We looked at a couple of series in Part 1 of Writing the Series. Here we look at how you can write one.
Writing a series takes time and effort commitment. Robert Parker published the first Spenser book in 1973 and his last in 2011. He would, most probably, still be writing about Spenser if his death did not prevent him. Jonathan Kellerman published the first book in the Alex Delaware series in 1985 and later in 2015 the 30th installment will see the light.
If you look at the Lonesome Dove series, you will see that the first book should actually have been the third, chronologically speaking. This blogger’s guess is that Mr McMurtry did not initially plan to write a series. However, when the book won a Pulitzer in 1986, Mr McMurtry might have recognized the potential of this book. The InstaScribe argument is based on the fact that the books were published out of sequence. Volume Three, Volume Four, Volume One and finally Volume Two. Even the development of characters is not promising if you go in order. My guess is that if the books were published in a sequence that followed internal chronology, there would have been no Pulitzer.
What are some of the points your planning should cover?
Craft a Hook
What’s the Story behind the Story
The Lord of the Rings is littered with themes, but the fight between good and evil is at the center of this master piece. The problem with such a big theme could be that it is just too large but Tolkien knew this and added sub-themes to make this work. (See the discussions about the Lust for Power and Altruism)
Spenser, the manliest P.I. ever, could also be reduced to the struggle between good and evil. However, it would be more accurate to focus on his case-solving ability.
Strengthen the Connecting Thread
If you are familiar with the last century, you might remember the television series, The A-Team. This, I would posit, is a great example of a series with a very weak thread. Episode after episode the members rescue someone from a predicament by
- Hannibal making a plan
- Face charming at last one lady,
- BA building something out of scrap,
- Murdock flying them somewhere as required,
- The team fleeing as Colonel Decker nearly catches up with them.
(Come to think of it, McGyver follows the same plan, except that he is the whole team and no one is chasing him.)
The weakness of the connecting thread is that the Murdock of episode one is essentially exactly the same in the series finale. BA never becomes anything but a genius mechanic with a bad attitude and a fear of flying.
The connecting thread is connected to the over arching theme, but it is not the same. This thread can be explained as the characters, their development, relationships, lives, from one book/episode to another.
Know where the Character will go
Mickey Haller is an attorney created by Michael Connelly. His life does not follow anything resembling a straight line. Married (repeatedly), divorced (repeatedly), reconciled (generally not); success, failure, failed relationships, trusty sidekicks, and a love for Blues.It is clear that Connelly has an idea of what he wants to do with Haller, and where he wants to take him beforehand.
You can also see this kind of “prophetic vision” in the Lord of the Rings and in Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series.
Make sure that you have a good idea of what will happen to a character during the course of the series. If the hero marries his heroine in Book 1, then basically it just leaves divorce or estrangement as tools to create internal tension.
Make every Part a Whole
You know the expression: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Each book of the LOTR series is a clear example of this. Make sure that each book is a whole story in itself.
How do you make sure that a book is a whole? Give it a real ending. Have you noticed that most television series end a series on a cliffhanger? Think of the ending of the third series of Elementary, a modernized version of Sherlock Holmes taking place in New York. You are left wondering whether Sherlock relapsed. Perhaps this is fine in Hollywood, but it has no place in a book.
End the damn thing! It will happen that some readers get a hold of Book 3 or Book 7 first. If the book ends, because the words stop, and not because a story has been told in its entirety, it is highly unlikely that they will go back to Book 1.
More coming up in Part 3.