Writing one piece at a time for a series
Many authors work for years on a novel they never finish. To them, the idea of writing a book series might seem unfathomable. But if you’re a writer who wants to take your characters on a wild ride with numerous destinations along the way, you might consider writing a series. When I started writing Crimes of the Sasquatch, I always assumed it would be a trilogy, and now I’m drafting the fourth book in the series because the characters still have stories to tell.
Here’s my humble advice about anyone who wants to write a series:
First and foremost: Be loyal to your readers.
Some will say you need to stick strictly in one genre (like fantasy, horror, crime) because that is what your readers expect. But I’m not sure I agree entirely with that. I think you can subtly cross genres if you are true to the characters in your series.
A great well-known example of a series that crossed genres is The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson (Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, and Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest). The first book is a crime story, and while the character we are most interested in (Lisbeth Salander ) is in that first story, she’s not the main event. The book’s lead detective is busy trying to uncover what happened to a girl living in a remote estate in Sweden. The next book is not a crime story but a journey of discovery about Lisbeth, and the final one is a statement on Swedish society told through Lisbeth’s POV. Larsson stayed true to his readers by introducing Lisbeth in the first book and giving you clues about her personality and not by sticking to one narrow genre. However, crossing genres is not always easy to do—especially in a genre that attracts an audience with strong expectations like romance.
Second: Before you start writing, have a strong idea about where the characters will go – both in the first book and where the series will end.
A good example of this technique is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series, set in the distant future, about a reluctant guy who matures to lead the underclass to revolt against the ruling class. In the first book, he loses his wife and comes to understand how his people have been subjugated, so he decides to surgically transform his body and infiltrate the ruling class. This first book whets your appetite for our hero and the challenges he will need to overcome – but he doesn’t conquer the ruling class in that book as that comes later. And in subsequent books in the series, he defeats them, but then he fails, making readers want to see what happens next.
Third: Make sure each book is a story in and of itself and fits within the overall story.
Think about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones). Each book adds to the framework and has an end in and of itself that gets eloquently undone in the next one. Though Martin originally conceptualized his series as being three volumes, it is currently slated for seven.
Fourth: With each new book, introduce new characters or new settings to keep your readers interested.
Consider J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. While most of the books are either set at Hogwarts or near London and the lead characters (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) are constant, other fascinating characters are brought in to play significant roles. Think about Dobby, the quirky and loveable house-elf who dies by saving Harry’s life. Or the famous quidditch star Cedric Diggory who competes with Harry for the Triwizard Cup and dies tragically at the hands of Voldemort. These characters were not in every book, and the series is richer for their contributions. I cried when Dobby died.
Some excellent series flip between different lead characters. A great example is the detective series by Robert Crais with partner detectives (Elvis Cole smartass detective and Joe Pike mysterious/silent/ex-Marine). Some books in the series are from Elvis Cole’s POV, but others focus more on Joe Pike.
Fifth: Be sure to maintain continuity.
Don’t create inconsistencies within the story line by making characters do something out of character or inconsistent with their backstory.
I’ve heard some writers take time to re-read their previous stories before writing the next book in the series. While I wrote all three of the Sasquatch Series books before releasing them, I certainly re-read parts of the earlier books to ensure I didn’t create inconsistency. If a character is an orphan in the first book, their parents need to stay dead in the later books OR come up with a really good reason why the character didn’t know they were really alive.