Writing a Series

Writing a book is a tough business. The germ of an idea needs to be translated into something serious. I don’t mean writing a book without humour, but treating writing with respect. Only by being serious about your art can you create something worthy of being shared with others.

I’ve been both blessed and cursed with a fertile imagination; I find myself conjuring up stories from some odd recess of my mind. I’m inspired by things I’ve seen in the real world – I was inspired to write one story by a jigsaw puzzle I saw in a Woolworth’s shop window – and sometimes not even immediately; sometimes, the idea will germinate for a while and then leap out of a dark recess of my mind where I didn’t realise anything lurked … except, perhaps, the occasional recipe and a desire to see people who talk loudly on trains locked away in a cell and never heard from again.

Occasionally, these ideas turn into ideas that I struggle to fit into a single story. As a result, I find myself in a quandary; do I expand it into a series, or pick out the best of it and write a single, more epic novel? Which will do it justice? I’d like to say, in case my publisher reads this, that I always choose the most commercially-viable option. But, I must confess, that’s not the case. I’m certainly conscious of the commercial aspect of what I’m writing – will it sell? – but it’s not the only thing that influences my decision as to how to write a story. I’m also influenced by the story itself, the characters, and the world I’m forming; can I sustain all of these things through events and plot that sustain over multiple books? Will I be able to engage the readers if I move into move than a single book?

An average book is somewhere between 70 and 90,000 words, and when a story is crying out to be told, it’s sometimes hard to constrain it in just that arbitrary number. My first two published books – Fall From Grace and Leap of Faith – formed a duology, Leap of Faith following on from Fall Grace with a gap of two years both in real life and in the fictional world I’d created. I’d enjoyed crafting the three main characters and, when I realised that they were all reflections of my own personality, I wanted to explore them in more detail. I felt like there was still more of a story to tell with this trio, so I started writing … and stopped with a final draft of about 75,000 words. It’s not that simple, of course, as the first draft was something like 95,000 words, and I had to wrestle with my own ego and a very talented editor to get it into shape.

I’ve been asked on a number of different occasions if I’d ever write a third book in that series, and the answer has always been the same; “No.” I don’t have been desire to continue writing those characters; not because I don’t like them anymore, but because there’s no more plot that will stretch to accommodate them. They have reached the end of the line for their stories, which were “places in times”; unique and individual for the experiences they had, but not particularly able to be placed into other settings without a crowbar and a lot of convoluted plot lines that wouldn’t make much sense.

So I’ve moved on to other stories and places and people, and that’s what makes writing continually appealing for me; the fact that I can explore new things that crawl up out of my subsconscious. When I started writing Elysium’s Shadow, my next book which Inspired Quill published in October 2017, I always knew that it wouldn’t be a stand-alone story, as there was a bigger universe that I hinted at and wanted to explore in more depth.

What I didn’t know, however, was how many books that were going to appear in the series. Some writers know what the entire series is going to look like from the very earliest moments – look at J K Rowling and the copious notes and plotting she created in those early days. She always knew that seven books were going to cover Harry Potter’s life and experiences at Hogwarts. Do I know what my series is going to look like right from the off? Gracious no, the very thought of it makes me shiver with undisguised horror.

The universe that formed around this first story was actually quite expansive; I’d written quite a lot of backstory on the history of this universe (it’s set about five hundred years in the future), helping me understand what had taken Earth and humans on a particular path. That influenced the book dramatically because, whilst I didn’t plot it out, the background to the world told me how characters would react in certain situations, and why a rebellion had been set up in the first place.

And, of course, I set up the end of the first book to raise a lot of questions. That was deliberate, of course, as I wanted to take the series in a new direction but, as I didn’t know the details of that yet, I needed to keep it vague enough that it would work wherever my creativity took me.

I then blame Sara, the Seer-in-Charge (Managing Director in Old Speak) at Inspired Quill, for what happened next. She had kindly taken on responsibility for editing Elysium’s Shadow personally which, given the hundreds of other demands on her time as Lord Protector of All She Surveys, was no mean feat. I was very appreciative. I’ve written before about the level of trust needed between an author with a healthy ego (and any author proud of their work should have a reasonably healthy ego) and an editor wanting to get the best out of the project.

So when Sara sent me the edits, I began working on them with gusto, and I was intrigued to note that she had some particular comments to make about the sub-plot I’d included. Long story short, we agreed finally that it didn’t work and it needed to be removed; it hurt a little to start with, as I was proud of it and knew that I wouldn’t be able to fit it in anywhere else in the series. But then Sara and I came up with a brainwave; using it to create a short novella that could come out before the second official book in the series was released. I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that, and it gave me the opportunity to release something else within the universe that I’d crafted.

Then, as I started writing the second book in the series, two things occurred; I realised that I wasn’t going to be squeeze everything into a trilogy (which was the original plan of action – the power of three and all that), so began to work out a structure for four books. And secondly, Sara mentioned about a throw-away line in the first book where I mentioned a tiny amount of back history that I’d only got inside my head. She was intrigued to know more, and that got me thinking about that entire knowledge that only I had access to. Maybe I should share it with everyone else?

Well, of course, if I did that, then I’d need to do it as a prequel to the main series of four books. Well, long story short, I’ve now got a series of five and a half books to create, from an original idea of one story. I envy people – writers – who have the entire story line prepared and ready before writing, and I mean all of it. The entire thing. I’ve got a general idea about where I want my series to go, but I also want there to be an element of surprise in it as well, for me as well as for the reader.

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