You have been seeing me talk a lot about the relaunch of my Mik Murdoch series. Book 1 (Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero) was released June 1st (2016), book 2 (Mik Murdoch: The Power Within) will be released July 1st (2016 – only a few days from now) and the brand new, Mik Murdoch: Crisis of Conscience is coming August 1st (also 2016).
As I’ve been working to get them ready to publish I’ve had the opportunity to reread every one of the books and see the progression of the story and the character. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons about series writing that I want to share with you here.
Lesson 1 – Have a High-level Idea How the Series Will Go
The high-level (or granular-level, if you prefer) idea can be a number of things:
- The actual progression of the character – how he/she/it grows, changes, matures, whatever. Think about Anakin Skywalker. Started out as an innocent slave-boy, becomes a Padwan Learner, then Jedi, then Sith. Ultimately he is Darth Vadar and, just before he dies, he abandons the dark-side of the Force. With that kind of progression in mind, the actual stories will come to fit the changes in the character. In the case of Mik Murdoch, the progression thus far has been: Origin story (how Mik tries to become a superhero), Chaos of realizing goal story (how actually getting super-powers throws his life into chaos) and, in the third book, Responsibility story (he has to consider the consequences of his actions). I’m not going to tell you the progression of the next three. We shall call that a teaser. 🙂
- Continuous story or episodic? Continuous means an overarching plot line for the entire series. Episodic is more about telling stories within a framework. Know in advance which one you are trying for.
- If it is a continuous story, what is the overarching story and the progression of it in each book. What are the big changes in the story itself? If you think of Lord of the Rings, there is a very natural progression: Fellowship of the Ring (we see a problem – let’s nip it in the bud), The Two Towers (Holy Crap, the problem is bigger than we thought. Let’s fully mobilize to fit it), The Return of the King (Hail Mary time, folks. It’s all or nothing…and conclusion). Each book forwards the overall story. I like to keep a 30,000 foot view of the story because if the plan is too tight, any change early on throws everything out of whack later on.
- If it is episodic, know what a few of the episodes might be. You might say to yourself, I want a minimum of three books. It’s good to know what those first three are so you can talk about them to fans so they are excited about the future.
Lesson 2 – Keep Close Tabs on Your Characters
An early mistake I made was not doing a better job of tracking my characters. And by early, I mean, in the first book. Mik’s parents went by two different sets of names at one point. Character descriptions changed. In books 1 and 2, I had two supporting characters with the same name (at least initially in book 2). One was a protagonist and the other an antagonist. I guess I must have liked the name but that really didn’t work for the progressing story.
What I did to remedy the situation was, I created a list of characters. I use Scrivener as my writing tool, so when I started a new book, I copied the previous book’s character list (with descriptions of who they were and where they appeared) into the new book’s file.
This served two purposes:
- It eliminated continuity problems between and in books;
- It lets me pull old characters into new books. One of the things I love about series of any kind, whether they be books, television, movies, etc. is I meet a character once and I often have the opportunity to see them again…and again. A character that was originally just a supporting character in the first book has now appeared a couple times and I hope to write a series for her at some point. Another character who was really only meant as a throw-away character in the first book will factor strongly into the fourth one.
Creating a Wiki for your stories is a great idea too.
Lesson 3 – Keep an Eye on the Voice and Tone of the Books
You want each book in the series to complement and build up what came before. Try to keep the voice and tone the same/similar. I know John Scalzi, in his Old Man’s War series has written books from various characters view-points. I would expect the voice of each unique character to be equally unique. What he has done well is keep the tone of the books similar throughout. That effectively ties the series together.
In the case of my Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero series, Mik is the central character and the Point-Of-View is first person. I try to start and end the books in a similar way and I try to keep the voice of Mik consistent. You should hear his personal voice mature, but it should always be Mik you are hearing.
Lesson 4 – Keep the Look and Feel of the Books Similar
If you are writing a series, you definitely want the covers to look similar. If you look at the covers for the first two, there is no mistaking them as related books (the third is more of the same, but I’m going to make you wait just a little longer to see that one – cover reveal will be coming in a future post).
The same holds true for the length of the stories. You want to keep them somewhat consistent. That way, your readers know what to expect.
Lesson 5 – Know Your Audience
When I wrote the first Mik Murdoch book, I had some general idea who my audience should be – predominately boys in the 9 – 14 age range. What I never expected was how universal the appeal would be. I have people regularly tell me their 2, 3, 4-year-old loves the books (being read to in those cases). I also have adults who tell me they enjoy the books too. And the predominately boy thing? It seems girls are fans as well.
Those are all great things to know; it helps me to frame conversations with people I hadn’t originally considered as possible fans. It also helps me plan future stories with those people in mind.
Lesson 6 – Keep Track of Your Uber-Fans
This is one lesson I am still working on myself. If you know who the super fans are, you should have better success with pre-orders whenever you have a new release. Knowing those people will also help you whenever you need beta readers or reviews; they are the most likely people to provide them.
My own personal struggle with this one is actually building an email list of folks to notify when the next book is due. If you have any suggestions on how to best achieve that, please let me know.
Those are the major lessons I’ve learned (so far). The series is far from over so I expect to learn a whole lot more.
And how about you? Do you have any lessons of your own you would add to the list? Let me know. I would love to hear from you.