Vicki's Book News and Articles

Creating a Series

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 26, 2010

The prospect of creating a new series of novels can be both invigorating and intimidating.

Which it proves to be depends largely on how the writer’s mind works.  If s/he tends to get ideas for books in clusters, the process still isn’t easy, but it does seem to come more naturally.

Does that mean if you’re not a “cluster” book thinker, you can’t create a series?  Of course not.  It just means that you’ll need a method to do so that works in harmony with the way you do think.

What follows is my “cluster thinking” method.  It’s a process I’ve refined over seven series, four of which are published.  The remaining three are works-in-progress.

1. Decide what “theme” or element you want to carry through the series.  That could be a place, a person, or a theme.  For example, in the SEASCAPE series, the Seascape Inn, was the recurring setting.  The healing that happened there was a continuous plot element that was at the core of each of the books.  In the WAR GAMES series, the S.A.S.S. unit and the villain were the recurring elements.  Battling wits and terrorism were the recurring plot elements.
2.Draft your basic novel credentials.  Targeted market/genre?  Word Length, Number of Novels in the Series–all of  the general information required to construct the novels consistently and in harmony with the readership you hope to attract.  This helps the writer stay focused and also helps editorial and marketing when you shift to selling the series you’ve created.
3.Create your main recurring characters.  Who they are and what they do goes a long way in defining their conflicts–internal and external–and where they’re most apt to do those things.  Create character sketches on these main characters.  Spend some time with your Protagonist and Antagonist.  The more you know about them, the more they feed your individual novel plots.  That includes tone and setting, or physical aspects as well as emotional ones.  Include a brief physical description (or photo representative of the character), their goals, internal and external conflicts and whatever it is that motivates them to act.  You should also know what they love and hate and why as well as their personal history.  All of those things are fodder that generate plots.
4.Create your secondary recurring characters.  Likely you’ll have a few in roles as mentor, confidant, friend, who will play pertinent secondary roles in multiple books.  Get to know them so that they too are distinct.  Other secondary characters will be added to the existing ones as the series progresses.  Be sure to add them to your sketches to save yourself a lot of time and trouble trying to find what you’ve written about them previously.
5.Create your recurring settings.  As well as the physical location (I draw a map) you need to keep track of recurring specific settings, such as the layout of a house, an office, or whatever building(s) appear in many of the novels.  For example, if you’re writing medical thrillers and the hospital is used repeatedly, then draft out the floor plan and what is located where.  This will keep you consistent within the novel and from book to book.
6.Create a brief overview of each of the novels in the series.  Two or three pages that focuses on each novel, paying particular attention to characters, conflicts, and resolutions.  Think of this as an expanded book cover blurb.   By doing this work at once, you can better set up for future novels and include elements that create firm foundations for future conflicts.

Check your character arcs for consistency and character growth.
Determine whether or not you want an over-arching conflict.  One that appears in some form in each of the novels but isn’t resolved until the end of the last book.   This might be a villain who appears to be caught in each book but proves to still be on the loose (as in my WAR GAMES series).  Or like in my LADY books, a villain who attempts an attack, is stopped in the novel, but the villain isn’t apprehended.  In a romantic series, you might have a secondary couple’s relationship build over several novels in the series and then do a book where they’re the main characters.  If you can build in related elements such as these, you more closely connect the series and readers do tend to like that.  The caveat, however–and it’s a significant one–is to make sure each novel is a complete and satisfying read standing alone.
Why is that so significant?
Some series catch on after a few books.  Readers begin reading with book 3 or book 4 and then go back and read the first two or three.  So it’s imperative that a reader new to the series in book three or four not be lost.  If they can’t follow the story, or there are so many characters they can’t follow along, you’ve greatly diminished the odds that they’ll enjoy this book and all but assured they won’t seek out the previous ones.
As you’re writing the novels, add to the listing of specific characters and settings you’ve used.  Let those sketches in your novel notebook be liquid and fluid aids.  Yes, it takes a few minutes to jot down what you’ve placed where.  But it’s far easier to flip open the notebook and check the sketch than it is to thumb through the books to discover that information.
I mentioned the notebook.  A novel notebook is a 3-ring binder where I keep everything that has anything to do a novel/series.  It’s all together and organized so I don’t waste time looking for stuff I can’t find, which tries my patience.  If your patience gets tried by this, you might want to run to my online library and take a look at the article HOW-TO-BUILD A NOVEL NOTEBOOK.   It’s a simple system that’s worked very well for me for a long time.  When the book or series is done, I just empty the notebook into a big envelope and label it, and everything is together and the notebook is ready for the next wave!
Creating a series can be daunting, but it can also be a lot of fun.  Its challenges are just the type to intrigue and invigorate writers.  One of the biggest challenges is that we’re eager to get started and we don’t want to slow down and do background work that no one will see except us.  But in that work hides many time-saving hours.  So I hope you’ll invest in it.  It will spare you grief.  And I hope these tips on creating a series are ones of value to you.
©2008, Vicki Hinze


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