Best Practices for Writing a Series

Sometimes our concepts for our stories span more than one book. And that’s ok because series are popular these days as readers love to return to characters and worlds they love. But they can be complicated to write. Careful planning can ensure a successful series. So let’s look at some best practices for writing a series.

  • Make sure you have enough story for more than one book. You never want to write a series just to write a series or to try and get more money than from a standalone book. There’s nothing worse than a story line that’s stretched too thin over a series. You need enough plot for each book. The last thing your reader wants is to read a bunch of filler.
  • You want your details to match from book to book. Your protagonist shouldn’t have green eyes in book three when she’s had blue eyes in book one and two. Keep a master copy of the little details of your story that you can reference as needed.
  • Make a macro outline connecting each book and any overarching story arcs. This will help you keep track of each plot line and story arc and also ensure you tie up each end.
  • Make sure your premise is enough for more than one book. If your story concept is weak, you’ll have a hard time writing book one let alone book three or four.
  • Each book should have resolution. Even though some things will remain unresolved until the end, each book should have a major story arc that does get resolved. Don’t leave everything hanging or your reader will feel cheated.
  • Ensure each book carries the theme throughout the series. This ensures each book is tied to each other and has depth.
  • Build your story world. Make it a place readers will want to revisit. It should have a touch of familiarity as well as a touch of intrigue. Make your settings a real place to your readers by including rich details.
  • Establish the main characters early on. It’s the characters that will get your readers to care about the story so make sure the major characters are introduced right away. This doesn’t mean give away every backstory early on. Leave some things uncovered and slowly reveal pertinent backstory as you go.
  • Introduce new characters in each book. But don’t make them throwaway characters that don’t matter. Use these characters to build your subplots and highlight or contrast your main characters.
  • Have dynamic characters. Your characters need to change and grow throughout the series. This could be a positive or negative growth arc. But make sure they change.
  • Don’t forget about the passage of time. You may not have much time pass from book to book, but after enough books your characters should age. This goes especially for serials that span a few years in real time.

These tips should help you move forward as you start to draft your series. What are your best practices for writing a series? What did I miss? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

How to Cut Filler

It’s happened to us all before. We go home with a new book, get cozy, and settle in to read. But although the storyline is interesting enough, the book leaves us dissatisfied. The pacing moved as fast as sludge, in fact, the whole story trudged along and it was almost painful trying to get through. So what happened? The story had too much filler.

So what is filler? It’s anything in your story that’s unnecessary. That could be an extraneous word, sentence, description, or even a character or whole scene. It’s so important to make sure everything from your prose to your characters moves the story forward. Every scene has to be meaningful.

Ask yourself:

Does this scene

  • Move the plot forward?
  • Develop your characters?
  • Set the scene, mood, or theme?
  • Transition between scenes?

Does this description

  • Show characterization?
  • Set the scene, mood, or theme?
  • Add value to your overall story?

Does this character

  • Serve a purpose?
  • Have a goal?
  • Affect the plot?

If the answer to these questions is no, or if you can delete a scene, character, or description and it doesn’t change the story, they’re unnecessary and should be cut. No matter how much you may love that description, scene, or character you need to kill your darlings. You can always save your darlings in a separate Word document to use in a later WiP. Another thing we want to be wary of is purple prose. It’s super flowery language that overdoes it with adjective description and metaphors/similes. We want to make sure we show, don’t tell, but beware of descriptions that are trying too hard. We want to be simple and clear.

Do you struggle with writing filler or cutting it out? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. And Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done an update and I’ve recently made progress so I’m dedicating today’s post to that. I’ve been working on my WiP for over a year now. After planning and prewriting, I managed to get my first draft done within four to six months and was very pleased with my progress. I was writing every day and being really productive. The words were flowing onto the page and I was pleased with the draft. Then it was time for revising and editing. I started out strong but quickly petered out. I was working hard on my revisions, but it didn’t feel like I was making any progress. Every scene still needed so much work done. Then I stopped working on it every day because I dreaded doing it. I took a long break in between sessions and it took twice as long as it needed to. I am excited to say that I finished editing last week. The next step was beta readers. I used Google Docs to share my manuscript with them. I decided to only use three beta readers. Happily one of them is already done going through my draft so I don’t anticipate a long wait for the rest to finish. I’ll go over their comments and make a few revisions and then the last step will be sending my manuscript back to my editor. It’s hard to believe I’m so close to a finished product.

