Writing Tips: Sequel, Trilogy, Series, etc.

5 Sep

Since my last posting, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what writing tips I’m going to share next. I knew one thing: I wanted to expand on issues I’ve learned recently through rewriting and editing A Timely Death trilogy. Then I realized I wanted to talk about that in general: series.

I only need eight more likes on my Facebook Author Page to hit 600 likes. Can you help me out?

I only need eight more likes on my Facebook Author Page to hit 600 likes. Can you help me out?

Lots of writers want to explore what it is like to write a series, but they seem to run in to two problems: 

1. Where to start

2. Where to end

I think these are really important things to consider before writing a series. I know many authors start off with one book and then stretch it in to more, but I think, if you can, you should plan the series before you start writing book one, because it will prevent later confusion and contradictions if you know where you are going. I learned this through my experiences with A Timely Death and other series I’ve written. My experiences have been very different, and I want to share two of them, hoping that they show a possible path for other writers to consider:

First Path: A Timely Death

What happened: I didn’t know where I was starting or ending. In fact, I wrote Seconds Before Sunrise (book 2) before Minutes Before Sunset (book 1.) This happened, because I realized book 2 couldn’t stand by itself. The world needed to be created first, so I went back. As I was writing book 1, I came up with book 3. Obviously, this was very unorganized, and I had to do a lot of rewriting, not only with the scenes, but the characters. It look me a very long time to get to know my characters, since I got to know them out of order. It caused a lot of confusion, and that made it difficult to add the necessary things, like foreshadowing, symbolism, motifs, etc.

What I learned: I tried to take on too much too quickly. I was so excited to start the book that I didn’t even realize I was planning it entirely wrong. I was too focused on one thing to see all of the other loopholes I’d missed. After dealing with all of the issues I created myself, I realized I had to plan–but not only plan. I needed to breathe between planning and writing, take a break to make sure I was planning the correct path. I also learned to take more breaks: a break between planning and writing, a break between writing and editing, a break between writing book 1 and book 2 and book 3, a break when I finished, etc. Take breaks.

Original covers for A Timely Death trilogy: sizes represent order in which they were written

Original covers for A Timely Death trilogy: sizes represent order in which they were written

Second Path: (I can’t release the name, but I will call it by the primary colors: Red (book 1) Blue (book 2) and Yellow (book 3)

What happened: I planned Red, Blue, and Yellow before I started writing all of them. I drew out the world, charted the characters, played around with ideas, and just rolled around in my mind for months before I wrote down a single word. Even when I started writing Red, I contemplated more ideas and little scenes for Blue and Yellow. The entire time I was filled with excitement instead of confusion. I was never mentally “out of breath.” I went from Red to Blue to Yellow with ease, knowing I had all my time to add the symbolism, foreshadowing, and excitement that I wanted.

What I learned: Planning allowed me to have more time to enjoy the actual writing time. I was never worried about where I was going next–even if I was surprised by a sudden turn. This may seem like a contradiction, because I said to plan everything, but I must remind everyone of a little theory I live by: the characters are in charge, so my plans don’t always work out. That being said, I still insist on planning everything but keeping an open mind on how my plans go.

Basically: I’ve written numerous series, but the lesson that kept repeating itself to me was not to rush it. Even if I have a plan for one book that I know I want to expand, I stop myself from writing it until I know exactly where I’m expanding it too. (When I say “exactly” I mean a basic outline of events–not literally the entirety of the story, because, even if I planned that much, things always change in the moment of writing it.) My advice is simply to have a larger plan for the overall series and smaller plans within the books.

Think of writing a series like a road trip: You know where you’re starting, you probably know where it’s going to end, and you might have places you want to visit in between. But there might be some surprises along the way. Embrace them, and keep going. That’s where the fun is. 

~SAT

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16 Responses to “Writing Tips: Sequel, Trilogy, Series, etc.”

  1. jenniferkmarsh September 5, 2013 at 5:55 am #

    Completely agree with you :) I’m in the process of writing a trilogy (I’ve already done Book 1 and am in the middle of Book 2), but as much as I enjoy it, I really wouldn’t be surprised if I never wrote a series again!

    • Shannon Thompson September 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      Out of curiosity: what would make you never write one again?
      ~SAT

      • jenniferkmarsh September 6, 2013 at 8:07 am #

        I find it incredibly demanding. It may be because my trilogy is a really deep fantasy – perhaps other series genres are slightly less painful! But yeah, I just find it a bit much sometimes, like trying to cross a busy motorway or something. Your brain never stops!

  2. The Animation Commendation September 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Great tips!

    On a side note, have you read “Gone Girl”?

    • Shannon Thompson September 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      I have not. Why? Should I? :]
      ~SAT

      • The Animation Commendation September 5, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

        Everyone’s praising it, so I thought you checked it out.

      • Shannon Thompson September 5, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

        Wait. I have. I never finished it as I was busy with school at the time.
        ~SAT

  3. CL September 5, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right. In terms of series, you really do need to keep your eye on the whole picture and plan your way through.

  4. Read&Write September 8, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    For a writing class I read a book called “Story Engineering.” It outlines how to outline a lengthy narrative. You might get something out of it, although it is frustrating to read because the author takes forever to get to the point. Anyway, I found it helpful for my own work, a detective/mystery novel. But I didn’t know it could be a series until after I planned out the novel. My “mentor” in the detective/mystery genre is Joe Nesboe and his Harry Hole series (I know, names don’t always translate well). Harry is a great character who is constantly struggling with his mother’s death, alcoholism, and drug abuse from one novel to the next. I cling to Nesboe as my own “outline” for how to plan a series. You might be interested in checking him out along with “Story Engineering.” Thanks for the post!

  5. jncahill September 9, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    The first time I wrote a sequel, it was really hard and frustrating. I hadn’t planned it as well as I should have. I wrote a few more and found they were much more enjoyable when they were better outlined. Great and true tip!

    And I’ll go “like”!

  6. angel7090695001 September 26, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Great tips. I have done the same thing. I have a series called the Gel Creatures and I am writing book 2 and book 1 at the same time.

  7. IsabellaStines September 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Great info here! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • Shannon Thompson September 27, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      I’m glad you enjoyed them! Thank you for reading.
      ~SAT

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Creating Diamonds: Plans and the Pressure of Time | joanneeddy's blog - September 15, 2013

    […] Writing Tips: Sequel, Trilogy, Series, etc. (shannonathompson.com) […]

  2. Author Interview with Shannon A Thompson | The Modest Verge - January 27, 2014

    […] website, too. I do a lot of writing, editing, and publishing tips. But, anyway, here’s the link: http://shannonathompson.com/2013/09/05/writing-tips-sequel-trilogy-series-etc/ I think both require a lot of attention and planning, but a series is much longer, and they must […]

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