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Friday, August 14, 2009

Q&A: Planning a series

From Sarah Forgrave:

- I've got a series idea that would follow a family with three daughters and a basic storyline for each. I'm a plotter and planner, so I'm wondering if you recommend planning out all three or four stories at once so they're intertwined? Do you have any other tips on how to approach a series?


Camy here: It depends on the storylines you're thinking of.

If you'd like each story to stand on its own (which most of my editors have wanted, but may not necessarily be true for your editors), then my suggestion is to spend time really developing each character so that you know their fears, desires, wounds, etc.

The characters' actual storylines for their novels might end up changing as you write each story, also, so this is a safe route to go--you have a good handle on the characters, but you're leaving yourself some wiggle room in terms of their stories.

If you're thinking that you'd like the stories to be strongly intertwined, then you not only have to do the character planning above, but you should also plot out each story in the series.

Figure out each characters' external goals for their stories. That way each character will have a sense of purpose for their story versus just be reactive to events.

Use a large board to plot how elements in one story intertwine with elements in another story. Map it all out so that you won't write yourself into a corner or unintentionally leave threads dangling.

This second method is considerably more work. You also run the risk that if an editor doesn't like the series premise or one of the characters, your entire series is rejected, not just one book. In this case, perseverance needs to be your best friend.

If you have a series where each book stands alone, you have a better chance because an editor may ask for revisions to the proposal before giving a definitive yes or no on the project.

For my current book, Deadly Intent, I did extensive planning of each of the three sisters' personalities before I wrote the first book. I did this so that I could know how each sister would respond and react to each other, to show the family dynamics. Those of you who have read the book will know I did some foreshadowing in terms of Monica's relationship with her father.

I also did some light planning in terms of the "crime" for each of the books, since they'll all be romantic suspenses. I deliberately chose Sonoma, California and a posh spa environment because there are three elements that are conducive to murder and mayhem:

1) Sonoma is a tourist city, so there is a lot of traffic in and out. The large number of people flowing in and out makes for a believable storyline where someone would come in and murder someone or be murdered.

2) The spa caters to the wealthy, making it a hotbed of people who might have a reason for someone to want to kill them. Also, the spa's services are in high demand, making the spa itself a possible target for competitors.

3) The Grant family is wealthy themselves, which makes the family a target for enemies who are jealous or hoards of potential suitors who want to marry into that wealth.

When you do your own series, think large-scale, solidifying motivations and conflicts. The planning stage is not the place for detailed thinking. Be visionary and look at your series as a whole.

(As a shameless plug, one thing I do in my phone consultations is help people to better visualize their series ideas so that they can plan effectively. Some people have a hard time seeing large-scale, so I can listen to their series ideas and character ideas and help them organize and plot.)

If you have any other questions for my Q&A series, just leave a comment and I'll be sure to get to it.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for another post full of helpful information, Camy! I'm holding off on pursuing the series idea until I finish my current WIP, but your consultation services sound like just the thing I might need when I'm ready to move forward.

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  2. Thanks for finding me in my new home!

    I really like this post. I've been hearing that series are attractive to acquisitions editors right now, so this advice about how to plan one is very timely.

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  3. Thanks guys! I think readers like series a lot--they like revisiting old characters like revisiting old friends. :)
    Camy

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  4. Camy,
    Thanks for this article. I should have read it before our phone conference. I always love how you give practical guidelines and visuals for planning. Thanks! Carrie

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