Series work… Me?

It’s a series, go with it.

Hi gang, Craig here today. I’m the only person here who has not dabbled in book series. I love a good stand-alone story, and that will never change. However, my colleagues at Story Empire convinced me to try it about a year ago.

I jumped in with both feet, and declared 2019 my year of series work. There are two kinds of series, so I needed to decide exactly what I was going to explore. Nothing ventured/nothing gained, so I decided to write one of each.

“Lanternfish” is destined to become a trilogy. This means it has an overarching plot, and an absolute ending ahead of it.

“The Hat” is an ongoing series. The main characters will have additional stories, with no prerequisite reading to enjoy them. Readers can pick up any book that appeals to them and get a complete story.

Right now, I’ve published the second “Hat” story. I also have half a draft for the next “Lanternfish” and a completed MS for a supporting story to the trilogy.

I’m bringing all this to the forefront, because I’ve learned a couple of things. Good or bad, these might be useful to our readers here.

You have to live with canon: Whatever you’ve created, you have to live with as an author. For example, it would be really difficult to give The Hat a cool new magical power at this time. Same thing for removing something that might have made him too powerful. I can see this getting more difficult as more tales come out.

One example: The Hat is able to find people he has met before. It’s kind of a psychic vibe power. In the newest book, he is unable to track the undead, even if they’ve crossed paths already. I have to live with this in future stories, and already need to find a way to deal with it. (I’ll figure it out, but it makes a nice example.)

Lanternfish takes place in a fantasy world, and while landmarks are mentioned in passing, they have to remain consistent throughout the trilogy. There is a war going on, and as battle-fronts, and advantages change, this has to remain consistent. I also have characters who have outlived their usefulness. For various reasons, they need to stick around, so I have to give them something to do, or at least mention them. (They could be more useful in the final book.)

Style: In their own way, both series are comedy. They have to remain this way, and cannot cross over. Meaning the style of Lanternfish has to stay where it is. Same thing for The Hat. While I hope people enjoy both series, I have to admit they might have specific audiences.

As an example, Serang, from Lanternfish is a fascinating character. The supporting tale is her origin story. I’ll likely publish it this winter. However, she is not the comic relief in the story. She’s a very serious character. This poses an issue. I can’t add unrealistic comedy to her tale, nor can I pick up Lanternfish II and give her a more comedic role. She’s already on the page, and I have to live with her canon. Her supporting story also adds canon that I have to live with, or at least be consistent with, for the remaining Lanternfish tales.

You’re going to forget things: I keep a decent character sheet for everything I ever write. It has the actual spellings, some tidbits about the characters, and even some geography inside. (These are paranormal and fantasy, so some spellings are unique and spellcheck doesn’t like them.) I find myself referring to it in the subsequent stories quite a bit. I copied and pasted the existing sheet for the new works, so I could add to them.

As both series extend, I am going to have to add characters. This means I have a lot to keep track of in my head. (And it’s already a busy place.) My cast sheets help, because these characters are still around, and some might not come to prominence until future stories.

The newest Hat story includes characters who’ve appeared in other books. This means those character sheets became important, too. For instance a character named Clovis has a perpetual victim he keeps coming across. (What was that guy’s name???) I had to go to the character sheet from that story to find out.

Odd stuff comes up: I’m also writing a stand-alone at this time. There is a character in that story that comes pretty close to someone in Lanternfish. This can lead to typos. Their names are Frieze and DeVries. I’m sure there will be more, but this is another place where good notes help.

I’m just getting started with series work, and thought perhaps some of you would appreciate what I’m coming across. As I get my mallards aligned (get the picture now?) I’m sure there will be even more that comes up.

What issues have you come across in series work that differs from stand-alones?

46 thoughts on “Series work… Me?

  1. This was a great post! I’m happy that you dove into the series world! 🙂 I kept a journal and a timeline for each book of my series. It was a life saver for me, especially because it was a fantasy series and each character had unique traits and abilities.

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  2. Pingback: Series work… Me? | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  3. Really enjoyed this post. I’m writing two series now–the Jazzi Zanders cozy mysteries and The Muddy River paranormal mysteries. I’m writing Jazzi in third person POV, but Muddy River in first. I thought that would help me keep the voice right for each one, but I didn’t realize how easy it is to fall into first person and then stay there for the wrong book. I constantly have to work at it. And I have so many notes anymore, it’s hard to find the ones I’m looking for. But they’re all necessary!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find writing more than one thing at a time differently than I thought it would be. It isn’t impossible at all. In my case they’re vastly different genres, that helps. I’m considering going back to first person for an upcoming project, and am kind of looking forward to it.

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  4. You brought out some great points on writing series, Craig. I think good notes is a saving grace. Characters can show growth from book to book, but their personalities should remain pretty much the same and the spelling of difficult names, as you pointed out, would be another challenge. Thanks for this food for thought about series! I enjoyed the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good post, Craig. The hardest thing I faced was to keep the personalities of reoccurring characters the same throughout the series. Many times the characters would want to drift into hero roles or something else. Has to keep the reins pretty tight.

