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On the complexities of writing a series

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
People who crank out a book in a series every three months aren't individuals, they're teams of writers under one pseudonym, and they're always given a formula for the plot, they just have to fill in the details. It's the paint by number of writing.

The most an individual author who's genuinely making up their own series can do is one book every year or two.

The fact is everyone is different. There are individual authors out there who can crank out books that fast. And it's not beyond reason that they can. There are lots of selfpublished authors that have to maintain that pace to pay the bills. Fear and the desire to eat is a great motivator to get butt in chair and get the job done.

If we just look at the simple numbers if an author writes 2k words a day (Which is what Stephen King's pace was in his prime) 5 days a week, that's 10k words per week, 40k words a month, so writing a 100k book in three months is easily doable. Also some of the books may be only 50k words, which makes it even more achievable. Also writing more than 2k words in a day is very doable.

I was once listening to a podcast with Michael A. Stackpole. It was NanoWriMo time, and as a demonstration, he decided to do double the 50k word goal. And over the course of that month, he described the process of how he could write 100k words in a month or one book. He's not a titan of the publishing world who can hire a team. He's just a working pro who knows how to put a story together. If you listen to podcasts interviewing the authors who do novelizations of movies, the reason they get hired is their ability to write fast. And that translates to their original works, too.

How people can crank these out every three months is quite beyond me.

Some people are just built to write and write at that pace. There's the story of Asimov I believe, he had multiple typewriters, each with a different story going in it. When he got stuck on or tired of one story, he'd simply shift to another typewriter and jump into that story. I believe he wrote around 500 novels over his life this way. But to be fair, he also stated he had no life. :p
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I believe he wrote around 500 novels over his life this way.

I think the number was closer to 40. He did write a lot of short stories (383) and combined many of these into books. He was prolific, though. He also wrote a lot of nonfiction.

Many of the super-prolific authors write more in pulp style (which is fine) or (like Michael Moorcock) published novellas that they called novels. He also wrote pulp style. You can find his templates online. Some authors call novelettes novels, which is quite a nice marketing move.
 
I found that keeping notes on character and locations etc helps a ton. It's easy to forget if town X is east or west of somewhere, or if it was a town or a village or a hamlet or whatever.

Added to that is that I often feel it deepens the story and the world if you re-use something instead of simply making something up again. It can turn 5 random characters who walked on for a scene into a single side-character with a bit more depth to him. Or a dozen non-descript, similar and bland locations into 3 well developed ones.

Which is where the notes come in. And rewriting stuff to combine characters or move locations. Though that's mainly within a single book, not so much in a series, since once something is done it will always be there.
 

pmmg

Istar
I found that keeping notes on character and locations etc helps a ton. It's easy to forget if town X is east or west of somewhere, or if it was a town or a village or a hamlet or whatever.

Added to that is that I often feel it deepens the story and the world if you re-use something instead of simply making something up again. It can turn 5 random characters who walked on for a scene into a single side-character with a bit more depth to him. Or a dozen non-descript, similar and bland locations into 3 well developed ones.

Which is where the notes come in. And rewriting stuff to combine characters or move locations. Though that's mainly within a single book, not so much in a series, since once something is done it will always be there.

This is also where tools like Scrivener and Ywriter come in handy. They mostly add an organized way to keep notes.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Scrivener is definitely helpful along these lines. I have a world reference that's extensive and just keeps growing. I have a secondary reference just for the Trouvères because it's a series and I don't want series-specific stuff to get lost in the expanse of the world reference. And each novel has sections that serve as local reference: Plot, Setting, Characters, and Theme. Those folders are outside the Novel folder where the actual novel gets written, but are still inside the same Scrivener project.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I think I've mentioned before that it came as a surprise to me to find how much information I need to develop on my own when I'm dealing with a close historical alternate reality. I really only changed a few things as far as humans are concerned. I keep the same countries, more or less, the same political structures, same rulers, and so on. Add or change a bit here and there. But it's not like I have to invent geography or climate or whatever.

But Altearth has elves and dwarves and orcs and ogres and every one of them need their own history, magic system, and even geographical placement. Turns out that involves a fair amount of work!
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
But to return to the subject, here's another aspect of writing a series: repetition.

