In this final section of my mini-series, Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie continue to share their thoughts on different aspects of writing the series novel. Tonight we look at how to ensure each novel can be read as a stand-alone book, specific things my guests love and loathe about writing series, and whether they know, ahead of time, how many books are going to be in their respective series.
So on to the final questions then…
7. How do you ensure each novel in a series can be read as a stand-alone book?
Jennifer C Wilson
The most important thing I think is to establish any ‘rules’. For me, writing paranormal, this includes things like what my ghosts can and cannot do, nothing hidden which they use later, as a plot device. Obviously there are some references to other locations, but I do try to make them standalone in terms of a complete story. There might be hints as to what certain characters might go and do next (leading into that next story!), but there is still a resolution to the central tale, so nothing is left unfinished if the reader decides not to read the next one.
I give a brief catch-up introduction relating to each of my characters and comment on anything in their past that is relevant to the present story line.
Each book tells a different stage of the overall story and has a complete story arc of its own. All of the loose ends are tied up which pertain to that adventure, but I like to drop a teaser in on the last page to hook the reader in for the next book.
Wendy H Jones
This is a fine balancing act, especially in a crime series. It is a balance between letting the reader know the back story without giving away anything which will spoil previous books. During editing I make sure that the balance between these is just right. Enough to inform and be engaging without spoiling previous storylines.
In my Temporal Detective Agency series, although there are running character stories, each book has an integral story plot, so that even if a reader started on the second book, Trouble With Swords, the book would still be an entertaining stand-alone read.
8. Name the one specific thing you love about writing series.
Jennifer C Wilson
I get to spend time in the company of some of my favourite characters. That’s why some of them have come back a couple of times, because they’re fun to be about.
I really like my characters – even the baddies – so I enjoy revealing a little more about them in each book.
Being able to develop a larger story and weave the threads throughout several books.
Wendy H Jones
Getting to know the characters so well and to develop new storylines which will keep them challenged and the reader engaged.
A series enables the author to extend the characters beyond where they would be a in a single book. They grow, possible age and gain experience as the series progresses.
9. Name the one specific thing you hate about doing it!
Jennifer C Wilson
Having to make sure I don’t tie those favourite characters in knots!
Remembering all the interconnections! I have had to create quite a complex ‘family tree’ for my novels.
While writing the series there were times when I had an idea for another book and really wanted to make a start on it, or just wanted to have a change and write something different. I couldn’t do this because of the time pressure to complete the series while I still had an interested audience.
Wendy H Jones
There’s nothing I hate about it. Writing series, and in fact being a writer, is the best job in the world.
When to stop writing the series! JKR had the right idea. She said there would be 7 books and that would be it.
10. Famously, JKR knew she was going to write 7 books in the Harry Potter series and planned them out. Do you know how many books are going to be in your series at this stage?
Jennifer C Wilson
For a number of reasons, I think Kindred Spirits: York, due out in early 2019, might be the last one for a little while. I think I would like to write more in the future though – there’s so much scope, after all. And even though I’ve told my brain it’s having a break, it isn’t listening. I cannot visit any historical site without starting to think about who might be haunting it…
I have no idea! As many as my readers will support. I hope they continue to enjoy my series of novels for a long time to come.
Allison: I should add The Shamblelurkers Return was a charity book organised by Marit Meredith. Richard and I both had work in here. This is very much a trip down memory lane here!
Just the three! (And here Anne shares the blurb for the third in her series).
Secrets of the Snow Globe
Louisa swayed as if trying to balance on a rope bridge.
‘Earthquake!’ cried the villagers. ‘It’s happening again! Earthquake!’
Louisa’s blood fizzed. ‘Since when did I-Sing have earthquakes?’
Chaos rages in the world inside the snow globe following the theft of seven, magical, diamond snowflakes. In a race against time, Louisa and her brother, Jack, shrink into the globe and embark on a perilous journey to catch the thief. Can they retrieve the snowflakes before the snow globe world is destroyed?
Are you ready for the adventure?
Wendy H Jones
I had ideas for eight DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries and have now written six. The Cass Claymore Investigates use the alphabet (the first one is called Antiques and Alibis) so has the potential for twenty-six. I have ideas for eight Fergus and Flora and numerous Bertie the Buffalo stories. So a lot more books to write.
As I said earlier, I’ll write them as long as the characters are having fun and I can think of plots…. And of course, as long as they sell!
About Jennifer C Wilson
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.
Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books and available via Amazon, along with her self-published timeslip novella, The Last Plantagenet? She can be found online at her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About Val Penny
Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books. The third book in the series, Hunter’s Force, follows shortly.
Author contact details
About Anne Wan
Anne Wan is the author of the Secrets of the Snow Globe series, aimed at children aged 7 to 9 or thereabouts (Key Stage 2). She now has three books in the series: Shooting Star, Vanishing Voices, and the recently released Menacing Magic..
About Wendy H Jones
Wendy H Jones is the Amazon Number 1 best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse , was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the forthcoming Christmas Anthology form the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, will be released at the end of October 2018.
About Richard Hardie
Richard is the creator of the Temporal Detective Agency series which, to date, comprises Leap of Faith and Trouble with Swords. As well as the adventures of the heroines in his books, you also get to find out some home truths about Merlin too!
The truth is that, no matter what you write, for it to appeal to the public, it has to be well written, entertaining, and capture the imagination. That latter point is important for non-fiction too. Nobody will read a dull list of facts and figures when, with some imagination, those same facts and figures can be presented as part of a “story” which engages the reader more. The discipline of being committed to write shouldn’t be underestimated either. And then there’s the marketing to worry about!
Writing is hard work partly because you are concentrating so much to get it right, partly because something of you DOES go into everything you write, and because sentences have an annoying habit of sounding wonderful in your head but when it comes to putting them down on paper, somehow they seem clunky. You know the red editing pen will be needed on it later. When writing a novel series, you have the additional challenges of keeping characters who are very familiar to you fresh and exciting enough for you to still write stories for them. Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously became tired with their most famous creations (and Sir Arthur was effectively forced into bringing Sherlock Holmes back).
So all credit to all series writers who achieve that. It is an incredibly hard thing to get right but rewarding when you do. Why? You can build up a fan base of folks who love your main lead and who will be eager to see what they get up to next. You can take your characters in far more directions than a single book could achieve.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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