My guest today is Lehua Parker, author of the Niuhi Shark Saga. Books one and two are in print and Book three is in the works.
What are the challenges in writing characters in sequels?
It all depends on whether the series is more like a burger from Five Guys or dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
When you walk into a burger joint, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Some fiction, particularly serial detective fiction like Robert Parker’s Spencer series, is structured like your basic grilled patty in a bun. First book to last, Spencer changes his underwear and not much else. A crime is committed. It gets solved. Some shooting, drinking, and bed-hopping happens in between. The order the books are read in doesn’t matter much more than having a bacon cheeseburger one day and a jalapeño ranch burger the next. With infinite combinations of new toppings and special sauces to season the plot, there’s no reason to mess with the character of the ground chuck. And with no over-arching storyline, the series never ends.
For burger-lovers, this consistency is a good thing. For authors making bank with a series, it’s awesome.
But the whole dining experience changes when a series involves multiple courses and linen table napkins. Now readers want to savor each dish on the way to dessert.
Think of the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. In each book the wizardlings had adventures, but there was a more important over-arching tale involving Voldermort and Harry that advanced until it was resolved at the end of the last book.
Like Mama says, if you eat dessert first, you’ll spoil your appetite. When a series is structured as a book per course there’s usually little point to going back and eating the carrots once you’ve filled up on the cherry cheesecake. Knowing Dumbledor’s end game and Snape’s true character spoils all the delicious tension built and sustained throughout the previous six books. You may want to linger at the table, but you pretty much know the meal’s over. It’s time to tip the waiter and hand your parking stub to the valet.
Which leads me to my point that when you’re telling a larger cohesive story it’s important for characters to change and show growth in each book.
In a burger book, not so much. A juicy char-broiled book series is all about enjoying similar experiences with beloved characters over and over again.
Here’s another example.
The Niuhi Shark Saga is a multi-course luau complete with roasted pig, hula dancers, and coconut cake for dessert. It’s one loooooong story broken into bite-sized MG/YA books.
Through the series Zader, the protagonist, changes from the odd kid who always has to be rescued to the kid who questions everything to the young man who determines for himself how he will live his life. In each book I have to consider where Zader is in terms of his eventual transformation and where the other characters are in relation to both Zader and their own conflicts and ambitions.
I gotta tell you, it helps that many of my characters are going through adolescence, arguably the biggest transformative time in anyone’s life.
In book one, One Boy, No Water, Zader is hiding in the shadows. There’s a lot of symbolism about young, tender things growing in the protective safety of the reef. He has Uncle Kahana, Jay, and Char Siu to guide and support him, and he’s pretty comfortable being led. At the end, Zader recuses his brother from a paralyzing fear and himself from bullies. This triggers his predator nature, and it’s obvious he’s outgrown the idea of camouflage as safety.
In book two, One Shark, No Swim, Zader’s grown enough that he no longer accepts what he’s been told as fact. Uncle Kahana is unwilling to deal directly with the changes he sees in Zader, and that causes problems. Char Siu, Zader’s gal-pal, is starting to understand that there’s a big difference between boy-world and girl-world and she’s trying to navigate deep water while the boys are still splashing in the shallows. Jay begins to get caught up in competitive surfing, leaving Zader alone on the sand. These conflicts and others finally drive Zader to listen only to himself and make a choice no one expects.
In book three, tentatively titled One Fight, No Fist, there are consequences for Zader’s choices. He’s older, more secretive, and both less trusting and more protective of his family and friends. He’s bolder, more aggressive, and is ready to take the fight to his stalker. He’s so far from where he started, he’s almost a different person. Consequently, all of the other characters have to change and adjust to this new person—or not and let the sparks fly.
The changes the Niuhi Shark Saga characters go through is really the storyline that ties all the books together. Without character growth the series would be like The Simpsons tv show—Homer chasing one doughnut after another, hanging out at Moe’s, and never learning or suffering from the consequences of his adventures for more than one episode.
There are a lot of doughnut lovers who crave that consistency. Go, Homer.
But if you’re in the mood for something different, try my pineapple upside-down cake. You won’t believe what happens next!
All about Lehua:
Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. In addition to writing award-winning short fiction, poetry, and plays, she is the author of the Pacific literature MG/YA series the Niuhi Shark Saga published by Jolly Fish Press. One Boy, No Water and One Shark, No Swim are available now. Book 3, One Fight, No Fist will be published in 2014.
So far Lehua has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, an instructional designer, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, a playwright, a web designer, a book editor, a mother, and a wife. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, three cats, two dogs, six horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.
Connect with Lehua Parker
Blog & Free Short Stories: http://www.lehuaparker.com/
All things Niuhi Shark Saga: http://www.niuhisharksaga.com/
One Boy, No Water
Barnes & Noble
One Shark, No Swim:
Barnes & Noble