After I have a finished manuscript, it’ll be time to craft a strong query letter, blurb, and synopsis. I’ve been collecting agent names and information for some time now and also bought the Writer’s Market to find even more agents to query. I am nervous about this phase, but know I’ll get through it because my dream depends on it and I’ve worked so hard.

I went on vacation last week and used my alone time to start working on my sequel to my WiP. I did my planning and prewriting, making a scene list using index cards to plot out the story. I also decided on at least one subplot to weave into the story and reflect a different aspect of my theme as every good subplot should. I still have a few things to figure out but I began writing the rough draft. Starting a new project is always exciting and I am enjoying the new start. I plan on using NaNoWriMo to write the bulk of my draft. Knowing that you only need to write 1667 words a day has made NaNo seem much more manageable to me and I hope you join me in the attempt.

And that’s where I am. I’ll keep working on the rough draft of my second WiP as I wait for my beta readers to finish. I’ll post more tips on writing again next week, so check back in and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Tips for Tackling Editing

Last week we talked about revising, which deals with major tweaks to make your rough draft less rough. This includes plot changes, rearranging segments, and filling in holes. But what comes next after revision? Editing. Editing deals with the line-by-line concerns, perfecting your draft by fixing grammar and choosing the perfect words to phrase each sentence. It’s all about polishing your manuscript and getting it ready to share with the world. So let’s look at some tips for editing.

Take a break first

  • Let your manuscript sit at least two weeks before you start. Like with revising, it helps you to look at your manuscript with fresh eyes, which means catching more mistakes and words that don’t work.

Print it

  • It’s much easier to edit the page than it is to edit the screen. It allows for a closer read through and you’ll catch more mistakes this way. It also alleviates eye strain. Give it a try.

Read backwards

  • This is a great way to catch typos and wrong words lurking in your manuscript. It also helps you to focus on each word. Read through this way at least once.

Vary your sentence structure and complexity

  • You don’t want your manuscript to read monotonously. Now is the time to look at it line-by-line. Variety is a good thing. Just make sure you don’t overcomplicate every sentence. It’s about balance.

Make several passes before calling it done

  • You want to make sure to catch every mistake so multiple read throughs are necessary. You can also edit in passes if it helps you to focus. You can edit first for spelling mistakes, then for grammar, then for adverbs, etc.

Editing may not be your favorite part of the writing process, but it is an important part. What tips do you have for editing? Share below and happy editing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Tips for Tackling Revisions

So you finished your rough draft and celebrated accordingly. Congrats! But you’re not done yet, not by a long shot. Next comes revision. Now a lot of people use revising and editing synonymously, but the two are different. Editing deals with line-by-line corrections and grammar. It polishes your writing and is the final phase your manuscript will go through. Revision comes first. It involves major changes like filling in plot holes, rewriting entire scenes, strengthening weak writing, rearranging chapters, etc. You revise for the bigger picture. Let’s take a closer look at revisions.

First, take a break. Once you’re finished your first draft, set it aside for two weeks to a month before you revise. It’s important to be able to revise with fresh eyes to really see what is and isn’t working in your manuscript. Your brain needs that break to get a fresh perspective. It’s hard to put your WiP down, but it’s worth the struggle. Give your draft time.

Make a list of big picture problems. Forget about grammar and punctuation. You’ll deal with those in editing. For now, look for plot holes, scenes that aren’t working or don’t advance the plot, on the nose dialogue, and wooden characters. List all your issues as you read through your draft to help organize your revisions.

Prioritize your list of issues and group similar problems together. Which choices are the most important? Start tackling your list there.

