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Calling all Series Writers! Story Development over Multiple Books?
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 4:11 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

I am wondering how those of you who are on book 2 or 3 or installment six or episode 23 manage to A) keep your story and characters consistent B) develop them and let them grow over multiple stories.

Also: have you ever gotten stuck because of something your wrote in an earlier installment of your story that you wished you could change to open plot possibilities later?

How do you prevent that?

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 9:32 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

First stop- a character/series bible. Every little detail that gets added into the storyline gets cross referenced into the bible. I use Scrivener for that.

The best advice I can give you is, keep it simple. If your story doesn't need a tag of information, delete it. Too much detail too soon makes it easy to paint yourself into a corner and you can't go back without making a mess. It's tempting to give as much information about your character/world as possible, but in the first books you'll want to stay simple. There will be plenty of time later in the series to get into detail.

If you need to figure out the details for your own files, do it in your bible.
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 10:09 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

I've been using Scrivener recently. How do you set up your "bible" there? Is it its own project or in the research notes or what?
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 11:17 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

I toss up several folders and label them Characters, World, Magic and anything else that needs its own category.

Take Characters for example....

Inside the character folder I'll add several text files, usually about twenty to prevent having to pause to create more. Each character, no matter how minute, gets its own page.

Let's say your main character is named Tom. Create a text file called Tom. In that file write out his stats or you can find a template online to use with all your characters. Height, Weight, Date of Birth, Age at time of story etc.
From there create several more text files and label them relationships, wardrobe, home and anything else that is pertinent. Highlight those files and drop them ON the Tom file, this will seed them as children files to Tom.

Create a few more files and drop them onto the Wardrobe file, seeding them. Let's say Tom always wears a leather duster. Label one file as Duster and describe it, maybe give a bit of backstory if needed. This is the cool part...click in the body of the file then go to Edit. Scroll down to Insert and there will be an option to import an image to that file. You can go online, find the perfect picture of that duster then import it to it's file.

The Import picture option can allow you to find pictures of locations as reference for your files.

Scrivener isn't very intuitive but you can MAKE it do just about anything. If you want some screen shots of what I'm talking about, I can create a few.
Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2011 3:00 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

I love it! Definitely going to try that in future work. As it is, I just have a big list of web pages or pictures randomly hanging out under research.
But I have really been liking Scrivener in general.
ME Chick
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 1:54 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 13

I didn't know about Scrivener when I wrote my series, so I used Excel spreadsheets - 8 tabs worth. It had a lot of the subjects Ivoidwarranties suggested, but not to his detail. (Since I'm so visual when I read/write, a lot of things stick with me - or a quick scan brings it back) But I'm sure excel can be adapted to go to whatever level is needed.

I'm a big fan of multiple characters (I don't have an MC, I have primary, secondary and tertiary characters - all of whom can rotate from book to book). All of that interaction, I hope, keeps the characters and storyline from getting stale. In my mind, as long as you can keep interesting characters and environments in play, the story will keep moving.

I also created a multi-year calendar where I listed every major and almost major event. Yes, it did get large. But it was so incredibly helpful as it kept me from making events stretch out too far or not far enough. Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions/time in rank, the progress of the war - so many things need to be tracked. Additionally, two of the books overlapped - book four started a new primary character who needed to start 2/3 of the way through book three. It required a number of touch points that I couldn't have coordinated without it.

My biggest problem was, as you alluded to, writing something that conflicts later. I wrote my books one after the other, and that let me track and fix the the issues as soon as I realized them. If you're going to write one book at a time, and wait for agent response before starting the second - which I've been told is the preferred method - you'll just have to take more care (and detail) in your outlines and, as stated above, watch how detailed you get early on.
Stef Thompson
Posted: Saturday, July 9, 2011 2:17 PM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 7

Fancy computer programs and spreadsheets ... I use post-it notes on the wall. Colour-coded. Because I'm THAT into technology!

In terms of developing story over a series, there is an excellent trilogy written by Cecilia Dart Thornton called 'The Bitterbynde Trilogy' that progressed over the three novels in such a way that you simply HAD to read all three novels. A lot of series tend to tie up each novel neatly with a few threads to pick up on in the next novel, but 'The Bitterbynde Trilogy' requiries every thread be rewoven into the next novel. Very well done.

