By Jay Stringer
As my second book prepares to meet the world later this month, Super Agent and I have just handed the third over to the publisher.
It's a strange feeling. When I set out to follow Eoin Miller for a series of books, I had an end point in mind and thought I could get to it in four books. Russel is a fan of the rule of five, he likes story arcs to have five parts to them, and he plots out accordingly. It'll be fun to see what he does with McNee over the five stages.
I tend to think in fours. Trilogies all became the thing thanks to George Lucas. And they seem to be a logical extension of the principles of three-act storytelling. Some people might point to The Lord Of The Rings, but that wasn't a trilogy, it was a single book published in three volumes. When I sit down to write a three-act story, however, I'm thinking of a second act that is really two separate acts, with the mid-point climax dividing them.
I also apply the rule of four to other mediums. It's very rare that a TV show can hold my interest beyond a fourth year, because by that point I tend to find the writers have exhausted everything they set out to do in the first place, and a film series that goes beyond a fourth film really starts to feel like it's more filler than killer.
With books, too, once the writer gets past a fourth I tend to give her less leeway.
Four acts seems like the right amount to me. That's enough to set something up, run with the emotional consequences, deliver a few knockout blows and then get out before you overstay the welcome.
But that's not the only way to do it. Russel will pull it off, just as there are examples of writers in all the various types storytelling who have pulled it off. My rule of four is not hard and fast; it's more of a personal rule of thumb.
But that makes it all the more surprising to me that I got the end point in three books rather than four. Eoin Miller's original story arc is completed by the final pages of (title of book 3 redacted) and I'm very comfortable with where we leave him. Does that mean there's no scope for a fourth? Well, wait and see. First you good people need to discover which characters make it out of the trilogy alive, and which of them gets eaten by a large genetically engineered dinosaur.
It's also an odd feeling for more personal reasons to be handing the book in. So much has changed since I started writing this character. I was about 25 and moving from the wreckage of a marriage to six months on my parent’s sofa when Eoin Miller started turning into black shapes on the page. As I turn in book 3 I'm a published author, living in a different country, married and stressing over two cats. The three Miller books are milestones in my live over the past seven years.
And things change again- I'm now staring at a blank page again, but this time I'm not starting a story that's part of a series. I don't have pre-established characters and I'm not following through on a story arc that's already in motion. I'm looking for the next story. The next set of milestones.