I am a serial writer. I do my work in the shadows, with an evil little smile on my face and a row of disturbing tools on the table behind me–okay, I’m lying. There’s no tools. But the little smile? Well, that one’s true more often than not. I enjoy what I do, a lot. I’m sure my readers realize it, because it shows up in my writing.
Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s not easy. Nothing worth dedicating yourself to ever will be. There’s moments when I literally go to bed praying for some sort of inspiration in how to go on with the book I’m working on. And the further you get into a series the more things you have to keep track of. There’s all sorts of story threads that need to be wrapped up, others that need to be left dangling, more that need to be started. If you’re not careful, you wind up writing yourself into a corner. Or, if we keep with the thread analogy, tied up in a knot.
So I’m here to talk about flexibility in series writing. Hi. My name is R.J. Ross. I’m the author of Cape High–a series that’s five books published, six and a half written, and no clue when it’ll finish. I went into this series with several set ideas for what I wanted. The biggest, most important idea I set for myself was–not flexibility. The biggest idea was to write a series that a parent will happily hand to their child to read and vice versa. (My biggest glee moments are when readers write me up and go “Me and my kids love your series!”) The SECOND biggest, though, was flexibility. So from one that designed an entire world centered around flexibility (and family, but that’s another article), here are a few suggestions.
Don’t obsess over the tradition.
It’s easy to fall into the belief that you can write a book just by following a set tradition. You start with introducing the characters, then you establish the conflict, provide the climax, then wrap up the conflict in a neat little bow. It’s a pretty little setup that you learn in writing classes, and I’m not going to lie, it works. In fact it’s expected! They might not even realize they’re expecting it, but a lot of people are. If you change that little setup you risk irritating people. But here’s the thing–this is a series. There is no true beginning (except possibly the first book) and true end (except the final book) to these stories because they’re directly related to the one that came before it and the one that’ll come after it. If you’re not careful, this traditional approach can kill your next book before it starts.
But like I said, it does work, and it’s expected, so I suggest a compromise. Toss a story into each book–one simple enough that you CAN wrap it up at the end. But don’t expect, or even try to wrap up every little detail that’s happened. In fact, sometimes it’s better to let things just dangle until the next book, or even the next plot! Trust me, if you really love and develop your work, your readers will love it, too. They’ll be invested enough to go “Oh! I remember him/her/that!” when you bring them back up.
Let your characters go off tangent.
Random moments? Little quirks? Let them happen. Characters are best when they’re doing what they want to do. Okay, those of you that don’t write might think I’m crazy right now, but characters have the ability to come to life if you let them. Get to know them through your writing, if you’re doing a series you’re going to spend a lot of time with them. And you’d be astonished over how much readers love little details. My character Sunny? He has people discuss his sleeping habits all the time. And who knows? Those little quirks might come into the plot somehow. Or just become a running joke. Either is good!
Keep your options open.
Having more than one idea that you could run with at any moment is a beautiful thing. Even if you choose one idea over the other, you can still go back and chase the other idea later, if you play it right. If it’s at all possible, don’t close the door on random ideas. Get a notebook and write them down if you have to, but this is a series, you’ve got plenty of time to fit them in! Don’t get so tied to a plotline that you can’t chase the random plot bunny. You’ll kill your creativity. You can always delete later–but it’s better to have things that need to be deleted than nothing at all.
Writing is a very encompassing hobby, and an even more encompassing job. You literally go into a world of your own creation. If it’s a world you’re going to spend a lot of time in, like a series, you need to have a lot of flexibility in how you work–both to make yourself feel comfortable and to keep going. It’s all about making it an enjoyable experience, especially for yourself! When you enjoy what you do, your readers will, as well!