Revise in phases. I like to write and revise in layers, meaning in a scene I’ll start with the skeleton and then add muscles and skin to flesh out the scene. For instance, I’ll start out with a chunk of dialogue. Then I’ll go through and add body language and gestures and action tags. The next pass is for exposition and narrative to push the characters and plot forward. Then I’ll do a final layer of internal monologue and character thoughts. Doing each in phases keeps me focused and makes sure I’m adding depth in each layer rather than jumping back and forth between processes in one go over.

First drafts are rough. They’re messy and difficult and need a lot of work to fix them. And that’s okay. Your first draft may seem awful but you’ll fix all that in revisions. So don’t give up and happy revising!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Dos and Don’ts for Writing Deep POV

We all want to immerse our readers into our story worlds and have them experience the story first hand. We love books where we forget we are reading and get lost in the story. But how do we create such an experience? One way is by using Deep POV. Deep POV is a technique that allows us to get inside the head of our POV character, creating an emotional connection between readers and that character. It also works to erase any insertion of the author into the story. When done correctly, Deep POV allows your reader to get lost in the character and storyline. So what are some dos and don’ts for Deep POV? Let’s take a look.
Dos

  • Show, don’t tell. Cut out filtering words that distance the narration and show author intrusion. Cut words like saw, thought, felt, heard, knew, etc. Don’t tell what your character is feeling, show them feeling it.
  • You must know your POV character inside and out. In order to get into your character’s head you have to know their thoughts and feelings. You need to understand their personality, motivations, goals, relationship, and history. Not all of this backstory will go into your story, most of it shouldn’t, but you need this information, as an author, to write three-dimensional characters and their POVs.
  • Limit your character’s knowledge. Writing from one POV means you can only show what that character knows, sees, hears, etc. They can’t read the minds of other characters. Only show what your POV character knows.
  • Use all five senses to write vivid imagery. Your reader will be completely immersed in your character’s head, so be sure to paint the picture for your readers. Using all five senses will help round out your scene. Also weave in emotions to fill out each scene.

Don’ts

  • Don’t name your characters’ feelings. Don’t say she was frightened, show her breaking out into a sweat and her mouth going dry. Don’t say he was bored, show him slumped in his chair, eyes skyward.
  • Avoid passive voice. Passive voice is when the object of a sentence becomes the subject. So instead of “John drove the car” (active voice), we have “the car was driven by John” (passive). Passive voice slows down your story and adds distance to the narrative. Still confused about how to identify it? If you can add “by zombies” to the end of a sentence and have it make sense, it’s written in passive.
  • Don’t head hop. You should be writing from one character’s POV at a time. So your readers get one character’s thoughts, feelings, and knowledge. Delineate switches in POV by scene or line breaks.

An example of writing not using Deep POV:

Andrea wondered what was taking Eric so long. She fidgeted as she waited. She grew more afraid the longer she waited. She knew he was always late, but she had hoped he would take this more seriously. She peered down the long hall, letting out a deep breath.

Now in Deep POV:

What’s taking him so long? Andrea tugged at the hem of her shirt for the hundredth time. She blew her bangs out of her face and checked the time. He should have been here by now. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans, shuddering from a sudden chill. She tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. Eric was always late, but this was important. So where was he? She peered down the long hall, letting out a deep breath.

Notice I removed the words wondered, afraid, and knew. I replaced them with direct thoughts and descriptions that showed her emotions instead of telling them. Using Deep POV you can help your reader connect with your POV characters and get lost in your story world. Which books that used Deep POV are your favorites? Do you struggle with writing Deep POV? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.

Writing Strong Emotional Scenes

We read books to go on an emotional journey and love the stories best where they make us feel something. We connect to the characters and what they’re experiencing. We love books that make us laugh and cry and feel everything in between. But writing those emotional scenes is difficult and can be downright scary to attempt. After all what if what we write is laughable? So how do we write strong emotional scenes? Let’s take a look at some tips.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. You have to be emotionally engaged in your writing for your readers to have an emotional response. Imagine yourself in your character’s shoes. How would you feel? How would you react? What would you feel?

Have a central emotion. Your writing should have emotional layers (more on that in a bit), but it should be built off one main emotion. Each emotional response will be filtered through this central emotion. This will help you to have focus. For instance, your character may be working with anger. They may also feel fear and shame, but those are filtered through their anger response.