I start the first novel a certain way. I'm working on the second one and realized that I was starting that one in much the same way. It's a perfectly fine way to start a fantasy novel, but it's not a perfectly fine way to start a second volume. So, change it.

That extends into character development, use of certain magic bits, and so on. In a standalone, you can just use what is needed by the story. But in a series, you have to be aware of precedent and repetition. In some cases, using something (or someone) a second time is exactly right, like repeating a musical theme. But it has to be deliberate. It has to move not only the story but the series and, contrariwise, needs to avoid dragging down either.

IOW, another layer of complexity.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
With my series, I spend a lot of time going back, tacking in a detail in book 2...then having to tack something else into book 3 or 4 to account for the effects of that detail.

The other thing is names. Keeping those straight can be a pain.
 
An interesting question regarding writing a series is how much you need to explain to the reader. Do you assume the reader has read an earlier installment in the series? And how long ago do you assume the reader read it? It matters in how much you detail about places, characters, and past events.

Just looking at myself, I read series, and I try to read them in order as much as possible. But I can take a long time between novels. I'm still making my way through the Wheel of Time, but it's been 2 years since I read one (I'm up to book 8). When I pick up the next one I'll know who the main characters are. But Once a side character walks on I'll probably have no idea where I previously saw him. And I only have a vague idea of the events of the earlier books in the series.

My take is, if it's not important to the story, then just leave little hints for people to pick up. Readers will like it if they spot the references. If it's plot-relevant, then you need to explain it enough for a new reader (or a reader who read the earlier book 5 years ago) to understand what's going on. This is of course more the case with novels that form a loose series where each novel is its own tale, as opposed to something being 1 tale split into 3 parts because the publisher thought the novel would be too big otherwise.
 

Mist Dragon

Dreamer
The most an individual author who's genuinely making up their own series can do is one book every year or two.

I remember Piers Anthony would spit out a 3 to 4 books a year, and I think there were other writers who put out equally frequent books. They weren't incredible but they were mostly readable. I think the Xanth series ended up being like 30 something books. I think I managed to get through about 16 of them before completely loosing interest. Each book was decendants of the previous characters so it ended up being almost new stories in the same world.

Personally I'm kind of tired of the oversaturation of book series in fantasy fiction. It's like every book I find is either book three or seven of whatever series it's part of and I'm just looking for standalone novels.

On this I couldn't agree more. I fear the death of the novel, the single book with a single story you can pick up, read, and find that ending that every story needs. One of the first things I do now before even considering a book is to look at if it is part of a series, if so how long, and is it done. Since sadly, I've started series I didn't know were series, and by book 6 I was ready for it to end. Andre Norton wrote over 130 books, and she did have some series, of which one I read backwards (and I had no problem doing so). Every book was it's own story and stood by itself, but if you read the previous ones you would know more about how the characters got there, but it wasn't needed. Now we have brought the never ending tv series to novels where story ark and endings are forgotten for the ease of never creating more than one story and one set of characters. So it's more like an episode of a show where it doesn't really contribute to an overall story, just the next adventure in characters that may or may not ever actually reach any conclusion.

Stories need endings.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
There's no need to fear the death of the novel. I've written four of the wretched buggers myself. I never figured on writing a series, but here I am, and I'm finding the challenges peculiar to the form to be interesting. Hence the post.

But while novels aren't dying, they are being buried alive, and for no better reason than that readers (bless 'em) are lazy wretches. They read sequels. When they read a standalone, they are as likely to pick up a book by another author as to pick up another of mine. But if they're on Book 3 of 7, they're more likely to purchase Book 4. This human behavior drives the Great Amazon Algorithm, which makes if far more likely the casual browser will encounter the series than those perfectly good standalones. And so they get buried.

I'm very glad I'm not trying to earn a living in this racket. As it is, I can stand back and observe that it has been ever thus. The book business, as a business, has undergone seismic shifts every generation or two. Sometimes more frequently. Good literature manages to persist. It's also true that a good deal of very good literature disappears beneath the tides of change. Plus that there change, plus the même thing.
 

