Organizing a Series: Details are Author Gold
Writing a series is a process…a long detailed process made easier with a little planning and documentation. Planning ahead is always a good idea. Ask anyone who’s ever lost their luggage or ran out of cash on a date. For series writers, planning ahead saves time and streamlines the process of writing books two and beyond. It’s important to remember writing a novel is a great accomplishment. Often, we write and write and write without stopping to admire our success. Many writers begin a novel and never finish. If you’ve finished, please pat yourself on the back. Congratulations on your magnificent tenacity and dogged determination. You did what few ever do. You are a novelist!
The amount of time and planning authors put into the story of their heart is unimaginable. Recreating your setting, plot and characters for future novels takes some serious planning. As readers fall in love with your world and the inhabitants, they will expect consistency in the books to come. Readers remember the details. If the author forgets a detail or changes it without explanation, readers will make sure the author and other readers hear about the error. Inconsistency in series writing is a mark against your books and, for some readers, against you as a writer. I don’t know about you, but I never want labeled as the author who didn’t know the details of her own stories, so I plan ahead. Sometimes obsessively, which I don’t recommend for everyone, but it works for me.
Where should you start? What kind of details are noteworthy? Short answers: 1. Start at the beginning. 2. All details are noteworthy. This is your amazing new series! You spent months of your life creating the characters, cultivating the dynamics and building their world. Those details are what makes your novel stellar and unique. You want to log all the details for future reference.
If you aren’t convinced you need to write anything down, consider this: How long did it take you to complete your story? How long will your manuscript be out on submissions? Assuming the manuscript (Book One) is picked up by a publisher, how long before it hits shelves? Often times, the timeframe between submission and publication takes years. Years. What will you write in the meantime? It’s not uncommon for an author to begin a new book (not a sequel) while waiting for news on Book One. I do. I’m always writing and I rarely begin book two in a series before contracting book one. Hey, noveling takes endless hours, sweat and tears. Until Book One sells, I spend my time writing other stories that might sell. If you do this too, then you see the problem. A year after you finish Book One, and have written another novel or two, how can you expect to remember the details? Even if you write your sequels back to back, it’s easy to forget the head librarian’s name or hair color when she pops up again in Book Three.
Where to Start
Reread Book One. I know. Cringe. Retreat. How many times have you read those words? It feel like a hundred by the time the novel is ready for submissions, not to mention rounds with your agent, revision letter from the acquiring editor, line edits, copy edits. I understand. I know you don’t want to read Book One again, but it’s a great idea and it’s Step One. So, you must. Rereading is especially important before writing a sequel because rereading puts you back in the main character’s headspace and reminds you of the tone and voice of the character.
Use the time you spend rereading to the fullest by taking notes. Keep lists or make spreadsheets of people, places and things. Ideally, do this as you write or plot Book One, but if you’ve already finished Book One, make notes during the reread and save the file. When your dream publisher buys Book One and accepts your series proposal, writing consistent sequels will be a breeze. You’ll be glad you took the time. Promise.
Consider all the things about your named characters, first and secondary characters, maybe even tertiary characters if they could pop up in future novels. If character were important enough to get a name, they go on the list. For example, unless you’ve had an election in your world, Sheriff Tom in Book One can’t be Sheriff Bob two sequels later. Readers remember. They love your work. They will want to know what happened to Sheriff Tom. See? A good rule of thumb for your lists: Anyone with a name makes the list.
Beside the character names, add a brief physical descriptions. Include their height, weight, hair color, eye color, fashion sense or lack thereof. A stutter. A limp. A wonky eye. A dimple. If you mentioned the detail in Book One, it’s important. You wouldn’t have thrown in random unimportant facts, would you? Right. Every word was chosen carefully, by you, for a purpose. So, honor your decision to include Aunt Mary’s nose mole with a line on your list. You deserve credit for that!
