Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker's and Kelly Zekas' Editing Update: Questions We Asked Ourselves While Editing the Finale of a Trilogy
When we first envisioned These Vicious Masks as a trilogy, we didn’t give it too much thought beyond the fact that it had a world and characters we knew couldn’t be contained to one book. Since then, we’ve had a lot more Thoughts–from the exciting highs of getting to stay with our characters and throw new things at them, to the exhausting lows of worrying that we’re out of ideas and running on fumes. For anyone working on a trilogy, we wanted to share a few of the most persistent, frustrating thoughts we had during the final stage of editing:
Why are our past selves the worst?
While we were editing These Vengeful Souls, we decided to re-read These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds to give ourselves a little refresher and boy, oh boy, did we really grow to hate past-Tarun and past-Kelly. They were the absolute worst. We noticed threads they left for things that 2017 Tarun and Kelly absolutely did not want to pick back up. We noticed silly mistakes they made, leaving us to deal with the consequences. We noticed opportunities they missed for beautiful set-ups that could have had such satisfying pay-offs two books later. We desperately wanted to go back and edit all three books at once to make our lives easier.
But the first two books were done and printed, we aren’t George Lucas, and it’s not as if we could have just written all three books at once because that comes with its own set of problems. There was nothing we could really do, except to take comfort in the fact that we seemed to have improved enough as writers to be so critical of our past selves. And though it felt like a number of story directions were closed off for us, they did set us in the direction for the right ending.
We’re still glad past Tarun and Kelly are dead though. Long live current Tarun and Kelly!
Can we just not have deadlines?
The biggest difference we’ve felt between being unpublished writers and published ones is the deadline. On one hand, it’s exciting that the sequel you’re writing is something that you don’t have to go out on submission for. Your editor and readers are actively waiting for it. On the other hand, it’s absolutely terrifying that your editor and readers are actively waiting for it. You know you’ve got to stick to the yearly release schedule, so there’s this little voice in the back of your head telling you “don’t mess up, don’t mess up” because you only have time for so many drafts. Even on the first draft, which is supposed to be the messy draft you just get onto paper so you can edit it later, that voice is still repeating “don’t mess up too much, just a little.”
As a result, we hated clocks, calendars, the sun, really anything that signified time was passing and the deadline was getting closer. The one thing that kept us sane though was the knowledge that we managed to survive book two, so we tried to stick as closely to our schedule and process for that, even through the bad days, and it ended up working out. Somewhere along the way during books 1 and 2, we ended up picking up some skills and strategies to deal with those deadlines, so we guess we maybe begrudgingly appreciate deadlines somewhat.
What if we simply google “how to write a good trilogy”?
So we may have done this once… or several times at moments of desperation between the outlining stages of These Vengeful Souls to the editing stages. There’s something a lot more daunting about ending a book three than books one or two. One and two didn’t have to be epic. They could just be regular book endings where there could (and should) be hanging threads to pull into the sequel. We felt like we’d trained ourselves for that as writers.
But ending a trilogy was new territory. It’s harder to get experience doing that beyond writing multiple trilogies. And though we’ve had a rough idea of how we wanted certain things to end, so many story and character changes accumulate over the years that improvising and experimentation is still necessary–and terrifying with that looming deadline.
So after that desperate googling, we also did some responsible googling, reminding ourselves of other trilogy finales we found satisfying and analyzing why. We looked at the classic three act story structure and thought about how it could be used for a trilogy. And, of course, we looked at our first two books, reminding ourselves that those couldn’t have been written without a clear direction, without promises. We just had to make doubly sure we were fulfilling as many as we could.
For the love of god can we write something else?
We probably spent as much time discussing all the future projects we want to do as we spent working on the actual third book. By this point, we’ve been with these characters for almost nine years. We were excited to give them their ending, but we were definitely having a strong case of the grass is greener. We imagined writing a sweet contemporary YA, a historical romance with no superpowers or magic system, a screenplay where we don’t have to describe anything. We resented our setting, time period, choice of powers, characters and sometimes, each other.
But we finished it. And we maybe even... liked what we wrote! The few weeks after we turned in the final draft were great: We did nothing. We decided to give ourselves a nice break before we jumped into our exciting new project, whatever it might be.
But then we realized, wait a minute, Evelyn won’t be our narrator. We will have to find a new voice, new setting… everything. And that is its own form of terrifying! We’ve only written the trilogy together and we don’t know how a new book is going to work. Now we’re dragging our feet on the new project, thinking wistfully of the trilogy we just finished.
But look. We finished, when it truly seemed like we might not. We figured out how to complete the trilogy and are going to figure out the next project too. Every book is its own different puzzle. There will be things we miss from TVM, but there will be amazing new things to find.