Keeping on track when writing a series
Writing a novel is a lot of work. Writing a whole series is a lot more work. As I am fast approaching the end of the fourth and final book in my steampunk series, I can reflect on the long journey that brought me from the world of literary obscurity into the stark light of an ‘emerging success’. I can look back on the trials and tribulations that I –as a writer- have been through, as well as those that I have put my poor characters through, and draw some conclusions that may help my fellow authors who are attempting to embark upon the epicness that is series writing.
Most of the things you do to keep track during a novel, you probably do without being told. The majority of tricks and tips apply to writing any story, be it a short, novelette, novella, novel, trilogy or far longer series. The only thing that really changes is the frequency with which you update your master documents and the length of time it takes to read back over your work.
That is where we will begin.
First and foremost, you should hopefully be a fan of your own work. It is not narcissistic to feel that way. That doesn’t mean you won’t find fault with it, even after book one is in print, you may pick up a typo here and there or find a section of dialogue that you would do differently now if you could. Those things aren’t relevant. By the time you sit down to write book four (or whatever number) in a series, I suggest you give serious thought to first sitting down and reading through all books before it. There will be parts of the story you have forgotten you even included. You may find little bits of foreshadowing that you can build upon, or things you set up and then never followed up on. You will realise things about your characters that you might not have consciously intended. Above all, you must set aside re-reading time. The further you go in a series, the more time this will take.
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You have your manuscript of course, but do you have a character sheet? Do you have a world sheet? Do you have a plot arc document, or miscellaneous information file? If you have an eidetic memory then you probably don’t need all those things, but for those of us who are less fortunate then I must recommend you build a library, a glossary, a reference of your world. I have notes upon notes across several documents. Details of the religion I’ve invented, comments on the names of cities, their locations and important structures within them. Whenever I introduce a new character I fill out a character sheet and update for traits and styles. When my characters change outfits then I have to keep track of what they are wearing. You might write about them wearing a white fur overcoat at the end of one book, then by the time you start work on the next book they’re magically wearing a bikini. Of course this doesn’t matter if the following book takes place a few months on from the last, but if it follows on directly then you need to include a transition scene, or you must be consistent. The best and easiest way to ensure consistency is to have master documents.
[bctt tweet=”The best and easiest way to ensure consistency is to have master documents. #amwriting ” username=”OurWriteSide”]
By far, the most important thing to get right across all books in a series is your characters. It is very easy to make a mistake here. If you consider the TV show Lost – there was a character named Charlie who in the first season said he was unable to swim, and by the time season six came around he was stating that he was a champion swimmer. I believe the show writers told everyone that he lied about being unable to swim in the beginning, and that might have been true, but without some dialogue between him and another character to explain that fact it seemed like a mistake. You can’t have your character a master sword fighter in book one and then have them fumbling with a sword in book five – unless something has happened to them during the course of the story that will explain such a change. Characters do change and grow, of course, but that change must have a basis within the story and have a clear reasoning behind it, otherwise your readers will think you’ve screwed up.
[bctt tweet=”You can’t have your character a master sword fighter in book one and then have them fumbling with a sword in book five. #writing #advice” username=”OurWriteSide”]
I admire anyone who is brave enough to take on a series. It’s challenge enough to pen a novel. To expand that to a much wider world can be daunting and takes a lot of discipline. However you approach it, just try to be consistent and take extra care to make the every book in the series as good as the first.