Sunday, May 8, 2011
Story Creation: The Sisters 8
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
I wish I could say how I create a story, that it's the same pattern each time, but it's not. With each book, it's like I'm inventing my own wheel all over again. The one exception to this is The Sisters 8, the series for readers ages six to ten that I created with my husband and daughter.
The Sisters 8 is a nine-book series about octuplets whose parents disappear one New Year's Eve leaving the girls to solve the mystery of that disappearance while keeping the household running without adult supervision. In Book 1 Annie's Adventures, a note informs them that before discovering what happened to their parents, each girl must find her power and gift. There are nine books in the series because there needs to be one for each sister and a ninth book to explain all the mysteries that develop along the way.
We write each book in pretty much the same fashion. We brainstorm the general concept for the book and then I sit down to write. After I finish a chapter, I read it to Greg and Jackie, and then we discuss what works, what doesn't work and what needs to happen next.
The Sisters 8 can be tricky. I know from experience reading to Jackie when she was younger, that most series for that age group are the same formula repeated from book to book. But The Sisters 8 is different. It's one long cycle of stories, over 1000 pages of continuing story. Yes, there are elements that are constants - in each book, the sister who is the star at the moment, has to find her power and her gift - but we like to change things up to avoid predictability. For example, in the first two books, Annie and Durinda find their powers somewhere around the middle of the story and their gifts at the very end. So what did we do with Georgia in the third book? Now that readers thought they knew what to expect, we had Georgia receive her gift in the very first chapter; of course, Georgia, being the difficult girl that she is, tells the carrier pigeon that brought her gift that it's the wrong time to be receiving it and to take it away - an impulse she later regrets.
Young readers love things like that: reversal of expectations that are still wholly fitting to the character who's doing the surprising thing.
Even though before I start writing a book in the series there's already a sheet giving me a loose idea of what will happen in each chapter, there's always room for inspiration, room to come up with things that surprise myself and the reader. Book 7 Rebecca's Rashness was published just last week. Rebecca, if you don't know, can be the most unpleasant of the Huit octuplets. Curiously, when readers take the "Which Eight Are You?" quiz at the official website, they seem to rig things so it'll turn out that they're Rebecca! If there's one thing readers can be sure of it's that when Rebecca gets her power, it will corrupt her and that it will corrupt her absolutely. So there I was, writing Book 7, trying to think of something impossibly nutty for Rebecca to do that would delight readers, and then I remembered...
Years ago, I was fascinated to learn from one of the morning shows about a Scandinavian sport that had previously been unknown to me: Finnish Wife-Carrying. It's basically exactly what it sounds like. Finns have these competitions where the men race through obstacle courses while carrying their wives. A fun detail: If your wife is on the heavy side or if you don't have a wife, you can borrow a neighbor's wife and carry her so long as her husband is agreeable.
Anyway, Finnish Wife-Carrying seemed to me to be exactly the kind of thing that if Rebecca had somehow learned about, she would want to try, and of course the "wife" she would choose to carry would be her sister Petal, the most fearful of the Huits. So I wrote a chapter into the story in which Rebecca sets up an obstacle course in their yard and...well, let's just say it really is nutty.
Rebecca's Rashness came out on May 2. Three days later we received our first letter about it from a fan who wrote in part: "I totally love The Sisters 8 books. My favorite one is Rebecca’s Rashness with her plans to take over the world and the Finnish Wife-Carrying races with Petal."
It's immensely gratifying to think that something that was never part of the original plan, something that just occurred to me on a whim should bring delight to readers in exactly the way I hoped it would.
Because that's the other thing about The Sisters 8. Unlike most series for young readers, which can best be described as providing an experience over and over again that is the same but different - not that there's anything wrong with that! - with The Sisters 8 we seek to constantly build on the series, build on the excitement, with each book being even *more* in some way than the books that have gone before. I hope readers will always find that to be the case.
So how about you: Do you find that when you write, even if you start with a detailed plan, some of the best ideas are those that occur to you organically?
Be well. Don't forget to write.