Thursday, June 10, 2010

Guest post by L. Diane Wolfe - Writing a Series

Lucky day! L. Diane Wolfe is here today from Spunk on a Stick.

I asked Diane to talk about what it is like to write a series. Her thoughts are sure to help all writers - published and yet-to-be published. Enjoy!

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Writing a Series


Writing a five book series was a unique adventure. I never intended to write that many books! However, once I began writing, four additional stories emerged from the first. I was on a roll!

There are two types of series - those that continue one storyline throughout several books and those with a central theme or setting but the books are stand alones. (Mine is the latter.) Writing a series has its advantages. The setting is established in the first story and subsequent books build on that world. Creating a series means that writers hooked on the first book will want to read the others as well. (This is why book one must capture an audience.) A series also allows more time for character growth and development.

When does a series work? What drives the need for more books? Interesting characters can spur additional books, allowing the readers to continue on their adventures. An intricate world with numerous possibilities can foster more stories. Consider the epic novel - a perfect candidate for a series. Since publishers prefer to see manuscripts under 100,000 words from first time authors, a story two or three times that length can be broken down into several books. (Or receive mass edits!)

The secret to a series is knowing when to quit! Readers are quick to notice when a story has run out of steam even though the author continues to crank out books. Storylines grow repetitious or formulaic when pushed too far. The final book needs to end with a bang, not a fizzle! Sometimes the age of the characters determines a good stopping point. Three appears to be the magic number, but many successful series contain five, seven, or more volumes.

With my series, The Circle of Friends, I began with one storyline. As I worked, I envisioned stories concerning the main character’s two best friends. By the time I finished Book I, two additional characters demanded a turn in the spotlight. I now had four outlines, taking the series to five books. And as I completed Book V, I felt certain I’d done everything possible with the characters and was ready to lay them to rest.

So when contemplating a series, be prepared to see it to the end and say goodbye when finished. As long as there’s enthusiasm and purpose, the ride is a blast!

- L. Diane Wolfe, Professional Speaker & Author
http://www.spunkonastick.net/
http://www.thecircleoffriends.net/
http://www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com/


Known as “Spunk On A Stick,” Wolfe is a member of the National Speakers Association and the American Business Women’s Association. “Overcoming Obstacles With SPUNK! The Keys to Leadership & Goal-Setting”, ties all of her goal-setting and leadership seminar’s information together into one complete, enthusiastic package. Her YA series, The Circle of Friends, features morally grounded, positive stories that appeal to both teens and concerned parents. Ten years associating with a motivation training system and experience as a foster parent gave her the in-depth knowledge of relationships, personality traits, and success principles. Wolfe travels extensively for media interviews and speaking engagements, maintains a dozen websites & blogs, manages an online writer’s group, and contributes to several other sites and newsletters

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Thanks so much for dropping by today, Diane! I really enjoyed your insights into writing a series. I hope everyone has a chance to stop by one of Diane's sites - you'll find your time has been well spent.

For my readers out there... Do you write (or hope to write) series? What challenges have you found and overcome?

73 comments:

  1. I only write poetry but I enjoyed your interview very much, It impresses me who authors are so dedicated writers, the many I have seen on the blogs are really wonderful people. Thanks for sharing.

    Yvonne.

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  2. I know it was hard for you to stop writing this series, Diane--these characters really became part of you!

    I think all the best novels and even TV shows stop running while they're still pulling in a peak audience. But it's hard on all of us!

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  3. Great post - especially on knowing when to quit. That's the hardest part for some writers, I think. :) We love our characters so much, how can we let them go? Alas, it's necessary. Or at least it's necessary to stop publishing the stories. :D

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  4. Diane, thank you for this guest post. It's interesting to me how a series develops. I am amazed by someone's ability to develop a series that carries one storyline through. To have the foresight into how you want such an intricate story to play out is truly a gift. Like you, I am co-writing a chapter book that is potentially a series, unified by the setting and characters. This was really helpful for additional insight!

