Planning a Series

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Ask the Author: James Earls (via Facebook) Do you write on Sundays (that is, do you have a weekly day off?)

Aaron: I don’t write on Sundays unless I’m on a pretty tight deadline. I try to protect my weekends as much as I can for my family. That being said, if that’s the only day I can write, then I write on that day.

AL: I have had times when I had to work seven days a week to meet obligations but I generally consider that a result of bad planning on my part (or lack of discipline). My first military adventure with then Capt. Struecker came to me late in the process. I had to write the book in six weeks so I was putting in overtime from the get-go. Generally, I try to do no work on Sundays. I often do some work on Saturdays, but that’s because I bore easily. Most writers I know believe that a day off every week makes them better and more efficient during the rest of the week.

MJ: I try to write every day. To me, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, if I’m inspired, I have to write. I have a lot on my plate, and I have a few plates, so I try to write whenever I can. Sometimes that means just a sticky note to pay attention to later, sometimes that means taking the phone off the hook and really hunkering down. In a perfect world, I would write and edit every day. To be honest, I probably only write an average of every other day, so I try to take advantage of my quiet, go-nowhere Sundays.

PLANNING AND EXECUTING A SERIES

  • Several types of series:
    • Traditional series
      • These feature a consistent story line (a central conflict) that is broken up over several books.
      • Characters are recurring. Some may live, some may die.
      • Jack Cavanaugh did a series of nine books called The American Family Portrait Series (http://jackcavanaugh.com/american-family-portrait-series/). The McGuffin (the catalyst of the story) is a family Bible that is handed down through generations beginning in Puritan England and continuing to contemporary times. The Bible is linked to the Morgan family, so there is always a Morgan involved but characters don’t repeat. It’s a new Morgan each time. So, a series can be linked by some other than characters.
    • Recurring Characters
      • Often seen in mysteries, this features a particular protagonist in a series of stories that are not necessarily connected.
      • Think Sue Grafton’s alphabet series starring Kinsey Millhone. I believe she’s up to X in the alphabet.
      • Think Dean Koontz, not known for series work, Odd Thomas books.
  • How series work in the real world of publishing:
    • A successful series can last a long time (again Sue Grafton, Clive Cussler, many others). Publishers like that.
    • But series are notorious for falling sales with subsequent books.
    • Readers like series because they already know the main characters, or the hook (as in Cavanaugh’s case). This is why there are so many movie sequels.
    • Publishers usually want to sign an author for more than one book. If they love the first book, they may want the second and third book to be in the same series.
      • Sometimes they contract the the first book by title and then add two books to be named later.
      • If I thought I had a story that could span several books, I always included a brief synopsis (a paragraph) of other storylines. Madison Glenn Mysteries, Struecker books, JD Stanton adventures, and Perry Sachs adventures.
        • I still get requests for more books in those series.
  • Pops–How did you plan J. D. Stanton? Struecker Books?
    • The J.D. Stanton series came about in an odd way. I was proposing a different book but included A Ship Possessed to give the publisher another thing to say yes to.
    • J.D. Stanton, a retired navy captain, returns in each book, as does a secondary character. The first book set the stage for those that came after. Each book had to have…
      • A weird object with supernatural qualities.
      • An Twilight Zone feel to the story.
    • The Struecker books didn’t originate with me. Jeff had the basic idea, team, and goals for the series. I created that book and carried the team over the next four books.
      • The location changed in every book.
      • The team changes some in each book, but certain characters appear in each book.
  • How I planned Hand of Adonai:
    • I was a discovery writer. I wrote it as a stand alone book, then went back and expanded.
    • The first book became the central story arc, but as I fleshed it out, the world and characters changed so much, the original story no longer worked.
    • Revised the story arc, created a new outline (very rough).
    • Outlined the final book in the series.
  • Planning your story arc
    • Approach this the same way you would plan a book. You want a consistent story arc. What does the character want? What stands in the way?
      • First determine what will tie the series together. A magical ring, a setting, etc.
    • The Three Act Structure works well here. You can have a book per act, if you want. (Although your book must also have plot points and acts.)
    • Each act in the series should have it’s own story arc. It should also introduce a larger part of the world.
    • Think of Star Wars:
      • Episode 4 — (stand alone)
        • Story Arc: Destruction of the Death Star
        • Larger World: The Force
      • Episode 5 — (unresolved conflict)
        • Story Arc: Destruction of the second Death Star (unresolved)
        • Larger World: The Jedi
      • Episode 6 —
        • Story Arc: Destruction of the second Death Star (resolved)
        • Larger World: Rebuilding the Jedi
  • Plan your Story World
    • Know your setting. Put some time into this.
    • The bigger, the better.
      • Star Wars has a near infinite galaxy to support several side-stories.
      • Lord of the Rings has had several other works written that take place in “Middle Earth.”
    • Be specific. Think of:
      • Flora and fauna
      • Science
      • Economy
      • Politics
      • History
      • Etc.
  • Plan your characters
    • A cast of protagonists (likely with one or two primary). The more protagonists, the more pages.
    • Which characters are in which books? Some books may not feature all of your characters. Some will make an entrance in later novels. Some show up early and leave early.
    • Antagonists are just as important. You should have one (or two primary)
  • Plan your timeline and paths
    • Send some people away. Follow different story threads. Let them explore their own character arcs.
    • Know what happens when. Juggling multiple storylines, things can get confusing. Have something to reference.

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