Friday, April 15, 2016

Saga and Simpletons

(Series and Standalones, Part 1)

A few weeks ago I talked about trilogies and sequels and why your book doesn’t need one.

Today (and next Friday), I’d like to look at the other side: why should you write a series? And more importantly, how?

I’ve read a lot of series, from three book trilogies like The Hunger Games to fourteen book series like The Wheel of Time. Some do a better job than others (such as Harry Potter vs. Divergent) and there are lessons to be learned from them all.

Why a Series?

This is the easiest question to answer. But first the reverse: you should not write a series because of the characters alone.
Well… looks like that takes out half of the series ideas, right?
Here’s the deal: very, very few characters are strong enough to make an entire book series on them worth it. A standalone book? Sure, why not. Even a weak character with a single book can be made up for by good setting and well-written plot.
But four or five or seven books?
It takes more than an eccentric and/or adorable cast.

For more on that, check the link to that post from a few weeks ago.

The why is a bit harder to describe.
First, it takes a lot of story to create three or four books. You need enough subplots that you can make /something/ resolve in each books, and you need a goal that is hard enough to attain. If the goal is easy: maybe traveling one week to a mountain and then finding a cave with treasure inside it, that isn’t enough.
Not nearly enough.
Your story needs to have goals so lofty and difficult that no one could do it in one book.

Series should come out of circumstance, generally speaking. When your story exceeds one pair of covers, that’s when you need a series.

For instance, my current project, Agram Awakens, has grown to – at this moment – a thirteen book series. I’m in doubt of that number, because I’m not sure it will take that long. However, the first book is projected to be more than 200,000 words long, there are six main characters, and there are more villains than I know what to do with.
I make a series.

How in a Steampunk World do you Write a Series?

It’s hard to visualize the outline of a series.
So maybe we should just not.
Or… maybe we should.

I wrote a while back on why outlines aren’t evil, and that was for your average novel.
If outlines aren’t evil for single books, they’re necessary evils for series. Repeat after me: series need outlines.
Got it?

If you don’t outline, you’ll end up with more plot holes than you’ll know what to do with. So choose to outline.
Secondly, choose to go small. If you’re going to write a series, write something small. Four, maybe five books at most. Thirteen book series are hard. And they take years to write. My first book has taken me five months to write, so far, and I spent two years before that developing and plotting. I doubt I’ll finish this series this side of my thirtieth birthday, because of all the stuff that’s about to happen to me (AKA college and adult life where writing isn’t my main occupation).
Wow I’m gonna be old.

Anyway. A four book series could easily be finished in two years, right? Assuming you don’t have a full-time job or full-time school.
Regardless, starting small can give you good experience. Even just attempting to write a two-book “series” can create for you that atmosphere of “wow I have to OUTLINE and PLAN and be PREPARED and write ALL THE WORDS” that a five or ten book series creates.
Baby steps, so to speak.
Next week, I’ll actually give you tips for writing a series, but for now, have some vague ideas:

Pick a Story you Love: If you don’t love the story, you won’t want to write about it for the span of four books. Trust me, I know.  When you write a series, you need to be in love with the characters and the plot and the setting in equal measure.

Outline, outline, outline: I know I’ve already said this, but I wanted to repeat: without an outline, your series will fail. I would suggest you do at least two of these:
-A general outline. This should be a list of all the books in the series (in order, of course), with a brief (two-three sentences) description of the book. This will give you “the big picture”. When you need to know what your series is about, this is what you go to. This is where you realize “oh, I need this to happen, so [this] book needs to have a plot change [here].”
-A character outline. I also like to call this the “people arc” outline. If your book has more than one point of view, this is especially important. It’s a set of pages, each dedicated to a different character. On each page is a list of the books and a short (in general, use two-three sentences on your outlines) description of what that character does in the novel. For instance, a character might have this outline:
“Book One: She is released from prison and is recruited by the government for her skills. Introduced and befriends other main characters.
Book Two: Spends much of her time in Africa, being a lonely soul and making friends with hyenas and small children because her helicopter crashed… everyone is searching for her.”
And so forth.
-A plot outline. Much like the last one, I call this a “plot arc” outline. This is where you list subplots (including love interest subplots, you helpless romantic) by book. It’s best to give each subplot a name (like “Julia and Bob 5ever” or “Find the Map”). Then, label where each subplot starts, the books it is continued through, and which book it is resolved in. If you can, relate them back to the main plot that ties the whole series together.

-Don’t give up. A series takes time to write. If you don’t have it finished by the time you expected, that’s okay.
It takes time to make a masterpiece, right?

Come back next week in which I’ll actually do useful things like give you suggestions on how to do the thing.

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