The joy and challenge of writing flash fiction is creating a short story out of nothing, with a proper beginning, middle and end, to a tight word count.
The joy and challenge of creating a novel is conjuring up your own world out of nothing and having an enthralling story set there, which usually comes in at the 80,000 to 100,000 word mark. (So your story must be strong to literally go the distance).
When I finish my flash fiction piece, I write the next.
When a novelist writes their book, they write the next (though the reality is when you see a book being launched, that writer wrote the story some time ago, and should be well ahead on their follow up or even the one after that). The thing we have in common is creating fresh, original characters every time.
But hang on… what about those novelists who write series… they are working with many of their same cast each time. What are the joys and challenges of doing this? So I thought I’d throw the following questions at some of my writer friends with series out.
Many thanks to Jennifer C Wilson, Anne Wan, Val Penny, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for taking part in this. Many thanks to them all for supplying author images, book cover images etc. Author bios will follow in each of the three posts for this series.
I’m going to put the same questions to all of them. If you were in any doubt that writing books was hard work, hopefully these posts will soon convince you otherwise! There is no doubt whatsoever about the level of commitment needed.
There is a lovely range of fiction represented here too.
Richard, Wendy and Anne all write for children/YA.
Val and Wendy both write Scottish crime series.
Val’s series, The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries, features her main protagonist, Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson.
Wendy’s DI Shone Mackenzie series is set in Dundee but I should add Wendy has a strong claim to be the queen of series novel writing. (She also has the most diverse audiences in terms of age!).
Jennifer writes historical fiction crossed with ghost stories and a stand alone romantic fiction novella (with Richard III no less as the romantic lead).
I will be arranging these posts so that all of my guests all answer the same question before we move on to the next. It will be interesting to see the similarities and contrasts in their replies.
Firstly I’ll start with brief bios.
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.
Author contact details
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 from 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 discover some home truths about Merlin too!
So on to the first question… the obvious one I think.
1. Why write series novels? Surely it’s more fun to create new characters each time.
Jennifer C Wilson
With the Kindred Spirits series, I feel like I’m having the best of both worlds – an ongoing concept, with a lot of new characters each time. Yes, some characters have come back in more than one book, but on the whole, I’m still creating new people each time, just working in the same overall boundaries.
I really enjoy developing my characters and putting them in different situations. I know what each of them is like now, and it is fun to see known entities cope with the plots I create.
An unfinished story. After writing book one, Secrets of the Snow Globe – Vanishing Voices I felt that there was more to the story that had been told. I still had questions about how the snow globe came into being and where the magic came from. At the end of book two, Jack steals an item from the snow globe. This raised the question, ‘what effect does this have on him and the snow globe world?’ I knew book 3 would be the final book in the series and I had a lot of fun answering this question and pulling together threads from the first two stories.
I enjoy writing about the same characters because you get to know them better and can explore different aspects of their personality. There is still the possibility of creating plenty of new characters into the mix. The best of both! Finally, readers were so positive about Vanishing Voices there was a certain pressure to write a second book with the same characters and setting. After book 2, they were desperate for book 3!
Wendy H. Jones – A Serial Series Writer
Yes, it is a lot of fun to create characters and to get to know them. However, it’s the getting to know them that’s key when it comes to writing series. Before writing the first book I spend a lot of time thinking about the main characters. I ask them 100 questions about themselves and the answers surprise me. The characters grow, develop and change over the life of the series, just as they would in real life. They also surprise you all the time. For example, DI Shona McKenzie, the main Character in my DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries started out as a lover of fine wine. She told me she didn’t like wine and whisky was her tipple. She refused to budge so whisky it was. Talisker no less.
Characters also turn up and surprise you. In my Cass Claymore Investigates series, a rather dapper dwarf turned up and introduced himself. Then he insisted he was in the book and staying. He has turned out to be a fabulous character. In the book all the women fall in love with him and, much to my surprise, all the female readers seem to be falling in love with him. I will be able to have great fun with him throughout the series.
Terry Pratchett, the master series author, once told me that as the Discworld series evolved and the number of characters increased and matured, the next book would virtually write itself. He would select a group of characters, give them a plot and they would pretty well know what to do and say without too much interference from him! I think he was exaggerating. However he also said it was great fun to see what the characters did in the next book. Something that a one-off can’t let you do.
So let’s talk about the joys of writing series novels then…
2. What are the joys of writing series novels?
Jennifer C Wilson
I really enjoy working in the same world and set-up each time, building on what’s gone before, and getting to know how things work. I know the rules, which means I can play with them a bit.
Familiarity. In a series of novels, I have familiarity of place in my setting and familiarity of people in my characters.
Spending time with characters you love!
Weaving together a larger, over-arching story.
Building a readership base and rapport with your readers.
Wendy H. Jones
For me it is the fact that I can really get to know the characters and then put them into increasingly fraught situations. Readers get to know the books and the tropes and expect these to happen. Because I know the characters so well I can help them to develop in different ways but concentrate on the plot. I write crime fiction so throughout the series I can pick up on different aspects of crime and the underbelly of society. I can let my imagination run wild and allow the reader to go to places they wouldn’t be able to in real life.
I have to give very much the same answer as for the first question. I love my characters in the Temporal Detective Agency and seeing the girls go through their teen years with all that that involves is great fun. I always said that I’ll continue writing the TDA books as long as my characters are having fun and I can think up plots that make sense.
Many thanks, everyone, for a fascinating insight into writing series novels. More next week when we will look at the challenges, whether our writers planned to write series at all or whether it “came about”, and the issues that can crop up when writing a series, amongst other topics.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.