Saturday, June 12, 2010

So you want to write a series…

Whether with another writer, a group of writers, or just your very own special series just for you (well, and your readers!), there are certain things you must be prepared to do. World building is a must – whether you’re working by yourself or with others. Your first consideration should be continuity. What time period will you be writing in? If you’re working with other writers, you must decide on what commonalities your works are going to have – are you going to set all your stories in the same town, in the same hotel or restaurant, or nightclub? Are your characters going to interact with the characters of the other stories? If so, you have to come to some understanding of the other author’s writing process and figure out how your characters are going to interact and how often.

You need to track when a character mentions parents, hometowns, siblings, etc. A series is really a type of soap opera when you think about it. Characters in the same place who may or may not interact with one another. An interesting example of a crossover is J.R. Ward's new Covenant series. In the first book, a character from her previous series makes an appearance. It's subtle and you have to have read the first series (Black Dagger Brotherhood) to get the reference. But trust me, if you have readers who have read the other books, they will notice when the heroine of your fifth book is the sister of the hero of the first book who said in book one he only had brothers.

If you’re doing your own series, there’s still plenty of world building that must be done. You have to decide on the “rules” of your world and then stick to them or the readers WILL call you out on that. Want to write a vampire story with a twist? Better use that twist but don’t forget what it is! Want to set all your stories in the same town? Don’t move any building from one story to the other unless it’s part of your plot to have disappearing buildings or blow something up!

One thing to do to preserve continuity is to have a character from a past book do a cameo in another book. This will do two things at the very least. It anchors your new book in your world. Plus if someone is reading out of order (and we all do that at some point), it will alert them to past books hopefully encouraging them to pick up some backlist.

Series shouldn't try to reinvent a wheel that was created in the first book. That's why a bible is important. No, not that Bible. In this case a bible refers to important story pieces that you need to remember.

In our Lusting Wild series, we have a several groups of shifters. Our bible includes listing who is in which Pack. For instance there's the Compound Pack who cause quite a bit of trouble in Changing Times and Changing Hearts, books one and two in the Lusting Wild series. But by book three, Changing Focus, the Compound Pack has shifted (you should pardon the pun) towards a more law-abiding pack although they still have one or two control issues that the hero of Changing Focus, has to deal with.

When you are writing a series, you really want to make sure that you provide enough clues for the next character's story as well. We recently got a comment on our publisher's page regarding a supporting character from book three. The reader was hoping his story would be next. We have good news for that reader. Gareth's story is definitely one we will be working on. Book three also re-introduced a were-leopard lawyer character who had a small role in book one and a minor character from book two, a member of the Compound pack, who is a wolf as well as a lawyer. The interaction between them intrigued us enough to start plotting their romance as well.

Currently, we are working with a group of fellow Ellora's Cave authors on a new multiple-author series. This particular series will have only two common elements-a phone number and a private club. The stories will be contemporary erotica with a BDSM twist. We have all worked on the concept and common characters as well as shared our synopses for each of the books. The next step is putting a proposal together to pitch to The Powers That Be aka our Editor-In-Chief. Our hope is that she will like the series idea enough to give it the thumbs up. Then we have to write the books individually. The process will be the same in that we have to submit them to an editor, but because they will tie into one another, we plan to have a group marketing effort.

A good example of this type of multi-author series is the Crimson City series. Authors Liz Maverick, Marjorie Liu, Jade Lee, Patti O'Shea and Carolyn Jewell all wrote manuscripts within this world. Their paranormal world featured a cast of races that allowed the authors to delve into their favorites while pulling in cameos from other characters in other books. It was so well-done that there is a rumor that Crimson City may be making a comeback.

So do you read series? If you do, what do you like best about them? Do you catch small mistakes from a secondary character's emerald green eyes suddenly becoming ice blue in the fourth book? Why do you read series? Do you prefer single titles to series? Considering all of this will help you become a better series writer if that is your goal.


Janet/Cricket said...

Hi Marilu,

I loved your post about series. In fact mine on Monday will be about the same topic with a slightly different perspective.

When I read I often will read an entire series one at a time, particularly if it is something that was written a while ago so I can buy all the books at the same time. Then I just work through them and enjoy how each book builds the world a little more.

Someday I'll have to look into doing a multi-author series like Crimson City, or my favorite, the earlier 2176 series.

Jill James said...

I love to read series books. I love staying with the characters for a long time. Although I hate to read books where in Book 1 it ended with happily ever after and I open Book 2 to read it is six months later and the h/h are apart because of a, b, or c reason.
That is just too soap opera-y.

Mona Risk said...

Good advice Marilu. I will save your post. I love reading series but the one I write-- Doctor's Orders-- is not excatly a conventional series. The only thing my books have in common is the fact that heroes and heroines are doctors.

Marilu Mann said...

Hi Janet,

I know just what you mean about reading the whole series at once - I'm often tempted to do that if my favorite authors have a series, but frequently find myself unable to wait for them all to come out before I start reading the first one! LOL


Marilu Mann said...

Hi Jill,

I TOTALLY agree with the whole 'they're happy now, but wait for book 2' thing. However, if a character has an UNhappy ending in a book, I'm all for them finding their HAPPY ending in another book!

We did that with a minor character in our Lusting Wild Series. His name is Nolan and his story in Changing Times is not a happy one, but he gets a happy ending in our free short read, Changing Perspectives. :)


Marilu Mann said...

Hi Mona!

With the multi-author series we're currently involved in, the only continuity points are the mysterious club and some of the people who work there.

All of the authors involved in this planning stage (we don't yet know if it's been approved by the publisher), are writing very different stories, but we're all using the same mysterious club and a "help" line phone number. :) Should be very interesting to see where everyone's stories go!


Janet/Cricket said...

On the subject of forcing the HEA characters apart in the second book... if you are writing Romance, DO NOT DO IT!

I sat next to a published author at an RWA dinner a long time ago who had recycled her hero from the first book in her second, killing off the first heroine and making him a widower to give him a new love interest. The negative feedback from her readership was so bad she had to change her writing name and start over in her career.

You don't mess with the HEA, not unless you want to get hate mail from your readers.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

I prefer to read series. I like meeting characters from earlier stories again. With my favorite series, like JR Ward's 'Black Dagger Brotherhood' or Jessica Andersen's 'The Final Prophecy', I re-read the first books when the new books come out so I'm more involved with the series arc.

Good luck with your series. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love writing books in a series, especially when each book involves someone else in the same family. And I write what I like to read. I like to know what happens next to the people in this place, in this family.