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  6. This is an interesting post, Craig. You are right about keeping a character list. I thought I would never forget any of the characters in Through the Nethergate after slaving over it for a year, but just the other day I had to look up a name. My trilogy that I am writing has lots of characters and I also have a spreadsheet for them.

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  7. You hit on good points here, Craig. Readers are quick to pick up on incontinuity, so it’s important to keep those facts straight! In one of my series, I had a group of Navy SEALs, two of which were best friends. Five books later, I mentioned the one guy was best friends with another guy from the Team and was called out on it by a reader! On the one hand, it means they’re paying attention, and on the other hand, it means they’re paying attention! All the more reason to write these tidbits down for future reference 🙂

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  8. Good summary and quite helpful. You did stop me at one detail, that you couldn’t give the characters new traits. But, especially in a fantasy world, you could couldn’t you? Just explain how things changed and now he can X? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

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    • I think you have to be careful here. Some traits are gained as part of the character arc, and in that case absolutely. Others will be too abrupt if you’ve already spent an entire book with that character. They can’t suddenly start flying, unless maybe that was an unfulfilled part of their quest all along. This is one of those places where you can adjust prior to publication, but have to live with it after.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see what you’re saying. If I can’t explain how my character can X, the readers won’t suspend their disbelief. I am struggling with that sort of idea right now in my Book 3. My character didn’t get a new trait but his old trait didn’t work right. Now I need to explain why. Which, of course, I don’t know. I better chat more with the character.

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  9. Great post, Craig and you pointed out some valid concerns. Having finished and published the third book of a series earlier this year, there were several things I had to reference from book one. I didn’t want to make blatant mistakes. And no matter, what you will forget things. As you said, good notes and good character sheets are a must.

    I’m getting ready to begin a second series and the first book will have two characters from the last Driscoll Lake novel. Other than that, it’s completely different. I learned a lot from writing the first one and hope the second will flow more smoothly.

    And someday I want to write a stand-alone novel!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m finding ways to keep track, and some of them are copies of what I’ve done on solo work when I’m taken away from my project for long periods of time. Word search helps find key scenes for a quick review. I’ve even gone back to the key scene and modified it to fit with something I stumbled across further along in the story. It’s all fair until we publish.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post, Craig.

    For me, injuries suck major-time. I had a character who got into a fight trying to defend and rescue a new friend and accidentally grabbed a knife by its blade, which effectively sliced his hand. Well, I’m the midst of other injuries, I completely forgot about the sliced had, and he kept going about doing things with that hand as if it was fine.

    Then I sent it out to a beta and realized after-the-fact! (Screams)

    Sometimes serious injuries unpair a character for months, years, or even life. The sliced hand may not be a lifelong injury, but be careful in making sure any injury they DO get stays consistent. Don’t want a character to lose a foot then be walking fine two chapters (or books) later as if it never happened.

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    • That one is a juggling act. We can’t keep our audience by putting the character in the hospital for several chapters, but we have to acknowledge the “world rules” too. Science fiction and fantasy can speed the process along, but a real world setting for a ghost story might require dedicating some time to healing. I’m probably going to have to juggle that one in a future stand-alone I have planned.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Your point on forgetting things is interesting. So far, I’ve written book 1 of my series mostly from a panster POV with an awful lot of details kept in my head. I think though I might have to get some of that stuff down on paper to help with book 2. Just how much can you rely on your head to be accurate?

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  12. You cover a lot of ground because continuity is the biggest thing. You need to remember foreshadowing, previous locations, recurring things, etc. That’s really the crux of a series since you need to remember the old and keep it fresh at the same time.

    Only other challenge I can think of is with the audience. Even with a trilogy, you will lose some readers along the way. You will gain some as well. People have more time to bond with characters, so there’s a higher chance of disagreement when you mess with them. So, there’s a long emotional rollercoaster to factor in.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Great post, Craig. I think with the series I’m tackling at the moment (The Colony Trilogy) consistency and memory are my biggest problems. I have outlined the heck out of these three books, which as a determined pantser is also a new thing for me, lol. My copious notes on characters and setting and tech are proving invaluable. Thanks for sharing your experience on writing a series. Reblogged on: … Check out this post on writing a series by Craig Boyack over on Story Empire today >> How would you keep your ducks in a row? >>> 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • Writing a solo project we’re kind of all in at the time. A series can take years even, and memory probably isn’t the best way of keeping track. I still find myself going back to the original MS and doing the occasional word search to review a scene or line.

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  14. Even more impressed by your organisational skills, Craig… but how the hell did you get your ducks to behave? Every time I almost get mine lined up, several of them make a break for it! One of these days, I might even go with them…

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