About six or seven years ago, I attended a workshop at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference about writing a series. It was led by Richelle Mead, author of the Vampire Academy series. One of the takeaways I got from that session was that romance didn’t lend itself well to a series, because, structurally, it has to have a happy ending. As an author of Urban Fantasy herself, Mead outlined the differences between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy (both being popular genres at the time), and recommended that if the story was to become a series, it would have to switch genres. Which meant the focus had to shift from romance, where the objective is two characters getting together, to adventure, where the romance takes a back seat.
Lesson 1: Genre Matters
I took this lesson to heart when I decided to make The Watcher into a series. Genre is important. There are some genres that aren’t as easily converted into a series. Though the love story between Mia and Michael continues in The Angel Killer (Book 2 of The Watcher Saga), the focus of the story is less romance and more adventure, with fantasy and horror elements. That story continues in The Warrior Prophet (book 3).
Lesson 2: Know Your World and Characters
I tend to write my stories with only a minimal outline. I knew where I was going, but I write the scenes without planning them in advance, so I’m more of a pantser than a plotter. Because I do that, I had to keep track of my world and its rules and well as my characters’ histories, so that I didn’t contradict myself. Luckily, I wrote my stories one after the other without too much time in between, so the story was still fresh in my head when I started drafting the next. At times, though, I had to search my previous books for references to things that happened, specifically in the characters’ past lives, to make sure it all made sense.
Though I wrote the second and third books in close proximity to each other, I changed computers between them, and I lost the computer The Watcher was written on, so some of my early character sketches were missing. Luckily, I remembered most of the information. But if I were to do it again, I would certainly back up all my files and not just drafts of my story.
Lesson 3: Keep Going!
One of the toughest things when writing a series is to not get discouraged. Because of the way things turned out at the end of The Angel Killer, I was really motivated to finish The Warrior Prophet. My readers were demanding it. On one hand, it felt good to know that my book had affected people. But on the other, I felt bad for my characters and had to get them out.
Lesson 4: Cliff Hangers
I have learned that there isn’t a cliff hanger that isn’t risky. The main risk being they upset your readers. But there are ways to do them. The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that the story problem for the book must be solved. It may not be solved well. There may be a cost, or there may be complications. Those complications are really the only way you can have a cliff hanger and not break your story. For instance, nobody liked the fact that at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo was trapped in carbonite. But it was still a legitimate cliff hanger, because the rest of the Rebels were safe. They’d met their objective.
Lesson 5: Timing is Key
While I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase about timing to cover any range of subjects, it is also true when writing a series. Sometimes waiting too long between books can cost you your readers. While I’d hoped that fans of my first book would rush out and buy the second, there was almost two years between the release of the first and second book. People move on. Tastes change.
Sure, perhaps if I were Harper Lee or even George R.R. Martin, I’d have enough of a readership that my sequel would be big news. But I’m not those authors. I’m me. And if I were to write a series again, I’d make sure I had a second book ready to go when the first book was sold, so that it could be ready to market right away.
Lesson 6: The Need to Please
This is true about all writing: you simply cannot please everyone. Those who loved the romance of The Watcher may be a bit shocked by the action in The Angel Killer, while others were pleasantly surprised. You’ll change and grow as an author with every book your write. You have to own that, and not worry about what some readers think. Just write the best story you can.
Lesson 7: Letting Go
Lastly, one of the hardest things about any book is letting it go. As the author, you’ve lived in this world with these characters in your head for years. With a series, that timeframe is even longer. I’ve been living with these characters for seven years now. Letting them go was like kicking your teenage kids out of the house! It was harder than I thought. For the final book, The Warrior Prophet, that meant I lingered on the edits a bit longer than necessary. It also made starting new projects more difficult, because I missed my “old” characters.
On that note, in order to let go, I realized I needed to keep writing—just writing something else! I’m working on a new story, in a new world, with new characters, something completely different. When I get nostalgic for the old characters, I can always go back and visit. But then, it’s time to move on.
Check out The Watcher Saga and Lisa’s newest release in the series THE WARRIOR PROPHET at:
Amazon: Kindle: http://amzn.to/1Rkq5RK
Amazon Print: http://amzn.to/1QJEsi4
read a Teaser Excerpt here:
Hands clawed at me as we passed through the blackness. The reek of sulfur and rot made a hot rush of bile rise to my throat. Arielle had said my soul would act as though I had a body, but my actual body was lying in a bed fifty feet below.
We pushed through a thick blanket of black smog and then met a stretchy, membranous substance. Once we pressed our way through, we stepped out onto a huge, empty field. The ground was covered in charred ash. The air itself had to be a thousand degrees, and, if I’d had a body, it would have been incinerated. With stealthy, silent movements, he led me across the field, each step hovering above the ground.
“Welcome to Hell.” His smirk made me want to slap him. “Well, one of the lesser territories.”
“Lesser territories? How many are there?”
“Hundreds, if not more. This one’s a soul wasteland.”
“You think Michael’s here? In a soul wasteland?”
“No, but it’s easy enough to get here. It’s not heavily guarded because there’s nothing to protect.” Cinders rained from a dull charcoal sky choked with clouds, landing in his hair. He brushed them away. “When a soul is all used up, the only thing left is an ashen residue. That’s what’s beneath us. It’s why we’re hovering.”
I covered my nose with my hands to keep out the foul stench. “Oh God.”
“Don’t say that word around here.” He scanned the area and lowered his voice. “You’ll attract attention. Draw your sword.”
“Why?” I reached between my shoulder blades to find my sword hilt. “Won’t it attract attention, too?”
“It’s better to have it handy if you need it. But don’t extend it until I say so, or we’ll draw a crowd.”
I didn’t know what I’d expected Hell to be like, but this barren field wasn’t it. Above us, the clouds undulated in the sky, their tattered, ragged forms joining and separating like a flock of birds. They weren’t clouds at all but flyers. A squadron of them.
“They know we’re here.”