A Series on Series

 

I knew when I started writing my first full length novel that it would be part of a series…and that’s the extent of what I knew up front.  Everything else I had to find out the brain wrecking way via lengthy revisions, months of editing, plotting, and re-plotting.

Don’t be me.  Friends don’t let friends write a series – without sharing a little intel. In this series on writing a series, I will share what I’ve learned the hard way in hopes of preventing gray hairs and headaches.  Each post will feature a different lesson. For specifics, I’m going to talk about a paranormal trilogy, but the points are applicable to any grouping of novels that connect/have reoccurring characters/are multiple books telling one continuous story.

#1 Key Thing You Do Before Writing a Series:

Develop EVERY character you think will be in the series, even the ones that won’t do much for awhile.

You can tweak as you go, but once that character has a solid trait in book one, you better have a damn good reason for changing it in book 2 or your readers will revolt.  How many of us have read the stoic, hard assed detective/demon hunter/spec ops guy in books 1 thru 4, only for him to turn coat on us in Book 5 and become a mushy romantic that cries at a picture of puppies?

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but not by much! You know what I mean because I bet you’ve read it. It’s frustrating and can easily ruin an entire book for the reader.  Don’t do that.

Instead, know your characters.  Get all up in their business because it’s your business. This goes beyond GMC. Some of the details are deep and useful, some of them may be shallow and useless – but you still need to know all of it, just in case. I like to make a chart of personal and physical characteristics because that way I can keep up. Even if it’s something I may never use, I need to know it.  Here’s a small piece of what you might have on a chart:

Height, Weight, Hair, Eyes

6’2”, 185, Sandy blonde, big brown puppy dog eyes

Car

1970 Chevy Chevelle, Green

Dialect

Southeastern US. Says “y’all” and “hey”

Loves

Food, all of it. Whiskey over ice. Football. Horses. Comedies. The heroine.

Hates

Being shot at, being hungry.

Favorite Food

Shrimp in any fashion

Music

Southern & Classic Rock

Biggest Fear

Not being around or being incapable of saving those he loves

Biggest Wish

To do something right without causing complete chaos

TV show loves

Top Gear, Airplane Repo, Big Brother  & Survivor (b/c it’s someone else’s drama)

TV show loathes

Real Housewives of anything, Operation Repo – b/c there’s no way that sh*t is real.

Religion

Raised Baptist. Now a more liberal view of the world, but still considers himself Christian. Believes in heaven and hell.

The list goes on and on because these little things could help you understand your character’s reaction to a situation two books from now.  Sometimes we know our characters in our bones, but other times we think we know them, but end up hitting a wall because we’re wrong.

So let’s say it’s not even example chart guy’s book.  It’s three books after his and another main character is possessed and wigging out.  You’ve hit a wall on how the supporting characters will handle it. You can go back and think “How would a good ole Southern boy – raised in church by his grandmother, hates being shot at and fears screwing up and not being able to save his loved ones – react when his best friend is possessed by a demi-god and is waving a gun around at him and his new wife?”

It’s not a clear cut answer and you may or may not know exactly how he’d handle it.  If you hit that wall, refer to your charts. Get down to the nit and grit and see the scene through their eyes and their background. THEN you’ll know how each character will handle the situation.  Furthermore, it will feel right to the reader.  Organic, genuine – whatever you want to call it – the reader will know that you didn’t just whip out a plot device or reaction because you have no idea who your characters are.

Sometimes your plot will take off in directions you never predicted (mine often takes off on its own), but you can always find your way if understand your characters.  Then you can let them lead and all you have to do is keep up!

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