Christopher Tozier is an award winning middle grade fantasy author who worked with the same publicist as me. I’ve got a lot of respect for authors who can write books for kids and get them interested in fantasy and/or science fiction at an early age. I know how much I loved those books at that age. As such, it didn’t take much convincing for me to invite him here to share a guest post. Then I read the premise of his books and I was even more impressed. There aren’t nearly enough fantasy books out there for kids that feature an awesome girl as the protagonist. Christopher is here to talk about something I’m very familiar with, how to keep the stories from becoming stale when you’re writing a series.
Re-entering the Portal
How to recreate magic in a series
Every story has a portal. Portals are symbols, gateways that fundamentally transform your characters’ lives. Some portals are physical: Wardrobes, tornadoes, rabbit holes, train station platforms. Some portals are people: Captain Ahab, Mephistopheles. Some portals are conceptual: murder, divorce, bankruptcy, storming a beach during WWII, the Force.
In Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus, the portal that transforms Olivia’s life is a sinkhole that leads into the aquifer beneath Florida. Once there, Olivia discovers an ancient abandoned city filled with magical objects whose significance we can only guess. There are animals both dangerous and charming. And there is undeniable beauty. Portals reveal a magic that would be impossible to imagine if the portal didn’t exist. They also expose our characters’ flaws and bring danger into the story.
The point is, the character’s life was one way, then portal happens and everything changes.
Traversing the portal is one of the most important scenes you can write. It summarizes everything about your character and plot. It promises the most profound sense of wonder and fear. It’s a powerful scene and your story will never overcome a weak portal.
But what happens if you are writing a series? You can only pass through a portal for the first time once. Every other time is a retread. How can you capture the magic of the first time in your second and third book?
Normally, my advice is to put everything you’ve got into your story. Pour it all out. Don’t hold anything back. For one, you are trying to write the best possible novel. You also don’t know if you will ever have another book published. However, if you are writing a series, you must hold something back. You absolutely need to think about how to recreate the magic of the first time, over and over again. If you put it all in book one, your following books will be boring. You will be stuck with fabricating bigger battle scenes or meaner enemies, but the spirit and magic of your first book will be gone. Isn’t that why the first book or movie in a series is usually the best?
Exactly how to hold something back can be tricky. It depends upon your story. In the Pearl of Tagelus, the trick was Junonia, the abandoned city. By not populating Junonia, I left a lot to the imagination of my readers. But I also created the opportunity to populate it in the future. A magical city filled with light and life is a very different thing than a dark, mysterious ghost town. The second book, Olivia Brophie and the Sky Island, also features a hidden civilization that worships time travel. It’s a big leap forward in Olivia’s understanding of the world. It’s a new portal taking the series in a new direction, not just advancing the direction it was already taking. You can’t simply write what you wish you had written in book one. You must take huge steps, steps that are big enough to excite your readers in a whole new direction.
Most importantly, you should focus more attention on your primary characters. Make them as complex and interesting as possible. They are the real engine that will bring readers back time and again to your future books. Leave some secrets unresolved, some darkness unlit. No matter how amazing your portals are, if your readers don’t love your characters, they won’t continue reading.
Christopher Tozier lives in the north Orlando, Florida area and is the author of the award-winning Olivia Brophie series for children published by Pineapple Press. His first novel, Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus, is set in the Florida scrub and is widely taught in schools. World’s Around Us is the free curriculum developed by scientists and educators around the country for use with the book. The sequel, Olivia Brophie and the Sky Island was released 2014.
Christopher Tozier was awarded the 2011 Individual Artist Fellowship from the State of Florida. A Little Book of Light History published by YellowJacket Press is his first volume of poetry.