    Thanks Diane and Jemi!
    Marissa

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  5. Yvonne - Diane is amazing! She's such a busy lady between her writing and her speaking engagements. Dedicated is definitely the right word :)

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  6. Elizabeth - I think the hardest part of writing a series would be the letting it go.

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  7. Bethany - that made me laugh! You're right - we could keep writing - just stop publishing :)

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  8. Marissa - Diane does have fabulous insights - I'm glad you were able to get some hints! :)

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  9. Jemi, thank you so much for hosting me!

    Elizabeth, the thought of it ending was sad, but once I'd completed the rough draft of the final book, I knew that was it and was ready to stop.

    Thanks Bethany and Marissa!

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  10. Diane - you're so welcome. It's a great post - I'm so glad you came by to visit :)

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  11. I'm just now discovering the challenge of writing a series. Thanks, this was helpful.

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  12. Alex - I'm glad it helped you out - Diane's terrific :)

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  13. From a reader's point of view a series is great when you have a strong group of characters in the first book. The reader gets to know these characters a bit and wants more. It's when an author continues the series with very minor characters that the reader wasn't really introduced to in the first book that the series has gone too far. Great post.

    Thanks Jemi for hosting Diane.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  14. Mason - great point Mason! There is a natural ending to most things :)

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  15. Great interview! I'd love to write a series simply for the fact that you get to keep writing the same characters. Sometimes I have a hard time letting go.

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  16. This was very interesting. Thank you! I knew exactly what you meant by readers knowing when it was time for the series to end. I LOVED the *Left Behind* series of books in the beginning but by the time they got to the end I just didn't care anymore.

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  17. Excellent article, Diane. Thanks, Jemi, for this. My biggest problem with a series (writing one) is that the central problem still feels the same. And I don't want that to be the case. So I've been stewing, trying to figure out what ELSE could be motivating my characters this time around. And that's really hard. For me.

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  18. Great post. I think with writing a series, the problem for me is making sure I find a new problem to build on. I have a central theme, but it ends with the first book and a new one begins. I think it's going to be a huge learning process. :)

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  19. WOW. I have a stand alone I could write into a series. Good solid advice here, thanks!

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  20. Excellent, Diane! Thanks, Jemi, for being such a fabulous host!

    These are great insights into series writing. I like the distinction between the two kinds of series, one with a continuing storyline and one with a central theme or setting. Immediately I thought of sevreal series that fit those descriptions. I'd never thought of it in that way before!

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  21. what a fantastic interview, Jemi! thanks so much to both of you ladies for taking the time to share your expertise with us!

    this is so helpful :D

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  22. Great post, Diane and Jemi. I can only imagine how hard it would be to stop writing a series!

    I think a lot of publishers these days look for books that have series potential. Makes sense, from a marketing perspective!

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  23. Stephanie, I like it because I didn't have create all new main characters every time. (Just the minor ones!)

    Elana, that is the challenge. That's why I enjoyed writing a continuing storyline - each character had his or her own crisis different from the others.

    Laura, hope I've given you some ideas!

    Talli - you got it. Series also experience greater backlist sales.
    And by the time I hit Book V, it wasn't hard to stop. I felt I'd completed my journey with these characters.

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  24. Jemi,

    I would love to write a series with my favorite family of pirates. However, my fear is formula and boredome. I don't want my audience to lose the magic they first felt with these spunky characters.

    Of course, I should probably wait for the first one to captivate the world before I dream too big...

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  25. Thanks, Diane and Jemi! This was so insightful.

    I DO like to write and read series books. I think a lot of kids do too. The hardest part writing them, though, for me is keeping my notes and facts straight. That and making each consecutive book hold up to the standard set by the first. I suppose that's what I generally love about Harry POtter and The Hunger Games.

    Thanks, ladies!

