Readers love a good series. A story world they can lose themselves in. A Middle Earth they can center on again and again.
Many writers like to create a series, too. In the first book, you establish the setting and breathe life into the characters. Maybe your research unearths too much good stuff to squeeze into one novel. Or, a facet of a character’s backstory opens up a whole new story line you just have to pursue. Writing a sequel, or maybe a prequel, is the natural next step.
That’s what happened in my situation. I wrote a book called The Story in the Stars. I created the planet Gannah for the story’s setting. And I spent so much time there that I found way more cool things about the place than I could use. So, while I polished up Stars and pitched it for sale, I started another book about Gannah to showcase some of the planet’s most interesting facets.
After a couple years of casting out that Stars hook, I finally got a bite. A small press I’d queried was interested—but asked a surprising question: “What is your vision for the series?”
I hadn’t been thinking of it in those terms; mostly, I was just having fun. But once I shifted my mental gears to accommodate the idea, I realized a series was eminently doable. Apparently, Risen Books agreed, because in June of 2011, we unleashed the “Gateway to Gannah” series upon the reading world.
Words in the Wind, released on August 1, 2012, continues the adventure. The third in the series is complete and in the publishing pipeline, and I’m currently drafting the fourth and final Gannah book. Each can be a stand-alone novel; you won’t get lost if you don’t read them in order. However, one does build upon the other, and the four will unite to tell a story that over-arches and encompasses the whole.
Writing a series is fun, but it can present some unique difficulties. For instance, how much explanation is needed in each subsequent book to bring a first-time reader up to speed? Too much backstory weighs things down, but too little leaves people feeling confused.
There’s also the issue of consistency. When we carry details over from one book to the next, those details must be the same. Is a character dark-haired or blond? What’s his favorite pizza topping? Names should be spelled the same from one book to the next. Better get those things right, or one of your readers will catch your mistake. It’s amazing how many details there are to keep straight.
This can be done a number of ways. You can create a style sheet, keep notes in spiral notebooks, jot reminders on note cards or sticky notes, or use writing software, like Scrivener. Or, if you’re so inclined, a combination of the above.
Being the low-tech type, I have a spiral notebook in which I keep a map of Gannah, along with lists of character names and assorted other details. When an invented word (I write sci-fi, remember) recurs frequently but I have trouble remembering the spelling, I write it on a sticky note and tack it to the bulletin board above my desk so I can see it in a quick glance.
For the past five years, a chart on that same bulletin board has helped me keep straight the subtle ear movements that express a Karkar’s emotions: displeasure = backward tilt; amusement = lift; sadness = tilt outward; etc. (If you’re not familiar with what a Karkar is, read one of my books!)
When I’m not sure of a detail I’ve forgotten to make note of, I’ll sometimes open a previous book’s file on my computer and do a search for what I need to know. (What color was Adam’s hair in Book 2? Search that manuscript for “hair” and find a place where it refers to Adam’s.)
For final quality control, nothing can beat good crit partners. They’ve caught my inconsistencies more than once, saving me much embarrassment.
If you’re writing a series, or think your WIP could turn into one, my advice is threefold: (1) Keep track of every detail that might possibly be pertinent, using whatever method(s) you find most efficient and comfortable; (2) don’t become so lost in the story that you forget to check your facts; (3) and, get yourself some good critique partners. We writers need all the help we can get!
Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you
out of this world. She lives in rural Ohio with her husband of 37 years and two of her four grown kids. (One’s getting married in October. Woo hoo!) She also has three grandchildren and two more on the way.
Her first novel, The Story in the Stars (Book 1 in the Gateway to Gannah series), is a 2012 ACFW Carol Award finalist (Speculative Fiction category).
Yvonne shares a few wise words on her personal site, Y’sWords. You may also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.