Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Musings: Series plantings

Happy Sunday, everyone.

Having a great weekend, I hope. Saturday was a pleasant day with the family and I'm not sure exactly what the plans are for today. But, part will be absorbing the insights of our Muse authors.

We're continuing our musings on series starting with the first of four questions from Chuck Bowie:

In a series, how important is it to 'plant' facts, actions, characters' opinions in early episodes, in order to sow the seeds for actions in subsequent novels? 

Take it away, Chuck...

This is such an important question for anyone beginning what might turn out to be a series. There are (at least) two ways to help your readers bond with your characters: 1) Let the reader watch them grow into their character, or 2) embed little elements in the earliest episode.

I was eavesdropping on a couple of young women at a restaurant one time. The less interesting one responded to questions with monosyllables--she may have been texting!--whereas the other replied with compound sentences. From time to time, she'd reinforce a point by saying '...and plus,...' Was it grammatically correct? No. Was as charming as can be? Absolutely! So yes, I stole it and got one of my secondary characters to toss this phrase in, from time to time. Later, in Book 2, it was easy to 'hear her voice, even with a briefer introduction. Of course, she was the only character who was permitted this affectation!

Another time, I imposed dermatographic urticaria: that condition where the slightest touch to skin raises red weals. Unpleasant, you point out? Maybe. But when my protagonist needs something discrete to write on? Perfect. I didn't need this trait as much in Book 2, but it was an interesting point to solidify her character, and it set the stage for this attribute to be exploited in a later episode.

Write your novel in the best way possible, but toss in some fun facts, actions etc, to help make the reader know their characters better, and to heighten the plausibility, when you trot out an eidetic memory, for instance, or skin-writing in a later episode!
Write On!

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

I think it's important to plant some facts, actions, and characters opinions in early novels of a series in order to build a readers anticipation and desire for the next book, and the next, and the one after that, but not in such a way they might feel cheated or disappointed by too a great cliffhanger.  In my series, the Last Cold Case, each book features a new case tied to a cold case, the books can be read alone, no spoiler alerts, but what readers will discover is the evolving personal relationship between the homicide detective and FBI agent. Despite the multiple murders and serial killer they’re tracking, they manage to find a happily ever after. I’ve enjoyed suspense/thriller series where you need to read all of the books in the series before the killer is apprehended. The author was able to hold my interest because of the multiple story lines and interesting secondary characters, despite leaving the main story line unresolved until the final book. This type of series is different than a serial in my humble opinion, because of the other story lines that are resolved.  I prefer to read a suspense/thriller series where each book features the same investigators or amateur sleuths overcoming personal and professional obstacles while solving a new crime in each book.  It would be interesting to hear what readers think about series and how they feel when an author really leaves them hanging until the next book.

The books in a series are by their nature linked, and it's definitely necessary to provide continuity.  Even in mysteries, which are frequently standalone episodes, the characters must have something of a back history, a life behind the scenes, developed in earlier stories, in order for them to remain interesting and to keep readers coming back to them.  Established thought-ways, moral standards, and core personalities influence or outright control responses to situations arising in later works.

I viewed my Star Commandos series as one extended story. Although each novel can be read as a separate entity, they form a history.  In some, the link is stronger than in others, but it is always present.  Each in its turn contributes to the characters' ongoing story.  The unit assembles during the first three books.  There is a steady growth and development in the individuals involved.  Love, respect, and regard deepen between all the unit's members and within the two couples.  One of the basic threads is the male protagonist's gradual (though never complete) adaptation to and integration with his adopted ultrasystem.  Varn slowly becomes more comfortable, and his circle of friends, his personal universe, begins to expand.  It is this human story which drives the series, and it is through the various challenges the people encounter that their story advances.

It depends on whether the plot and theme of each novel in the series is dependent on the previous ones.

In the connection in my series of several standalone novels, the first of which is Sunday’s Child characters from each novel, Monday’s Child to be released in spring, 2016, are characters who take part in them.

