Wednesday, October 31, 2018

So You Want to Write a Series

That was a long gap, wasn’t it? I’ve been around, I’ve even been writing. I just wasn’t blogging. But now I’ve got a new release coming out next year, so I figured I’d better oil the promo machine and make sure the engine’s still running. I might even get to those clickbait blogs I promised way back when.

But not today. Today I’m going to talk about writing, and why I must be out of my mind.

Y’see, I don’t just write because I need to, although that is the biggest drive. I get these stories in my head and have to get ‘em out. I also write for that happy side effect called “royalties.” Here’s how it works: I write a story, put it out on the market, and people give me money. Not much, but it pays for gas and groceries. Well, over the summer my air conditioner gave up the ghost, and thanks to a drop in my freelance income I couldn’t afford to replace it. I survived a sweaty, humidity-drenched summer with the aid of two fans and lots of time spent in the library, and came to two conclusions: I am never moving to Florida, and I’m not going through that again.

Therefore, in order to increase my income, I’ve decided to write a romance series.

Coming up with the idea wasn’t a problem. I already had a couple of series ideas on the back burner, so it was just a matter of choosing one. I decided to go with the one that’s an offshoot of a couple of books I already have on the market. If the series catches on, it might also spark interest in those backlist books, resulting in more sales. See how it works?

After preliminary plotting, I came up with a single overarcing story spread over seven books. Each book will focus on a romance while advancing the overall plot. Book 7 is the grand finale. It’s a well-tested and workable formula in the genre. Sounds easy on paper, doesn’t it?

Here’s the fatal drawback: I’m a pantser. I make things up as I go. I only know in general what’s going to happen from one book to the next. However, I have no idea what’s going to happen from one page to the next. I could be tooling along in Book 4 and suddenly get hit with an inspiration that could change the entire course of the series. Which has already happened. I was fiddling around with drafting Book 1 when I suddenly got an idea that would throw a major monkey wrench into the budding relationship between the FMC and both the men competing for her. It also added a new facet to the series-wide plot. Luckily I caught that one early. But what if it happens again?

For instance: Still on Book 1, I was sailing along nicely when all of a sudden something happened on the page that I realized could be put to use in the grand finale in Book 7. In fact, it would give one major character’s whole backstory symmetry. Thank God that one happened early too, otherwise I would have had to retcon like crazy. But the threat remains.

There are a couple of twists I know are coming up and can foreshadow accordingly. But what if my pantser inclinations hand me the perfect plot swerve in Book 5, and Books 1 to 3 are already in print, with no way for me to go back and do a proper setup? (This isn’t an issue in self-publishing, but I’m going through a publisher for this one. I’m using characters and concepts borrowed from books they put out, so I’m contractually obligated to give them first look.) No do-overs here.

Writing a closed series, a finite number of books with an overall plot that advances from book to book, is a job for a plotter. Plotters have it all figured out before they even start typing. No pitfalls on the page, no gaping craters turning up in the plot. That isn’t me. I can’t even get to the end of a page without surprising myself. And I want to write a series that tells a cohesive story over seven books? Am I out of my mind?

Well…yeah. I guess I am. So what else is new?

Here’s the solution I came up with: I’m going to finish at least the first four books in draft before I even think about marketing the first one. By then I should be far enough along that I can deal with any curves my brain decides to throw at me, or still have the option to rewrite if something really terrific should occur to me. Nor will this deter me from writing another series in the future. I’ve already got one lined up. That one’s a series of stand-alone books connected by common characters and setting. That’s closer to a pantser’s speed.

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