Saturday, August 29, 2015

Successful Series?

There's been good discussion on the blog this week about what makes for a successful series, with interesting characters being one of the top ingredients mentioned. Since we've hashed that over pretty well and enjoyably, I'll say that even if you have interesting characters, ya gotta have craft. You could have THE most interesting people in the entire galaxy to write about but if you don't write as well as you develop your characters, no one is going to read volume one, let alone volumes 2 through n.

Chuck Wendig had a good post this very week over at Terrible Minds on some of the things he sees beginning writers do that really mess with their chances at being successful. ("I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writer"). The post resonated with me because recently I was a judge in the first round of several contests for unpublished manuscripts and I think I saw every one of the things he cites, more than once. (No, I won't be discussing specifics obviously.)

Just to pick a few of the ones Mr. Wendig mentioned: Not Everything Is Interesting. Totally agree here. Although if you have a really beautiful way with words, I might read descriptions of the mundane, but better to save the details for stuff that's so cool, and belongs just to your story.

Going on too long, cut it by 1/3: I'll fess up, that I had a really bad habit of doing this in my first manuscripts and my Editor finally got me to stop. For some reason I just felt compelled to recap the first 7-8 chapters' worth of events at least once in the last two or three. I have no idea why. If the reader made it to Chapter 9, they were probably paying attention along the way. And if they weren't, my recap wouldn't do them any good anyway. Usually I'd have one character reporting to someone higher in the chain of command, so I guess in my beginning writer mind, that meant I should really make them deliver a report. Thank goodness for dogged Editors, saving me from myself!

The story starts on page one: I'm pretty good about that, usually. I like to dive right in and hit the ground running. Blow something up, have a fight...but a couple of the entries I read went on for PAGES of not-very-interesting back story and the difference was so glaring and so refreshing when we actually reached the start of the story itself. If I hadn't been a judge, I'd have been DNFing by about the second paragraph, let alone the second page of this.

Too many characters bumping into each other. To which I'll add, and too many have similar names! I just finished reading a book by someone I do enjoy a lot and I had to really persevere as they tossed all these people at me in the first two pages. I had a hard time remembering who the hero and heroine of this book were, and I felt annoyed at all the clever in jokes and references to books I hadn't read. It was like being at a party where everyone else has known each other since second grade and you can;t make a dent in the conversation because you just moved to town. I mean, some of this has to occur obviously or else why write a series, but be kind to the new reader you might be gaining  in Volume 3.  Every reader doesn't always pick up volume 1 as their first exposure to your delightful series.

You can give me  lot of characters and you can work in the backstory as we go, just not all in the first few pages, ok? Let me get really attached to the one or two people I'm supposed to care about in this book before I meet everyone else in the town/galaxy/ship/guild.

Start with Bilbo, add Frodo, let Gandalf drive down the road.....(don't wait too long to show me dreamy Aragorn though. And NO EAGLES, are we clear on that?)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Series Theories

What elements make for a successful series? I'D SURE LIKE TO FIND OUT, cause ya know? Neither of my series actually got to BE serieses (what is the plural of series??) to completion.

<Ms. Burnard? Bitter calling. Line two.>
Right. Right.

Ehem. Pardon me. Just gonna have this Snickers.

Ah. Where were we?
Series. Perhaps we can elucidate the elusive nature of the beasts by examining those aspects which deterred us from reading through other authors' works.

1. Top-That-Itis: Dreadful disease that fells many a promising series by forcing an author to reach deeper and deeper into the well of vast improbability for conflict. Some theories suggest that this tragic disease is what leads to that horrific event known as "Jumping the Shark."
2. Character Intellect Disorder: Characters afflicted with Intellect Disorder are easy to identify. Their authors spend great effort telling, and possibly, showing you how smart a character is only to have the character spend the rest of the series acting in a manner utterly inconsistent with that intellect. To put not too fine a point upon it, the character acts as if he or she has been clubbed suddenly stupid. This disorder may or may not accompany symptoms of Top-That-Itis.
3. Murky Motivation Mania: Some theorists contend that Character Intellect Disorder is nothing more than Murky Motivation Mania in action. *I* disagree, but the hair we split is fine, indeed. Any character can be forced to act out of character if properly motivated to do so. IE: a gun held to my head might indeed induce me to cluck like a chicken when normally, I would not. Anyone claiming the contrary is a fowl and dirty prevaricator. You see what I did there, yes? Ehem. However. One assumes that the moment I've dispatched the individual holding the gun to my head, I would revert to my true, mien. Therein lies the difference between Character Intellect Disorder and Murky Motivation Mania. The disorder appears as if a light switch had been flipped: Smart/Not. Mania manifests when a character acts out of character for no apparent reason and then just as mysteriously, flips back to acting as he or she always had.
4. Canon Fodder: Canon: A rule or law enacted by a competent authority. Alas, what mind among us can comprehend what madness besets an author who contradicts the rules of his or her creation as set out in the series as it first appeared? None of us. Not a one. We can only shake our heads in sad wonder and hope that Disney will redeem the franchise.

