Monday, June 14, 2010

The Accidental Series

By Janet Miller/Cricket Starr

The subject of series came up recently at one of my local RWA chapter meetings and it made me think about the kind of series that I’ve written. There have been four of them so far, all of them in different worlds, and I’m working on a fifth one now.

I call these series “accidental” because for the most part the first book in the series was never intended to part of a series. They were stand-alone books that were well received and so I found myself expanding on minor characters to give them their own stories. This differs from “planned” series where the author maps out from beginning to end each book in the story arc in advance of the first book’s completion.

The most recent series I’ve created is called Memories Divine, about a fantasy kingdom called Gal and a goddess called Gillan D’Amatah who likes to meddle in other people’s love life through their dreams. The first tale was Memories To Come, a short story about a warrior chained and dying in an abandoned fortress, and Gillian’s visit to him to show him what his life would have been like if he’d just stayed with that village woman the goddess had put in his way years earlier. I had so much fun with the story that I wrote a companion short story called Memories Revised where a similar plot had the heroine of Memories To Come rethinking about that warrior she had been too timid to entice into her life. The stories dovetailed together at their ends with both heroine and hero having a happy ending.

For the third story I wrote Memories Undone, which will be released as a short novel on June 18th in ebook format, and in print along with the other two stories in an anthology called Memories Divine next month. Memories Undone is much longer and features a minor character from both the other two stories named Captain Albinan, a handsome nobleman with a scar and a lack of faith in love. His love interest is actually his long-estranged wife, and it begins with him receiving a letter from her ordering him back home. She is the princess of Gal and she thinks she needs to have a child to save the country...but the goddess comes into the picture and points out that perhaps everything is not as it seems to be.

Series exist for several reasons. Readers tend to like them. If they enjoy the world building in a book, they will look for more in the series because they want to see more of that world. If this is a character-based series with the same main characters, they want to see more of those characters. People pick up books in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series because they want to see what happens next to Stephanie, Joe, and Ranger.

If the series arc is about a group of people, such as a set of siblings or good friends, then readers want to see what happens to “brother John’s” character, introduced in the first book as someone scoffing over the idea of love, then falling in love himself in book three. With each book the author broadens their world to include a vast array of characters. Sometimes one or more minor characters are too colorful to forget and will actually spawn another series. Some authors can build entire career on these linked series.
Authors like to write series because dedicated fans will always pick up the next book of a series. It is as close to a guaranteed sale as you can get. You build one world and set of characters and then build a story around them...while this doesn’t mean the book will be easy to write, it can have advantages over writing in a brand new world every time.

The key to writing series, even if you end up doing by accident, is that once you know for sure that you are going to be writing more than one book you need to create an outline for the series. Something like a guide to how the books will relate to each other. If you have continuing characters (and you most likely will) you should create bios for them with at the very least name, description, and other details that you’ll need for the rest of the series. This can be done very simply, or in great detail, but it is far easier to have in one place the eye-color of your main character from book two rather than have to constantly be opening a copy of that book to look it up. If your character in book three never curses, it would not be a good idea in book six to have them swearing...unless you can explain it to the reader.

In general accidental series can work out okay, but it can be far better if you planned your series story arc in advance. If you don’t then be prepared to scramble together a series story arc that works with what is already out there, and do it fast because once that first book is out there the readers will be waiting for the next one...and the one after that.


Mona Risk said...

Janet, thank you for sharing your experience in writing series. Maybe we should think series whenever we write and leave room for expanding on characters or setting.

morgan wyatt said...

Often I'll read a book and think that a secondary character needs her own book. Has your series ever been in response to fan prompting?

Jill James said...

As a reader, I love series. I'm working on a story now that has two characters from the previous story. If I had known I would write a story about them I would have named them better in the first story. LOL

Janet/Cricket said...

Hi Mona, Morgan, Jill,

After my first accidental series I have kept in the back of my mind the idea that there might be a need for a new book so I do watch for characters that can get expanded, particularly if they start to get too much for the current book. I do hear from readers because of certain characters who just stood out too much and people want their stories.

For example there is this one character in my Gaian book Beloved Traveler, Sonia, who I was having so much fun with when she was captured by slavers and she fought her way free. I have heard from readers who want Sonia's story, but I haven't completed it yet!

Too many stories and not enough time.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

My first three stories are about sisters, but they also stand alone and are in different places that at the end all come together in my mountain community of Paradise Pines. Now I am still using the same community and adding characters. I also enjoy keeping the setting and people coming together. Good advice if I could only follow it...not to good at outlining. :(

Joanne said...

Interesting post about writing a series. I agree with Mona, we should probably always leave room in our manuscripts to expand on a series and give our secondary characters a chance to shine.