Tag Archives: setting

Books Galore: Writing a Series

Writing a book series takes time and effort. It requires commitment and consistency. A book series is more than keeping the same main characters. It’s introducing new obstacles, pushing character development forward, and bringing innovation to the table.

3089196_1354260677808.78res_400_176A few examples of book series are Harry PotterThe Southern Vampire Mysteries (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, etc.), and Alex Cross (Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, etc.). From those examples you can see that book series are very wide-ranging. Harry Potter is young adult fantasy (the first book actually counts as middle grade, while the rest are YA). The Southern Vampire Mysteries is a paranormal romance/mystery series, while Alex Cross is mystery/crime fiction.

Despite book series varying so greatly from one another, there are commonalities that make them successful.

Premise/Concept

One of the first things to do is to spend a little more time on the premise, the idea making up the story. It’s harder to maintain a series than it is a standalone, and for some series – those that build off of each previous book – it requires more forethought than series that aren’t so tied together. By spending some time on planning out the series, it’ll make it easier to sustain the series.

This forethought can be as simple as a paragraph or single page synopsis for each book.

Regardless of whether you’re in the middle of book five or just starting book one, the overarching premise is carried throughout each book.

A different way to think of this is as the premise being the core of each book, like the inner core of Earth. Just as this planet has layers covering its inner core, so does a book series. But, no matter what, there is always that inner core, that center that remains despite how much the tectonic plates shift.

Characters

A series typically follows one to three characters.These characters will evolve over the course of the novels, but they ultimately know who they are and what they have to gain with each goal/action they make.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to compete in the Hunger Games in order to protect her sister. This need to protect her family is a key part of her personality. It fuels her actions throughout the trilogy.

Also, make sure your main characters encounter enough conflict and a variety of conflicts to hold readers’ interest. I was reading the second book in a YA series not too long ago and was disappointed to find that about the first half of the novel was the same conversation taking place over and over again in different locations (the second half of the novel was great though).

Readers will only keep reading if they’re interested in the characters and what is going on in the characters’ world.

The World

The world the book series takes place in must be consistent. If in book one people can’t fly, then they still shouldn’t be flying in book three, unless something happens that gives them the ability to fly.

Know the rules, government, history, environment, etc. of the world. The world can change over the course of a series. Karen Marie Moning drastically changes Dublin, and the entire world, in her Fever Series. However, certain elements do remain the same. Those common elements help ground readers in the world you create. They also help prevent confusion and frustration on both the author and readers’ parts.

A well-developed world also lends more to the story. If three hundred years ago an ancient, magical medallion that belonged to an evil sorceress vanished, and there’s a legend that the medallion could open a portal to the underworld, well that’s interesting. Perhaps this medallion is only causally mentioned in book one, but then it comes back with a vengeance in book two.

If you’re only going to take one thing away from this post, take this:

Keep track of all information pertaining to your series. Whether it’s writing it all down in a notebook or typing it up onto a word document, write out descriptions of your world, characters, etc. Include the main plot and any minor plots woven throughout your books.

While writing book two, you might remember that your town has a deep-water lake to the north of it, but by book five, you may remember it as being west of town, or you may have forgotten about it completely.

Having a document to serve as a reference for all your story information will make your life easier, a lot less stressful, and will decrease the number of plot holes you have to fix.

Are you planning a series or in the process of writing one?

(photo courtesy of fanpop: http://bit.ly/1wQ5gml)

 

Don’t Be Like Alice: Ground Readers in Your World

It’s never a great experience feeling like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. It’s even worse when readers aren’t grounded in your story.

What’s meant by grounding?

france-hot-air-balloons5
The best way to think of grounding is as the thick piece of rope that tethers a hot air balloon filled with hot air to the ground. Without the rope, the balloon would float on up into the sky.

Looking at grounding a different way, it’s the story’s setting. It’s where your story takes place.

