Friday, March 1, 2019

Hints for Writing a Series

with guest, Amanda Cabot


How do you prepare to write a series? For me, there are six steps.

Step 1: Choose the Location
Realtors say, “location, location, location” and I agree. In fact, I consider the location to be the single most critical element in a book. Why? Although people’s motivations and problems are universal, where they live impacts them in many ways. Life on a farm is different from life in a small town, while someone who lives in a small town has different experiences from someone in a large city.

It’s not simply a question of farm vs. small town vs. big city. What’s equally important is where that farm, town, or city is located. A farm in the deep South will have different challenges from one on the Great Plains. Similarly, a town in the Texas Hill Country (which is where I’ve set many of my books) will be different from one in the Northeast.

Choose your location carefully. It should be one that appeals to you and one you know well. If you’re going to make the setting come alive for readers, you need to know what plants grow there, what birds roost in which trees, and what the air feels like.

Once you’ve decided where your story will take place, I highly recommend a map. If you’re using a real location, it’s easy enough to get a map of the town and/or the whole area. If you’ve created a fictional town, as I typically do, name the streets, highlight key landmarks, and decide who lives where. That’s what I did for Cimarron Creek.



Step 2: Choose the Specific Year
Like location, this is critical, since what’s happening in the world at that time will impact the storyline. My Cimarron Creek series takes place fifteen years after Appomattox, but even though it’s been more than a decade, the wounds inflicted by the War Between the States have yet to heal.


Step 3: Identify Your Main Characters and their Relationships
The next step is to determine who your protagonists and key secondary characters will be. If you’re a pantser rather than a plotter, you might be tempted to work on only one book at a time. The disadvantage to this approach is that it’s more difficult to integrate characters from one story into the next if you haven’t planned it in advance. And since one reason readers enjoy series is the continuing characters, it’s important to know how everyone fits into the picture.

When I started the Cimarron Creek trilogy, I knew that the town’s two founding families would be key players and that their familial relationships would be important. That’s why I created a formal family tree.  While this may or may not be needed for your books, if you have multiple generations of a single family involved, you may want to do something similar.

At this point, I also determine which characters will be newcomers. If you’ve read my books, you’ll notice that in almost every one either the hero or the heroine is new to the town. Why? Not only does “new blood” make a story more interesting, but having a stranger (or in the case of A Tender Hope three strangers) come to town changes the dynamics.


Step 4: Decide Whether or Not to Have an Overarching Plot Line
If you’re a fan of TV’s “Castle” or “Longmire,” you know how effective an overarching plot line can be. While viewers had the satisfaction of seeing a mystery resolved in each episode, they kept tuning in to learn who killed Kate’s mother and Longmire’s wife. I decided to try a similar approach with the Cimarron Creek books, having the central mystery be what happened to Aunt Bertha’s daughter. The storyline is introduced in A Stolen Heart, takes some unexpected turns in A Borrowed Dream, and isn’t fully resolved until A Tender Hope.

If you decide to take this approach, I caution you. On the surface, it seems easy enough to do, but the reality is that it’s more complex than you might expect, particularly if you’re like me and want to ensure that your books can be read as standalones.


Step 5: Identify the Internal and External Conflicts of Each Book
We all know that a successful book includes both internal and external conflicts for each of the key protagonists. When writing a series, it’s essential to ensure that those conflicts are different for each book. If not, readers will start yawning, saying “same old, same old,” and will be less likely to buy the next book.


Step 6: Leave the Door Open for More Stories
While it’s important to resolve all key plot points by the end of the series or risk readers being disappointed, it never hurts to introduce secondary characters who are interesting enough that readers will want to know what happens to them. Even if you have no plans for a follow-on series, you never can tell when those characters will demand their own story. That’s what happened with Thea. I introduced her in Paper Roses ten years ago, and she captivated readers so much that now she’s the heroine of her own story.