I found reading 'Fever Crumb' by Philip Reeve could, as a novel, be whole in itself yet it is now the first of three novels (I don't know if more are to come) and while plots and settings change, the character development of Fever is very obvious in the novels as she defines her subjectivity gradually over the course of the series rather that in a single novel. This is common among series in general but in this series it's especially beautifully done - I hope there are more!

I am tempted to suggest writing an outline to help with consistencies but if you're anything like me your outlines are turfed within the first thousand words! I regularly re-read previous installments of my work to ensure consistency - it helps to remind yourself! Again, I resort to post-it notes to remind me of key events.

In terms of going back and wanting to change things, I would suggest very ruthless editing of each installment until you're perfectly happy with the first before moving on to the second, and so on. You're likely to want to change something if you were never completely happy with it in the first place, so minimise this possibility by being very thorough with your editing before you move on.
Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2011 3:07 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

That's cool. I should have a look at some of the books you're mentioning. I think, in terms of selling something, these days, it is almost impossible to sell a first book unless it is wrapped up neatly to stand alone. I have heard so, anyway. Which is too bad, for those other types of series people might really enjoy.

In my historical fiction, I've written three books and planned at least two more, that share some characters and some settings but are all individual stories. You could say they enhance each other, but they don't depend on each other.

Science Fiction, however, (and fantasy) seem to be to be serial animals. So many of the great ones are series.

Right now I'm struggling because I had planned to write three short stories in which the first actually happened last and the last two were concurrent prequels of the first. So I wrote them in such a way that the prequels would reveal stuff and answer questions raised in the first in a somewhat suspenseful way.

But now I'm thinking I better combine these three stories into a novel (and I already have notions about a sequel to that) and I'm trying to decide whether to write it all in a linear way or whether to start in the middle, flash back to those "prequels" and then flash ahead again to the end.

All in ONE book.

I never do anything the easy way.

I guess I'll lay them all out and see how they read. I know linear would be better in terms of keeping it simple, but I like the suspense I've created by writing what I thought was going to be the end, first, then going back and explaining how everyone got there.

P.S. you're right about outlines. I do plan ahead, but only about 10% of it ever survives to even the first draft.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:28 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I hate to say it, but when I'm writing I generally go through and reread the earlier books in the series before I start the next one. I've got two series currently in publication, and I've got two more unpublished but in progress. None of them have the same feel, so the reread lets me get back in the groove for that particular world.

It also reminds me of details I might otherwise forget, especially those I dropped without really meaning to.
L R Waterbury
Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011 6:14 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

I agree with Roman. Rereading is the key. Yes, keep notes either with some sort of new-fangled electronic contraption or the old-fashioned way with quill and ink on parchment (what are these 'post-it notes' of which you speak?). But what notes can't keep fresh in your mind is one of the most important elements of consistency: style. I tend to change my style of writing somewhat depending on the story I'm telling and rereading helps to keep my tone and voice and sentence structure consistent throughout, especially if, at any point, I've given myself a break and worked on something else. Rereading is also especially helpful with keeping character development consistent. By that I mean keeping the arc of a character's personal evolution smooth where it needs to be smooth and jagged (yet consistent with everything that came before) where it needs to be jagged. It also helps to make sure my characters don't change too quickly and I've never found keeping notes to help in that regard at all.

@LilySea. I plan ahead (sort of), but I tend to keep my plot ideas in my head, in their natural habitat, because I do change them so much. Large elements of my plots tend to suffer mass extinctions on a regular basis. Like you, I probably end up with about 10% of what I originally imagined.
Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 7:29 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 24

Hmm. Well, this is my little story on how my series developed (still in progress):

So I started Book 1 not even knowing it was going to be part of a series. I wrote it all out and when I finished I realized, "...But...there's...more..." Instead of just leaving it, I started to move onto Book 2. Things started taking a turn for the worse because some characters had been offed and I - sadly - needed them back in the game. In order to make things work, I stopped writing completely, looked over Book 1, and took the time to really see where the story wanted to go.
Needless to say, I started Book 1 all over again. Made it shorter, flipped the main plot, added a few subplots, and wrote out an outline (one that allowed for some freedom). That outline is my best friend. I also have an indepth list of all my characters (including if they died or not). I also wrote out the world's dynamics and in a separate notebook wrote out the main plots and subplots for Book 1 and Book 2 all so that I won't have to read the whole books again.

