Writing A Series
To the shock of absolutely no one reading this, it turns out that writing a series isn’t easy. I’m now on book 4 of the Hellequin Chronicles and making notes for book 5, and there are plenty of things I’ve learned over the course of the series that I shall now impart for your reading pleasure. Or to enjoy the warm glow from my misery, it’s up to you.
1. You need to have a good idea of the number of books you’re going to write.
It doesn’t have to be exact. You can say 4 or 5 and do 8, but saying it’s going to be 3 books and you write 30, is probably going to mean a lot of extra work when you realise your life now consists of one series.
I always knew how many books the Hellequin was going to be. That number has grown by a few, but it’s still in the right ball-park. And no, I’m not going to say the number in case it changes. Let’s just go with many for now.
Having a number means you have a rough idea about how it ends. Which brings me on to.
2. You know how it ends.
From a personal point of view, I had to know how the series ends. Yes, that ending is capable of change, and adding new characters to the series means there’s always going to be a difference from your original view, but you should at least have a good idea of how you’re going to end the whole thing. Getting to book 6 and realising you have no more story to tell, but no idea how to end it, probably isn’t going to endear you to your readers a whole bunch.
Also, if you have an idea how it ends that makes it easier to drop hints about future plot points. I’ve learned that people like hints, they hunt for them and even the smallest thing will become fodder for discussion.
3. Spreadsheets are your friends.
I’ve used Excel most of my adult life. That might be the least interesting sentence I’ve ever written, but Excel is a beautiful thing when it comes to writing a series. The last thing you want to do is get to book 3 or 4 and write something that contradicts what you wrote in book 1. Because when you do, people will notice.
I have 1 spreadsheet with 6 tabs open. Each one for a different book, containing each character for that book. It lists where they start in the book, where they finish and anything I need to remember. For every character. No matter how small a part they have.
It’s a lot of work, but it would be almost impossible to do it without.
4. Drop Hints.
See above. People love hints. I’ve got them in every book about where things are going. Just little things that I know will pay off later in the series, but for the moment don’t really mean much. The naming of a character not in the book, a throw away sentence or something a character sees. They’re great fun to sprinkle through the books, and even more fun to see people notice them and try to figure out what they mean. I’m cruel like that.
I use Aeon Timeline. This is mostly because Nate is 1600 years old and my memory for over 1000 years of history isn’t that great. Timeline software for any character is helpful. Knowing where a character was at a moment will help you if you’re going for an epic series.
6. Write Novellas/Short Stories.
I can’t tell you how many people have asked for novellas or little short stories between books. On the minus side, yes it’s extra work, but the plus outweighs it in my opinion. People get to keep your books in mind as they wait for the next one, and in my case I have a millennium to play around with, so I can set the novellas in periods of time that my main books won’t cover.
Also you can spotlight other characters, which is a fun way of adding depth to people’s favourite characters.
7. Each book should move the overall plot forward.
If you’re writing a series, each and every book should have a forward momentum to the overall story. It might not mean much at the time, but there should be changes, or introductions, to things that will impact later on.
Every single book should be able to be read as a standalone. Whatever you need people to understand for that book should be explained in that book. Sure, if someone has read the previous books in a series they should get more out of it, but if I pick up book 5, I should be able to understand the plot without needing to go to Wikipedia to figure out who a character is.
According to my editor this gets less and less of an issue the further in the series you get, but personally, I like the idea of making the books standalone. I want people to be able to pick up the new book and enjoy it, whether they’ve read the past ones or not.
9. You’re Gonna Piss People Off.
Accept it, do it anyway. Everyone has a favourite character, and as a writer your job is to create interesting stories people want to read. Sometimes that means screwing with a character people love. Actually scratch that, it usually means screwing with a character people love. Characters die, or do things people won’t like. You can’t please everyone, so don’t bother trying. Please yourself. Okay, that sounds weird.
Basically if you’re happy with it, others will be. If you pander to people because you don’t want to upset anyone, you’re going to be the author of the dullest books in the world. You think George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling would stop writing something because it would upset someone? Actually, George might do it just because it would, but that’s beside the point. You write the story you need to write.
10. Don’t Needlessly Piss People Off.
Seriously, don’t. Don’t get to book 4 decide you need to shake things up and massacre half the cast with no build up. Don’t get bored with a character so do something completely out of character for them just to give them something to do. Don’t make them suddenly idiots (unless there’s a reason). Don’t do things for the sake of it. Whatever you do to your characters, or have them do, has to have a point. It has to make sense. Killing off characters is fine, sometimes it’s even shocking, but killing off people over and over again becomes less shocking and more and more boring. Don’t make your books boring.
So, there’s 10 points to think about when writing a series. There’s a bunch more I imagine, but we’ll leave it there for now. Writing a series is a lot of work, mostly in preparation and remembering what happened where, but it’s also a lot of fun. I guess I should probably get back to it.