Writing a series is a process…a long detailed process made easier with a little planning and documentation. Planning ahead is always a good idea. Ask anyone who’s ever lost their luggage or ran out of cash on a date. For series writers, planning ahead saves time and streamlines the process of writing books two and beyond. It’s important to remember writing a novel is a great accomplishment. Often, we write and write and write without stopping to admire our success. Many writers begin a novel and never finish. If you’ve finished, please pat yourself on the back. Congratulations on your magnificent tenacity and dogged determination. You did what few ever do. You are a novelist!
The amount of time and planning authors put into the story of their heart is unimaginable. Recreating your setting, plot and characters for future novels takes some serious planning. As readers fall in love with your world and the inhabitants, they will expect consistency in the books to come. Readers remember the details. If the author forgets a detail or changes it without explanation, readers will make sure the author and other readers hear about the error. Inconsistency in series writing is a mark against your books and, for some readers, against you as a writer. I don’t know about you, but I never want labeled as the author who didn’t know the details of her own stories, so I plan ahead. Sometimes obsessively, which I don’t recommend for everyone, but it works for me.
Where should you start? What kind of details are noteworthy? Short answers: 1. Start at the beginning. 2. All details are noteworthy. This is your amazing new series! You spent months of your life creating the characters, cultivating the dynamics and building their world. Those details are what makes your novel stellar and unique. You want to log all the details for future reference.
If you aren’t convinced you need to write anything down, consider this: How long did it take you to complete your story? How long will your manuscript be out on submissions? Assuming the manuscript (Book One) is picked up by a publisher, how long before it hits shelves? Often times, the timeframe between submission and publication takes years. Years. What will you write in the meantime? It’s not uncommon for an author to begin a new book (not a sequel) while waiting for news on Book One. I do. I’m always writing and I rarely begin book two in a series before contracting book one. Hey, noveling takes endless hours, sweat and tears. Until Book One sells, I spend my time writing other stories that might sell. If you do this too, then you see the problem. A year after you finish Book One, and have written another novel or two, how can you expect to remember the details? Even if you write your sequels back to back, it’s easy to forget the head librarian’s name or hair color when she pops up again in Book Three.
Where to Start
Reread Book One. I know. Cringe. Retreat. How many times have you read those words? It feel like a hundred by the time the novel is ready for submissions, not to mention rounds with your agent, revision letter from the acquiring editor, line edits, copy edits. I understand. I know you don’t want to read Book One again, but it’s a great idea and it’s Step One. So, you must. Rereading is especially important before writing a sequel because rereading puts you back in the main character’s headspace and reminds you of the tone and voice of the character.
Use the time you spend rereading to the fullest by taking notes. Keep lists or make spreadsheets of people, places and things. Ideally, do this as you write or plot Book One, but if you’ve already finished Book One, make notes during the reread and save the file. When your dream publisher buys Book One and accepts your series proposal, writing consistent sequels will be a breeze. You’ll be glad you took the time. Promise.
Consider all the things about your named characters, first and secondary characters, maybe even tertiary characters if they could pop up in future novels. If character were important enough to get a name, they go on the list. For example, unless you’ve had an election in your world, Sheriff Tom in Book One can’t be Sheriff Bob two sequels later. Readers remember. They love your work. They will want to know what happened to Sheriff Tom. See? A good rule of thumb for your lists: Anyone with a name makes the list.
Beside the character names, add a brief physical descriptions. Include their height, weight, hair color, eye color, fashion sense or lack thereof. A stutter. A limp. A wonky eye. A dimple. If you mentioned the detail in Book One, it’s important. You wouldn’t have thrown in random unimportant facts, would you? Right. Every word was chosen carefully, by you, for a purpose. So, honor your decision to include Aunt Mary’s nose mole with a line on your list. You deserve credit for that!
Note any characteristics that impact character development. Is the character graceful, clumsy, dowdy or charming? Write it down. Making a quick one word notation can be sanity-saving to you later on in the series. Let’s face it, most writers are hanging onto their sanity by a thread as it is, we have to do what we can to keep sanity within reach. Lists of character traits help for another reason too. Staying true to the character is important, but making notable changes intentionally is a great way to clue the reader in that something is happening or has happened to that character. For example: A drastic new look can mean a major life change for a character. A new job. A new beau. Or a breakup. The same concept applies for things like extreme noticeable fatigue. Forgetfulness, puffy eyes & general malaise might mean the character has a second job or switched to the midnight shift …or developed a drinking problem…or had a new baby. See? Details are important and can be used to your advantage as the author.
Relationships within the world you create are noteworthy as well. Make room on your lists to note how the characters know one another (if they do). How are they connected to other characters? What is the dynamic of their friendship? Cordial? Hostile? Fake? Do some characters share a common interest which might bring them into one another’s lives in future novels? Are they single? Neighbors? Avid readers? Love cat shows?
As you build your world, or make notes of the world you’ve built, take five minutes and draw a rough sketch of your world on paper. Label key street names and landmarks. Put an x on character homes and their places of employment. How do they commute? How far are the things from home, or from one another? If the heroine is being chased or has car trouble, where can she get on foot sensibly? This is important. Logistics are huge factors in your story arc. If your heroine gets coffee at the shop on her corner every morning, can she reasonably also have lunch there during the workday or is it too far? Readers will remember these things and so should you. If your artistic skills top out at stick figures, don’t worry about it. This map isn’t for an award, it’s for reference. If the church is on Church Street today, it can’t be on Main Street tomorrow….unless your character changed churches, in which case, mention that. If you detail the décor of a place, make notes. Consistency.
You thought the last two topics were broad. “Things” applies to all the things. This is where my rule comes back into play. If you named it, mentioned it, put it into the story in Book One, I assume this is an important thing. Write all the important things down. Is the pickup manual or automatic shift? If you mentioned it as one or the other, mark it down. What color is the truck? Make & model? How about her home? The neighborhood? The state of her bank account, closet or refrigerator contents.
My mom likes to say, “The devil is in the details.” I know what she means, but as an author, I think the details are made of gold. Details improve a reader’s ability to taste the brine in the ocean air or hear the bleating red tug boat over a steady roar of wave breaks. Writers are made of details. Details run my world. As you prepare your books, I hope you’ll apply one or two of my suggestions and I hope they make life easier when the time comes. I’m writing a cozy mystery series for Carina Press which was picked up for print in the Harlequin Book Club. Book one, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE will arrive in paperback this fall. Book Two, MURDER COMES ASHORE released today in digital ebook format. This is a dream-come-true opportunity for me, one I never dreamed I’d get. You can bet your bonbons I’m making consistency a high priority. I wouldn’t suggest anything for others I wasn’t already practicing in my writer life. I hope some of my suggestions helped!
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.
Murder Comes Ashore is a sequel in her new mystery series, Patience Price, Counselor at Large, from Carina Press.
Learn about Julie at her website.
Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.
Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.
When the body count rises and Patience’s parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It’s not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she’s determined to clear her family’s name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer’s next victim.