Hello everyone! I’m super excited to be here with you, sharing my thoughts on how to outline a series. I recently signed the first three books of my Coven Daughters paranormal romance series with the fabulous City Owl Press, and I’m over the moon. I know in my heart of hearts that City Owl is the perfect home for my wacky, wild universe of witches, rock stars, shifters, vampires, and even vampire rock stars! Look out for Book One, Hex, Love, and Rock and Roll, in the summer of 2020. I’ve been told by early readers that Hex makes for a most excellent beach read.
Massive thank you to my City Owl sister Janet Walden-West for inviting me to write a guest post. Add Salt + Stilettos, her upcoming, sexy contemporary romance, to your TBR!
Now let’s dive in. If you’ve thought about writing a multi-book series, perhaps even one that spirals out into a giant, interlocking universe (which mine does!) you may have found the prospect a bit daunting. Where to begin? Will I even be able to wrangle the timeline, let alone manage a whole bunch of world building if my jam is paranormal or fantasy? The process can be tricky, even though Patricia Briggs and Jayne Ann Krentz make weaving a fictional universe look easy.
While I won’t dare to compare myself to such greats, I have picked up a few nuggets of wisdom from writing, and reading, various romance series. Along the way I’ve come to hone what I think is a fairly keen sense of what works, and what doesn’t, where series writing is concerned. Yes, series writing is its own, specific skill, but will a bit of forethought and some planning, you can master the craft.
First and foremost, I would highly recommend having at least a somewhat developed sense of the world you wish to create before embarking on drafting. As a hardcore pantser, I almost can’t believe I’m saying this. Plotting kills my mojo faster than an ill-timed interruption, just ask that motorcycle club romance languishing unfinished on my hard drive. But, the more you’re able to paint the broad strokes of the elements you want to have in your story—e.g., elemental magic learned through practice, mythical beasts, a contemporary world largely blind to the fantastical but not completely—the more you’ll save yourself from painful rewrites, endless plot hole hunting, and even the need to shelve stories that just won’t fit with the others.
Of course I learned the hard way. I’ve actually written two instalments in my paranormal universe that I had to stick in the drawer because I could not reconcile the world-building and characters of the now-shelved books with their sister manuscripts. Really, the two shelved books should have been stand-alone contemporaries in a totally separate universe, and I did end up cannibalizing the best parts of each for a contemporary romance I’m revising. Still. Don’t let this happen to you.
I’d suggest drawing up a list of your universe’s must-haves, then doing some free writing to unpack the rules of your world. Make sure that all of your elements link up in a plausible fashion so that no piece feels tacked on or random. If you have, say, vampires, psychics, and magic users, what can everyone do and not do? And why? Reasons are good. With speculative series in particular, solid and well-thought out world building ensures that your reader will be able to suspend disbelief. And suspension of reader disbelief is crucial to gaining trust from that reader, trust which keeps them turning pages.
Once you’ve got a keen sense of your world and its rules, it is time to determine the key players. The cast of characters who will populate the series. Since you want your people (or shifters, or whatever) to both star in their own stories and make notable appearances in the other books, see where you can think in group, team, or unit-based terms. Four sorority sisters who have been best friends for years. Three guys who volunteer for the same organization. Six witches who belong to a common magical lineage but don’t know it, or each other, yet. The deeper and more complex you can make the connections between your characters, the more meaningful the emotions defining their bonds, the more compelling each of their individual stories will be. Interaction with secondary characters from other books will have more resonance this way and won’t feel forced or contrived.
Along these lines, see where you can play with the idea of having more than one collective cross paths in your series. In mine, for example, I have four members of a rock band and six witches. Not every band member pairs with a witch, obviously, because if I went this route two lonely witches would end up left out of the HEA party. I initially wanted to move through the band members and give each guy his own HEA, but that only worked for the first two books. I could not sustain the momentum of that storyline while keeping the paranormal aspect. So I circled back to the witches and brainstormed where these gals could find partners elsewhere while also maintaining a link to the band members. This approach took work and creative planning, but ultimately I think it helped me build the big, rich, spiraling world that I wanted. Lots of moving parts and cats to herd, but worth it.
The final element that I’ll include in my reflection on series writing is your villain(s). Before you set off to write, put serious thought into your baddie(s). Now, each story can certainly have its own individual, self-contained antagonist. Nothing wrong with a new offender in each book, clever and creative in their methods for torturing our poor characters (insert diabolical laughter). But exciting potential also lies in introducing a large, complex antagonist into your series, an entity, organization, or problem so formidable that you’ll need multiple books to defeat the threat. If all of your characters have to work together over the course of several stories to bring down their shared foe, the possibilities for juicy plotting and rich conflict become vast.
And all and all, dear writer, have fun! Series writing can be complicated and time consuming, so ideally your world will be a place where you wish to spend time. Escape to, even. So is that book of your heart one you could envision blowing up into a multi-book world? Are you in love with all of the characters there? Then go for it!
Happy writing, and I can’t wait too see your awesome series on a shelf.