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?