Note any characteristics that impact character development. Is the character graceful, clumsy, dowdy or charming? Write it down. Making a quick one word notation can be sanity-saving to you later on in the series. Let’s face it, most writers are hanging onto their sanity by a thread as it is, we have to do what we can to keep sanity within reach. Lists of character traits help for another reason too. Staying true to the character is important, but making notable changes intentionally is a great way to clue the reader in that something is happening or has happened to that character. For example: A drastic new look can mean a major life change for a character. A new job. A new beau. Or a breakup. The same concept applies for things like extreme noticeable fatigue. Forgetfulness, puffy eyes & general malaise might mean the character has a second job or switched to the midnight shift …or developed a drinking problem…or had a new baby. See? Details are important and can be used to your advantage as the author.
Relationships within the world you create are noteworthy as well. Make room on your lists to note how the characters know one another (if they do). How are they connected to other characters? What is the dynamic of their friendship? Cordial? Hostile? Fake? Do some characters share a common interest which might bring them into one another’s lives in future novels? Are they single? Neighbors? Avid readers? Love cat shows?
As you build your world, or make notes of the world you’ve built, take five minutes and draw a rough sketch of your world on paper. Label key street names and landmarks. Put an x on character homes and their places of employment. How do they commute? How far are the things from home, or from one another? If the heroine is being chased or has car trouble, where can she get on foot sensibly? This is important. Logistics are huge factors in your story arc. If your heroine gets coffee at the shop on her corner every morning, can she reasonably also have lunch there during the workday or is it too far? Readers will remember these things and so should you. If your artistic skills top out at stick figures, don’t worry about it. This map isn’t for an award, it’s for reference. If the church is on Church Street today, it can’t be on Main Street tomorrow….unless your character changed churches, in which case, mention that. If you detail the décor of a place, make notes. Consistency.
You thought the last two topics were broad. “Things” applies to all the things. This is where my rule comes back into play. If you named it, mentioned it, put it into the story in Book One, I assume this is an important thing. Write all the important things down. Is the pickup manual or automatic shift? If you mentioned it as one or the other, mark it down. What color is the truck? Make & model? How about her home? The neighborhood? The state of her bank account, closet or refrigerator contents.
My mom likes to say, “The devil is in the details.” I know what she means, but as an author, I think the details are made of gold. Details improve a reader’s ability to taste the brine in the ocean air or hear the bleating red tug boat over a steady roar of wave breaks. Writers are made of details. Details run my world. As you prepare your books, I hope you’ll apply one or two of my suggestions and I hope they make life easier when the time comes. I’m writing a cozy mystery series for Carina Press which was picked up for print in the Harlequin Book Club. Book one, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE will arrive in paperback this fall. Book Two, MURDER COMES ASHORE released today in digital ebook format. This is a dream-come-true opportunity for me, one I never dreamed I’d get. You can bet your bonbons I’m making consistency a high priority. I wouldn’t suggest anything for others I wasn’t already practicing in my writer life. I hope some of my suggestions helped!
Murder Comes Ashore
Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.
Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.
When the body count rises and Patience’s parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It’s not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she’s determined to clear her family’s name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer’s next victim.
** This post originally published on 3/3/24 at Savvy Authors
I’m super excited to announce the stops at the Murder Comes Ashore Blog Tour. I have lots of great blogs on the list, most are crime fiction lovers, a few are romantics *winky face* ALL are bookish people like you and me. The best part about this tour is all the free stuff. I’ve got stories about my journey, facts about the island and woman who inspired the series, teaser excerpts and PRIZES. Yeah. What? I didn’t think you’d follow my tour for my words of wisdom. If you’ve read my blog you know those words are bananas and fruitcake, but prizes??? Prizes are motivating. Then, to round off a full month of celebration, I’m throwing my first ever FaceBook party with even more giveaways and perhaps a guest appearance or two, so be there or be missing from the awesome funsies. That’s how the saying goes, right?
