Continuity

I didn’t set out to write the Finnegans novels as continuous stories. Now that I have three novels written, though, I’m beginning to see some effect like that.

I realize that any novel has to stand on its own strengths and story line, and I think I’ve written them to do so, but I have plot ideas for a half dozen more Finnegan novels, and I’ve found that I’ve been slipping little set ups for the other stories into the ones I have already written. I don’t suppose that is bad at all. It gives the characters some long-term integrity. I won’t merely introduce some interest or behavior in a character that I’ll pretend is long standing. I’ll have already established it in another story or two.

For example, Greg Finnegan haunts used bookstores. In an event that pre-dates the chronology of my novels, he came upon a novel written by someone he’d never heard of but who wrote a proto-feminist story set in an actual Missouri River town. One of the reasons he visits used bookstores is with the hope that he will find another novel by this author. His quest comes up in some casual way in each of the three novels that I’ve written, but it will be the core of the plot for a novel I am yet to write (probably the next one, which I plan to title Finnegans Deciphered).

One wouldn’t have to read the earlier novels to appreciate the plot of Finnegans Deciphered, but if one had, one would have a better sense of Greg’s character in this aspect. (We really need an epicene pronoun in this language!)

In the novel I just finished, Finnegans Afoot, Ann resolves a long-standing personal relationship problem. I started establishing this problem in the other two novels, but I had no intent at the time to set up the resolution. I was just doing it to give her character some depth. But then Afoot came along and the resolution, which is a subplot that doesn’t drive the central narrative, found a nice fit. Once again, one wouldn’t have to read the other novels to appreciate it, but the set up is there. (Oddly, though, if one read Afoot first and then went to the other novels, the unresolved issue would be there though the reader would know it was addressed.)

Mystery novelist Susan Wittig Albert has used continuous character development in her China Bayles stories. I seem to remember her saying that this hadn’t been her intent originally but that her characters more or less called out for the continuity. I understand that she introduces a pregnant character in one of her novels, but in the next novel the character is no longer pregnant and there is no discussion of the new baby. I haven’t read that far into her series yet, but I’m told it’s true.

Update: I received an email from Susan Wittig Albert correcting my misunderstanding about her series of novels. Although I could swear that I heard her say that she had never intended to write a continuous story across her novels, she says that she had from the beginning. Also, she says she had not forgotten that one of her characters had a baby. Rather, she says, she forgot that the baby’s mother had chosen one name in an earlier novel and gave it a different name in the subsequent novel.

In my defense, I do say above that “I seem to remember,” so I wasn’t really asserting anything. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to know that she had intended continuity from the start.

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