So, it's time. I'm just starting the process of writing a 100,000-plus word novel, the fifth in the Ethan Warner series. The series debut, Covenant, was published in November 2011 and reached #26 on the Sunday Times Best Seller list. The sequel, Immortal, reached the same position, both books shifting tens of thousands of copies and building awareness of my work.
With these successes in mind I know that each novel must somehow improve upon or surpass the previous title, and that places some degree of pressure on me. However, the way I deal with that is to remember that people come back to a series because they like the way they feel when they're reading it. It's not like television, when a cliff-hanger can draw viewers back: that only works within the individual book, not the series as a whole. It is consistency that wins, and that's what I aim for. With the Ethan Warner series, it's a murder-mystery weaved with scientific revelations that expose myth as fact, and sometimes vice-versa.
The provisional title for Book 5 in the Ethan Warner series is Wraith. This is the name for a ghost in some dialects, but it is also another name for something known as a "crisis-apparition". I'll leave you to research what they are, but like all central themes with the Ethan Warner series they're a genuine paranormal phenomenon and one of these spectral entities will feature in the story. That is essentially where I start from: something new and interesting that has the potential for scientific credibility.
What I've done this week is start a series of notes. These are what I call my key-points, and usually involve listing the things that I do want in the novel, and the things that I don't. As Wraith is set to be a chiller-thriller, I don't want the things that have been done before: hanuted houses, possessed family heirlooms, phantom hounds etc etc. Some of the things that I do want: psychological tension, a sense of other worldliness and perhaps wonder at the sheer volume of evidence that ghosts are not quite the myth we think that they are, and a strong sense of genuine peril ( and not just supernatural peril, but real world threat to life and limb ).
I can't obviously reveal too much here regarding actual plot, but I can say that Ethan and Lopez are in peril by this stage in the series, and are following a broader mystery that ties in closely with what they'll discover as the story unfolds. To this end, I'm also making notes of how things are at the end of Book 4 in the series, Beast, and tying it in with the threads of the new novel.
Finally, and most excitingly, I'm starting the research into real-life phenomena relevant to the story. Already I'm discovering a wealth of related material, much of it stunning enough to raise goose-bumps on my arms when I read it. That's just the beginning though: as I build up research material before coming to write the first draft, I must also begin the lengthy process of seperating what is genuine from what is fake. What I'm left with will forge the heart of the story, the revelations that leave readers of previous novels in the series inspired to search the Internet for confirmation of things they didn't believe were possible.
The next stage, which I will detail in the next post, involves weaving the plot together and developing the story in more depth. Here's where a mixture of practical planning and a BIG imagination come into their own.