Sunday, September 28, 2014

Writing a Series -- Introduction

Good Morning. If you've been thinking about spinning off from your first novel into a series, there are a few things to consider. Writing a series is a commitment  not only to the books themselves, but to your readers. If you're lucky, as soon as they finish that first book, they want the second, and the third and won't stop reading until you're finished writing.

Over the next couple of weeks on this blog,  I'll share my opinions and what information I've found that works for me in writing a series.

Today, there are three main areas, I'd like to discuss. Commitment, Construction, and Clarity.




Commitment

I'm not going to lie, I never thought I'd write a series of books that linked together. I had three stand-alone novels when I started looking for an agent. I had high hopes, and was rewarded with rejections, although several agents did consider my writing quite fine, they just couldn't place me with a publisher. The market was flush with my genre.

I wanted my work to be read. People were self-publishing as the old stigma of vanity publishing was lifted. I won't lie, I jumped on the bandwagon. Perhaps it was because Amazon had made it so easy, but three years ago, when I hit publish on A WIFE FOR WINSBARREN, and a few weeks later on THE LADY'S FATE, my whole life changed.

I was finally a published author.

Giddy with my new-found career, I worked on my other novels and proceeded to publish them in kind, along with novella length stories. Buy one for $2.99, and one for $.99. This marketing plan brought readers, and then fans, and I was moving right along on my next combination when I was FORCED to stop writing.

I couldn't write. Not that I didn't want to, I wasn't "blocked", I just could not find the TIME to finish the books. I also couldn't find time for social media and sales started to slip, then dip, and I had no idea what to do other than finish "something" and get it "out there". I had been publishing at a rate of three times per year, with either a novel or novella.

(Throughout the Reluctant Grooms series, I also published REMEMBERING YOU ~ a contemporary romance novel under my pen name, as well as several short stories, and other work for literary anthologies.)

I was frustrated as I watched other authors, my peers, publish steadily and gain higher rankings on the book lists. What could I do? I cried. I raged. I was so bloody angry. But there was nothing to be done, and I put my writing aside until my personal life gave me the time to finish my fifth novel.

It took almost nine months to complete, too late to recover from the landslide that was now my career. I picked up the pieces of both my personal and professional life, and took a vacation. Literally. I had blocked out six weeks for vacation this past summer, a "working vacation". I would write and nothing would stand in my way. My own personal NaNoWriMo. I wrote a 25K novella, and finished another 22K words on another manuscript I had started in March. Three weeks later I had two publishable novellas.

I told you that, to tell you this... You need to understand the commitment it will take to write, publish, and market a series. Depending on how fast you write, what you have on your back-list, under your bed and publishable, writing a series of books is a commitment of at least three years. Especially for a new writer.

Once you have ruminated on that thought, and are ready to jump in, we're on to the next decision you have to make.


Construction

Here are the questions I wish I had the answers to before I began writing my series.


How many books do you envision? How many plots do you have? (Hint * There are only twelve.)
How will they be linked? By family, circumstance, event?
Is this a wrap-around series, or a progressive timeline?
Is there one main character for the series? or one/two for each book?
Is there a theme to maintain throughout the series?
What length and genre are you writing in? (Hint * know the "rules")
How much research are you willing to invest in?


How many books do you plan on writing?
My first three novels were planned as a trilogy. Beginning, middle, end. The fourth came out of nowhere, and then I had a secondary character from the third novel who absolutely begged to be written, and that's how I came up with my fifth. A trilogy is by far the simplest of series writing. Beginning, middle, end. However, with short stories and novellas also comprising a body of work these days, a series could continue indefinitely.

How will they be linked? By family, circumstance, event?
In all my stories, Lady Olivia Leighton, the Duchess of Caymore, is the lynch pin that holds the Reluctant Grooms series together. She keeps family and friends in her especial favor, and all of my work centers around her meddling and interference with these characters. Successful links for series writing also include family members, friends, a place, a circumstance, a job, anything that unites the books in some way.

Is this a wrap-around series, or a progressive timeline?
I believe I have both of these aspects in my books. All of my novels include disparate parts of the others, characters or circumstances, that happen within the same time frame of the novel you happen to be reading. I call that a wrap-around timeline. My original timeline begins in Nov. of 1810 and follows the calendar until June 1812 through the course of seven novels. Each of my books also follow that continual timeline, which moves the characters through those particular twenty months.   June 1812 is finite. (An upcoming blogpost why I chose that date to end my series will reveal the answer.)Where does your series start, and where does it end? What about each of the books? You need to answer each of these questions before you commit.