International_hot_air_balloon_festival_in_leon_guanajuato_mexico_02There are three ways to ground a story:

Time. There are two main meanings of time in a story. The first is the time over which a story takes place. Does the entirety of the story happen over the course of a week? A month? A year? How about each chapter within the story? Does, say, chapter one occur during the mid-afternoon? What if the protagonist doesn’t know the time of day? Similar to this is the time period in which the story occurs. Many romance novels relate to the time period they occur in. A Victorian romance is not the same as one that takes place in Ancient Greece, and neither of those two romances are the same as a modern day one.

The other meaning of time deals with time in relation to what else is happening in the story. For example, the protagonist has cancer and has three months to live. He has a bucket list and he wishes to complete his list before he dies. Another example is a character who gets infected with a lethal virus and has seventy-two hours to save himself before he dies. A third example is a protagonist who has to find her missing friend and shelter before sundown because that’s when all the supernatural creatures come out to play.

Place. This is the storyboard. It’s what the audience is seeing, where the story is taking place. A good way to think of place is in terms of a movie. If your story was a movie, what would movie goers see on the big screen? The location of the story changes how the story is perceived by readers. A setting in a small mid-Western town is very different than a story taking place in New York. More so, a story occurring on a different, exotic world is significantly different than a story set on Earth.

Event. What is the key event in a given portion of the story? How are other aspects of that story grounded around that main event? For instance, if the main event of a story is a massive explosion at an amusement park, what leads up to that event? Likewise, what follows that event (the primary, secondary, and tertiary fallout(s))? What are the relations of smaller sections of a novel to the goal of the piece?

It’s easy to skimp on the setting of a novel, but without a clear picture of time, place, and event, readers won’t be grounded. So, take the time to flesh out your setting. Make sure readers will be grounded in your story.

How have you helped ground your story?

From Mountains to Forests: World Building in Fiction

World building is an essential part of novels, especially for fantasy and science fiction. A detailed and clear world (setting) makes the plot and characters feel more real. World building also creates consistency within the story.

Many times fictional worlds borrow pieces of real locations. J.R.R. Tolkien used ancient Norse mythology to help build his world. However, the way he put his world together was original and interesting. It felt real. By having such a detailed foundation and history of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s plot gained power.

Though creating a history for your world is something you have to do on your own, there are some things to consider:

  • Climate. What’s the type of weather? Is it hot or cold? Dry or wet? Are there seasons? People live different lives depending on where they reside. If you live in Alaska, you’re not going to dress like someone who lives in South Africa. You may even have different morals. Climate (and setting in general) affects what’s considered normal.
  • Animals and Plants. What kinds of plants grow in this world? Are they purple stemmed with red flowers? Is the grass orange? What types of animals live there? How about food (it’ll differ depending on local animals and plants)?
  • Industry, Economy, and Resources. What types of jobs are there? Where do people live? Is it an agricultural world or is the world littered with cities? Are resources readily available? Are they only available to certain socioeconomic classes? Is the air polluted from industrialization? What’s the usual mode of transportation?
  • Government. What’s the political system governing your world? Is there a centralized government or is it a fractured system? Is it more like a monarchy or a democracy? Has the government been warped over time?
  • Religion. What’s the religion? Is there a religion? How about religious tolerance? Is there one god or many? Are there multiple religions? Do they contradict each other?
  • Education. How do people learn? Are there elementary, middle, and high schools? Do you learn only what you need to survive? How about higher education? Is education restricted to only certain socioeconomic classes?
  • Entertainment, Art, and Architecture. How do the people in your world express themselves? Are music, dance, and art allowed? How are the houses decorated? What materials are they made of? What do people do for fun? Often acceptable and unacceptable types of entertainment show the morals and ethics of a people.

By spending time on developing your world (even details that won’t play a big part in your story), your world will better stand up to scrutiny, and there will be less plot holes. Plus, creating obstacles for your characters will be easier.

What’s your favorite fictional world?