What I’ve Learned Writing a Series

War Unicorn was published last fall with Books We Love. I loved (and hated) my characters enough to keep thinking about them, wanting to send them on more adventures. Hence: a series began.

I have two of five planned books in the series written, awaiting final editing and approval and release dates. I find the remaining three books harder and more complicated to write because of the additional people and places, but I must persevere.

What I’ve learned in writing a series:

1)      Characters – Keep the main characters consistent throughout; obviously, there will be additional characters thrown in the mix with each book, but keep your protagonist and main antagonist forefront;

2)      Plot – Not only does each individual story have its own arch with a satisfying endings, the entire series need to have an over-arching plot thread which makes sense; maps of the world, outlines of plots, family and other relationships trees also help here;

3)      Space your release dates (and therefore, finish writing each story) to keep your readers interested and not too far apart in time so they don’t forget who is who and what they want;

4)      Writing a series is a major commitment; if you begin one, don’t give up; set clear goals (if your editor doesn’t do it for you), and push through to see them accomplished.

5)      Keep on writing, and good luck to you.

Write Alone, but Don’t be Lonely (the purpose of a critique group)

This past spring, I was at a book signing with several other authors. The woman beside me was part of the local Writer’s Guild and tried to get other authors to join. I asked if they did critiques with one another. Her eyes lit up and drifted off to the left and up before looking back down at me. “Having someone else read over your story first? What a wonderful idea!”

She is self-published, and was popular with the locals who came to the event, but as sweet as this woman was, I couldn’t get myself to buy one of her books  — without an editor or even other writers giving their imput before publication. I could be wrong. She might be one of those rare gems who is truly a word-wizard, and I missed my chance. I actually met an elderly woman once who caused my jaw to drop with her on-the-spot writings, but she wasn’t at all interested in getting published. How sad for the world.

For those of us who write and rewrite and delete and toss and revise, and revise a few more times, often doing all this before presenting anything to our critique groups, writing is a struggle. It’s time-consuming and hard work. I simply cannot imagine doing this all on my own. I need my critique group. I value their eyes and their thoughts. For me, I see five main reasons to participate in a critique group:

1. Someone other than your mother or spouse can look over the manuscript for plot structure or story arch or clarification.

2. They can point out where the characters work or don’t work, where the author has the character say or do something, but isn’t in that character’s voice or POV.

3. They can show where you’ve repeated a single word four times in two paragraphs, or have a convoluted sentence structure, or have told, not shown, etc.

4. Struggling alongside others, and each wanting to improve your writing, you can do group studies on various books of writing craft, or of books in your genre, and share the insights and promote discussions and then apply what you’ve gleaned to your own writing.

5. Critique groups keep you producing, month after month.

I’ve been in several critique groups, one for over a dozen years. I’ve also had beta readers checking word for word errors. And I’ve had editors who point out things which none of the others mentioned, and who strive to make my writing absolutely shine.

Writing is a lone business, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Book Review of WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT by Mary Kole

Every so often my critique group from circa 2003 takes time off from our weekly sub-and-crit schedule to explore the craft of writing. This past week it was all about reading and discussing the book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by literary agent Mary Kole (2012, Writers Digest Books).

Do you need to write only for the 8- to 18-year-old to glean information on how to be a better writer from this book? Absolutely not. Kole is a master at setting a chisel on the calloused fallacies of writers for all ages. Does she cover the major three issues? Character, plot and language? You bet, but in a refreshing way which caused this author to sit back, scrutinize her writing revealed in this new spotlight, and say, “Oh, fiddle sticks!” At which time she sends me straight back to Thought- and Revisionland. She covers much more than the major three and delves deeply in.

There are many books available on the craft of writing, many wonderful books. Most are for beginners. Kole does an excellent job, taking the writer deeper. It’s not just “know your characters,” but know their core identities and views on the world. It’s not just about raising stakes in your plot, but raising the stakes for the purpose of seriously affecting your protagonist. And if just reading about improving your writing isn’t enough, Kole throws in exercises for the braver readers. It’s a great study book on the craft of writing.