I confess. I’m a serial murderer. I can’t help it. People have to die, and it’s my hands that do the dark deed. And you know what? I’m unapologetic about that. Frankly, it’s one of the greatest joys I have in life. It’s true—I love being an urban fantasy writer.
I sold my first book, DEAD TO ME, back in 2007 and at the time it was a standalone urban fantasy written basically because I missed Buffy too much. What I hadn’t really considered—fledgling author, I—was that the publishers were going to want more Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels from me. Yet somehow I managed to mentally process that request and somehow produced three more in that series before starting on a second one for them, the Spellmason Chronicles. As we speak ALCHEMYSTIC and the just released STONECAST are already in the can for that series, and I’m currently fast at work on the third. How the hell did I get two series going?
Looking back, I have to marvel at the fact that I’ve produced seven books and five tie-in stories that spread over two different worlds. None of it came easy, believe me. I mean, I had spent a lot of time learning how to write, how to develop everything that goes into a single book, but the one area none of the classes or workshops I went to ever taught was how does one write an ongoing series? When Ace asked for more Simon books, I was stumped.
Learning how to write a continuing series was something I was absolutely unfamiliar with, and since there was no class I could enroll myself in, my education came in trial by fire and learning through my mistakes as I went.
The first step was in adjusting how I thought about my next book, which at the time was DEADER STILL. My thinking went from figuring out not just the short term goals for my characters but what the long term ones were for the book beyond DEADER STILL.
Luckily, I tend to write cinematically thanks to years of rampant geekery and viewing, so I began to think of each book in a series as episodes of a season. They had their individual episodic goals as well as the longer term ones a television season usually has. For instance, there are a lot of individual adventures that make up season three of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, but the goal of the whole season was to graduate and take down the Big Bad, Mayor Wilkins (whose Ascension into snake form does not go quite as he planned).
In order to get that depth into my own work as a newfound book series writer, I came up with what I like to call The LOST Approach.
Love it or hate it, the LOST television series did things that really were unprecedented, and fan loyalty ran high. What I specifically loved—and stole—from the series, however, was the short and long term goals of the show. Along the way the writers of LOST planted a lot of what I call story seeds. These gave the show room to grow in a variety of directions.
And like all gardens, not all things grew. Some of them died on the vine, as they will when you plant a lot of seeds. They can’t all survive, especially for the sake of the story. You have to let them die. Otherwise readers will think every last thing means something in your book, and well… where’s the fun in figuring out all the mysteries ahead of time? You don’t want your series to become predictable, after all.
By both giving your characters a variety of traits and setting up a detailed world, yes, you add a richness to your word, but it also gives you a vast pool of sneaky opportunities to mine for connective tissue when you’re scrambling to put together the larger arc of your story.
With the Simon Canderous series I had dropped some unsolved mysteries into DEAD TO ME that I could use to tie in to later books, and because your job as a writer is to hide all the seams where you’ve stitched your monster together, the reader ends up none the wiser. In the end, you want it to seem like you cleverly planned it all along when the truth is sometimes you’re working like hell to shove square pegs into round holes. It’s a tricky business disguising all that, but with practice, book by book, you get more seasoned at it.
By the time I began writing the Spellmason Chronicles I was well primed to get a head start working on my long term goals for that new series. In turn, knowing some of these secrets has made it easier to steer the overall course of each book. I think I’ve become a better gardener after seven books, one who is better at planting good seeds and seeing what lives and what dies.
But still, even now? There ought to be a crash course offered on creating an ongoing series. I have a feeling that classroom would fill up fast.
I swear this was completely unplanned, as it now appears I am having a series of guest posts on the topic of "writing sequels and series". Not that I'm complaining, I find it quite interesting.
Thanks Anton for coming over and giving us your perspective on how you approach writing a series, and good luck with your new release.
Stonecast is the second novel in The Spellmason Chronicles which is available now.
For more information you can visit Anton Strout's website or follow him on Twitter @AntonStrout.