Friday, February 24, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner: I Want to Write a Series. Now What? Part 2

Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner

I Want to Write a Series. Now What?

Part 2

Based on Writing the Standalone Series (formerly titled Writing the Fiction Series {The Guide to Novel and Novellas})

“The [series] tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.” ~T. S. Eliot

This is the second of two posts dealing with writing a series.

In Part 1, we talked about developing a plan for your series. Let's continue.

Organizing Series Details

The best way to learn how not to write a series is with no organization whatsoever. Time and time again, you’ll miss countless opportunities to plant and develop seeds for C-S-P series potential as well as forcing yourself to backtrack to clear up issues that arise and can even lead to writing yourself into a corner. Establishing the basics can give you numerous insights for further-reaching developments.

While established authors may be capable of outlining every book in a series before writing even one, that may not be possible for everyone. Maybe the only way for you to figure out where you’re going with your series is to write the first book, then set it aside while you think about the next in the series and as many of the ones to follow as you can: Which characters will take the lead? What story will be told and conflicts arise? What seeds can you plant now in the first book to prepare readers for the next ones? Try filling out the C-S-P potential questionnaire as much as you can. The more you can get your mind brainstorming on these things, the more developed each story will be when it’s time to start working on it. Never underestimate the value of a story (and series!) sitting on the backburner of your mind.

How much pre-planning you ultimately do for your series is up to you, but I recommend attempting two things to see how far you can get.

Blurbing the Series and Story Arcs

Building on your C-S-P potential, the next step in figuring out where you’re going in the series is to write blurbs for the series and its individual stories. Play with them and don’t expect perfection the first time. You can work with them more as your series progresses.

When creating a Series Blurb, you’re not focusing on individual stories but on the series as a whole to get the gist of what it’s about. If the Series Blurb is done well enough, it’ll accurately reflect what every book in the series is about in a concise, intriguing summary. Remember your Series Ties while you’re working, since they’ll help you figure out what your Series Arc should be. In no more than four sentences, define your Series Arc by using “leads to” logic (note that the components don’t have to be in order, nor is a resolution required since you may not want to defuse the intrigue or tension):

Introduction --> Change à Conflicts --> Choices --> Crisis --> Resolutions

Here’s an example from my Incognito Series:

The Network is the world’s most covert organization. Having unchallenged authority and skill to disable criminals, the Network takes over where regular law enforcement leaves off in the mission for absolute justice. (Introduction) The price: Men and women who have sacrificed their personal identities (Choices) to live in the shadows (Change) and uphold justice for all (Conflicts)—no matter the cost. (Crisis)

Next, try blurbing the individual stories you foresee in the series. It’s all right if you’ve only gotten as far as brainstorming on one or two books. Start with what you have and go further as more comes to you. This process should help your ideas multiply.

In order to begin, you need at least a working knowledge of which characters will take the lead in individual stories and what each Story Arc (conflict) will be. If it helps, try writing free-form summaries covering the who, what, where, when, and why of each story. Now let’s create a back cover blurb using this equation (if you have more than one main character, do this for each):

  Who                                       (name of character)

Wants                                    (goal to be achieved)

because                             (motivation for acting),

but faces                (conflict standing in the way).

By filling in the blanks, you’ll flesh out your Story Blurb. As before, you can mix up the order of the components. Let’s look at an example of the Story Blurb from Dark Approach, the twelfth in my Incognito Series: 

Network operatives and lovers Lucy Carlton and Vic Leventhal (name of character{s}) have spent years living in the shadows, the property of the covert organization they gave their loyalty to in the lofty pursuit of justice for all. (motivation for acting) Disillusioned, they’re now determined to live their lives on their own terms. When the Network’s arch enemy secretly approaches the two about defecting—freedom for information that will disable the Network (goal to be achieved)—the couple must choose between love and loyalty. In the process, they jeopardize the Network’s anonymity...and its very existence. (conflict standing in the way)

Blurbing in this way will expand your series and get you excited about writing it.

The appeal of the series is obvious: You don’t have to leave behind characters, place or premise in a single book. You can continue with a whole series of them! While each story should stand on its own, no series book should feel quite complete without the others since readers are invested mentally, emotionally, and even physically. The best news is, after reading the first book in a series, they’ll crave infinitely more as long as each offering is an absolutely killer read.

Five Build-Your-Series-Muscles Exercises

1) Identify the Ties in your favorite series books and how all the stories connect and build off each other. Series and Story Blurbs should indicate this information.

2) Note the differences in open-ended series and those that have a definitive conclusion. Which appeals to you?

3) Outline the Series Arcs (whether loosely or clearly defined) in notable series you’ve read—can you follow the introduction, progression and resolution from start to finish?

4) Study several series, noting how the authors planted and developed seeds for C-S-P potential over the course of the series.

5) Consider what sets your series apart from others and what twists you can inject in each book.

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Writing the Standalone Series: Volume 3 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection

Happy writing!

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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