Murder Comes Ashore Blog Tour
Monday March 3rd: Savvy Authors – Organizing Details is Writer Gold
Monday March 3rd: Fantasies, Mysteries, Comedy, Recipes - Amateur Sleuths, Fun & Follies
Monday March 3rd: Stacy Juba Blog- Interview
Tuesday March 4th: Rachel Brimble Romance - Romance in Cozy Mystery
Tuesday March 4th: Carina Press Blog
Wednesday March 5th: Writer & Cat A cattification
Wednesday March 5th: Marilyn’s Musings Birders & the island that inspired me
Wednesday March 5th: Books with a Bite - An Interview with two Heroes
Friday March 7th: Shelf Pleasures Snapped! at Love is Murder
Friday March 7th: Ramblings from a Chaotic Mind: Review & Giveaway
Monday March 10th: http://chrisredddingauthor.blogspot.com/ - Interview
Wednesday March 12th: The Corpse Steps Out - Excerpt teaser & giveaway
Wednesday March 12th: Pebbles in the Water - Interview
Wednesday March 12th: It’s Not All Gravy Writing with small children
Friday March 14th: Lisa Haseltons’s Reviews and Interviews - Interview
Saturday March 15th: Ramblings from a Chaotic Mind
Monday March 17th: Lise Mcclendon Every Woman: Amateur Sleuth
Wednesday March 19th: Nancy’s Notes from Florida
Thursday March 20th: The Mystery World of Pat Brown - Interview & Excerpt
Friday March 21st: Buried under books
Friday March 21st: Cathy Perkin’s Blog
Saturday March 22nd: Make Mine Mystery Island Inspiration
Monday March 24th: Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso - My Writing journey So Far
Wednesday March 24th: Babette James Blog Interview
Wednesday March 26th: Suspense Your Disbeliefs .com - My Made It Moment
Friday March 28th: Toni Anderson’s Blog! Excerpt & Giveaway!
Saturday March 29th: Mysterious Writers Musical Inspiration
Monday March 31st: The Stiletto Gang - Excerpt & Giveaway
Monday March 31st: Not Your Usual Suspects
The Big Thrill Magazine did a feature article about my new release, MURDER COMES ASHORE! I was interviewed by USA Today Best Selling Author Karen Harper and I dished on amazing things like Kimberly Horton, my inspiration, and my intense author love for Matt Petrunak and his mad skills….. Enjoy!
The writer life is an exercise in bi-polar living for me. The mental work is grueling. The long droughts of rejection drain my soul. I frequently look to my writer-friends for a reason to go on. Frequently. I quit writing FOREVER at least quarterly. It’s a very awful pursuit for me about half the time. Truly terrible. But. Twenty-five percent of the time, I’m inspired. When I’m inspired, I have hope and the company of a shiny new concept that keeps me up at night like the butterflies of first love. I talk about the concept and pet it and snuggle it and spend time cultivating it everyday and long into the nights. The inspired times are worth the miserable drought times. I love that portion of my writer life. Still, there’s another twenty-five percent out there.
I didn’t forget. And my math skills aren’t that bad, yet. I was saving the best for last. Grandma taught me. The good news take your mind off the bad. This post is about the good news.
Me and Jacqueline Mitchard
The very best part of the writer life is when it all becomes real. When an agent or editor likes your work. A critique partner begs for more. A readers contacts you to say you made them smile, laugh, climb a mountain, etc. Unfortunately, these times are the exception for most writers like me, but they’re worth it. The bulk of our lives is spent in the trenches, then just when we’re ready to quit writing FOREVER. Again. Something lovely happens to refuel our hearts and remind us there is purpose to the madness.
Last weekend I had an experience like that. I attended the Love is Murder Conference in Chicago. It was the best weekend event I’ve attended in ages, but not because of the event itself. Let me tell you about the weekend.
