Thursday, August 25, 2011
How to Grow a Series
Let me rephrase that: this is how I grow a series. In general. I’m a pantser, so my approach to any novel, let alone a series, tends to be haphazard. I don’t sit down and plot out a nine-book epic with every single twist and plot point outlined and described. God bless those who can. It’d be a lot easier if I could, but my mind doesn’t work that way.
Tip one: don’t wait for inspiration. You can’t expect your muse to drop in on a regular basis. She may go on strike or get caught up in a CSI marathon or something and leave you holding the keyboard with a blank screen to fill. Forget about her. Sit down and write. You may find your best inspirations happen when you’re in the middle of working. As your fingers fly, so do your thoughts. It’s like dominos. One idea knocks over others, and so on down the line.
Tip two: Ask questions. Answering them results in more ideas. Before you know it, you’ve got the background for a series.
For example, suppose you’re writing about Billy and Susie – or, because this is romance, Blake and Cameron. (Or Blake and Trevor, if you’re writing M/M.) Right in the middle of a tense scene, Cameron suddenly blurts out that her sister has been arrested. Huh? Cameron has a sister? Since when? Never mind. She’s got one now. Three brothers, too, and every one of them is involved in some cause or other. That’s why Cameron never talks about them. The whole family has stories to tell and people to fall in love with. Or maybe Blake lets slip that he comes from a dynasty of assassins, but he left the business because he faints at the sight of blood. What about the rest of his family? What if one of them falls in love with their target? What if one is competing with another assassin for a lucrative government contract? Or is being hunted him/herself? There’s a trilogy right there.
If you’re writing paranormal, as I do, it gets even better. Like werewolves? In a wolf pack, only the alphas mate and breed. Depending on the size of the pack, you could have up to a dozen stories about desperate, sex-starved low-rankers trying to find love behind their alpha’s back. Would they try for other wolves, or go after humans because there’s less competition? Or try to seduce the alpha? All sorts of possibilities abound.
Moving into personal territory, here’s how a single book of mine ended up as a trilogy. I wrote Belonging, my M/M vampire story, to deal with two ideas: the concept of a person raised by vampires, and how the undead can have sex. Plus because I wanted to write Supernatural fan fiction, which is how it ended up M/M. But never mind. While answering these questions, others arose. If vampires can have sex (I figured out a way around the undead problem), can they also reproduce? Can an undead woman get pregnant, or would they have to use a human surrogate? What kind of abilities would the resulting child have?
Right in the middle of writing one book, I suddenly found the plot for another. My M/M couple becomes M/M/F when they come to the aid of a woman who has vampires chasing her. My vampire lead discovers her past and his intersect, as an incident from his human life (mentioned in the first book) comes back to haunt him. Answering the initial question – can vampires have sex? – led to the second – can vampires have children? – which led to a second book. I even got to re-use the main characters, who I really liked. Yay, less work for me.
It didn’t end there. I decided to tie off a loose end from the first book by bringing back a cameo character for a subplot. The slayer who destroyed Jeremy’s vampire family only appeared for half a page, but he left a lot of unresolved issues in his wake. He ended up playing a larger part in the sequel than I’d expected. His backstory hit me while I was writing the flashback chapter in Belonging – remember what I said about inspiration while writing? – so I already knew his whos, whats and whys. I just needed a where for him.
And I found it. My muse waylaid me as I was walking across the library parking lot. The sequel had left its own set of loose ends, in particular the other female victims of the book’s vampire conspiracy. One of them meets up with the slayer. Sparks fly and conflicts ensue. I’m currently sweating over the first draft of yet another sequel to what initially started out as a standalone book. Ta-da! My first series.
Tip Three: when an idea hits you, run with it. At one point in the third book, the heroine researches vampire slayers on the Internet. She comes across a reference to the Colt brothers, a family of slayers living in Texas. This was my little shout-out to the Winchesters for starting it all, and to Jared and Jensen, both Texas boys. Then I remembered: Annie Stanton, my retired slayer from the first book, hails from Texas, and she comes from a large family. Was her maiden name Colt? That mob down there could be her nephews, with a few nieces thrown in. Maybe she helped train them, and still sends them leads. Holy Joe, it’s a spinoff!
Tip four: know when to quit. I’m going to leave those ideas on the back burner while I concentrate on getting the other two books into (hopefully) sellable shape. In the meantime, I can always jot notes and ideas as they occur to me. If you’re looking to start your own series and don’t know what to write about, look no further than your current WIP, or maybe a previous book. Odds are the seeds of a series are sitting right in front of you in the form of a character, idea or line of dialogue, just waiting for some inspiration to help them sprout. Happy growing!