Mist Dragon

Dreamer
I get the idea, and the reasons, but like anything that becomes a success, there are too many imitators. Harry potter gave us so many spin offs of wizard school books...some of which were really good too...then twilight deluded us with a vampire/warewolf/whatever horror monster in droves. I'm good for 3...but really have to like an author to do more than that. Since more and more often I'm left waiting for years for the next book in a series, or the author starts another one, since they appear to have gotten bored with the one they are doing. So, I've become a little jaded with the never-ending plethora of series.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I can't speak much for anyone else, but this is what our story bible looks like, most recently screenshotted. And we do work hard to earn a living from this racket. We're just getting rolling, now. ;) 2022-05-02.png
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I can't speak much for anyone else, but this is what our story bible looks like, most recently screenshotted. And we do work hard to earn a living from this racket. We're just getting rolling, now. ;) View attachment 3159
Yes, OneNote can be a very powerful tool for organising and collating different types of information. Unfortunately, unike every other MIcrosoft product in the Office suite, it doesn't work with my dyslexia software - OneNote simply doesn't support it. So what could be a great way of organising my thoughts and writing is instead useless, both at home and at work. :(
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Yes, OneNote can be a very powerful tool for organising and collating different types of information. Unfortunately, unike every other MIcrosoft product in the Office suite, it doesn't work with my dyslexia software - OneNote simply doesn't support it. So what could be a great way of organising my thoughts and writing is instead useless, both at home and at work. :(
I'm autistic and my wife is dyslexic and we both find OneNote to be very useful - neither of us uses special soft wear for accessibility. She will also hand-write notes in note books if OneNote is giving her Issues. There is also Access, another part of Microsoft 365, which is a powerful databasing tool. And, of course, there is also Excel, which we use to keep track of character ages across time (the Books of Binding is a multi-generational family saga).
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I'm autistic and my wife is dyslexic and we both find OneNote to be very useful - neither of us uses special soft wear for accessibility. She will also hand-write notes in note books if OneNote is giving her Issues. There is also Access, another part of Microsoft 365, which is a powerful databasing tool. And, of course, there is also Excel, which we use to keep track of character ages across time (the Books of Binding is a multi-generational family saga).
All I can say is that your wife is lucky. I wish I found it that easy.

Access is good, if you know how to build a well-structured database. But, of course, most users will need the Microsoft 365 package. If you don't like the terms and conditions for that then you're left with buying a copy of Office, the various verions of which don't always include either OneNote or Access.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
All I can say is that your wife is lucky. I wish I found it that easy.

Access is good, if you know how to build a well-structured database. But, of course, most users will need the Microsoft 365 package. If you don't like the terms and conditions for that then you're left with buying a copy of Office, the various verions of which don't always include either OneNote or Access.
Wife's secret: she learned to read before she learned to write. It has made a world of difference.
 
Writing can be extremely difficult if it's planned. In my case writing my series came about as a matter of course in a way. Their was to much going on for it to all fit in one novel so I had to re plot and split it into three separate books. At the moment I'm working on book one. I did get the first two chapters done in two weeks. It was not good though it was extremely rushed. I had to have my friends help me fix it. You do not want to rush through a book unless their small.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Here's another aspect I've encountered. I've finished the first volume of my series. Of course there is a CTA (call to action) in the back matter and that's where I hit not so much a bump, still less a wall, but let's call it a wrinkle.

I want to say something about the next book. I don't even have a publication date. So I took a deep breath and claimed it will be out in 2023.

Yeah, I know. Big leap. But it made me at least think about it. Moreover, I'd really like to put in an excerpt, which also pulls readers forward. But is there any point when the next book is so far away (Carole King singing, doesn't anybody just write one book any more?).

Even if it were closer, though (I can always go back and update the back matter on the ebook, at least), I find I'm fiddling with text right up through the proofreading stage. Do I really want to put in part of Chapter 1 of Book 2 before I know it's ready? I guess if I were one of those speed writers I could get away with it, but for right now I have to leave those reader magnets out. *sigh*
 

pmmg

Istar
Not that i am any voice of experience but i don't want to promise next one till i know its written. I want be ahead of the game not behind.
 
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