Is there one main character, or one for each book?
I chose to include Lady Olivia in all of my books, but only as a secondary character. Each of my stories is a  traditional Regency > historical > drama > romance. Boy Meets Girl. What the boy does with the girl after the first meeting is why I write books. You may be writing about the last cyborg. Or Brady Bunch fan-fiction. It doesn't matter. Who are your people going to be?

Is there a theme to maintain throughout the series?
If you're that type of writer who can identify themes, by all means put one in. However, know that you need to keep it alive throughout each of the subsequent stories. My main theme is reluctant grooms. I have several underlying themes as well. When readers can identify them, they become fans.

What length and genre are you writing in?
I had written three novels before writing my first novella. I was going after a particular "market" before I realized the self-publishing dynamic gave us tremendous options. I know several cozy mystery authors who only pen 60,000 word novelettes. A paranormal writer I know puts out two novellas a month. A literary fiction author publishes one book a year. It's important to know the rules of the genre you're writing in and under what classification your writing falls.  Mine is Traditional Regency > historical > drama > romance. (With sub-categories of suspense, mystery, espionage, divorce, and old age. I don't write in the same genre as Georgette Heyer. Traditional Regency > historical > sweet romance.

How much research are you willing to invest in?
There is not a day that goes by that I don't get bogged down in research. Naturally, the genre determines how much you will need to know before you attempt writing in the first place, but no one really thinks about research when they get their first great idea. World Building =  Time, Weather, Food, Clothes, Housing, Flora, Fauna, etc. ad infinitum. And then there are the things you forget about = history, science, art, music, speech, philosophy. It's all about "authentic" voice, whether yours as writer, or yours as character. That takes research.

We will discuss the construction of a series in more depth as this writing series continues.


Clarity

I could not write my any of my books/stories/manuscripts without having visual aids. Thank Al Gore for the internet. Google Images is my best friend. So is Pinterest. I find having pictures of my characters and settings easier to bring other images to mind. I never know what I'm looking for until I actually find it.

(My character Davingdale has been portrayed on one of my Pinterest boards by Andrew McCarthy, the actor. He was never right for the character, and I knew it, but I hadn't found the right actor to portray Davingdale. One day, searching the web for a movie, I found a different movie, which turned into a google search for an actor, which turned into the picture you see now in its place.)

It's all about your vision and what you'll compromise on. (Nothing.)

With research come findings, and you need a place to put it all. Some people use Evernote.  Others find Scrivener easier. I tend to have scrap paper piles all over my desk and folders tucked inside folders in my pc. I also have three bulletin boards on an office wall, and two whiteboards keeping track of the calendar. I also built a genealogical family tree (in preparation for this last novel and the next series).

It takes a commitment to create a family tree.

How ever you find your muse, once you figure out what works for you, stick with it. If you have a vision, you might want to take the time now to make a comprehensive outline so that you can follow it successfully to its conclusion. How many books? Length? Genre? Characters? Themes? How long will it take me to realistically write 3, 6, novels? 2,4,6, novellas? Can I commit fully to this endeavor?



If you can, please join me next week. The topic for Writing a Series is Internal Controls: Characters, setting, plot, structure.

I look forward to seeing you.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014


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4 comments:

  1. Excellent information, Anne, and I was interested as I have something similar in mind but different genre, which was instigated by participating in Denise Covey's WEP challenges.

    Thanks for discussing the implications and the trials a writer will go through with something on this scale. Roland Yeomans (WRriting in the Crosshairs) also links his novels, and I find that ties me to the characters much more.
    I will follow all your posts on this topic. You explain it well.

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  2. Thanks D.G. Yes, Roland does link his stories. I've always liked the idea of a series, but never in a million years, thought it would encompass so much. I think I overdid it. But I also like the varied formats, novel/novella. You can go off on a tangent with a subplot if you wish. But we'll tackle that in "Construction".

    Thanks for hanging out.

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  3. It is hard to do a series and "Not Hard" at the same time.

    In a series, you have the time to fully develop secondary characters into real human beings -- even if you are writing fantasy.

    Having the years 1799 to the present to write gives me leeway for any number of stories. In fact, I am in the planning staqes of taking my band of friends to Ancient Egypt. Imagine Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde getting into trouble with the first female Pharaoh and her minions!

    A great post! :-)

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  4. Thanks Roland. Yes, that's what I like about series. Those secondary characters. They're sometimes better than the first.

    Yeah, 200 years should be enough for your stories. But then again. You might need a little more time.

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