Sunday, April 8, 2012

Series structure, or: how it comes together.

Internal consistency is a bitch.
-- Stephen R. Donaldson

I sorta kinda promised that I would talk about how I'm (trying to) structure the Pipe Woman Chronicles books.  I've had no better topic ideas in the interim...so here we go.

The quote is from a response Donaldson gave in the Gradual Interview on his website, www.stephenrdonaldson.com.  He is currently in the process of writing the tenth and final book in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever.  The first trilogy was published in the late '70s; the second trilogy, in the early '80s; and then he worked on other stuff for the next twenty years or so, before coming back to Covenant's story (The Runes of the Earth, the seventh book, was published in 2004).  Covenant fans (particularly those who revere the original trilogy) tend to be of the rabid variety; they're the kind of people who can quote scenes verbatim.  So inevitably, somebody will point out to the author that he screwed something up -- that, say, on page such-and-such of Against All Things Ending, Covenant says such-and-such about the fire-lions, but when High Lord Prothall talks about them in Lord Foul's Bane on page such-and-such of the first edition paperback....  You get the idea.  Anyway, Donaldson admits that it's really tough to get all the details right every time.  I mean, think about it:  do you remember every detail of something you wrote thirty years ago?

Anyway.  I don't intend for my own Chronicles to be nearly as detailed as Covenant's story.  But even with just a few months between the first drafts of Seized and Fissured, I find I'm forgetting stuff like the color of Shannon's hair.  So I created a notebook in Microsoft One Note with a tab for each book.  It includes a chart of new characters in that volume, possible cover art, notes on where the plot might go, and so on.  I've also got a general tab with stuff that relates to the whole series -- including some information on the Sioux medicine wheel, which I'm using as a springboard for the series structure.

I think each Native American tribe has its own medicine wheel, or hoop of life.  I was surprised at that, when I noticed it at the American Indian Museum -- the themes are similar but the colors are quite often swapped.  Here is the version I'm using.  Yes, I know the illustration is flipped.  (Caveat:  I found this info on teh intarwebz, and like a dope I didn't save the link, so I'm not going to even try to vouch for its accuracy.)
  • East is yellow.  It's the place of beginnings, of wisdom and understanding that's centered in true love.  If you've read Seized, then you might recognize these as themes in the book.
  • South is red.  It's the source of knowledge and power in regard to one's destiny.  It's also about youth, and about passion.  As you might guess, there will be a fair amount of that stuff in Fissured.
  • West is midnight blue or black.  Its element is water and its time of life is adulthood.  It's also about stillness and reflection. And it's about family.  I plan to work some of those things into the third book.
  • North is white.  It's the place of wisdom, of both self-control and control generally.  Its time of life is old age; the Sioux believe the spirits of their dead go north, which is also where White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman lives.
Many tribes recognize three additional directions:  above (Father Sky, freedom), below (Mother Earth, nurturing and giving life), and the center (the Heart).

So there you go.  Book four will feature North themes, if all goes to plan; the question is whether I can wrap up the series there, or whether I'll need a fifth book.  If I do, book five would include the themes of the last three directions.  It's looking more likely that I'll need five books.  But time will tell....
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