Thursday, June 15, 2017

Planning a Series


by Linda Thorne

When you start a series, you are committing years of your life to the cause, perhaps the rest of your life. The series will take a great deal of planning. What? You say you didn’t plan on a series – you simply wrote a standalone first and then the idea hit you? You’ll still need a plan, and the sooner the better.

What characters will you need for plots later on? If your protagonist doesn’t have a mother or father or is childless, will they need a parent or child later to help move your story? Sure, you can have one of these characters appear out of nowhere, but you better make the appearance credible if you don’t want your reader throwing your book across the room never to pick it up again.

After I’d written my first book, I read one of J.A. Jance’s books in the J.P. Beaumont series that included a whole side story about his grown daughter and her relationships, emotions, and problems. I remember thinking how these scenes fleshed out Beau as a character and gave the reader an interesting spin-off.

But alas, I’d already blocked my way. My protagonist was childless and, unless I wanted her to have a baby or adopt a child when pushing fifty years of age, I needed to drop any hope of giving her a kid. Yeah, I could’ve invented a history of my lead having a baby in high school that she gave up. This is not only overused to the point of being a boring cliche, there would need to be hints of it planted early on and there were none.
  
Then there’s the timeline. I’ll use Sue Grafton’s series as the example. The first in her Kinsey Millhone detective series, A is for Alibi, was set in 1982 and published in 1982. Each book published after that was slower than real time.By the time she got to book number twenty-four, X, published in 2015, it was set in 1989. Kinsey Millhone aged seven years in character time as opposed to thirty-three in real time. I don’t think Sue Grafton ever wanted Kinsey to grow old in her series. I know I preferred Grafton's character staying in the same general age range.

I had another timeline problem. My book was set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and I completed my first draft shortly before Katrina hit. I’d written my book with scenes solidified in real places, many destroyed or changed by the catastrophic storm. I couldn’t recreate them since I had no idea when, how, and where they’d be rebuilt. The setting in my book is almost a character in itself. I could not sidestep Katrina; that is, unless I left my book set pre-Katrina, 2004 to 2005, which is what I did. Taking ten years to publish the book set the whole series even farther in the past.

Have any of you had problems in planning a series or noticed problems in the series books you read?   

8 comments:

Morgan Mandel said...

The timeline is a consideration in a series. Also, a problem for me was promising a trilogy and not wanting to do the third book.

Linda Thorne said...

That would be tough especially if you'd promoted it as a trilogy, had it on your book cover, etc. A trilogy would be good topic for a post, but I wouldn't be the one writing it. My only experience has been with having read a couple.

Carole Price said...

Great topic, Linda. BOB will be publishing the third in my Shakespeare in the Vineyard series this year...I hope. A long time between first and second editor. This series was published by Five Star and I was devastated when they dropped their mystery line. I'm fortunate that BOB picked it up. In the meantime, I've starter another series and know exactly what you mean re time factor. I wish I'd thought way ahead but I'm not that far into it so there's hope.

Linda Thorne said...

That's interesting, Carole. My editing process with BOB took a while too, but I think it's great they picked you up. I've heard it's really hard to get a new publisher once your series had been published. Don't quote me on this as I'm no expert, but a few people I know who were dropped by Five Star with the elimination of their mystery line, said this. I haven't followed up with them to see if they'v found other publishers yet, so not sure if they were just assuming this to be the case or if it is true.

Zari Reede said...

Interesting post. I just recently decided to dust off an old manuscript and rework it, since I likes the stories concept. There were lots of things to change since I wrote it in 2000-2002 era. My co-writer Zoe loves series, so I am sure we will tag on to a few of our favorite stories, but for now we just leave them as single stories with future possibilities. I grew up near New Orleans and that was a devastating time. I am interested to see what pre-Katrina havoc you have created. Best wishes for your book;-)

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Beth Fine said...

Linda Thorne - Timeline Issues - Although inclement weather often keeps us inside with more time to write, I loved that you let a hurricane predict, even confirm the timeline for your novel "Just Another Termination." Like New Yorkers have stories of where they were on 9/11, Southerners have unique tales about how Katrina changed their lives and landscape. As for my own series' timeline, I lived through the turbulent 1960s and now see how many effects that decade had on our national life and culture. Therefore, I felt destined to plop my young teacher-turned-detective character into that almost senseless season of upheaval. I hoped that her probing of the endless antics and protests, would yield some logical answers, even if those proved unpopular. Beth Fine

Linda Thorne said...

Yes, Choo, it helps when authors work together. For Zari and Beth, your timeline experiences and thoughts were interesting. As for dusting off something from 2000 to 2002 there's a number of updates if you want it to stay current (less fold-it phones and more Smartphones, social media, and on and on). Thanks.