Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What I Learned Writing a Series

 Alicia Hunter Pace (Jean and Stephanie)
Today's blog is written by Jean, who is half of the Alicia Hunter Pace team.  Apparently, she has been keeping secrets from Stephanie, the other half of Alicia Hunter Pace.

Here’s the thing. When you sell your first book, you don’t know if you are going to have a series, even if that’s what you hope. There is just no telling how that first book is going to go. What if you don’t sell a single copy except to yourself? What if it sells okay but everyone who reads it hates the characters? What if it is so bad that people hang outside your door and throw eggs at you? What if they break in your house and take your computer so you can never write another book of any kind?

It could happen. Not likely, but it’s possible. What is more possible is that it won’t do well enough that your editor is unwilling to go into that world again.

Luckily, that didn’t happen to Stephanie and me. When Secrets Gone South is released next month, there will be four Gone South books and one novella in print. But since we weren’t sure in the beginning, we didn’t do all the things we should have to keep the facts straight. In the end, we didn’t have any inconsistencies—that we know of—but it wasn’t for lack of trying. We spent a lot of time as we went,  putting together time lines, looking up names, birthdays, and occupations, and hoping for the best.

Never again.  You live and you learn. For our next series, we are sure of what’s going to happen so we will create a “Bible” of facts. These are the rules that we think will work for us:

Don’t get fancy and create a spread sheet. Simple is better. Get a composition book.
In that book write every character’s name, no matter how insignificant they may seem. You never know when the cemetery owner is going to become a favorite of your readers.

Don’t give a minor character an occupation you don’t want to write about. You never know when that minor character might tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey! I’ve got a secret baby!”

Keep a meticulous chart of what happens when—conceptions, weddings, birthdays, festivals. It is all going to be important.

Especially for main characters, keep a record of likes and dislikes as well as things they own like vehicles, houses, and jewelry. If the hero from book one has a peanut allergy, it’s best if he isn’t seen eating a bagel with peanut butter in book three—unless you want him to have a medical emergency.
Even for minor characters, write down what you think isn’t important and especially what you’re sure you will remember—because you won’t. You cannot have a character who has been police chief for four books, suddenly become sheriff.

Above all else, keep this in one book, designated for the series. Do not write on random envelopes, the backs of printed manuscript, and restaurant receipts.

Yeah. Stephanie didn’t know about those envelopes and receipts. It’s best that she didn’t.

What do you do to keep your facts organized?


Carla Swafford said...

I keep a Word file for each book under 'BOOK TITLE' HISTORY. And when I write the next book, I copy and paste the information on the characters that show up again.

The type of details I try to include in the list, besides hair and eye color (and I include descriptions that the hero or heroine used talking about the other), are about little habits (rubs chin while thinking), preference in cars, clothes (wears all black or only tee shirts and jeans, etc.), places they've been/lived, certain word choices (like uses dammit), etc. I sometimes include snippets of dialogue or descriptions that pinpoint the person they are to themselves or others.

More books in a series, the longer the HISTORY becomes. :-)

Carla Swafford said...

Oh, I include LINKS to websites where I researched guns, boats, cars, etc. Comes in handy when I need to double check a fact.

If I get the information out of a book or magazine, I note that too.

Meda White said...

I laughed about writing notes on random envelopes. I spent the first week of this new year organizing my series notebooks. I had random scratch paper stuck into the first notebook and when they all fell out, I said, "I'm turning into my mother." She's a talented writer, very creative and artistic, but lacks organizational skills. I have those tendencies, so I have to force myself in line or be lost forever.

You guys mention using a chart for dates. I tried a timeline for my family saga, but with so much info, it got messy. Any suggestions for columns/rows to keep me straight?

Thanks and best wishes with the books. I've enjoyed the ones I've read so far.

Louisa Cornell said...

This is a great post! I'm reading Cheryl St. John's book on writing and she gives lots of great tips on organizing the material one needs for a book or a series.

I currently have a binder for each book I have written, am writing and even for the ones for which I have a basic idea and intend to write later.

I keep timelines, character sketches, photographs, any anything else I need to keep my story straight.

I'm also a big believer in index cards. I keep a box for each book and if I am struck to write a scene or a piece of dialogue at work I jot it down on those cards and put them in the appropriate box when I get home.

Ali Hubbard said...

Very timely as I work on my 2nd in a series. I'll definitely use lessons learned. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Johnstone said...

This is so true! I learned to keep meticulous notes about books the hard way, when I got to book to of my series and could not recall every little detail I needed to. It took me countless hours to dig up all the details I needed, but never again! I do as you said and keep it real simple. I create character pages in word and put everything there right down to their favorite expressions. Thanks for sharing!

Chris Bailey said...

I've started my book file, and I swear I'm going to enter this entire stack of notes on stickies that's sitting by the computer TODAY!

Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

J.T. Cheyanne said...

Excellent advice. I've got book one out with my writing partner V.L. Moon and we are constantly searching back for details.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Great post! I didn't do this at the outset, and wish I had. I ended up hiring a local college student (i.e., cheap labor) to read the books and make a word doc of all that stuff.

Now that I'm writing in Scrivener, I try to make notes as I write and stick them in my document's research folder. Then I can export it easily and print it out for a binder.