WRITING A SERIES – THE DECISION TO WRITE A SERIES
As a fiction writer the decision to write a series should not be made lightly. Writing a series is different from writing the standalone novel. It is a commitment to a set of characters and a pledge to portray them and their story through the series with the same diligence and enthusiasum as the first novel. Writing a series is a marathon not a sprint.
With a single novel there is the beginning, the middle and the end, then you are done (wow if it were really that simple). On the other hand, a series contains novels tied together by a continuing or reoccurring theme.
There are two types of series: serialized and formula.
In a serialized series the first book leads to the second which leads to the third. This type of series has an over reaching storyline which ties through all the books. The Divergent series is a good example of this; each book brings the reader closer to finding out the truth behind the system.
In a formula series the books do not rely on the book before it for understanding. They often follow a character or a group of characters. Mysteries such as detective novels fall into this category.
No matter which type of series you write, certain guidelines are the same.
Don’t assume that a person reading your second or third novel in a series has read the previous books.
The individual novels should be written in such a way that if a reader picks up any book in the series they find a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. There also needs to be enough background from the previous books so the reader coming into the series in a point other than the beginning can follow along without getting lost. At the same time it is important not to beat the reader who started in the beginning over the head with backstory they already know. If done well the new reader should have no idea they have missed the beginning of a series.
This happened to me – I was on the Long Island Railroad heading home from work reading my then ‘keep in briefcase’ novel, Petals in the Wind by V C Andrews. I was a little more than halfway through it when the woman sitting across from me said, “Didn’t you just love the first book?” What, there was a first book? I had no idea. Of course I stopped reading then and went to the bookstore and purchased Flowers in the Attic the moment I got off the train. In reading the first book I realized how well she had weaved just enough backstory into the second book to catch me up and left out all the things I really didn’t need to know to enjoy book two.
I recently read the second book in a series being written. The writer did a very nice job bringing in the necessary backstory and leaving out the parts of the first book which were not needed. There was only one problem – she forgot that since the reader may not have read the first book she should have given the reader a bit of the main character’s history. In the series the main character is hard of hearing and refuses to admit it. This leads to some confusion and misunderstanding in her life, both hilarious and devastating. Without that knowledge the reader of the second book would have no choice but to see her as flighty and unfocused, two words the reader of the first book would never use to describe her.
THE THEME THAT TIES THE BOOKS TOGETHER
No matter if you are writing a trilogy of three books or a series that will go on until you decide you don’t want to write it anymore. there must be a theme that ties the books together. Depending on the series, the theme can be elaborate as the Harry Potter series or Star Wars or as simple as following a professional such as an FBI agent, lawyer or forensic expert in their career.
When I began writing my RACHEL SHORTE mystery I had no idea I was going to make a series out of it. To be honest in the original book RACHEL was a secondary character who didn’t appear until the second half of the book. Once I decided to make her the main character I knew that she was a strong enough character to develop a series around. As an attorney in a legal mystery story I can put her in many situations. The underlying theme is entwining compelling who-done-its with unique legal arguments. Through the series the reader will follow RACHEL as her career takes interesting turns and her personal life spins in and out of control.
My REESE MILLRIDGE novels follow the MILLRIDGE family, a unique combination of four adults, through changing dynamics in the home and an out of the house life where mystery seems to find them. I never would have considered this a series when I started the first book. However, while writing it another story involving them came to me and I had to jot down a few notes, about fifty pages of notes. I was back writing the first book when it dawned on me that a character I intended to introduce in the second book would really lead well to a third.
When writing a series you need to know where your character have been and where they are going. I find the best way to keep on top of my plot structure is to write a plot outline. This way I know what the overall story is and what needs to be put in each book. I have two intertwining outlines for both of my series.
The RACHEL SHORTE series is mystery driven – for me that means that the core of the story is the mystery along with her professional life and her personal life is secondary. My main outline covers the legal issue that she will be involved in – the argument she will put forth and that of the prosecution (and whether or not she will win). The secondary outline deals with the changes she will go through with her family and friends (and foes).
REESE MILLRIDGE is a character driven story meaning the relationships between the characters drives the story and the mysteries they encounter, through no fault of their own, are secondary to their relationships.
From book two on in both series I include in the outline what I will need to cover from the previous books to bring any new reader up to date.