Come, my fellow series theorists. Regale me with your theories for what makes a series unreadable and that which makes a series eminently readable. I'll share the Snickers...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Making the Series Work

It's been said, both by me and to me, that it's pretty crazy to start two parallel series at the same time.  Do I like burdening myself with work and expectations?
Strangely, yes, I do.  
One of my biggest fears was that one of the series would really "click", while the other would completely fail to.  So then I'd have people going, "Ugh, why is he writing another X book when he should be writing a Y book?"  (Little do they know that I've also got the Z books and Q books and On Beyond Zebra in the wings...)  
But it seems like both Thorn and Murder have found fans, which is a good start that makes me happy.  Now the question is, can I maintain that?  What does it take to maintain that.
I really believe that the core of a successful series is the characters.  For Thorn to work, you have to click with Veranix.  For Murder, you have to connect with Satrine and Minox. If I don't make those key connections between the readers and the characters, then those books, and with them, the series aren't going to work.
But that's just for any given book.  To stretch that out for a series requires a bit of a juggling act.  Specifically, you have let that character grow, while at the same time retaining the core that the audience connected to.  
Now that I've turned in a final version of The Alchemy of Chaos and a finished draft of An Import of Intrigue, the big question is: did I pull that off?  Time will tell.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


by Linda Robertson

THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENT FOR WRITING A SUCCESSFUL SERIES is, in my humble opinion, <insert drumroll here>
photo credit: HERE
...a character who grabs our interest with both hands.

You know, someone whose emotions cause us to keep turning pages.

"Emotions?" you ask.

Yes. Emotions.

In an article that I highly recommend (and which of course supports my statement), Martha Alderson, aka the Plot Whisperer, says:
"Moviegoers and readers identify with stories through the characters. The most powerful way to reach an audience is through the characters' emotions. For only when we connect with the characters on an emotional level, does the interaction become deep and meaningful. Well-written scenes that include characters' emotions allow the audience to viscerally take part in the story and bond with the characters." LINK HERE Go read it. I'll wait....

The character feels something about their situation that defines that character; even their apathy tells us something. Their actions convey to us the core of their emotions. Their reactions to other characters, to a new situation, to someone else's display of emotions --or lack thereof-- and the words they speak divulge to us as a whole something more than the sum of the actual words on the page.

Why? Because we feel and react, too. Our experience, and the experiences shared with us by our families and friends and loved ones are all a part of our lives and influence us as we grow and mature across the arc of our lives.

And using that as a convenient segue...

Your series character must be able to A.) maintain an interesting arc or B.) have an endless stream of storylines and options in his/her/its life. Or both.
Photo credit :  HERE

In The 3 Types of Character Arc – Change, Growth and Fall HERE Veronica Sicoe talks about character arcs that stray from the standard Heroes Journey, arcs called: the Change Arc, the Growth Arc, the Shift Arc and the Fall Arc.

Each of the installments in a series in part forms the large "whole" of the character's arc, like the stones in the picture.

In what ways are you preparing your character for the arc? Or are you letting their story prepare you? What forces are at work beyond the control of the character, forces that will inevitably force difficulties upon her, ones that she, where you have placed her in the opening of your tale, cannot anticipate, ones leading her to places she cannot imagine going?

Tell me those questions waft like a seductive scent under the nose of your curious and inspiration-seeking writer brain...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top 5 Tips for Writing a Series

So, you want to write a series? Great. That's how I roll too.  Here are my Top 5 Tips for conceiving and implementing a series:

1. Define the Series GMC: What does (do) your protagonist(s) want? Why? What is keeping her/him/them from it? Ideally, each book in the series takes one of those large-scale conflicts and addresses it. Think of it as macro versus micro goals, motivations, and conflicts.

2. Continuous Character Development: As Jeffe and James noted earlier, your characters--all of the ones you carry forward through the series, from protags to tertiaries--must change. Some will grow stronger, some will fail miserably. All of them must experience stressors, strengtheners, and fractures in their primary relationships. They must have experiences that alter their dominant perspectives. E.g., Best friends in Book 1 may end up as arch-nemeses by Book 3. The cocksure warrior of Book 1 may evolve into a tremulous paraplegic in Book 2.

3. Contrasting Conflicts: Each book in the series should offer a markedly different challenge to overcome. Those challenges should spotlight a different aspect of your protagonists' weaknesses, and allow them to develop a new strength. The new strengths should needed to address the Final Conflict in the Final Book.

4. Know the End: There are two camps of series writers: open-ended series and close-ended series. I am a firm believer that every series should have an ending planned well in advance. As the author, you should know how many books it will take for your protag(s) to achieve their goals before you finish Book 1.

5. Determine Dependencies: This is where a lot of authors get hung-up. When crafting a series, you must decide if readers will have to read Book 1 to understand Book 2. That's your choice. There are no rules, no strong suggestions from on high. Then you have to decide how to move your series forward with the damages/lessons learned from the previous books without giving away the spoilers to the previous books. Whatever you decide, do not turn the first 50 pages of Book 2 into the Cliff Notes of Book 1. From a marketing/sales perspective you want to give good reasons for a reader who picks up your series in the middle to go back and buy the previous books.