Sowing seeds for companion series and sequels doesn’t have to be a stay-tuned commercial moment for the reader. Sequels involve leaving lingering doubts and unanswered questions, or an outright cliffhanger at the end to irk the reader into buying the next book. I’ve written a number of serials, each with a subtle segue into the next book. A plot line should have a satisfactory conclusion, though side stories that will be addressed in future books can start anywhere. In my older woman, younger man romance, the woman’s sister is the goody two-shoes, yet she has an illegitimate daughter. It’s a peripheral story, and the father is never mentioned. It’s important because the love interest helps the daughter and cements his relationship to the family. The sequel, Centrifugal Force, is the surprise father showing up.

Serials that continue to have the same main characters work on one greater problem from book to book, addressing only peripheral plot points in each book creates rising and falling tension as the characters get close to solving the problem only to have the solution slip away. In that case, you have to give the reader some sort of satisfaction during the course of the book while leaving the conclusion out of reach only at the end.

I’ve had a number of readers ask me if such and such a book has more books in the series and if they were all out because they didn’t like waiting. Our frantic sound byte generation has turned into the binging generation.

This question particularly interests me, because I have just recently created a series from my stand alone book. I think it’s important for the themes of a series to be in the first book. As I wrote my second book I drew from events that had happened in the first book and related them to the reader who might not have read the first book. This was done so you could understand the story without needing to read the first book. However, what happens to Jennifer and the reasons for it were hinted at in the first book. Also in the first book all of the characters were developed and so the same characters are mostly back in the second book and possibly in the third book as well. But although the same characters are back, their personality and their actions are different a little bit. Part of the reason is this is an older grade and they interact much differently. Plus their lives are changing and this change is seen in the second book. The themes of the first book are in this second one and the point of view is changed as well. A different character’s narrative is seen in the second book and this allows the themes of the first book to be enlarged upon and others introduced as well. Many readers told me they had identified with my secondary character, Jennifer, while reading the first book, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. That is why the second book is in Jennifer’s point of view. However, since Jennifer was so developed in the first book, it was easy to use her as a main character. While the main character, Carolyn, is still there with a different purpose.

One way or another, I find I tend to “plant” facts in my series as they move forward. Some have been sowed consciously, some randomly. However they get seeded, I’m a firm believer in tying your series arc through character actions. A series indicates that each story builds upon the previous one, and your character’s growth through the series follows the same pattern. While my first series, The Kyn Kronicles, some seemingly random facts or behaviors appeared before I realized how important a part they played later on in the series. It was a happy surprise to see my sub-conscious writing mind at work without picking up on it until later. In my second series, The PSY-IV Teams, I made more of a conscious decision to plant various characters and situations with an eye toward bringing them in to later stories. In my current project, I’m very deliberate in the bits and pieces I’m laying, because each book is closely tied together. While this works well for me, and sometimes I surprise myself and my characters, there are some series that may not need those interlocking threads to make their story arc work. That may be more true if your series doesn’t follow one individual throughout each book, or if each book in the series can stand all by itself. In the end, like most answers to writing style questions, it comes down to what works best for the writer to tell their stories.

When I wrote 'Daffodil and the Thin Place', I hadn't thought about a sequel, so it didn't occur to me to plant anything that would help me in writing a subsequent novel. However, several people have suggested I continue the story of Daffodil and I have recently started an outline. It probably would have made things easier for me, if I'd set things up in the first book, which could have been developed in the second. However, I hope to build on some of the characters and on the themes that appear in the first book even though they don't contribute directly to the plot of the second.
I suppose that if a series is written as if each book leads on to the next and each is part of a whole, then clues are vital in earlier books to lead on to actions in the sequels.

If however, each book is an entire story in its own right, so long as the characters and themes are faithful to the previous book, it isn't vital that facts, characters' opinions and actions are planted in each story. At least, I hope that's the case! As I start writing Daffodil 2, I might wish I'd been a bit more farsighted!

When writing a series, I like to have lot of things that tie in with the previous books, both small things and large ones. It's important to leave hints, but often when I'm writing, I don't plan that far ahead, so I have to make hints "after the fact." So sometimes, I leave things uncertain about the characters and about the world they live in so that it can be explored in future books. And if you leave a few "gaps" (assuming they're natural gaps and not just glaring holes the author should have filled in originally), then you can make them your hints that can seed actions in future books. Of course, it's awesome when authors come up with totally clever links and clues ahead of time, but filling in the gaps from previous novels to make it appear like you'd planted the hints early on is probably the next best thing.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

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