Thoughts On Writing A Series

I was having a conversation with my friend Tom, a new writer still working on the first draft of his novel. He emailed me to say that he was beginning to get some ideas for a new story. He asked me what I thought about writing a sequel to his first novel and extending the tale of his current characters. Since I’m a series writer, my first instinct is to say, go for it. But with some caveats. Of course it gave me the idea for this post.

Writing a series is really a lot of fun. A series writer creates the world they would like to live in. There is a great deal of satisfaction in making your fictional universe just the way you want it. However, there is also a great deal of meticulous planning and record keeping that must be done to make sure that your world remains consistent throughout all the stories set within it. Additionally, if you have recurring characters, they must also remain inside the parameters you’ve already written for them. For example, they can’t be the town sheriff in book one and the town dentist in book two. Or ten years older in the sequel if only six months have passed since the original story.

One of the ways I keep record of the details of the fictional world I’ve created is to have a database of information on each character, a map of my town and in some cases a drawing of the layout of a house or other building. Each character has a detailed biography including age, appearance, occupation, relationship to other characters and personality traits that may impact the way I write them. I will add to that biography after each new story so that the experiences they have had along the way are included for future reference.

Writing a series can mean following the life and times of one recurring character, as in a detective series like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series (Bones) or Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels.

Another way is to have each new story focus on a different character from a collection of which we’ve already been introduced. Nora Roberts does this with her trilogies and quadrologies. Three or four women (or men) will be introduced in book one, but the story will focus on the romance of only one of them. The other women (or men) will be well-developed secondary characters that return in the subsequent story, one of them as the main character, and so on. This is the format I followed for The Bucks County Novels. There is a risk in this approach, however….

Each of our characters deserves a unique voice. It is very difficult to write a story set in the same locale, perhaps within a circle of friends and not have the personalities of all your male and female characters blend together. My real world friends who have read my book Three Empty Frames say they hear my voice narrating the part of my main character, Jen. I had to try really, really hard not to sound exactly like that for the other women I wrote for the subsequent books, but I’m sure there are overlaps even so. Our own writing style makes that task difficult. We always sound like ourselves. That is why, in writing this sort of series, it’s even more important to have the detailed biographies on each one of our characters; to help focus on their unique attributes and distinguish them from the rest of the cast.

I am not sure if I will write another book in The Bucks County Series. At the moment, my focus has turned to a couple of stand-alone ideas. Perhaps when they’re brought to completion, I’ll go back to Doylestown for another series story. There are some fun characters in my fictional world who could have an adventure of their own.

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing!

Featured illustration my own.

48 thoughts on “Thoughts On Writing A Series

      1. Yes, both Bond and his villains! The Tolkien universe is incredible – even inventing Elven language. I understand that he based it on Finnish. Pretty amazing!

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  1. Not that I have any plans to publish anything, but I have thought about writing a series… Starting with something I’ve already written. But I am not that organized. I definitely think the biographies you speak of are necessary… so I guess that would be step one.

    I actually have two stories that I connected in a weird way… The couple from the first are the parents of the male lead in the next. But that posed all sorts of timeline questions… and they have totally different jobs. LOL So maybe really I only shared their names… but a little of their personalities, too.

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    1. Those issues are fixable in an unpublished work. It would take some heavy revising either to set the ‘parents’ timeline far enough in the past or to imagine the son far enough in the future, but it is certainly doable! I think you have a series in you, Sandra! Go for it!

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    1. Thanks, Drew! Yes, there is always the tendency to sound like ‘yourself’ no matter which character you’re writing. It is a conscious effort to use a different voice.

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  2. I assume writing a series is very challenging.It would be for me. I think one has to have an amazing memory and be extremely organized in thought and note keeping. If they have these qualities and are a gifted with brilliant and exciting ideas as you do my dear Meg, it would be a winner.

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    1. Ah, you are too kind, Holly! Organization is absolutely essential, though. I am a critical reader AND viewer of film and TV. If there are holes in a series, I can’t stand it! I’d never want to be guilty of that myself!

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  3. I have an idea for a five book series, all in different timelines, connected only by the villain (although he dies early but the things he does causes pandemonium in the entire world for years in the future, plus we have his followers…) and all featuring different heroines.

    Although it is action/adventure/fantasy all the books feature a romance which makes me hesitate with the idea, all my heroines are strong–there is one who is soft, another who is powerful enough to kill thousands, one who is not what everybody thinks, one whose like ‘I don’t need a man’ and the last one who is like a pirate. But if I feature them in romances, it’s like throwing their efforts down the drain, although none of them go all honey sweet on their partner, I honestly don’t know if it’s a good idea.

    And because of this I find myself questioning if i should even write this series…

    At the end of the day, I am just questioning how good my series is despite not even having written it. This is not something I struggle with just for this series but for all my writing projects in general. How do you find the confidence to write whatever comes to your mind?

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    1. That sounds like a great idea for a series! Don’t be discouraged by the size of the task. Start with one story and see how it goes. And there’s nothing wrong with featuring a romance. That is how life goes. It doesn’t weaken your female characters for them to find a partner. Just take care to write the relationship so that the partners remain on equal terms.

      How do I find confidence? Hmmm… I guess you have to try something before you can gain confidence. I certainly wasn’t confident in the beginning. Nevertheless, I’m an avid reader and as such, I can determine when something is well written and when it’s not. So i kept re-reading and rewriting my work until I was satisfied with it. I also read a lot about writing style and common errors new writers make AND I kept a diary of that early work as a reminder not to let myself get lazy when I write!

      So my advice is to start with your best developed character and write Book One! Best of luck to you and thanks much for stopping by!

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  4. I was nodding my head at everything you said here. I’ve just finished writing the last book in a 4 book series and all 4 stories take place within the same year. I was constantly referring to the first 2 books (written in 2013 & 2014) to double-check on things like color of a character’s hair or their age or what they were doing on the same day as the characters in the 3rd and 4th book. LOVE that idea of creating a database! Not sure yet if I’m going to jump into a new series or make my next book a stand-alone. Let’s see where the characters take me- each with their own unique voice – what a challenge!

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    1. It really is! Oh and if all the stories have overlapping timelines, its even more difficult. Kudos to you! I wish you luck with your forthcoming projects! And thanks so much for your comments!

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      1. This year’s wasn’t too bad. I had a lot of these stories floating around in my mind, so I started putting them to screen back in October. The spreadsheet made it pretty easy to keep track.

        The Choose Your Own Adventure from last year was a fully completed novel before the A to Z Challenge, so that made it easier. But for that, I had a Scrivener file, a Mind Map, AND 3×5 cards for every chapter. It was intense! I’ve been working on another Choose Your Own, but progress slowed after November.

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  5. Thank you so much! I’m a new writer and am working on the first draft of the first novel in my series! It’s definitely been a learning experience as I document all of the details (places, people, histories, etc.) How do you keep all of it together and organized? Thank you! Your blog is wonderful!!

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    1. Thank you Hannah, I’m happy it was helpful. I have mini biographies for all my characters, I keep a spreadsheet with the timeline of the story, to document major events and significant bits of dialogue and I sketch a map of important locations. It is a lot of ‘extra’ work but absolutely essential. Best of luck with your writing and your series!

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  6. Thank you for this wonderful post. As someone who is slogging her way through the third book in a trilogy, I definitely understand the tedium and work that gets put into writing such an expansive world.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you! Yes, writing a series demands a lot more organization than a stand alone book. Good luck with your third installment! 👏

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  7. I’m glad to have found your blog! Thanks for the advice on keeping characters consistent; although I’m not writing a series at the moment, it’s still a learning process.

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