I hope my six steps make sense to you and that they help you plan your own series. Speaking as both a reader and a writer, series are fun!

~~~~~~~


As far as Thea Michener is concerned, it’s time for a change. With her husband murdered and her
much-anticipated baby stillborn, there is nothing left for her in Ladreville. Having accepted a position as Cimarron Creek’s midwife, she has no intention of remarrying. So when a handsome Texas Ranger appears on her doorstep with an abandoned baby, Thea isn’t sure her heart can take it.

Ranger Jackson Guthrie isn’t concerned only with the baby’s welfare. He’s been looking for Thea, convinced that her late husband was part of the gang that killed his brother. But it soon becomes clear that the situation is far more complicated than he anticipated—and he’ll need Thea’s help if he’s ever to find the justice he seeks.





Amanda Cabot’s dream of selling a book before her thirtieth birthday came true, and she’s now the author of more than thirty-five novels as well as eight novellas, four non-fiction books, and what she describes as enough technical articles to cure insomnia in a medium-sized city.  Her inspirational romances have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists, have garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and have been nominated for the ACFW Carol, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers Best awards.  A popular workshop presenter, Amanda takes pleasure in helping other writers achieve their dreams of publication.



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40 comments:

  1. Good morning, Amanda! And welcome to Seekerville!

    Thank you for the great tips to build a series foundation. I like to do maps and family trees for a series, as well, and I can't tell you how many times I refer to both during writing--the family tree to get the names and relationships and time frames correct as I write from 3-6 books in a series. And the map keeps the community "layout" fresh in my mind and references correct from book to book.

    You're so right that you have to be careful with ongoing threads in the series when writing stand-alones so as not to frustrate your readers. It's nice to have a series story arch--but I've written for a continuity series (1 book in 6) and sometimes readers get 'mad' when the mystery isn't solved in the book they happened to be reading. Sometimes a more "general" arch works--the development of a secondary character's journey to love, the rebuilding of a community, church, or business, etc.

    Thanks so much for the great ideas!

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    1. Glynna, that's a good point about a mystery. I love the ideas of a secondary arch about something in the community!

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    2. Glynna, I'd love to hear more about your experiences with continuity series. Those strike me as being very challenging.

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    3. I am one of those people who said, “I’ll never call a psychic or a magician or whatever” to help me with my problems – least of all my love problems, but I reached the point where I knew I needed some guidance, and I’m so glad I found this man called dr.ajeghe. When I nearly lost David in one of our stupid,fights (he broke up with me), I thought I had lost everything.i cry all day and think that he will never come back to me again.i read so many testimony about Dr. ajeghe love spell,how he help to bring back ex lover back.I quickly email him.and also get back my husband with his love spell. And when I was at my most desperate,he didn’t take advantage of me. You performed a very good service for a person in true need. I don’t know how you did it, or how this magic works, but all I know is, IT WORKS!! David my husband and I are happily back together, and I’ll always be grateful to dr.ajeghe email him for any kinds of help is very capable and reliable for help ajeghespelltemple@gmail.com or WhatsApp him +2349069171173

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  2. thank you Amanda for sharing this post on creating series. I've just started thinking about that topic myself and realize what a huge undertaking it is, but yet as a reader how satisfying it can be to know that I can delve into new adventures with characters I already like. I've started reading "Writing the Fiction Series" by Karen Weisner and have been learning a lot from it. Now I can add your post as another valuable resource! PS - I enjoy reading your stories. :)

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    1. Yes, it's an undertaking, but the rewards are huge. As you pointed out, readers love series.

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  3. Amanda, thank you for this interesting post. As a reader I enjoy learning what goes into writing a book.

    Happy Friday!

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    1. Caryl -- If you read the other comments, you'll discover more hints from other authors. That's one of the things I love about Seekerville -- so much sharing of knowledge.

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  4. Thank you Amanda, this is great. All my books so far have been series, it's how I think, and they've developed organically, i.e. I have a secondary character and I'm thinking "what if" while I'm writing the first or second book. But I know there will come a time when it won't be so organic, or easy. When my publisher will ask, "What's next?" and I confess, "I got nothin'."
