I love the idea of writing a book series. It’s on my writer’s bucket list. All I need to do is come up with an epic story, which could span several books. *Pained writer face*
Speaking of epic tales, have you read The Ambeth Chronicles by Helen Jones?
Oh my goodness I lost myself within these books. For days, whilst reading the first book, I imagined myself as Alma, the lead character, who finds a secret portal between two trees in a park and after travelling through it discovers she is prophesized to find the lost Regalia of the land of Ambeth and restore the balance of Light and Dark. On the second book, both Alma and I developed a huge crush on Deryck, Prince of the Dark and on the third book we were both trying to untangle the mystery surrounding her dead father, whilst at the same time having sleepless nights about that prophecy.
These books are fab. I struggled to put them down. They whisk you off to a beautiful and enchanting land. Perfect for a weekend binge read.
As Helen has just released book 4 in the Ambeth Chronicles and seeing how much I have enjoyed her book series, I knew she had to come on my blog to talk about writing a book series.
So, here she is, the amazing Helen Jones!
When Lucy asked me to contribute a post about writing a series, my first thought was ‘save yourself the grey hairs and don’t do it!’ (series writing, rather than guest posts).
Which, perhaps, is a little unfair. Certainly there are aspects to writing a series that can cause hair changes (rumpling, greying, pulling out) but, with a little bit of planning, these can mostly be avoided.
What’s that you say? Planning? I know that’s a dirty word to some writers, myself included – I usually start a story with a vague idea, a couple of events and a character or two, the rest revealing itself as I write, unfolding like the petals of a complex flower.
However, when writing a series, planning is somewhat more essential. After all, you don’t want something that happens in book one to completely throw off events in book four – there is only so much retroactive writing gymnastics you can do before the whole thing veers completely off course.
When I published Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, I’d already written the three subsequent books, and had a pretty good idea of what happened in books five and six, including the end point they all led towards. This was helpful in a number of ways – it allowed me to release subsequent books fairly quickly, keeping up interest in the series, and also to add subplots and foreshadowing, feeding them through the remaining books to the end. The thing that was important, and that held the strands together, was that the main anchoring events of the series did not change. They were set in place from the beginning and, once set, I was able to weave subplots around them and add in scenes, which usually happened after the structural edit.
So, what considerations should you have when writing a series? Here we go:
- If you’re working towards a specific final event that will finish the series, be very clear about the number of books you are going to have before you begin. This will help you to pace the story across multiple books.
- Keep track of your characters and sub plots. Before finalising my fourth Ambeth book, I went back and re-read the first three books, to make sure I hadn’t forgotten any minor points. I then made notes, making sure everyone’s story fed forward into book four and beyond.
- Plan ahead. If something happens in book one or two, how will this play out in book three or four? Just as events in life can have lasting repercussions, so can events in book series. So, if in book one two of your characters hate each other, don’t make them fall in love in book three without laying the groundwork for this change in between.
- Build your world. Have a very clear picture of where things are, so you don’t lead readers astray. If you’re building a fantasy world, draw pictures, write notes, make a map. The same applies for real world settings as well. Be consistent. If there are three towers in your castle in book one, don’t have six towers in book two – your readers will notice.
- Consider cover design. This doesn’t really have anything to do with writing a series, but a lot to do with marketing. For example, my Ambeth covers have repeating elements, so it’s clear they are part of the same series, even though the images and colours are different for each one. This is visually interesting when the books are grouped together as well.
- Tease the reader. Give them an excerpt from the next book at the end. Or a blurb, Or a release date. Invite them to read more.
- But… don’t end on a massive cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are for soap operas. Of course, you want to lay new threads to lead readers forward into your next book, but you do need some resolution at the end of each part of the series, otherwise readers will get frustrated.
- And finally, enjoy yourself! Writing a series gives you the chance to spend longer with the characters and settings you love, so explore them as much as you can. Ambeth has six books planned for the current series – but I can see more in the future, including a group of short stories and, possibly, a longer novel set in the same world. As a writer, I know I’ll visit many other places, but I have a feeling I will always go back there.
Writing a series isn’t for everyone. Some stories only last for one book, and that’s absolutely fine. But if you do decide to take the series writing plunge, plan ahead, keep track and, most of all, enjoy yourself. Happy writing!
Thanks Helen, fab guest post!
If you want to dive into this fab series please click here.