Tuesday, November 2, 2010

FAQ - Writing a Series

Q:. What are some of the special problems in plotting a series with ongoing characters?  How do you keep from getting confused?
A:   Oh, I get confused, all right. But yes, there are, indeed, lots of things to watch out for in a series.  The following are some things I've learned:

1. Keep a list of characters and places mentioned.  With each addition to the series I add any changes to characters e.g.. hair grayer, cut off dreads, house burned, etc.

2. For ongoing characters, I've found it useful to construct family trees.  You never know when the odd uncle or cousin will come in handy.

3. Keep a time line --I put events in real time (Vietnam War, Great flood of 1916), in bold; events in fictional (Miss Birdie born, Sam dies) time in regular.

4. Remember with each new book you have to reintroduce everyone all over again -- without boring faithful readers. I keep a small check list - describe Elizabeth, her house and farm, her family, her dogs, her back-story.   

5. Be careful about how many ongoing characters you have-- it can begin to feel like you're pulling a heavy load, working everyone into every book -- or at least accounting for their absence.  (Lee Child avoids this by having Jack Reacher constantly on the move -- new places, new faces in every book. )

6.  Make sure your protagonist continues to evolve, to learn new things and reveal more and more of him or herself in every book. (My editor is really big on this one.)

(The leaves are all from the same pear tree. Such variety!) 
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Julienne said...

I suppose it is like having a rather large family that you have to keep track of!!!!!

Martin H. said...

As ever, a very useful and interesting insight, Vicki.

Brian Miller said...

nice. great snippets of you wisdom vicki...much appreciated...

Tammy said...

You probably know more about your fictional family than many do about their real families! I do appreciate the insight though and how much trouble you go to to make sure the continuity is there. Nothing more irritating to see a major mistake from one book to the next (like Uncle Billy Bob died in the first book and in the second, oops there he is again alive and well!).
Have a great one.

Anonymous said...

We were up your way last week and wandered over to City Lights in Sylva. What a delightful store. While I"m plugging independent book stores, I also have to mention Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and Malaprops in Asheville. Wish we could have come a bit earlier to catch your talks at one of them, but it was great to see "Small Things" prominently displayed everywhere we went.

Have reread your books straight through the series and they hold up wonderfully, with new nuggets and insights that were missed on the first go round. Have a small number of authors whose series I routinely reread periodically and you've joined the list. Thanks for many hours of reading enjoyment.

Lynne in GA

Liz said...

Glad to hear you talk about evolving your characters and revealing more of them as books progress. I enjoy the Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan series - but was getting bored with her lead - until she fell off the wagon! I was so happy to see the characters' weakness come out! I think it endears readers - the characters are more like us!! P.S. Just started Ken Follett's new trilogy "Fall of Giants" and just finished Lee Childs' latest.

Tipper said...

Great tips! I forget people and their connections in real life-I can see where you'd need to keep track of the characters.

Helen T said...

I'm reading DAY now and I've gotten to the part where you did what you shouldn't have. No, not the hatpin, later where you break the rule. Deeply saddened my lunch hour. Tonight when I get home I'm going to give my Snowflake an extra big hug.

Marilyn said...

So fascinating, I enjoy these insights in to writing. Love all of your photos.

NCmountainwoman said...

Very interesting. I haven't read many books in series, but I can appreciate the difficulty of reintroducing the character to new readers without boring those already familiar with him/her.

I've been curious about one thing in the new Birdie book. I've never heard mountain folks say "roasting ears." It's alway "ros'nears" (or however you would spell it. Perhaps that is the reason...how does one spell it and would everyone know what it meant?

I love your explanations of keeping the series straight and the characters true. And I love the way Elizabeth and others have evolved.

Vicki Lane said...

Very much like a large family, Julienne!

Thanks, Martin and Brian.

That happens, Tammy -- I try hard not to let it happen to me...

All three are great bookstores, Lynne, and all three have been most supportive of my books. So glad you're enjoying the reread. I have several authors I reread, just for the pleasure of the characters' company and the beauty of the setting. (Hillerman and Sayers are two.)

Liz -- OLD WOUNDS happened as a result of my editor saying that Elizabeth needed to suffer and to discover some unpleasant truths about herself.

Totally necessary, Tipper!

And speaking of totally necessary, Helen, so was the event to which you allude -- in order to make what came next understandable, even forgivable. (Just keep saying to yourself 'It didn't really happen -- this is fiction.')

Re roasting ears -- there are so many words that I could spell phonetically if I wanted to convey exactly the way these folks talk -- cheer for chair, arn for iron, har for harrow, git for get, har for hair . . . you get the idea. But then the book would be pretty much unreadable. So I just try to suggest the dialect by a few words and by the unusual turns of phrase. In the first books I usually dropped final g's but I've even quit doing that.

Star said...

I almost missed this post but I'm glad I found it. Your tips are very good Vicki. Even using tips like those, I still get a bit muddled occasionally.
Blessings, Star

jennyfreckles said...

Gosh, I hadn't ever thought about all that organisational side of things - a bit like the Continuity people on a movie set.

Darla said...

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom! Great tips that I will implement in my own writing.

I only just this week found your blog...and your books. :-) I adore reading a book series and have many favorites, so I look forward to exploring your 'world'.

Plus, you are such an inspiration in that you were, ahem, 'older' when your first book was published -- provides wonderful optimism! Thanks again.

Vicki Lane said...

Easy to get muddled, Star -- which is why I started doing all this!

Very much like the continuity people, jennyfreckles. And there is a cipy editor who reads my manuscript and pays very close attention to all this.

Thanks, Darla! Yep, I'm an inspiration to middle-aged and older women everywhere! ;-)