Tag Archives: subplots

How to Plot a Series and Make Every Book Stand Out

16 Aug

As an author with three series under my belt, I’m often asked how to plot a series, and I thought it was finally time to share a few tips. 

First thing is first, anyone considering traditional publishing should make book one a standalone. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the dream of writing a series, but in traditional publishing, that choice is out of your control. Agents/editors will get discouraged by proposals that say, “this is first book in a five-book series,” because no one can guarantee that will happen. (In fact, a series can be very rare for a debut author.) 

Repeat after me: “standalone with series potential”

But that’s more to do with traditional publishing than writing—and it doesn’t affect those who are self-publishing as much—so let’s get to those writing tips: 

Identify the Sub-Genre of Each Book

When I set out to write a series, I know each book needs to feel special. The way that I do that is by identifying each book’s sub-genre. For example, in my Timely Death trilogy, book 1 is a paranormal romance, book 2 is a paranormal mystery, book 3 is a paranormal action. In the Tomo trilogy, book 1 is certainly dystopian action, but book 2 is dystopian horror. (Time will tell what book 3 is.) 

When each book has its own sub-genre, it’ll help them stand apart while also inviting new energy into the storyline. Personally, I’d recommend every first book heavily lean toward your main genre in order to set the overall tone and expectation. Using my example above, the Timely Death trilogy is a paranormal romance, and book 1 is heavily focused on that, both in the main plot and the subplots. It’s the next books where I allow a little more deviation. 

I encourage anyone writing a series to keep that tip in mind when plotting out numerous books that follow the same characters. If you’re unsure what sort of sub-genres might work with your overall genre, “20 Master Plots and How to Form Them” by Ronald Tobias is a fantastic resource that helps explain plot and genre expectations. Play around with a few and see how they feel. 

Avoid the Dreaded Middle Book Slump

Avoid that middle book slump by throwing everything you can at it. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of writers stop themselves from using amazing material because they want to save it for the big, explosive finale. And that’s valid. But personally, I disagree with that method. Trust me when I say not to hold back. Give each book everything you got. You will come up with something even bigger for the next book. I know it can feel scary, but I’ve done it before, not knowing what I was going to do with the last book, and everything came together perfectly. 

If you want that example, I’ll explain, but it does spoil book 2: 

In the Timely Death trilogy, there’s a prophetic fight-to-the-death between two clans alluded to in the first book. Every reader expected it to be in book 3. And guess what? It’s in book 2. Though it seems to be set up as the ultimate climax from book 1, I knew I wanted to push against that formula the moment I started writing book 2, so I trusted my gut and used it in book 2. Book 3 ended up being even bigger and followed the fallout of that fight. Using everything I had in book 2 opened the series to even more dramatics, plot twists, and drama than I ever could’ve planned had I tried to save material for the finale.  

Don’t Fear Character Change, Including Relationships 

Too often I read series where characters’ friendships and romances remain intact book after book. Granted, the romance genre requires a happy ending, but you can still have a happy ending while pushing what it means for a couple to be together. You can break friendships and meld them—or break them up forever. You don’t have to have a happy ending for everyone. In fact, if I know my main couple won’t work out, I make sure to show one that will, and vice versa. 

To me, this tip is reminiscent of being willing to kill your darlings. 

If no one’s relationships ever suffer, then readers might get too comfortable with the stakes. Be willing to part family, friends, and lovers. Allow them to make new friends and find new families. This will allow for fresh scenes and stakes because new relationships mean something new to lose. New relationships will also show how your characters are changing. My favorite kind? A villain who joins the good side in the end. There’s something so interesting about showing what it takes to get the hero and villain to see eye-to-eye, even if one of them can’t exist in the end. 

These are just my top three tips for planning a series.

How do you plan yours?

~SAT

#WW Writing Tips for Book 2 in the Trilogy

23 Mar

I’ve written a few trilogies and a couple of series. I’ve stumbled and struggled and made mistakes and learned from them. During book one, I’ve worried how to create the world AND focus on a smooth storyline, and during book two, I’ve stood in front of my planning board and worried about how to overcome that bad sequel rep. You know the reputation I’m talking about. Book two must be better than book one, but it cannot outshine book three. In fact, book three is supposed to outshine book one and book two combined. I have bitten my nails over this…and then I realized how silly that was.

Here’s the deal: Book two gets a BAD rep. It is often the most hated book in any trilogy—by writers and readers—because it’s seen as a transitional book, a book that takes the readers from the brand-new world in book one to the mighty explosive ending in book three.

Book two is boring. But it doesn’t have to be.

I honestly believe we are looking at book two in all the wrong ways, so here are some writing tips to consider.