It started with me pouting around the house over leaving the kids for three days, imposing on in-laws, worried my editor would be mean to me when we finally met in real life, worry the trip was all around too costly, my career/hobby? took took much away from my family…you name it. If the tickets and airfare weren’t already paid for and nonrefundable, I would’ve backed out at the last minute. I was having a drought experience. I’d pulled manuscripts from my agent that week, discouraged at the lack of progress in submissions and resolved to self-publish. I believe in these manuscripts and refuse to stuff them under the floorboards because they haven’t found the right home. When you
Me with Laura Barth
spend your life writing not one, but two manuscripts that go nowhere, it’s a crossroads to What-the-heck-a- I-doing-with- my-life? Additionally, a third manuscript was failing to get the reception I wanted with the presses I wanted. Oh, and I was finishing 30days of writing guest blog spots in preparation for my March release, so I hadn’t written anything in ages. If you’ve ever done a blog tour, you know. You write variations of a similar vaguely promotional thing more ways than sanity can stand. I was drained. I wanted to go to bed for life.
Anyway. I didn’t. I got on a plane with my husband and we flew to Chicago. In February. During the arctic vortex. A caribbean escape it was not. Hubsy and I had a nice kid-free dinner at an overprices steak house and shared a bottle of wine at ten o’clock that night when we arrived. We ordered burgers and fries. It was that kind of day. I needed a burger. I slept like the dead, and in the morning, things looked up. Way up.
I met my editor-in-chief over at Merit Press, the gorgeous, talented and so very kind Jacqueline Mitchard. Jackie’s an acclaimed author and a mentor for me. She was a featured speaker at the event. She was so nice. I couldn’t believe my luck. I loved her instantly. We ran around like girlfriends (only way cooler than that lame description) during the event, sitting together and thankfully knowing at least one face everywhere we went. It was a wonderful comfort to me, plus, Jackie is hilarious. her wit is spectacular. I laughed so much. So very much.
Me with My Life Source
That afternoon, I went to my room to recharge. After a series of panels, my author-face was falling and my introvert was begging me to hide. I always listen to my introvert or bad things WILL happen. Back in my room, I had a FB message from my agent. I told her I was in my room for a few minutes and started typing a general recap of my morning when the phone rang. She called me. You know what that means, right? I got the call! The press where I’d hoped to place my last manuscript loved it! A win! I needed a win. It was a glorious, wonderful, very good day. Then, dinner arrived. At dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting with a woman I’d met via twitter just days before the conference. Her name is Laura Barth and she works at the Harlequin headquarters. She was tweeting something like, “Meet Heather Graham and Julie Lindsey in Chicago!” I had tweeted back to say, You just put ME in a tweet with Heather Graham? What?? LOL. I’m me and she’s Heather Graham! It was nuts. Laura was as much fun in person as she is on twitter and somehow even prettier. I was delighted to meet both Laura and Heather in Chicago. I’m now bunny trailing this story – sorry. *clears throat* So, I sat with Laura at dinner and she gave me more good news. Harlequin has chosen to pick up my Carina Press e-book mystery series for the Harlequin Book Clubs.
Me with Heather Graham
So, I said all that up there, to say this: If you are a writer in a drought period, ready to quit, ready to cry, emptying another pint of Strawberry Cheesequake ice cream….hang in there. This too will pass. Droughts always end. They take some people down with them, but you’re tougher than that. You’ll survive. So, get your chin up, Buttercup. Your good news is already in flight. It will be here before you know it, and if you’re like me, probably when you least expect it.
It’s no secret I love a good conference. I attend as many as possible. There’s something about being surrounded by crime fiction readers and writers that makes me buzz with energy. Let me tell you, I have enough energy without the extra buzz. I get downright giddy and awkward at these things, but while my sweaty palms and antsy brain scream “RUN TO YOUR ROOM AND HIIIIIIDE!” The adrenaline propels me into the mix where I watch and eavesdrop and absorb every bit I can.