Okay, so you also asked how we allow the characters to develop. I think all that sort of happens organically. Also, as the story progresses I know I sort of change my idea about certain characters and react to the plot in different ways at certain points; I try using my own feelings to help guide me and the characters in the direction they're to go.
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 6:06 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 52

Keep things consistent by making notes as you go along about the "rules" to your world. Characters are easy to keep consistent if you know them well enough, and developing them over multiple stories should happen naturally. People do through things, and it changes them. Also, most qualities have pros and cons. So... there's always room for "growth"... sometimes it's just change IE... a character who lies a lot learns to be more honest. But maybe they're a little too honest when they first learn to do this, and then have to learn to be both honest AND polite. Then they learn that maybe sometimes it's better to give way to passion. Life, and people, are complex. There's always room for growth and change. It doesn't have to be anything major.

"Also: have you ever gotten stuck because of something your wrote in an earlier installment of your story that you wished you could change to open plot possibilities later?

How do you prevent that?"

Yes.... thankfully, my other book wasn't "out there" yet. best way to prevent it is not to go into depth too much on anything that isn't inherently important to the current story. this way if it's important in another story, there is room to build without affecting consistency.
Atthys Gage
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:01 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

And if inconsistencies do persist, hey, it'll give that kid who's going to do his or her doctoral thesis on your series something to write about. I always try to plant hidden messages to that future dedicated and obsessive reader. Alright, mostly I do it for me, but I can't help dreaming.
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 11:10 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

Love it. Like "Pudd'nhead Wilson," where Twain forgot that his twins were originally cojoined and when he separated them, left a bunch of weird stuff where they are still in the same body? Do that on purpose, eh?
FJ Hansen
Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 7:01 AM
Joined: 8/10/2011
Posts: 6

It certainly helps to not reveal everything about your world/universe at once.

By the time I started writing the first book in my Draconia series, I had spent the previous 5 years developing my Universe. Only a fraction of the details made it into the book, and none of the alien races beside the dragons that I had created specifically for the series, except for a minor, foreshadowing scene at the end. In each of the subsequent books, I can introduce more alien races and more of my Universe.

The same goes for the world Draconia, herself. From the beginning, I had decided to try to show a little bit more of the world and the dragons' culture with each story. Of course, that was partly because I, myself, was learning about this world of mine as I was writing. Inconsistencies are okay, as long as they are corrected before the book is released to the public.
R P Steeves
Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 1:51 PM
Joined: 10/13/2011
Posts: 12

The very first thing I did for my series was to plot out the arc for the main character (and several supporting characters) over the first five books (I just finished the first draft of book 2, btw). I prefer series that are character driven, so all of the action and plot feed into the character arcs. I also wrote up an extensive 'show bible' for the backstory, with detailed character sketches for the protagonist, her allies and enemies. I refer to this constantly. I have found that I need to be careful with throwaway details so I don't end up contradicting myself or closing off a story alley later down the road, but for the most part, I am concerned with the broad strokes.

If I am fortunate to have the series go beyond 5 books (it will be a least 3, I know), then I'll start drawing out character arcs for the second set of books. I'll cross that bridge later, though...
Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 4:31 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

Have ya'll seen some of these e-only, or e-mostly small presses that actually have serials--good old-fashioned serials that go on and on. How fun would THAT be?
R P Steeves
Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 5:38 PM
Joined: 10/13/2011
Posts: 12

I have not, but that sounds like a BLAST
Angela Martello
Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2011 6:55 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

In the Dark Ages, before personal computers were the norm, I kept plenty of handwritten notes: details about characters, places, story points, and so on in a notebook. Now, I keep separate Word documents: one just on characters, one on plot points that arc across multiple books, one with a timeline, one with a detailed synopsis. I wrote the very first draft of what now is a trilogy as one very long book (some 420,000 words!). I split the book into three and then began the many deletions and revisions that, I hope, will allow each book to stand on its own, but entice readers to move onto books 2 and 3. Working with each book open on my laptop gives me the opportunity to go back and forth and make sure I'm consistent with plot points and other details (like the spelling of a character's last name).

I also have an outline for what I hope to turn into a second set of books featuring the same characters, as well as an outline for a completely different book. As ideas or key dialogues come to me, I put them into a Word doc, too.

One note about all these electronic files: I have also made it a point to back everything up - both on thumb drives and an external hard drive (which I do not store with my laptop - a lesson learned after a friend's two laptops were stolen and she lost all her electronic files!).

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2011 11:15 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

Whew! Now that I write in Scrivener I can't imagine scrolling through that much material in Word. But I can imagine writing a 500K book and splitting it into three. That sounds about like what I would do.

Thanks fro the back up reminder. It's been a while!


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