* * * * *What kind of person would plan to single-handedly write an eighteen-book sci-fi series?
Oh, that's right... me.
While I hardly think I'm qualified to speak too much about writing a series since I've only just published the second book, I can give you a few pointers that have helped me in planning, producing, and publishing my series.
1. Plan ahead.
Within a week of the idea for the series, I'd planned out all the books. Nothing fancy...just a title and a short one-paragraph blurb for each. I knew where I was going to take the characters an the world and why I wanted them to go there. One of the biggest problems I've seen in series' is that they will change direction based on fan reactions. This almost always harms the series. The fans may think they want another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, they may think they want Sherlock Holmes to return to life, and they may think that they want Jo March to marry Laurie Lawrence, but let's face it, you know your story and your characters and your purpose better than the fans do. (Except in the case of Sherlock Holmes, of course, in which case the fans were right.)
I've struggled with this a bit myself. Since I planned out all the basic synopses before anyone else read the books, I had no idea which characters would turn out to be the favorites. And well, let's just say that some of the futures planned for some of the favorite characters may not be exactly tailored to please the fans. They are tailored to fit the story, so I know that is best, but sometimes I do get a bit nervous.
2. Series-wide Character Arcs
Another problem I commonly see in series is the series-wide character arcs, or lack thereof. There are two main versions of this problem that I've observed. One is the "Perfect" arcs. That's where the character grows a great deal and learns a whole lot in the first movie or book, and so after that they are perfect. Problemless. All but angelic. This obviously isn't realistic. We humans tend to need to learn our lessons more than once, sometimes over and over through a lifetime, before we really absorb them. Not to mention we usually have enough various problems to keep us busy for a very long time. The second problem is "Reset" arcs. That's where the character, having grown in the first film or book, for some reason resets to the beginning again for the second. This one is tricky, because as I said, people usually need to be taught more than once, so it's a little closer to the truth. But in these cases the person appears to have learned nothing at all. For all purposes and intents the first story may as well not have happened at all.
Reality lies somewhere in between, and the line to walk is "Gradual Growth." They don't become perfect by leaps and bounds, but we don't force them to remain the same story after story. They grown and learn a little in the first, then continue to struggle as they slowly learn and grow more throughout. I usually know about where I want my characters to end up by the end of the series, and I plan specific points along the way that will be stepping-stones for them as they journey to that end.
3. Don't Get Comfortable
The number one reason that series and franchises flop is because the writers or producers got lazy and sloppy and thought they could ride on the success of the first installment. They'll work really hard on the first one, put a lot of themselves into it, and give it everything they've got—and people love it! Yay! Now everybody is eagerly anticipating the sequel. Which means that everybody is going to rush to see or read it the moment it's out. Which means you have it made! Wrong. This is the crucial moment where series live and die: delivering on their promises. The first episode was merely opening the door—now that people have walked in, if they aren't impressed by what they see, they can walk right back out again and the series dies. Every single part of the series deserves as much hard work and dedication as the beginning.
This is the reason I ended up waiting over a year to publish the second book in my series. I'd originally wanted it to come out in May, but when the time came, I realized that I couldn't give it what it deserved and needed in that amount of time. It ended up being released many months after what I'd originally hoped, but in that time I revised and tweaked and got feedback and worked on the cover and the website, and the result is a much better book than I could have had back in May.
Of course, this is only book two, so I'm still starting out. And time will tell if I'm good enough at series-writing to keep Firmament alive and well for all eighteen books. But I wouldn't trade the adventure of writing a series for anything. It's more than a standalone story—it's a giant story full of little stories, where each book is like a small piece of a bigger picture to explore.
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The first two novels in Grace's series, Firmament: Radialloy and Firmament: In His Image are both available in paperback and for Kindle.
J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk, and writing them down since age five. Now she lives in the Texas Hill Country with her parents, her eight younger siblings, and her horse, Pioneer. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading good books, playing movie soundtracks on the piano, and looking up at the stars. You can find out more about her writing at www.jgracepennington.com, and also find her on Facebook and Twitter.