Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is two books in one, weighing in at nearly 600 pages. In alternating chapters, he tells the story of Darcy––a recent high school graduate with a book deal and a new life on the YA lit scene in New York City––and Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, who feigns death so well during a terrorist attack that she travels to the underworld. Writers will find both the subject matter and the structure compelling. Westerfeld clearly modeled the YA writers Darcy meets in Manhattan after his own literary friends. And for those who want to know what it’s like to get copyedited, go on a school visit, attend BEA, and sign ARCs––it’s all here. The alternating chapters also provide an opportunity to see Darcy at work as she revises her manuscript. In one chapter, she’ll discuss how she needs to move sections of her book around or strengthen her protagonist’s relationship with her friend. By the time we get to that part of the Lizzie chapters, those revisions have already happened. We get to appreciate Darcy’s final product––and enjoy the extra knowledge of the editing that went into it. By now you can tell that Afterworlds is a great book for aspiring writers. Here are a few more things I took away from it.
1. Attempting a complex POV? Consider limiting subplots.
One of the reasons the alternating-stories structure works is that both stories are quite straightforward. They’re sparse, with relatively few characters and no subplots. We’re laser-focused on both protagonists, and we’re able to keep track of both of their stories due to this simplicity.
2. Build suspense into your structure.
Afterworlds is a hefty book, but I finished it in a few days. I couldn’t put it down! Every time I came to the end of a Darcy chapter, I was dying to know what would happen next. Then I’d be treated to a Lizzie chapter––and finish that one feeling the same way. This back-and-forth momentum kept me turning the pages. It’s one of those books you read so quickly, you almost wish you’d slowed down to savor it a bit more (especially the quirky details about the YA world).
3. Dual stories can be risky.
Though the two-intertwined-books structure has its definite advantages––like the suspense-building effect––it’s also risky. There’s always the chance that readers will find one protagonist more compelling than the other. (Anyone else get impatient in sections of LOTR, craving a Sam and Frodo chapter?) In this case, despite Lizzie’s nascent superpowers and her strange trips to the underworld, Darcy’s story is more vivid, and just plain more fun. At the book’s end, we’re left wanting to know more about Darcy (and wondering if Untitled Patel could mean a shot at a sequel), but Lizzie is easier to forget, somehow––perhaps because we’re twice removed from this character in a story in a story.
Want to chat more about Afterworlds? Find me on Twitter: @beckererine.