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  26. I hope to write a trilogy in the next year or two. I have the outlines, but they need to be cleaned up.

    The challenge is the daunting and intimidating nature of a series. A book is hard work. A series is hard work multiplied.

    Getting over that mental hurdle is the tough part.

    - Eric

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  27. I always write in series and I love to read them. I've read some fantasy series that went all for way too long or have too long a period of time between the books in the series. My longest series is four books and though I'm sorry to say good by to my characters.

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  28. Stephanie - you're so right - having the same characters to revisit would be nice - I don't want to let them go either!

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  29. Beth - you're right - some series just go on too long. They need to learn from Diane's example - go out when the demand is still there!

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  30. Elana - I agree. I can see me writing a series of books within the same setting, but with different characters.

    If I ever write the sort-of-cozy-sort-of-detective series I've been thinking about I think it has enough ideas for a few books with the same characters. I hope :)

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  31. Lindsay - exactly - you really have to plan in advance if you're thinking of writing a series. You can't solve all of the problems in the first ending, but you still have to satify the reader!

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  32. Jenny - you're right - Diane's advice is awesome!!!

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  33. Laura - I was the same. Diane did a great job of clarifying the differences for me. They're very different!

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  34. Tahereh - I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Diane is a wealth of great info!

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  35. Talli - it sure does. So many of enjoy going back to visit the same characters or the same series time after time.

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  36. Cat - I think your pirates would be a huge hit. I imagine you could come up with several fun adventures for them!! :)

    The snippets I've read are so wonderful, I think you'll find that agent soon.

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  37. Jackee - you're right - that's a lot of information to keep straight. I think it was Terry O'Dell who had a post of creating a series bible not long ago. Great advice for how to keep all your facts in line!

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  38. Eric - yes! The mental aspects are pretty daunting. I'm a pantster for the most part, so the thought of planning out a trilogy is a little overwhelming. You need to weave those plots and subplots together so tightly. Definitely a job for an outliner :)

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  39. Susan - I'm a fantasy fan and you're so right. Many fantasy authors do write in series - and I can think of a few who drew them on too long. Others though, I want more!!

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  40. Very clear and objective vision here. Great advice!

    Thanks for sharing, Jemi and Diane.

    Ah, thanks Jemi, for updating Randomities addy on your blog roll. :)

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  41. Mari - you're right - Diane's vision is so clear. Very helpful! :)

    I'm so glad I updated the link properly - I never quite know how Blogger and I are going to get along!

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  42. Great interview. I'm hoping to do at least one more book using the same characters from No Good Deed. Mine will be like Diane's, so I'm very happy to see this info here.

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  43. Mary - Diane's advice is terrific! I like the idea of using the same setting, but some new characters :)

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  44. My current fantasy WiP will be a series of at least 2, as far as more that is still unceratin but much like Diane it might end up being more!

    Great visit!

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  45. Jen - that sounds like fun! I bet Diane's advice was right up your alley! :)

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  46. Great post! I do read Diane's Spunk on a Stick blog, I had no idea she maintains a dozen websites and blogs - wow! I find when I'm writing a book, I usually envision more books in a series, but I guess I'll have to sell that first one before I get too carried away. :)

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  47. Susan - yup - our Diane's an incredibly busy lady!

    I do envision further books for some ideas, but not others. For me it depends on the main plot problem.

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  48. This was a good read with good advice. I've been pondering writing a series about a character myself. This is helpful. Thanks for sharing!

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  49. Jesscia - Glad you enjoyed it - I did too :) Writing a series involves a lot of planning!

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  50. As I'm writing a potential series, this is such a wonderful post. Thanks for this post!

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  51. My first novel started as the first book in a four part series. But, I discovered I could write it in one book. Then trashed it to split into two, then three, and a prequel. Now I'm contemplating a fourth, but with a subcharacter.

    So I set it all aside and decided to see what the trilogy does with the one character before seriously contemplating any additions. I've discovered the "knowing when to stop" addendum to my plans.