    One of the tricks, I think, is to create interesting secondary characters from the beginning. If we're asking "What if?" then probably our readers will too. In my post-world-war I series, "City On a Hill," I have Julia, a former prostitute and now committed Christian and settlement house worker. She's a guide and counsel to the heroine of the first book, Violet O'Connell. Part of Julia's backstory was that she had a baby who died at birth. But I asked, "WHAT IF the baby didn't die, but was stolen by its natural father? WHAT IF Julia's daughter was alive somewhere in New York City?" That was the genesis for the second book in "City On a Hill," as Julia must confront her past, present and possible future in her desperate search for her daughter. Not sure what the third book will be, but I've got several interesting "secondaries" from the first two. It's fun creating worlds (although to be fair, New York City was established before I began writing about it, ha ha).
    Writers love irony. Isn't it ironic that Tina is also talking about series today, on Petticoats and Pistols?
    Off to do stuff, may be back later.
    Kathy Bailey
    Taking the long view in New Hampshire

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I found your comments fascinating.

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  5. Amanda, welcome back! Thank you for this great post! I've done a couple of series--books set in the same town. But I probably should have planned the books more ahead of time. I tended to just write them one at a time. And that makes it a little harder to remember when characters met, when they married, and who had babies! I think planning the calendar ahead of time is a great idea!

    BTW, how did you make the beautiful map and family tree?!

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  6. Enjoyed reading this, Amanda. Loved A Tender Hope. Have a blessed day.

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  7. Amanda, these tips are great! Thank you so much for giving us a peek at how you put together a series. I've been wanting to try my hand at series for some time now, but the thought of it intimidates me. I'm printing your post out because I think eventually I'll take a shot at it. Especially loved the family tree :)

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    1. I found the family tree essential for this series, since I had two entwined families at its heart. When I created the initial tree, I used an ancient version of Family Tree Maker that I had on a machine running Windows 95. (See what I mean about ancient?) Revell's art department turned that into something much prettier.

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  8. Amanda, I love using an overarching story arc to thread series together... and there are times when I don't have that option, but to me it finishes a series by wrapping up ends and making readers happy. It's like the decorations on the frosting on the cake... the cake was great... frosting made it better!!! But the pretty flowers and trim borders seal the deal.

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  9. Love your six steps, Amanda! Thanks for being with us today. Your latest story sounds wonderful! Congrats on your success!

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  10. Thank you, Amanda, for these timely steps for writing a series. You gave me much to consider here. Congratulations on your latest story.

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    1. If you try writing a series, I hope you'll find my suggestions as well as the ones in the comments helpful.

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  11. Good morning, Amanda!

    These are great tips for planning and writing a series.

    I love incorporating a series arc, but you're right. It works best to do in such a way that each book can be read as a stand-alone, and that's tricky. In my current series, I'm using a secondary character's story as the series arc, and in each book I've needed to reach a conclusion in his story...but a conclusion that can lead to the next part of his arc.

    It's part of what makes writing a series fun!

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    1. I suspect that overcoming the challenge is part of why we enjoy writing series.

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  12. Hi Amanda:

    When I read your six points as a reader I wish more writers would do what you cover here. I particularly wish the author would use a tombstone like, "Spring Brook, Texas, Summer of 1869" as a chapter heading. This way I'm invested in the story at once.

    When there is no indication of the date or location, I start looking for historical markers so I can figure this info for myself. Who wants to be lost in time? Trying to determine the date can reveal to the reader just how little history there is in the story. Not a good thing.

    I'll look for any prices or type of money given? No, not in most cases. Any mention of major world events that would make it into the local newspapers? No, not in most cases. It's like the author did not want to do any kind of research for fear of getting something wrong for the time period. Just a little of the right facts, even if trivial, can make a story come so much more alive. It can also make the reader feel that she was learning something. A good thing if the family watches Jepordy.

    Date suggestion: if the author does not care if the date is between say, 1868 and 1874, then pick a year which had many interesting events happen. Just look up "What happened in 18__" and you'll find many important events usually listed chronologically for that year. Easy peasy. If there was a war going on, someone should mention this in the barber shop.

    From a marketing POV, I like to see locations that have high public interest. Places like Palo Duro Canyon which has had millions of visitors and millions more who would like to visit there someday. Places of great scenic beauty also allow vivid author descriptions and wonderful virtual travel experiences. Location can sell stories the reader would not buy on their own.

    "It's as easy to love a rich man as a poor man," motherly advice given to my sister which I overheard, and the same applies to richly interesting and desirous settings.

    I can say this: marketing people will really like you and your six points. Good luck with your new book. And thanks for your visit.

