Tessa Gratton Guest Post and Giveaway!

The Strange MaidCreating a Story Arc for a Series
by Tessa Gratton

There are different kinds of series:
– Those that are big stories broken up into pieces of a whole, where no part stands alone and you need all of them to complete the story. Examples are traditional high fantasy trilogies like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
– Those composed of single stories that follow after each other, each complete to itself, with reoccurring main characters. Examples are the Die Hard movies or almost any murder mystery series, like the Stephanie Plum Mysteries.
– Those with interconnected stories, where each story stands alone, but there’s an overarching narrative that builds from story to story. Examples are the current Marvel movie franchise or Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue series.

Each sort will be plotted very differently (aside from the fact that different writers would plot the exact same book differently).

I happen to be a reverse-plotter, in that I plot last when I plot at all. Sometimes I don’t even plot until I’m revising a seat-of-the-pants draft. I reverse-engineer my plot to suit the greater needs or character and theme and world. To me, plot is the most malleable element of a story. World and character matter more to me, and plot comes from the interaction of a character with her world. I can shift plot elements as easy as rewriting 40,000 words. It’s harder for me to entirely rewrite an element of world building or change my character’s intrinsic nature or motivations.

The United States of Asgard falls into the third of the above categories. I wrote The Lost Sun as a stand-alone novel originally. By the time I was finished, I knew I wanted to sell it as a series if possible and write more stories. The world was so big, and I was so excited by the possibilities, I had to write a few more novels set there.

In order to put together my proposal, I needed to choose the sort of series it would be. I knew three things:

1) I did not want to write another book from Soren’s POV because his character arc as a young adult was finished.
2) I DID want him to be an important player in the other books.
3) I love romance trilogies where each book has a complete romance, but you revisit the heroes of the previous novel in every new one.

The world of USAsgard really works on two main plot layers already: the plot involving the teenage protagonists and the plot involving the ancient gods who think decades and centuries in advance. It was relatively easy to break the series down onto the same levels. Each individual book would stand alone with regards to the narrator’s plot and character arc, but the series as a whole would have a meta plot revolving around the goddess Freya, who sees the future and meddles in the affairs of humanity to direct Fate as she sees fit.

Initially I pitched USAsgard as a 5 book series. I knew The Lost Sun was book 1, and I knew exactly who the narrator for book 5 would be and what her conflict was. The series was plotted very much like the Avengers movies: 4 introductory stories with new, (hopefully) compelling and sexy and fun characters, culminating in the 5th book where they all come together to save the country.

Every book was meant to be its own story, but there were elements and Easter eggs, hints and subplots that were quietly building up to the finale. Take those elements out and the story wouldn’t suffer, but with them it creates a complicated, inter-connected series.

In the end, there are only 3 novels in the series, which was my own creative decision. It wasn’t because the series was unwieldy or unsupported, it was because I realized when I began write book 3 that it was time for the character and plot I’d intended for the finale, and I wasn’t desperate to tell the stories in the original books 3 and 4. Or at least not so in love with them that I could dedicate a year of my life (minimally) to them. The things that drew me to those stories were themes and toothy ideas to explore in the series world, and those themes and ideas shifted in my imagination to other projects and other worlds. What I needed the United States of Asgard for was the book 5 story, because it’s about faith and godhood and love and fate: things The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid are also about, but the original books 3 and 4 were not.

Book 5 became book 3, and the middle book – The Strange Maid – is its own meaty, complicated middle. I’ll be publishing 3 novellas in the next year based on some of the lost stories and characters, but I’m very happy with the choices I made.

I’m not a plotter, so although I had a skeletal over-arching plot for my entire series, 80% of it was scrapped by the time I finished writing book 2. Someday when I write an honest-to-god high fantasy trilogy I will be must less laissez-faire about series plotting.

Thanks for having me, especially if you read all the way to the bottom here!



Courtesy of Random House Children’s Books, I have a copy of The Strange Maid for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US and Canadian residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends August 15. I’ll draw a name on August 16, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

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About the Book:
Tessa Gratton’s THE STRANGE MAID (Random House Books for Young Readers / On sale June 10, 2014 / Ages 12 up) is the second book in a five-book series. Set in the original, stunning world of the United States of Asgard, where the Norse gods are celebrities in an alternate modern America, the first four books follow different protagonists around the same critical moment—the disappearance of Baldur and the plans of Freya, who controls fate. The fifth and final book brings the protagonists together for a culminating adventure.

In the United States of Asgard, cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. The president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyrie, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Every day, Signy Valborn gets up and puts on a Valkyrie costume to entertain the tourists who travel north to the icy island of Vinland. She also helps Ned Unferth, a handsome young troll hunter, terrify the tourists by putting his tame mountain troll through its paces. Then Baldur’s Night arrives, when the United States’ most popular god, Baldur the Beautiful, rises from the ashes, escaping Hel to live among them for the spring and summer months. But this year, Baldur doesn’t rise.

Amid the confusion, a band of mountain trolls attacks and destroys Signy’s town. Ned and his troll are not among the dead, but they’re nowhere to be found. As Signy sets out to search for them, she leaves behind everything she’s ever known to discover what fate the gods have in store for her.

Wildly entertaining and filled with intrigue and adventure, THE STRANGE MAID is a fast-paced, compelling story. Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater, as well as new readers, will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard.

About the Author:
TESSA GRATTON has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. She was too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in gender studies, and then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. For more information, please visit TessaGratton.com.

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