Monday, December 5, 2011

Dig Down Deep: Preparing to Grow Your Story Into a Series

by Meredith Sims

Once upon a time, my four book series was an eight page short story. At that time I had no idea that it had plans to completely take over my life. My tiny seedling of an idea wanted to be a garden, and here I was without any sort of training or tools to tame it. I, to put it simply, freaked out. It was a giant messy patch of brambles staring me down, daring me to go beyond the one-novel template that is so commonly used. However, as I worked through it, I discovered the processes between one novel and a series weren’t so different. A series simply needs a few more “prep-steps” to make it grow. So, I made a guide: a plotting, planting, weeding guide to perfect the complex web that is a series. Thus I present, in all its garden-metaphor glory…

Dig Down Deep: Four Prep-Steps of Growing a Story into a Series

1.   1,     Finding out the Size that Your Plot Needs to Properly Grow

Every story is meant to be a different length, and it’s important not to stretch or cut too much. Once you have the inkling that your story is meant to be longer than one novel, storyboard out all of the major events that you want to happen and get a feel for which events you think are “book cliffhangers” or places where the story could end and be picked back up in another novel. This is the lengthiest part of the process, and the most intimidating. However, to those who can get through this step and know what length is best, writing a longer series becomes a much more manageable process.

2. Choosing Your Seeds

This step is a necessity for those who are taking on longer pieces. After storyboarding out main events, it’s best to leave the plot planning alone for a bit and focus on the characters (or, your “seeds”). Work to map out all of your characters and know them inside and out. This way you’ll already have your cast when you start on the minor events, where their quirks will have more of an influence on the series’ direction. You can also use this process to figure out which characters belong and which are story-draining “weeds”. And speaking of weeds…

3. Weeding out the Bad to Make Room for the Good

Not every idea will work in your story. This will become even clearer when you determine the length of your series and the parts your characters will play. However, it’s harder to cut out ideas when you’re trying to stretch out time between events, which makes step three one of the most difficult to get through with a series. Authors writing a series have to decide which ideas they can prune and trim to be beautiful and which are just plain invasive. At this time it’s best to go back to your storyboard and finish up the plot planning, then go through and decide what will be healthy for your story and what will choke it to death. Remember, as a series author, you have a lot more to keep straight, so it’s better to set aside any suspicious “bad apple” ideas right away.

4. Letting it Blossom Up.  

Once all of the prep-work is done in terms of plot and characters, the only thing left is to sit down and write. It sounds a lot simpler than it actually is. The intimidation of writing one novel is hard enough to work through, but a series author has to deal with several times the plot, characters, and events. The key again is balance. Keep your storyboard and character profiles close. Have a blank map you can continuously add to, and take notes constantly on the world you’re creating because chances are you’ll have to repeat it all again, many a time.

Writing a series takes intense preparation. However, having prep-steps and digging down into my storyline has helped me move past the brambles, and now I’m growing something pretty special. Hopefully with these steps, aspiring-series authors can find their balance and get started on their own extensive dreams. Take enough care to weed, prune, and plan, and anyone can make their series into an Eden.

[Editor's Note: Tune in on December 5th at 3:30 PM to hear Mo Smith discuss what English 407 has taught her about being a writer! - Lauren Burch]

1 comment:

  1. I was excited when you said you'd be writing a blog post about plotting out a series, because I'd never seen guides to making books tie together, just advice on creating and improving one individual book. This post didn't disappoint. I particularly like your weeding analogy: I often suffer from an overflow of ideas, and they can't all stay, no matter how much I like them.

    I also enjoyed how you mentioned that something as small as a short story can grow out of control. That's definitely been my experience.