There you go, dear readers, my Top 5.  What would you add to the list?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The key to a continuing series is...

Good topic. I like it a lot.

I've done a few series in my time and I can say with complete sincerity that, until SEVEN FORGES< I have ever once completed a series to my satisfaction.

Seriously. first there's the Chris Corin Chronicles. POSSESSIONS, RABID GROWTH, (ROOTS) and the unnamed final book. ROOTS never saw print, but I'd plotted it out in my head. The publisher A) didn't want it, and b) went belly up.

Next up, the Brittany Corin Chronicles. NEWBIES, (TOWNIES) AND (SCHOOLIES.)

The publisher went belly up while we were still in discussion about a sequel.

SUBJECT SEVEN and SUBJECT SEVEN: RUN! More books slated, but low sales killed the series.

 Seeing a trend here?

So am I.

The thing is, you never know.  If I had to say any of those series were missing anything, I'd say it was evolution of character. Does that sound vague enough?

What do I mean" I mean Chris Corin was broken and badly. Eventually he would have mended assuming he survived the pulpy and extremely violent series.

Brittany Corin was broken too, but getting better. I think she had a better chance of evolving and becoming a character people we interested in watching change and adapt.

The SUBJECT SEVEN series involved several characters and there might have just plain been too many of them for a YA series. effectively there were 12 main characters. That's a great deal to juggle. That is also a weakness in a lot of my earlier stories (Okay and maybe in SVEN FORGES, but there's gradual expansion thee that was missing in earlier series): I mean, there are 187 named characters in the SERENITY FALLS trilogy, which spans three hundred years in a town's history.

I COULD call SERENITY FALLS a successful series, by the way, as it reached the conclusion I'd planned, but to be fair it was originally one very large book and at the request of the publisher I broke it into three and added 40,000 additional words to make, I think, a much better book by the time it was all said and done.

Know what SERENITY FALLS had? Evolution. Damn near no character in that book ended the same  way they started. The events in that tale changed them (often by killing them, granted) and not always for the best.

If you are looking for a key to a successful series I'd say that's a big one.

I'll throw you a bonus: Continuity. Do it right and a reader will follow you anywhere. Do it wrong and you will have a serious problem. What do I mean? I mean readers, as a rule, are smart. Make sure YOU remember the details of your plot and world or suffer the consequences of readers who shake their heads in disgust. One of my personal favorites? In a book I was thoroughly enjoying he main female lead went from being a dark haired, pale skinned lady to being blown haired and blue eyes with freckles. Then she went back to the original. As it was a post apocalyptic setting I think we can safely assume she wasn't; wearing any wigs or dying her hair.

I could also give you a dozen other suggestions, but, hey, where's the fun in that? I have five other prostituting scribes to follow me here. Let them have some fun, I say!

The One Essential Element for Writing a Successful Series

I'm up in Maine with friends and family, celebrating my birthday, along with my aunt's and stepfather's. Here's my celebratory lemon-drop martini (of course).

Fortunately our list-makers here at the Bordello have chosen a one-hit list for this week's topic: The most essential element for writing a successful series.

Of course, if anyone could perfectly ID the *one* perfect essential element for writing a successful series, we would probably all do that thing. So these things are a bit of a crapshoot, a bit of hand-waving and a dollop of black magic. We know what things tend to make a series stand out and rise above, but doing those things doesn't guarantee a successful series.

That said, I spend a fair amount of time reading other people's successful series and studying what they do. If asked to identify the essential element that keeps me fascinated and clicking that auto-buy (as I have been) I'd say this:

A hero and heroine who are richly detailed with continuing and compelling character arcs.

I tried to compose that without too many generalizations, but I'll break down the components.

Hero and Heroine

This is me, but I love the polarity of male and female, the push and pull of a relationship, hopefully romantic, preferably sexual. This can also be male/male or female/female or multiples, naturally, but I like how the male/female relationship represents the two major genders of the human race. It creates many possibilities, which is key.

Richly Detailed

The more complex, real and deep your characters are, the more room there is to develop them over time. Layer in the pain, the angst, the wounds that take forever to heal and there's plenty of story to keep telling.

Continuing and Compelling Arcs

The characters have to continue to change. It's not enough to have huge transformation and transcendence in book one - they have to face challenges and change in EVERY book. They can maybe backslide, but I advise against it as that creates a sense of frustration of hopelessness in me as a reader. If that happens, then they need to *really* surge ahead to much farther along than before the backslide. Overall, I think they need to continue to grow in their abilities with each book. This creates the reward that keeps me coming back for even more. However, it also should be clear from this that the characters must have a long way to go from the very beginning, thus the richly detailed depth and angst.

Two series that do this *really* well? The Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews and the In Death books by J.D. Robb.