. I’m working on #4 now and it’s set in the Study world, but no title has been approved, yet. Five is still a mystery!

What have you learned about writing through the experience of writing a series that we might not learn through writing single-title/stand-alone stories?

The two things I mentioned earlier – leaving clues in earlier books for later use and how to insert background info without boring the people who have read the first book – were the most important lessons I learned.

Any other words of advice you can share about writing endings?

I tend to be an instinctual writer – while I know where I want my story to end, I’m not going to force it there. I would advice writers to listen to your internal feelings. Your logical mind may say to end with X Y Z, but as you write you might hit a spot (a sentence or a scene) and your heart will go “That’s It!” To quote song lyrics, “Listen to your heart.”

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