This month, I’m prepping for another trip to Chicago. I went there for ALA (the American Library Association annual event) in June, but it was a quick trip. We arrived on Friday afternoon, went to the venue, stayed till close, back to the hotel and crashed. Back to the venue in the morning, then drove home that evening. Needless to say, I didn’t see much of Chicago, but I did get stuck waiting for the bridges to go up and back down, which got my mind wandering since I was reading the Divergent series at the time.
I’m bunny trailing again.
The Love is Murder conference is exciting to me for the obvious reasons, plus one more. I will finally meet the gorgeous and talented author/editor extraordinaire Jacqueline Mitchard. Jackie is the Editor in Charge over at Merit Press, my YA publisher for Deceived. She pulled my baby from the slush and gave this girl a chance to work with one of the best. I can’t wait to share an awkward hug with her. I’m slated to be on a YA panel with her, too. All good things. As a bonus, Hubsy is joining me…so…three days without kids? What? WHat? WHAT? Yep.
Here’s the info on Love is Murder. *Copied from the website Love is Murder.net*
“Love is Murder is the Midwest’s premier mystery/romantic suspense/thriller conference, drawing upwards of 300 readers, fans, authors and writers each year, with dozens of panel discussions, meet-and-greet book signings, presentations, exhibitors, book discussions, activities, entertainment, networking, and the opportunity to pitch manuscripts and ideas to Chicago- and NYC-based publishers, agents and editors.
It takes place in Chicago every February, Friday through Sunday during SuperBowl weekend.”
Hope I’ll see you there!
by Christine Kohler
When my Merit Press editor Jackie Mitchard e-mailed me the cover of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, without hesitation I e-mailed back, “I love it!” What I loved about the cover is the perspective. I don’t know who is the illustrator of my cover, but he or she understood both the duel perspective—two alternate point of views—and the artist’s perspective of showing the WWII Japanese soldier underground looking up at the 15-year-old Chamorro boy in the Guam jungle. I am not an artist, but my dad is an amateur artist so I understand a bit about drawing and perspective, that’s why I loved that my cover illustration has spatial and dimensional perspective.
Find Christine Kohler online:
I was also tremendously relieved when I first saw my cover. I was relieved for what was not on it. I did not get any say on my cover or book description or, initially, my author bio. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is set on Guam during 1972 with two characters—the protagonist is a 15-year-old Chamorro boy and the antagonist is a WWII Japanese soldier. It has made me anxious in the production of this book and marketing materials, such as a trailer or audio recording, that any images or vocals or representations will accurately reflect the indigenous Pacific-Islanders—Chamorros—in the Marianas, which includes Guam. (I lived in Japan and Guam.) Because of this concern of authenticity, I have not even had a trailer made. I want to hire someone on Guam to make it. I’ve also recommended to my publisher that they hire someone from the University of Guam to record the audio book because of the pidgin English and Japanese dialects in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. But, in the end, the publisher selects, not the author. So you can imagine my relief when my cover did not show faces or clothing. The only person on the cover is a black silhouette of the Chamorro teen as the hidden soldier might see him from the underground tunnel.
My book description has been problematic in writing because it is easy to give away too many spoilers. I wondered if the book cover would prove the same—needing a description, including spoilers, to explain what is going on in this collage of greens. However, something happened after I gave a bookmark to a teen that reminded me to trust the intelligence of my readers. The teen boy looked at the cover of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER and asked, “Did a bomb go off?” I realized that he could tell there was a big hole in the ground. (See, the illustrator was successful creating dimensional and spatial perspective!) I hesitated, not wanting to give away a spoiler, and said, “This hole was not caused by a bomb; it was caused by a WWII soldier who dug an underground tunnel with a cannon shell. However, there is a bomb in the story.”
Hopefully from the readers’ perspective the cover of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER will pique their interest and draw them in to read the story.
Preorder NO SURRENDER SOLDER:
Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound
**This post first appeared 12/13/13 on UnCommonYA**