This week we have a guest post from Beth Overmyer, author of The Goblets Immortal, mentioned in our last episode. The sequel to Goblets hits the stands on February 16. It’s thus a timely moment to take a look at the special complications of writing a series.
Take it away, Beth!
Writing a Series — Beth Overmyer
There are many things to take into consideration when writing a series. Will it be two books (a duology)? Or maybe it’s going to be a serial, books that pick up right after one another and could be slapped together as a single volume (The Lord of the Rings, anyone?) How do I keep track of all my information? Where do I even get started?
Let’s start at the end . . . of the first two books in a trilogy, that is.
Some writers advocate that it’s important to know where your book/series is headed. If you aim at nothing, they reason, that’s what you’ll get. Knowing the ending of the series before you pen page one of book one can be helpful and gives you something to reach toward. When I was writing The Goblets Immortal books, however, I had only a distant idea of what I was aiming toward. Not necessarily a clear target, but an emotional note I wanted to end on.
There are different types of endings, and each book in the series might have a different one. Book one might be a HEA (happily ever after) or a HFN (happy for now), while book two might be a cliffhanger, and the final book might end in a tragedy. I don’t necessarily recommend this path, however. Despite liking surprises, readers also tend to want consistency from the author.
And I don’t recommend making every book a cliffhanger. A lot of readers don’t like them. A cliffhanger, of course, leaves the characters in a crisis. The reader might be frustrated that they have to wait a whole year (or more!) to find out what’s going to happen next. Also remember your genre’s expectations. Fantasy endings can vary, but a romance or F&SF romance needs a HEA or a HFN.
Let’s take a look at the endings of one series’ first and second installments.
Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope
The end of the story sees the episode’s main conflict resolved (the Death Star is blown up), but there are enough loose ends (Vader’s alive, the Emperor’s out there, Imperial Troops abound) left to keep things open for future installments. Yet this movie could very much be a standalone. Many Book Ones wrap things up to a greater degree than Book Two.
Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The near-end offers up a few surprises, but the very end (Han is spirited away on a bounty hunter’s ship) sets up the opening conflict for the next movie. This movie is less of a standalone, but it could be watched and understood without watching the first movie.
“But how do I keep track of all my information?” I hear you ask. A very good question. One simple way to solve this: reread the first book/s in your series before you write the next installment. Not only will this give you a refresher course on the details of the story, it will put you back in that world and remind you of the voice you’re writing in.
It’s impossible to keep every detail about every character (appearance, personality, catchphrases, etc.), location, event, and timeline in your head . . . especially if you’re a pantser or plantser and haven’t written all the details out. Once book one’s been written, it might be a good idea to put together what is known as a series bible. In fact, it might be better to develop one as you go along.
A series bible is a document full of details from the books in a series. When you have a question about a character’s appearance, flip back to their page and look it up. Forget the name of a town? Flip back to the locations section of your bible.
When I started writing book two in The Goblets Immortal series, I already had notes on each Goblet Immortal, what that Goblet did, where it originated, where it was at the end of book one, and other important details. I also had a few character notes.
We’ve looked at endings and keeping track of details. But how does a writer even get started with a series?
Let me start by giving you permission: you are allowed to write out of order. If you have an idea for a scene later down the road, jot down notes or go right ahead and write. You can always revise it to fit your opening better later on.
As with writing any other book, follow your preferred method. Are you a plotter? Write an outline for book one, and jot down notes for the books that will follow. Are you a pantser? Roll up your sleeves and dig in. Plantser (a mix of a plotter and a pantser)—jot down some notes and get started writing.
The best thing to do, besides getting some experience under your belt, is to read and study other series. What did you like about your favorite trilogy? What made you stop reading your least favorite one? Don’t make their mistakes, but emulate their triumphs—without outright copying, that is.
Another word of advice: keep a running list of questions that need to be answered in later books. If a missing magical knife is mentioned in book one but is not referenced again in book two, remind your audience of it before its grand appearance in book three. I have a document titled “Loose Ends,” and I highlight things in green once I’ve taken care of them. Things I’ve mostly taken care of, I highlight in yellow. Things that I’ve decided to let go of, I cross out.
So, there you have it. There are some good resources out there on series writing, though not as many as you would think. For your reading pleasure, might I suggest trying: How to Write A Series: A Guide to Series Types and Structure plus Troubleshooting Tips and Marketing Tactics (Genre Fiction How To Book 2) by Sara Roset, and Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner.
Thanks, Rick, for hosting me!
Keep your nose in a book and your pen on the page,
Beth’s Web Site