Thursday, June 4, 2009

Writing a series

Editors love doing three and four book contracts so write a series...

I hear this all of the time from writers. While the first part of this idea is correct for the most part, using the series approach is always a tough one. I have talked about this before but I want to give you a new twist on this style of writing.

When you are writing a series, obviously you are planning on having the same characters continue to the next several books. This is great for the readers since we have hopefully fallen in love with the secondary characters in book 1 enough to want to know more. But here is the problem. When writers begin this series, they try too hard to get all of the pieces of the puzzle in the first book so that the other stories already have the back story needed to work out the other plots.

When a writer does this, the story simply becomes too cumbersome. We have information that we as readers really don't need until later books, and the author is asking us to keep this information in our heads until we get to book 2. Ugh, what if we don't even make it to book 2? What if book 2 gets restructured by the editor and now that information isn't necessary? What if when you are writing book 2, the story takes a different approach?

I think the second issue with trying to link a series this much is that it becomes repetitive to the reader. We see this a lot with siblings. There are three sisters and they are all going to have their season. Guess what? Book 2 and 3 will be the same as 1 with the exception of a slight plot twist. Seen it done it.

A recommendation I always make to new writers is to think of each book 100% as a stand alone story. When pitching to an agent or editor, discuss how you have other stories in this genre that would also tie in great, due to the voice, style or issue, but still keeping the ideas individual. If you do have stories that are linked, work with the secondary characters that play a significant role in the lives of the main character and then, when their story comes up, get them away from the first characters. Create their own story. Again, by taking this approach, you can really think of a unique story that is linked not by plot but by theme.



  1. Too cool! I was trying to figure out why something worked so well and reading your post, there it answer.

    'a unique story that is linked not by plot but by theme.'

    That one line says a whole lot when you take the time to think about it.

    Thanks Scott

  2. Great post. I was thinking "make the book stand on its own" right as you were about to say it, so maybe I've learned that lesson well enough. One point I would add though is a personal irritation. If you are going to have books in a series, don't begin book two with three chapters telling the background (in other words, retelling everything that happened in book one). I have read alot of series books that do that, and it just irritates the hell out of me.

  3. I really like linked stories when they are done right.:) I have read a few stories where the second book in a series was published first so you had to back track. That could be a big draw back with making each one stand alone.

    Hey, Murphy! Where have you been hiding? We've missed you:).

  4. Great post. I agree with the stand alone aspect. It is something to definately keep in mind when writing a series.
    I agree with Murphy (Em told me you were here) about that last line. That idea could be it's own post because this is where I think many writer's make their mistakes. Relying to heavily on plot for a series. In any case, you have me thinking:).