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.