    Vince

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  13. Hi Amanda:

    A question about names. As soon as I read your heroine's name, Thea Michener, I recalled her from a past story I read. Did you select a famous last name, (as in James Michener), to make her character that much more memorable? I'd say it worked.

    I think doing this a great idea if done correctly as you have.

    Vince

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    1. When I first named Thea, she was Thea Mills, but that just didn't feel right. I can't remember how "Michener" popped into my mind, but once it did, I knew it was the right name for her.

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  14. As a reader, I enjoyed learning about the process involved in writing a series. There's a lot to think about and plan for. I personally like to have a family tree printed in the front of a series book if it involves several generations. It helps me to visualize the people involved. I'd probably be in trouble if I had to actually write the stories instead of reading them! LOL Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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    1. I've always loved family trees in the books I've read, so I was delighted when Revell agreed to include one in this series. I'd used one as I wrote the first book, and when my editor said that she was confused by all the characters and their relationships, I asked if she'd like to see my family tree. The rest is history.

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  15. Hi Amanda:

    How about a book not reading like it is a part of a series (in that it seems to be a pure stand alone novel) or having a tricky series in which the subjects of the next book are surprises?

    I ask this because I was reading Ruth's,"A Most Inconvenient Love", just now and when the heroine mentioned her two younger sisters, presto, I started wondering what their stories would be like? Who would I like best? Who would I want to marry? (Not Charity!) That's a different series altogether! Get back to the story at hand!!!

    I'm not sure a reader should be doing this. But then if the reader is a writer, too, then can it be helped? Could you trick the reader and have the heroine in the next book be the 40 year old dressmaker and not a sister? I kind of like the dressmaker for the next book. Do writers even think about these things? That older dressmaker is a real prize. She is an above the fray matchmaker. Cupid needs to arrow her. I'd love it!

    Vince

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    1. Sometimes readers see things about characters that the authors miss. That happened with a novella collection I was in. I read one of the other authors' stories and wondered if she'd thought about redeeming a prickly character. She hadn't, but the more she thought about it, the better she liked the idea. "Prickly One" soon had her own story.

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  16. If only I was a writer! This post today is wonderful information and I know that there are many authors who will benefit from it. The reader in me will remember these tips as I read in the future.

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    1. As an avid reader as well as an author, I find it fascinating to hear how other writers plot their stories. Those insights enhance my reading experience and often give me ideas for my own books.

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  17. I've got to admit, series and even sequels intimidate me. But your steps make it sound easier than the voice in my head. :-) This was a neat post. Thanks.

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    1. I don't think any part of writing is easy, but knowing how someone else has tackled a challenge helps me. I'm glad you found the post helpful.

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  18. Thanks for sharing your steps for a writing a series!

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  19. Amanda, your blogs are always well-done, concise, easy to read, and full of great information. Just like your stories in the series, your writing dynamics are awesome. Thank you. Cheers

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    1. Thanks, Marilyn. I think that having written non-fiction as well as fiction helps a lot in organizing blog posts like this one.

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  20. Interesting post, Amanda. I have written my first book and have thoughts about a series. I tried to keep that in mind while I wrote. Your hints are helpful.

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    1. Congratulations on having finished your first book. That's a HUGE accomplishment. I wish you much success in finding the right publisher for it.

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  21. I am one of those people who said, “I’ll never call a psychic or a magician or whatever” to help me with my problems – least of all my love problems, but I reached the point where I knew I needed some guidance, and I’m so glad I found this man called dr.ajeghe. When I nearly lost David in one of our stupid,fights (he broke up with me), I thought I had lost everything.i cry all day and think that he will never come back to me again.i read so many testimony about Dr. ajeghe love spell,how he help to bring back ex lover back.I quickly email him.and also get back my husband with his love spell. And when I was at my most desperate,he didn’t take advantage of me. You performed a very good service for a person in true need. I don’t know how you did it, or how this magic works, but all I know is, IT WORKS!! David my husband and I are happily back together, and I’ll always be grateful to dr.ajeghe email him for any kinds of help is very capable and reliable for help ajeghespelltemple@gmail.com or WhatsApp him +2349069171173

    ReplyDelete