Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Word Witch Wednesday - brewing a book series


Deciding to write a series or a standalone book is tough. It's important to take your story idea and weigh the options. I'm going to assume you've already sat back and figured that out, and you want to write a series.

Book series are popular. Readers love to follow their favorite characters through all sorts of adventures. But there's nothing more disappointing than picking up the new book of one of your favorite series and finding the story fell flat. I've abandoned many series because the story faltered and the characters didn't grow.

Here are five tips to help you build a successful book series:

1) Make certain your story idea has enough juice to last through the whole series. If the plot flops after the second or third book, you're going to lose readers. Each book must have a solid story that can stand on its own and interconnect with the previous books. It helps if you're a plotter to plan the series. As a pantser, even I made certain when I was writing TOTEM, I had a solid story idea for each book before I started. Sure, those ideas were as simple as "they will search for the ____ totem in this book," but each one had a purpose in the overall plot.

2) Keep a story bible. Plotters usually have this started before they begin to write the first chapter. I keep notes as I go along. I mark down the basic plot points in each chapter and record character traits. It is also wise if you go back and read the previous books in the series before starting on the next one.

3) Don't limit your fictional world. You want to have room for growth. There will be rules and borders, of course, but a book series needs space to stretch and expand. Your characters might be trapped in a walled city, but there is a whole unknown world out there for you to continue on in if you want to do so.

4) Characters must grow. Characterization is vital to a series. Readers want the heroes they adore and the villains they loathe, but it wouldn't be realistic if the characters stayed the same throughout each book. Time has passed. A person will not be the same today as they were last year or even last month. Some internal issues we struggle with for years, but there will be little changes in attitude, a bit of wisdom gained, and possibly a fashion makeover.

5) Be able to let go. If the overall story arc comes to an end or if your individual story ideas disappear, know when to call it quits. I hate it when I read a series and it's the same plot over and over. "This love triangle has been going on for twenty books. Have the protagonist choose one already!" Sometimes it's tough to let go of characters and worlds we've come to love, but you'll fall in love again. That's one of the wonderful things about being a writer.

Have you written a book series? Do you plan to? What tips do you have to share?

29 comments:

  1. The last book should tie up everything that might not be resolved in the other books. It might not be a tidy knot, but threads started and abandoned are annoying. What happened already?

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    1. I totally agree. I want to go in those books and tie up those threads myself!

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  2. I have enough trouble writing a standalone! I can't even imagine how I would manage all the moving parts in a series. But, never say never, right? :)

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  3. Great tips! I keep telling myself to start #2 when I start writing a new series. It's time-consuming to create the story bible after a book or more are written. Heh.

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    1. Hehehe, so true! My OBaS series notes are all over the place in a notebook, but I know where what I need is. It would be chaos to anyone else!

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  4. Great tips! As someone who writes a continuous series with multiple point of view characters and plots, my advice would be: consider investing in Scrivener. :-D

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  5. I haven't written a series yet, but I'd like to. An example of one that fell flat for me was Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. I loved it in the beginning, and then it became something else entirely, and her writing actually went downhill. I thought Kelley Armstrong did a good job quitting the Women of the Otherworld series before it could fall flat, though I know some would disagree. I liked it ending with the character it ended with.

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    1. I agree with you about the Anita Blake series. LKH's Merry series did that too.

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  6. Great tips. Solid. Enjoyed Reading.

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  7. I had a four part series planned once. I had a notebook full of information for it that would have been helpful if I had actually written all of the books. They definitely couldn’t have all stood on their own.

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    1. You might want to go back to that notebook one day. ;)

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  8. Number 5 is important. There's been a few series I've read that fell apart because they kept it going after wrapping up a plotline.

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    1. I totally agree. Readers ask for more of my series, but I think right now, they're fine where they sit.

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  10. Okay, so I'll admit I'm bad about a story bible. I *used* to be able to remember things, hardy-har-har. Now I write it all down, and thank goodness for that (even if I somehow randomly start calling Aaron, Adam, in the last 20 pages...which my editor caught and I'm totally red-faced over!).

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    1. My mind used to be so much better too. So now my desk has a bunch of notepads and my wall calendar is gigantic so I can write stuff on it.

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  11. I just finished a series...by accident, so I did none of what you suggest. I know following your guidelines would have made it easier, and If I'm ever nuts enough to do this again, I'll make sure that I do.

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    1. *LOL* Love how you said you did it by accident!

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  12. Hi Christine - that story bible is an essential isn't it - but great tips for those that are considering a series. Cheers Hilary

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  13. Great tips! I've got a base plan for my four-book series: Discovery, Consequences, Responsibility, Recovery. With my other series, it's just going to self-encapsulated stories. Episodic really, meant to be read in any order.

    I think you've got a good hold on your serieses. :)

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    1. Thanks, Loni. I like the episodic ones and I've tried it both ways with series.

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  14. These are all great tips! I didn't realize I needed a story Bible until I was hip-deep in book 2 of The Champion Trilogy - whoa, trouble. I know have an evolving one with the series I'm currently writing.
    And, I completely agree with keeping the world open and not overdoing a plot point like a love triangle (agh, really, she can't see the one dude is a dud? syndrome). I did go to drastic lengths to avoid that in my first trilogy, and I'm currently writing a MG (I think) series so the 12-year-olds aren't really hooking up other than to look ... but I'm really trying to avoid the Bermuda triangle of plot-holes.

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    1. *LOL* I do hate it when one guy in the love triangle is so obviously wrong for the heroine and she won't just let it go!

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  15. The story bible has become so important for me as I work on book two in my series. I can see how easy it would be to get tripped up if you didn't document everything.

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    1. I've have my CPs catch me spelling main characters' names wrong. I had to start writing that stuff down!

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