Sunday, October 5, 2014

Writing a Series -- Internal Controls

Today we will delve into Internal Controls. Characters.

Characters are the people who live inside our heads. In almost every story, there are two main characters. In writing a series, you don't have just one in your head at any given time, you have four or five.


Developing characters for a series is a big undertaking. So, say you have a great story right now. And you have these awesome secondary characters that you want to spin. That's two more books. But then, there are these other characters you could add, and do a little more spinning, and now you have five stories. We'll stop there for now.

How many main characters do you have for each story? Sherlock & Watson or Miss Marple? Romeo & Juliet? Depending on the genre, between 1 - 10 .  (under the presumption we're writing 5 stories)

Who are the secondary characters? The crew of the Starship Enterprise. The Hardy Boys? Nancy Drew? How many for each story? Is one couple going to spin off another couple? Is one murder going to spin off another homicide? Is the first story as a stand-alone able to do some spinning? (And further on in this writing series, we'll touch on the "structure" of publishing a series from a marketing standpoint.)

Now that you've thought about those questions, you can think about these.

Do you want to write 5 novels? You already have the first one written. How long did it take you to write it? How long will it take you to write the other four? Three? Two years? Six months apiece? (Unless you are the NaNo Champion every month. More power to you.)

Novellas? If you've never written a novella, they're generally very fast paced, with one very crucial problem solved, and (in my genre) a happily ever after ensues. (I can generate 35k in about four weeks. Another four weeks in revisions and edits. Another two for one last read-through.)

So now you have 5 stories you want to write to form a series. That is (for the sake of argument we're writing romance) 10 people. We'll start with the couple from the original book. Susie and Joe.

Susie's best friend is Abby. Joe's best friend is Bob. Bob is best friends with Larry , who has a twin sister Linda, and Linda's best friend Carol's brother, Steve is best friends with Gary and Ron, who have two sisters Amy and Jen.

Did you get that? In terms of characters, (which leads into Settings somewhat) Larry and Linda are part of a "family" (third tier characters) Carol and Steve, and Gary, Ron, Amy, and Jen. That's three different third tier characters (parents, other siblings, relatives, the mailman, pets, coffee guy). And do your main characters all "hang-out" together, or "work" together? More third tier characters n that "community".

Can you see how complicated it can get?

Believe me when I tell you, when you get the "idea" --  Hey, I'll turn this into a series -- think about all the people you need to create before you really even write one word. You'll thank me later.

Okay, so on to the TOOLs section. Just like at Home Depot.

What do your characters look like?
Sound like? Wear? Work? Play? Live? Have family?

Some writers choose to do a character "sketch" or reveal, or work-up and keep that close at hand. Everything from hair and eye color, to where they went to high school and their birthdays. I'm more of a "visual" person. I find actors from movies to "become" my characters and keep everyone in a folder in My Documents. Other people use Pinterest boards, Evernote, Google Docs, or Scrivener.

There is no right or wrong answer to how you develop/find/create your characters, that all depends on your creative process. However, what I can tell you, is to make sure you know your characters very well, before committing them to the written word. (You run into problems when they're under-developed. Was that brown, or sandy brown hair? Who had the mustache? Or blue toes?)

I also have a dedicated "Name Bible". For every story I write, I put down the cast of characters, from the lord of the manor, to the lowliest cow in the barn. If they have a name, it gets written down. That way, you'll never use it twice. Take my advice. If you don't do this now, please start, especially if you want to write a series. It will simply make your life so much easier down the line. (I once had a cat and a butler with the same name. I had to change one of them. Guess who got to keep the name?*)

It helps too, to have a "characters" diagram (again on poster board or cork or in docs., whatever floats your boat) to link everyone together. Who does what to who. Who is related to who. Who likes/dislikes who. (I have photocopies of my characters on a cork board tied with brightly colored yarn linking them to each family. My daughter had a class project last year on genealogy.)  I also have several pieces of paper with diagrams of smaller family trees hanging on the wall as well. (Like I said, I'm a "visual" sort of person.)

(As an aside --- You really are going to need a plot outline (an outline that will "plot" the course of all the books in the series). I have mine diagrammed on a poster board but we'll get to that when we revisit Construction) This outline also helps if you're running a "theme" throughout the series. The "link" if you will remains focused. ( Internal Controls -- Plot devices, other spin-offs.)

As I keep saying, it takes a serious commitment to begin and end a series. If you want to have a successful series, the goal is to develop it well before hand. And some would say that takes away the "creativity" of the writing experience, but it doesn't really. No matter how well you outline, the characters always take off in a different direction. Don't they.

Think about your series. Think about your characters. Think about how everybody fits together. Write stuff down. Next week, I'm going to discuss Plotting a Series.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014

(* Brown, the kitten, in THE LADY'S FATE, got to keep his name once I found Manning for the butler.)


  1. I need a character analysis for my characters and a plot outline. It keeps me on course.

    Love this series, Anne. I do see some things that you mention which I already do, and others which I don't. Even though I write in a different genre, you guidelines are very useful. Thanks.

  2. D.G. -- I figure with any writer who reads this series, they would have their own way of doing things, however, by sharing what I have done, it might make someone else's life a little easier. Or give them another way to think about how they do things.

    Glad you're sticking around.


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