Friday, May 18, 2012

Organizing a Series, Part 2

Yesterday, I began a two-part discussion on my blog about organizing a series. In this second part, I'll start by listing some things you have to keep track of in a series:

1. Relationships – their history, changes, and current state.

Example: The events in my gift basket designer mystery book, A Real Basket Case, really stressed the marriage between Claire and Roger Hanover, so I had to show in the second book, To Hell in a Handbasket, that takes place about six weeks later, that they were still working through those issues.

2. State of main characters – physical and emotional health (injuries, baggage—unresolved issues)  and how they affect the characters. And, you need to show how the events in previous books affected the main character’s personality.  This is why mystery/suspense/thriller series often gradually get darker, because if someone is exposed to multiple murders and is stressed multiple times, realistically it’s going to change them!

Example: My sleuth's boyfriend’s shoulder injury near the end of Deadly Currents still affects him at the beginning of Wicked Eddies because only about 3 months have passed.

3. Environmental or setting changes – Was a building renovated? a car wrecked? a pet adopted? Did the main character move? Did an ion storm disable the communication network? Has the magical lake lost its powers?


Here are some tools (also called meta documents or a series “Bible”) that you can use to keep yourself on track:

1. Character profile – Make one for every character that has the potential to return in a future book. Note characters'  “continuity details” (eye/hair color, name of pet dog or cat, what type of car she drives, his favorite food/beverage, musical tastes, etc.). Also note characters' education, religion, politics, likes, dislikes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, personality or enneagram type or astrological sign, etc. You can gather photos of people who look like your characters to jog your memory. It's harder to remember characters’ histories (backstory, culture, family dysfunctions before the series started and what happens to them during the series) than characteristics, so you also need:

2. Outlines for all the books in the series stating in short paragraphs what happens in each scene – develop them before and/or during writing the book and use them before, during and after writing the book. Record what all the off-screen and on-screen characters are doing when. Make sure the characters have enough time to get from point A to point B and to complete the tasks they’re doing between scenes. Especially note important events in the main character’s relationships with other characters for future use. You can use the search function of your word processor to answer questions like, “What exactly did Claire say to Roger to get them back together?” or “How long did Mandy stay with Rob to nurse him after his shoulder injury?”

3. Cross-series Timeline – Record a chronology of major events, not only what happens during the books, but also what happens between the books in the series. For example, there’s a little over a month between the events in book 2 of my RM Outdoor Adventures series, Wicked Eddies, and book 3, Cataract Canyon (to be released in May, 2013). Mandy breaks a rib at the end of Wicked Eddies, so she can’t go on the scouting trip of Cataract Canyon. Injuries are my Achilles heel both within and between books—I often forget to note how the pain affects the characters.

4. Setting description – Whether your setting is real or fictional, you need to note where homes, businesses, streets and geographic features are,  the local flora and fauna, weather, etc. You can have maps (I use actual street maps and river maps), layouts of buildings, etc. If your setting is a real setting, take photos and store them where you can easily refer to them. If it’s an imaginary setting, make drawings/paintings of the layout.

5. Voice – Before beginning a new book in a series, re-read the previous book (or all of them) to immerse yourself in that world again, so you can keep a consistent tone both in the narrative and in the character’s voices. In the character profiles, you should note any catch phrases they use all the time, but reading their dialogue in a previous book is the best way to get back in their heads.

When I’m writing a rough draft, I have multiple files open on my computer at the same time: the manuscript text, the outline, the character profiles, and my research file (which is basically the world/setting description). As I create new elements (characters, events, etc.), then I can easily insert them in my meta documents, because they are open and displayed on the screen at the same time. And if I forget someone’s name or hair color or favorite beer, or the species of squirrels or flowers in the area, I can quickly look it up.

I hope this discussion of series tracking tools has been useful to other series writers!

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