Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing and Planning a Trilogy, with Rapture

Today I'm delighted to welcome Phillip W. Simpson, author of the Rapture trilogy, to my blog. Rapture is post-apocalyptic fiction with a touch of angels and demons.  Of course, since I'm fascinated by all things Biblical, including the whole pre and post-millennial thing, I'm bound to be interested in this set of books. But the following post, on trilogies, the Rapture, and more, has plenty to intrigue everyone, so please read on.

Over to you Phillip, and thank you so much for visiting my blog.

Writing and planning a trilogy
Phillip W. Simpson

I didn’t initially plan to write a trilogy. The first book in the Rapture Trilogy (Rapture) is almost a stand-alone book. I left myself some wriggle room, just in case. Shortly after signing the book deal for Rapture, the publisher offered me a three book deal. I took it obviously. There was certainly some wriggle room, easily enough for two more books. In fact, I quickly realised that I could easily turn it into five or six books.

The Rapture trilogy is based, as you might imagine, on the Rapture. For those who don’t know, the Rapture is a Christian belief based on the end of the world and the second coming. I’ve used the pre-tribulation view. Allow me to explain.

In the Bible, the Rapture refers to "being caught up" (Thess 4:17) where the devout and the innocent rise up in the air to meet Jesus Christ. They are then taken to heaven. This is generally seen as an indication that the end times are upon us. The timing of the Rapture is subject to debate. Some people have tried to predict it and have failed, largely due to the fact that no human can predict such an occurrence: "about that day or hour no one knows". 

Recently, Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21st, 2011.  He then changed this prediction to October 21st, 2011. He was, of course, wrong on both counts (see above).
In terms of the actual order of events, that is also a matter of debate. The pre-tribulation view holds that the believers will be taken to Heaven first. Those that aren’t have to suffer for seven years on earth known as the Tribulation. Essentially, Earth will then become hell-like, wracked by natural disasters, plagues, famine and war. The pre-tribulation view, where the Rapture will occur first, followed by the tribulation (at the end of which time, Christ will return at the head of an army – the Apocalypse) is the view taken by the Rapture Trilogy.

There are other views; predominantly, Mid-tribulation, pre-wrath, partial, and post-tribulation. The impending Rapture is purportedly heralded by an increase in volcanic activity and natural disasters.
I’m a long-time fantasy and science fiction reader. First rule of writing – write what you know. So what did I do? First, add some fantasy and paranormal elements. As a result, the books then could be defined as dystopian or post-apocalyptic. I added demons (lots of them) who appear on Earth at night to drag humans down to Hell.

The main protagonist, Sam, is half-demon. Because of his heritage (and despite his devoutness), he is unable to rise in the Rapture. Instead, he is left behind to fight for the innocents that remain.

It’s not unusual to use religious dogma as a basis for fiction. Off the top of my head I can think of Constantine, Priest, Omen, Hellboy – the list goes on. Basically, anything with angels and demons in it has essentially used the bible as a starting point.

That’s the premise. So, how to turn it into a trilogy?

It was fairly easy. Remember I had set events that I had to use. The Tribulation lasts for seven years. Therefore I had seven years to play with. That was daunting to begin with. It’s a long time to fill in. The events of the first book, Rapture end shortly after the disaster that befalls the earth. The second book (Tribulation), I decided to set half way during the tribulation. If I hadn’t done that, I just have too much ground to cover (hence my original thoughts of five or six books). The events of the final book (Apocalypse) count down from around three years before the Apocalypse to the actual event itself.

Now in terms of plotting, most people agree that the second book in a trilogy is often the weakest. I was determined that this wouldn’t happen. With such a long timeframe however, I had to ensure that I ended with a cliff-hanger. This was difficult. I managed it but it took a fair amount of creative interpretation.

I was lucky in the sense that certain events (according to biblical prophecy) had to play out. I used these as my guidelines and then used creative license. Therefore, I knew my starting point, the middle and the end point. I just had to fill in the gaps.

That’s basically how I planned and wrote the trilogy. I used these events to guide me and then let my imagination go wild. I knew how all three books would begin and end – I just had to get Sam there in the most interesting and exciting way possible. Saying that, looking back at my plot notes, I changed the story a great deal during the writing process. No battle plan, they say, survives contact with the enemy - my enemy in this case being the books. Plot notes and chapter summaries are useful but they are not set in stone. I surprised myself several times with plot turns or twists (or people/characters dying). On a few occasions I actually cried.

It took me just over two years to write the trilogy. That was with a full time job as a teacher. Our son, Jack, was also born not long after Rapture went to print (I was two days out from finishing Rapture when my wife, Rose, told me she was pregnant). In other words, it’s been tough. But ultimately satisfying.

A lot has changed since then. My publisher went bust before Apocalypse could come out. I got my rights back and published all three as an Indie. In fact, all three books have just come out in a new print edition. I’ve received hundreds of great reviews but sadly, I’m no-where near to living the dream of becoming a full-time writer (especially with a wife and child to support and a mortgage to pay). 

I’m currently half-way through a new novel which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve got two middle grade chapter books coming out with Macmillan this year, one chapter book with Pearson and five non-fiction books with Raintree. I’ve also been busy producing educational material for publishers like Cengage and Oxford University Press. It’s an exciting time but also an incredibly busy one.

My goal now is to write one novel per year. My current one brings my total to six. I won’t give up my dream to be a full-time writer, but in the meantime, I’m happy. 

Planning and writing a trilogy was a feat I’m still immensely proud of. I don’t think I’ll take on another trilogy in a hurry but I am thrilled that I did it in the first place.

Thank you Phillip. One novel per year sounds a pretty good goal, and I shall look forward to reading as many as I can.

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