22 January 2013

The Trouble With Series Writing...

Some times a good idea goes astray…

Glasses5I don’t particularly like to teach writing.  It’s something that just happens within me, sort of like magic.  I don’t know where it comes from, so it’s hard to impart that how to knowledge to someone else.   However, Life’s Lessons I can offer up for consideration ― a do as I say, not do as I do tutorial, so to speak.
One thing you quickly learn when you are writing books in series is to keep a “bible”.  Each character should have a page.  On that page list anything pertinent to him or her.  What’s the birth date, colour of hair or eyes, are they left handed or right?  Good traits, bad habits.  Childhood memories.  Oh, you think you will recall these details, but as time marches on and you work on more books in the series, maybe other books, or another series as I do, it’s easy to forget things.  Too easy.  In that “bible” you should also include pages for settings.  Description of places, where doors and windows are, décor etc.
At the top of the list of things to include in “must be remembered list” is to keep a running calendar.  On what date and day – such as Wednesday afternoon on such and such date this happens.  It keeps you focused on the timeline, a true anchor for you to move surely through your novel.
This last item really proved a bugbear for me on my The Sisters of Colford Hall ™ series (Montlake – Amazon Publishing).  How many times have you read a series and hate that you find yourself reading book three and have missed books one and two?  It’s a crux for an author: do you repeat a lot of information in book three that happened in book one and two, thus boring a reader who has been following the series?  Or do you consider perhaps someone missed the previous books and needs information to tell them what happened at this point or that point in the backstory?  Sort of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation.  Which is the lesser of evils in the reader’s eyes?
Well, being a smart lassie― though not experienced in publishing at that point ― I set out to write the first three novels of my The Sisters of Colford Hall™ series so they ran in the same time frame.  Each story is happening precisely at the same time the other two do.  There is no one, two and three.  Any of the three books can be picked up and read in any order.  Wow!  How cool is that?  No grumpy readers saying they got the books out of order.  No doing information dumps to bring readers up to speed who haven’t read the previous books, and no boring fans already following the series.
Problem solved, eh?  Well, not quite.
I started working on the books a bit before 2000, but health issues got in the way of prepping the series.  I had an offer from the very talented editor, Leslie Wainger, to read the completed first book in the series.  I was too sick to follow through then.  By the time I was on my feet enough to seriously start the submission route again, and see the series purchased by Dorchester Publishing, five years had passed.  Suddenly, as I prepared the first two books for publication, I ran into those teeny details that can trip you up.  I had written both first drafts, just flat out writing.  No comparing dates and times. Uh oh!  These books interact with each other – emails and phone calls going on, references to things happening in the other books.  Suddenly, my three books running concurrently idea didn’t seem like such a bright idea!
I had to sit down and create that calendar and bible, so my timelines dovetailed.  Since then, no matter what, I do a character profile, timeline and calendar for each book.  It saves mistakes, or furious rereading to find that point of reference you need.


1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Excellent suggestions, Deborah. I've already tripped myself up on the sequel to Jewel of Ramstone and had to go and look things up--which is a real bugger. Takes me right out of the scene I'm working on.
Before I go any further, I'm gonna write my very own Jewel Bible. LOL.