    Until that first book of the original idea sells, moderation is my key word.

    ......dhole

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  52. Hi Jemi! Great post - Diane's advice is very useful!

    Right now, I'm working on a series, because apparently I like to write way too much and I can't fit it all into one book. Or two. Yikes. I'm not sure how many as yet though - maybe 5, but we'll see :)

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  53. Sandy - You're right - Diane's post is full of great information - glad it helped you out! :)

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  54. Donna - that's a lot of work! I bet you've got it all shining now :)

    I agree - moderation is a great key word for everyone!

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  55. WN - yes, Diane's advice is terrific!

    Sounds like you've got an idea that won't let you go - awesome! :)

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  56. Great advice. I've read some series that I quit reading after 5 books because there was no end in sight. I prefer series which have a limited number of books planned. But the last one better not come off like the author got bored writing the series. I've read too many of those. Now I'm less than excited to jump on a new series than I use to be.

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  57. Excellent post, thanks Diane and Jemi.

    My experience very much parallels Diane's with a single story about three friends that grew into a proposed trilogy. I haven't started the third book yet, and I'm already sad about having to let go of the characters.

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  58. Diane is one very busy lady. She seems to be everywhere in Blogdom these days. Yes, I'm currently writing a series. It started out as a single book, then a sequel, now its a trilogy.

    Stephen Tremp

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  59. Stina - you're right - it's hard to read a series that's just gone on too long. Better that an author knows the strength of the series.

    Thanks so much for stopping by :)

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  60. VR - it is really hard letting go of our characters, isn't it? I'm very attached to mine and I don't think they'll be back. Although there is potential for a series within the setting... :)

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  61. Stephen - Diane sure is a busy lady - she's terrific!

    It's surprising how many people are wanting to write series, or wish to. We all like our characters too much maybe :)

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  62. I hope to write a series, but my biggest problem is I get too engrossed in what happens in other possible books in the series that I fail to figure out what's going to happen first. LOL. Guess I'm a little backwards. :)

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  63. Kimberly - I tend to start at the end of the book as well, so don't feel alone!

    I've thought of a kind of cozy/detective/sort-of series, but I wrote the first years back - before I knew anything about writing. :)

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  64. Thank you for posting this interview. I'm fascinated by how a writer comes up w/ ideas for series & I didn't realize there were 2 types of series.

    Good luck with all your writing, Diane. I will be checking out some of your books in the near future.

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  65. I envision my WIP as a series. Three independent stories, but utilizing the same characters. Getting the first one sold is step #1.

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  66. Great post - thank you - so much inspiration :)
    My WIP is a trilogy - but .. do I spend any time on the others or wait for confirmation that the first will be accepted!! ??

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  67. Lisa - I hadn't thought about the types of series either. Diane sure knows how to make things clear! :)

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  68. DL - that sounds interesting! I bet you'll find a home for that first book in no time :)

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  69. Michelle - good question! From what I've read, once you start querying #1, work on something else. Some people suggest working on #2, other suggest a separate work. I'm not sure!

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  70. I hadnt' considered a series,yet, but I do have a connected stories book brewing. This is a nice interview and Diane has such an inviting smile, I can't help but want to pop over and visit her.

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  71. Lynn - you'll love Diane's place - she's a sweetie!

    My current ms is a stand alone as well, but there are ways I could make it a (short) series - or use the setting with new characters.

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  72. Thanks for hosting the interview and telling us about Diane. It was very interesting.

    I always seem to see everything I write as a series, which I haven't decided if it is a problem yet. Maybe I just need to pack more in to the first book. Or, maybe I need to write for a soap.

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  73. Anne - glad you enjoyed it :)

    Even though we're only supposed to query 1 book at a time, I think a series-in-mind is never a bad idea. Many, many readers enjoy reading a series - we become so attached to the characters.

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