As I mentioned in my previous post, due to a mix up with start times on the convention event app, I (and many others) missed the first half hour or so (more ‘or so’ for me, I woke with a bad headache – more on the later) of Day 1.
So I missd the opening remarks and the Welcome by Anne Gracie, which was a shame because Ms Gracie’s comments were referenced in a later discussion. However I did make it for most of Nalini Singh’s keynote address, so I’ll start the conference proper there.
At the point I arrived, Nalini was talking about “key words that hook reader”.
Building blocks for a series:
- Reader must want to follow the characters and/or the world from book to book
Building block 1 – Family
- Sketch out a family tree
- Need to be able reference relatives as aunt / uncle / cousin etc
- Useful to have some extended family (series can go on)
- Family secret. Other branches of family etc
- Generational series more difficult to pull off, as people due (readers don’t like it) – historical / contemporary may be able to pull it off
- Figure out ages in comparison with each other – need to be the right age when you need them to be
- Ageing someone by 5 years will lose 5 years of another couple’s development
Building block 2 – Band of Brothers / Sisters
- How many core members are there?
- Stick to the core number
- What is their history? What ties them so tightly together?
- Reader buys into the history and what ties them together
- Tone depends on your story. Military, 4 bridesmaids – doesn’t have to be a heavy backstory, but you have to put work into it and know it.
- Other ideas: people connected by –
- A dream to set up a business
- Childhood event that scarred them all
- A sport – books about teams very popular
Building Block 3 – Place
- Sketch out a map of your location and stick to it
- Readers who read books set around a town or a business or a neighbourhood are reading as much for the “feel” of the location as they are for the love story.
- Familiarity for readers – like going to a favourite place with favourite people
- Running gags that have readers cheering people on
- Figure out your cast – feeling of home
Building block 4 – age and timelines
- Age is important to all series, but particularly to long-running series
- Characters may ‘age in’ or ‘age out’ of where you need them to be
- Time jumps
- Time squishing / manipulation – be careful
- You must keep a timeline especially if you have an overarching plot line
- Allows you to keep track of people’s ages over multiple books
- Specific references to events vs vague dates. Specific has more impact.
- Do not use this as a procrastination tool. Simply jot down a couple of notes to remind you of an event on the timeline
- Overarching series writers: also need to keep an overall timeline of the series, so you know how much time has passed. Good for tracking things like pregnancies, children’s ages, time-sensitive series elements.
- Will also save you time down the road if you decide on an offshoot series
- Connection via characters
- Short series vs long
- In a short (4-5) book series, can introduce them all in book 1.
- In a longer series, will have to introduce in stages. Don’t try to introduce every single person at once.
- Can’t have every single person appear in every single book (despite reader wishes). Only characters who have a role to play should appear.
- If you are planning a hook up later, you can insert a hint up in book 1 – Easter egg for devoted readers.
- Do not sequel bait
- Consider how people interact in real live and weave future heroes (or heroines) into the characters’ lives in a realistic way. Don’t push them in like the annoying gatecrasher at an intimate party
- Surprises – bring in new blood, very incestuous if the only people who get together are only those who were in book 1
- Fresh blood
- Can lead to offshoots
- Series readers get to know a set of characters as individuals
- Memorable, interesting
- Incite emotional responses
- Readers will not be excited if all the characters in your series are exactly the same
- Even alpha heroes need to be differentiated
- Given your characters distinct personalities
- Draw secondary characters quickly but with care – write tighter
- Aim: make the characters feel like family to the reader, complete with foibles and likes and dislikes
- Do all the characters have to be likeable?
- Don’t go overboard
- Characters can have friction with each other
- Use friction like spice in cooking – don’t go overboard
- Maintain characterisation through the series
- With natural change / progression
- Be kind to your beloved characters
- if you have set something up like Mary and her crush on the sherif, then don’t keep Mary (and the reader) hanging forever. Give her a happy ever after
- Kindness may not suit your series – balance that vs giving reader enough to keep reading
Long running series and endings
- You MUST know where you are going
- Ask: what is my end goal? Where am I leading readers
- Makes it
- Easier to thread the overarching plot from book to book
- Maintain coherence
- Not end up with scrambling to cobble together a resolution
- Example Silence – the fall of Silence (Psy Changeling series)
- Short, five words
- Payoffs: critical to a series with a long or background story arc
- Cannot lead the read on a book to book with no payoff
- Boredom and frustration
- Give them what you promised
- Story arcs can come to fulfilment and open out again
- Eg psy-changeling series: season1 and season 2
Worldbuilding is part and parcel of writing series. You must create whatever world it is that your story is set Iin.
- A shapeshifter pack
- A small town
- A wedding catering company
- A support group for relatives of murder victims
- A sports team (or two competing teams)
- A struggling theatre company
- A military squad
- The crew of an intergalactic spaceship
Choose something that you feel has emotional power and the emotional resonance you want
In summary: make your world vivid and realistic to the reader
- The joy of the families
- Characters that feel like family
- Resist the ’kitchen sink’ syndrome;
- A strong world will help tie all the stories together. Eg Sex & the City