Writing a Series

Writing a Series

I’ve realized it’s been more than a year since my last novel release, although not for lack of work. The third book in my Constant Love series is currently clocking in well over 200,000 words, so with 50,000 generally considered the threshold for a novel, that means I’ve been working on four novels at once!

Landscape with dark clouds
One of the photos I’m considering for the cover of A Season Lost.

Since I’m at an interesting point in editing the third book and also gearing up on the fourth, I thought I’d share a little about the somewhat unique process involved in writing a story that carries over the course of multiple books. This will include some spoilers for A Constant Love and A Change of Legacies, although I’ll avoid spoilers for the third and fourth books, A Season Lost and A Generation’s Secrets.

As the fact that I already know the title for the fourth book might suggest (indeed, the fifth book already has a title as well, but I’m not ready to get that far ahead of myself by sharing), I have the series largely planned out in my mind. As the series progresses, some things are a little more nebulous, and indeed while plans have been for it to be a seven-book series for quite a while, recently I’ve begun to think the largest time gap will need to be filled with another book.

While most of the major plot arcs are planned out in my head, in the actual writing of the series I’ve found I have to be very organized about things, which necessitated not one, not two, but three different types of timeline/outline. The first is a rough historic outline, keeping general track of major events in the past – largely births and deaths of different generations of families, but you can see in the example below that I’ve also indulged my love of architecture and interior design by working out some details in the history of the house, basing them on my vision of Pemberley, when the work would have been done, and who would have been working at the time. Most of these haven’t been shared within the story itself yet, but when I needed a character to discuss Pemberley’s landscape design in A Season Lost, I merely had to go to this timeline, where I’d already worked out it had been Humphry Repton who had done the landscape design.

High level timeline snippet

The second timeline is essentially a rolling calendar that begins when the main action of A Constant Love began, and which I’ve now continued through April, 2019, when the fourth book is projected to finish up. Setting down dates for the major events of the books has been essential in figuring out the timing of major events, particularly in a series where a number of characters’ plot arcs intertwine – A Season Lost is the most plots I’ve juggled so far and the timeline was essential to being able to do this, as well as being able to keep track of weather events in 1816, the “year without a summer.” One of the trickiest things to manage has been pregnancies in this era of no birth control. Sometimes it’s realistic that a woman should be pregnant or even having a baby at a time that it’s not particularly convenient for the narrative! In the fourth book, I need to end the story after one character has a baby, but there are more months to fill between other events and that one, and they just can’t be shortened. So pregnancy ends up being a challenge, albeit one I’ve generally been able to work through.

In the example below, which shows the timeline from the end of A Constant Love into the beginning of A Change of Legacies, you can see that I’m counting off weeks on the Mondays: this was to keep track of Elizabeth’s first pregnancy. Those who have read Legacies can also see events that weren’t explicitly called out in the book, but were necessary for me to work out travel times in the backstory.

Rolling calendar timeline

Once I’ve established the high-level timeline for all of the events that are expected to occur, then it’s time to do a detailed outline, which I preface with a list of most of the major and minor characters. This is the step I’m on right now for A Generation’s Secrets, and it involves taking the major events of the timeline and fleshing them out with more detail and additional, more minor events and subplots. I know some writers can work without an outline, and occasionally I’ve done so when a story has really ate my brain, but for stories this long and with multiple intersecting plots, I think my head would explode if I did this without an outline! Below you can see some of the detailed outline for Legacies.

Detailed outline

With all of this planning, you’d think the writing would always go very smoothly, right? Well, most of the time yes, but not always. Things do shift as I actually get into writing the story. Once I’m deeply in the work, with the characters, sometimes what they end up doing in a situation is not quite what I’d expected them to. Sometimes they completely rebel against my plans for them (Colonel Fitzwilliam is the most substantial offender, in this category). On the flip side, sometimes happy accidents occur. I needed two male characters for different romances in A Season Lost, and two men I’d referenced as early as A Constant Love ended up fitting the bill. Neither of them was planned to be a romantic lead at the time (this is also, for one of them, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s fault).

Once I finally get through the first draft, I do some pretty major editing on it, and then I do a beta. For book three that’s given me a lot of useful feedback that I’m currently working on incorporating. After that will come numerous rereads to finish smoothing out the story and correcting grammatical and typo issues, as well as cross-checking things against the style guide I’ve had to develop, in order to keep things relatively consistent across the series…you can see a bit of it below. It’s meant to be used with find and replace, so I search for each entry in the first column to see if there are any “hits” I need to fix.

Style guide entries under "C"

It’s difficult to say how long these last steps will take, not to mention cover design and final formatting for the Kindle and paperback editions. I am pretty bad at estimating publication dates, particularly since I work full-time in addition to my writing endeavours. But A Season Lost IS progressing, and I hope to share it with you all in its final published format sometime in the summer or fall, and I hope this post explains a little better why it takes so very long to complete a series book compared to a standalone novel. While it does take longer, I’ve still found it very fun and rewarding to tell a more expansive story than can be contained in just one book!

 

 

14 Responses to Writing a Series

  1. Boy oh boy, do I know all about the ups and downs of writing an extensive series! LOL! It is fun but takes a tremendous amount of organization. Thanks for sharing, Sophie. I found it fascinating.

  2. Ha Ha! I got a kick out of all of your charts. It’s so much easier to keep in mind in a shorter story. I wish you will with your long book and look forward to reading it.

  3. I am duly impressed!!! Considering how much detail you incorporate, that I absolutely love, keeping everything in order and correct and with the characters not always cooperating, it is definitely challenging! Thank you for showing/sharing your process and I will be first line to buy your next book in the series!! I can’t wait to return to their lives!

    • Standalone books I’ve found take much less organization, but when there’s this much plot strewn across multiple books and a long time period, I’ve found the extra process is helpful. Thanks for your comment, Cindie!

  4. Goodness, what organization! You put my story planning methods to shame, Sophia.

    I can relate to the frustrations and ‘happy accidents’ that characters create. Just this morning, I was working on a scene for my debut novel’s sequel and the next thing I know there is a heated confrontation between the hero and one of the heroine’s guests!

    Thank you for sharing your writing process 🙂

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