1. Give Book 2 CREDIT

You’ve built a world in book one. You’ve created characters and described a setting and started a story and set up the tension. Book one is the adventure…and then there is book three, the explosive ending. It’s the climax of the series. It’s the ultimate tension and resolution. Book one gets credit for being creative, and book three gets credit for being explosive, so where is book two’s credit? It’s called a transitional book like that’s a bad thing, but I see it as a great opportunity. This is the book where you can focus on the story without worry. You have already built your world and your characters, and while everything is still going to grow, you have much more room to focus on the storyline. Give book two credit for all the wonderful, crazy, and brave elements you’ll finally get to explore in-depth. Let it be important. For me, book two is where my characters are often the bravest, because book two is where my characters DECIDE book three will happen. For me, this is the book I love writing the most. In fact, book three is the hardest for me, because I have to let everyone go. So enjoy book two while you’re there.

2. Consider Your Subgenre

This is completely different scenario, but I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who were absolutely enamored with book one but simply don’t feel the same spark going into book two. Well, maybe it isn’t a trilogy or series. That’s always a possibility. But if you’re sure this is a trilogy and you’re unsure how to continue your trilogy, consider sub-genres. What is a subgenre? Exactly how it sounds. It is a genre that pushes your main genre forward. Think of it like a subplot. In a story, we have a main plot, but then we have subplots or character arcs that push the entire plot forward. In a genre’s case, this subgenre could help tone the novel. Example? So you have a sci-fi book. Analyze your book by stripping out the sci-fi and consider what the plot would be without it. Maybe it’s a thriller. Now look at book two and consider changing it up. Maybe book two will be a sci-fi mystery instead of a sci-fi thriller. It will force your characters into a new situation and mindset, and it might just be the element you are missing to have each book stand on its own. The podcast Writing Excuses is covering the elemental genre right now, so they dance on the topic of subgenres a lot. Definitely recommended!

3. NEVER Hold Back

I'm writing a sequel right now, and I had to change gears 45,000 words in. Embrace it. Pull out those Sticky Notes and map out that madness.

I’m writing a sequel right now, and I had to change gears 45,000 words in. Embrace it. Pull out those Sticky Notes and map out that madness.

Since there’s this expectation that book three MUST be better than book two, I’m terrified when I read articles suggesting authors hold themselves back during the sequel, so that book three will be the most exciting. Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. As I tweeted out during my research of this topic, NEVER hold yourself back. Always write the best book that you can, and worry about “overcoming” book three later. Even if you’re writing book two and it seems extremely explosive, write it. Even if you have no idea what you’ll do in book three, write it. I am an author who believes in trusting your characters. If your story is asking for it, listen to it. Let book two be great. Let book two break the stigma. Let it be the best book in the series as you’re writing it. Write it in the best way that you can. That is the only thing you should be worried about. Everything else can happen later. As an example, I worked with a client who kept worrying about their protagonist. He insisted on killing the villain in the second book. But what will I do in book three? I couldn’t answer that, but I could advise them to try it. They did, and it turned out book three gained a new villain. The protagonist himself. Trust your characters. Trust your work. Give book two its dues. I played with this concept myself in The Timely Death Trilogy. The trilogy revolves around the idea of a “prophecy” and everyone automatically assumed it would happen in book three. Of course readers were quite thrown off when it happened in book two. I wish I could say I planned that from the beginning, but I didn’t. I did, however, listen to my gut. I listened to book two’s heart, and I let it live.

Now, go write book two with confidence and excitement.

If you’re interested, I wrote another article revolving around this topic: Writing Tips: Sequel, Trilogy, Series, Etc. 

~SAT

11987_1007269949320186_6557017595173577508_nThe content disclosure for November Snow released yesterday! Read the details by clicking here.

Bad Bloods in 35 words or less: 17-year-old Serena is the only bad blood to escape execution. Now symbolized for an election, she must prove her people are human despite hindering abilities before everyone is killed and a city is destroyed.

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#AuthorinaCoffeeShop Episode 12 starts this Thursday at 7 PM (CDT) via Twitter’s @AuthorSAT. What is Author in a Coffee Shop? Just as it sounds. I sit in a coffee shop, people watch, and tweet out my writer thoughts while hanging out with you. I hope to see you there!

SBScoverSince today’s post was about book 2 in a trilogy, here’s an excerpt from Seconds Before Sunrise, book 2 in The Timely Death Trilogy:

The lights were a collection of creatures I couldn’t have imagined on my own. Some had three arms. Others had weapons that looked impossible to carry. Their fingernails outstretched like blades, and their flushed faces suggested they were waiting longer than I thought.

“They aren’t human,” Pierce muttered, tensing.

I smirked, fighting the urge to correct him. None of us were.

Read Minutes Before Sunset, book 1, for FREE

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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#WritingTips How to Use Real-Life Stories in Your Novel

24 Feb

This seems simple. Using real-life stories—especially your own real-life stories—should be pretty black and white when you want to implement them into your novels, but it’s not. In fact, it can be very gray and confusing and downright frustrating to pick and choose…and well, remember. So, here I am to help with some writing tips.

