Tuesday 9 April 2013

Writing A Series - The Creative Process

It's never easy to leave characters behind after you've spent however long writing about them, learning about them, getting to know them. For me that was the hard part about the first two books I wrote. I poured so much of my time into creating them that I was sad when the story finished and I had to say goodbye. So much so that I talked with my friend, B and asked her opinion on a sequel. I was met with a resounding "NO WAY!" and then spent the next few days sulking.

The problem was, she was right (don't tell her I said that!) Some stories just end and no matter how much you may hate it, as the writer (or reader) you do have to say goodbye eventually. It was only when I had the idea for the Dying Thoughts series that I realised I could have my cake and eat it too. I could write standalone books like Blackout and then I could have my stories that could go on for several books. And then the seed was sown and the idea born.

I started with an idea and that grew into a book - one I almost never finished because I backed myself into a corner and Tara couldn't get out of it. It was only by luck, leaving the story to sit for a few months, and threats of violence from a beta reader who I'd left in the lurch with Tara, that I came back to it. From there I was able to complete the story. I was so pleased with myself that I decided to go straight into writing number two. That was a big mistake. Don't get me wrong, I love Tara and Kaolin. I love writing about them, and developing them as characters, but I needed time to let the creative juices stew as it were. I had rushed into a sequel and although I had the plot and everything ready for them, *I* wasn't ready to write about them.

I did manage to get the book done, and it's now out for purchase, but I learnt something from that mistake. That if I was going to write a series, every so often, I needed a break from Tara and Kaolin. Now, I know some authors are able to write book after book with the same characters. I know of others who do the same as me, which is write a standalone between them. I also know of authors who will not write sequels and such because after one story, they just can't seem to find a way to do it without ruining it.

The key to writing a series it seems, is knowing when to stop. I can tell you of books I read when I was younger (and not so much younger either) when I got about halfway through the series and I just thought "this is getting stupid, it needs to end." I can think of two particular series right now that I personally felt ended after their seventh book. The key is not to repeat the same story line, and not to get to the point where the suspension of belief is pulled so tight it snaps. I can also think of several series of books where they are still going strong after twenty or so books - Sue Grafton and her Alphabet Series spring to mind. It's all about balance.

Writing a series is a balancing act in itself and you have to be sure that you don't drop the balls completely. You also have to make sure that you, as the writer, haven't gotten to the point where you're sick to death of the characters and want to kill them all off just to make sure you never have to write about them again. You have to be able to keep yourself happy whilst writing, and also keep the reader happy. It can be a juggling act and sometimes you will drop the balls, but that's where editors and beta readers come in.

My plan when I started writing the Dying Thoughts books was to continue them until Tara left school. At this moment in time, I am almost done and at that point. However, about a year ago I realised that I could carry on this series. I just had to be careful that I didn't overdo it. Things had to change and that's why the next one I write will have had a bit of an overhaul. The same favourites will be there, but the situations will be different. I like to think that I'm doing a good balancing act. I like to think that I am coming up with new ways to write Tara's story and to flesh out her character. You, as my readers, may beg to differ, but at this time, I plan to continue for at least two more books. Once they're done, I may reconsider, but on the other hand, I may not.

So, when you've fallen in love with a character (or characters) and decide to write a series of stories, make sure that you're ready for the workload that comes with it. Keeping a series straight after a number of books is more than a balancing act. It takes a good memory, good planning or both. (A bit on planning can be found here) I have found my own ways of keeping track of everything, and you will find yours too. I also recommend a good editor. Mine keeps good track of everything that's happened so far and keeps me on target. The other thing that helps me is my best friend, B. She's a beta reader of sorts and I discuss every plot I think of putting Tara and poor Kaolin through with her before, during and after I write it. She does my front cover designs and so she knows what I plan to do to them. She, like me, is a great believer in stopping before it gets stupid. I know that if I don't recognise that point, she'll do it for me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some chapter plans to write and new character notes. My favourite part of a new book - creating new people to interact with.

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