First, I wanted to tackle the idea of using someone else’s real-life story in your book. Maybe they are your best friend or maybe they were some random guy at a bar you met. Either way, they shared a FASCINATING story with you about their life, and you loved it so much, you were already picturing where it would be in your current WIP. Stop right there. Personally, I am big on getting permission, especially if the story was deeply personal and unique (which, generally, people’s lives are). Get permission or even ask them what they would like you to change…or ask them permission for what you are already planning on changing. That’s just me though. There are many who would argue with me, and you can read their opinions on their blogs. But I see it as an ethical issue. I am not going to put a personal story about love gone wrong down to the gritty, dirty details in one of my novels when that person put themselves out on a ledge as friend (and human being) to tell me about it. That story is not mine to tell. Now if I get permission…Hell yes, run with it.

Now, moving on.

Why would it be difficult to put your own real-life stories in one of your novels? Well, for one, it can involve other people, which goes back to the point above, but you can also be TOO close to it. You might want to explain every little detail and moment leading up to the short story, and now you have a subplot instead of a little tale to push into your book. Try to focus on WHY. Why is this story so interesting? What about this memory is important? Is it the emotion? Is it the lack of emotion? Depending on the situation, one little section might be the only part worth mentioning.

Now how to choose. I’ve spoken to a lot of writers who are struggling for inspiration. They often tell me their lives aren’t exciting enough to use in novels, but once I start talking to them, I am pointing at them—practically jabbing them with my finger—and screaming, “THAT DETAIL. Use that detail.” Your grandmother who used to love to make liver and onions, even though the rest of the house hated it. Your mother who hairsprayed her hair into beautiful ringlets every morning…only to pin it up with a giant clip. Your father who took you to a golf course one day and you accidentally drew the club back…right into his forehead…and then he got RIDICULOUSLY upset…more so than you’ve ever witnessed before in your seven years…and then he calmed down and told you a story of how he lost a friend in childhood that way. It was the first time you heard your dad speak of death outside of the family or death in childhood or the fact that you just did something by accident that has killed someone before. Sadly, this is a real-life story from yours truly.

A little peek into my real life growing up

A little peek into my real life growing up

Little stories in your life that seem mundane aren’t. Everyone has life lessons, and those life lessons can be used and shaped to give your characters those same life lessons. If you’re struggling to remember which stories to use in your life, I would suggest keeping a notepad in your back pocket. Next time you’re talking to a friend or a family member, you might be surprised by how much you all bring up in everyday conversations. (I actually do this myself! I take notes on my own freakin’ life, and it helps! It allows me to have a file I can go to when I’m writing, rather than trying to conjure up a memory when I’m in the middle of a scene.)

So, study your life. Reflect on your life lessons. Here are some examples from my life.

When did you realize what death was?

My dad had to kill a bunny in front of me when I was four. My new husky had broken its back, and my dad was trying to put it out of its misery with a rake. I still won’t forget the sounds it made. (In my dad’s defense, my mother was trying to get me to go inside, but I was four. Enough said.)

What was your first funeral like?

As a three-year-old, I got ahold of the stage’s microphone and started singing Shania Twain…and got kicked out. I was just trying to cheer everyone up. My great-grandma Juanita took my cousin and I to her house where she let me make him cheese and crackers so I felt like I was helping still. (Because cheese and crackers are SO difficult to make.)

When was the first time your heart broke?

When I lost my first friend when I wasn’t moving. I was used to losing friends. I moved every two years. But when I lost a friend and I still had to go to school with her, I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t fathom how two best friends could just pretend not to know one another anymore. I still miss her.

All of these scenarios I could use in a story. It was my first experience with understanding death, not understanding death, and loss without death. Now those are pretty grim, but I would have to bet you have some interesting life lessons swirling around your mind, and if those don’t work, you can always listen to a friend (and get permission)!

Inspiration is all around you. It might even be in you.

~SAT

My editing services now have example prices. A few of you mentioned confusion on how to calculate the cost, so I left an example for 80,000-word novels. That being said, if you ever want an estimation, they are totally free through shannonathompson@aol.com. (A sample edit is also free, and you’re not obligated to work with me afterward.) I hope these updated listings help everyone out! Ex. Content Editing/Developmental Editing ($3 per 1,000 words) would cost $240.00 for 80,000 words.

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Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.

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Author in a Coffee Shop, Episode 8 starts on Thursday at 7 PM (CDT) via Twitter’s @AuthorSAT! What is #AuthorinaCoffeeShop? It’s just how it sounds! I sit in a coffee shop and tweet out my author thoughts (and talk to you)! See you then!

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