Show, don’t tell. Use your characters’ actions and dialogue to paint the picture. Is he clenching his jaw? Is she tugging at her hem, eyes down? What does this tell us about what they’re feeling? And let your descriptions set the mood for your setting and in each scene.

Avoid the melodrama. Your characters shouldn’t literally jump for joy or break down sobbing at every little thing. This will induce eye rolls in your reader and they may put down your book for good. No one likes a drama queen. Especially not for 200 pages. Not everyone reacts in the extreme and as the writer you must know how each character reacts to each plot point. Employ subtlety and paint your emotions with a finer brush.

Use subtext. Sometimes what your characters don’t say is more important than what they do say. Use subtext to portray emotions as well.

Don’t skip these scenes. You cheat your reader by skipping over big emotional scenes. These scenes matter and even though they may be scary to write, they’re vital to your character’s journey.

Now let’s talk about layering emotions using the example of anger, fear, and shame we mentioned earlier. Begin with your central emotion. So your character feels the heat of anger flushing his face. We see him clenching his jaw and glaring at the antagonist. But maybe he’s angry because the antagonist hit upon his insecurities, that he’s not good enough to be fighting with his friends, that he’s flawed. Our character then feels a flash of fear. What if the antagonist is right? Sweat breaks out on his neck. Then he feels shame hit him like a load of bricks. His stomach drops and his heart starts pounding. But all these feelings feed into his anger. Adding these feelings adds complexity and realism to your story.

Emotional scenes may be intimidating to write, but can be the best scenes in your whole story. Don’t shy away from them. What are your favorite emotional scenes? What made them so good? Comment below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.

Using All Five Senses

The point of description is to immerse your reader into your story world and make them feel what your characters are experiencing. So vivid imagery is key to building each scene. The most common sense that writers use is visual imagery or the sense of sight. And it comes most naturally to writers, but it’s important to utilize all five senses in our writing.

What sounds are populating your scene? Is there the sounds of the city, cars passing and the hustle and bustle of people walking by or is there the quiet sounds of the country, wheat rustling in the breeze and the sounds of crickets in the night? Are church bells marking the time? Our lives are filled with sounds, so remember to include them in your writing to make your story world seem more real.

Smell is an important sense and is related to our memories, so it’s crucial to include. What does the scent of her perfume make your character think of? When your MC walks into a new house, does the smell of freshly baked cookies and vanilla remind them of their grandmother’s house? Does your MC feel on edge when they smell the metallic tang of copper that they recognize as blood? Scents can convey a lot of emotions and help with showing instead of telling.

A lot can also be conveyed using touch. Her silky skin underneath his fingers, the searing sun on his neck, the grit cutting into her skin as she is shoved to the ground. These sensations can really paint the mood of the scene and make it more vivid and real to your reader.

Taste isn’t always applicable to every scene, but it adds a lot of color to a scene. There’s the taste of blood in his mouth after a fight, the medley of spices that floods her tongue as she tastes curry, the aftertaste of coffee and cigarettes after an all-nighter. Don’t forget about taste in your writing.

Using all five senses really brings your writing to life and paints a full picture for your reader. What sense do you struggle to include? Comment below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.

Writing a Strong Theme

It’s hard to say what makes a good story so good, but one reason is that certain stories stick with us because they made us feel a certain way. They formed a connection with us that was strong enough to stay with us for years. Why? These stories had a strong theme. Theme is found at the center of your story. It is the meaning that your story conveys. The truth your story reveals. It helps to streamline and focus your story and that’s what makes a connection with you as a reader. So how do we write stories with strong themes?

Keep from preaching. Readers are smart and can pick up on what your theme is without much prodding. So don’t give them sermons in the guise of dialogue or exposition. Your reader will notice and they won’t appreciate it.

Pick one or two main themes to work with. More than that and your writing will be scattered and disorganized. Theme is supposed to tie your story together, not wind down a dozen different paths.

Build themes connected to your characters. Theme should come out of your characters; their beliefs, personality, and character arcs. Your themes should be found in what your characters say and do.

Likewise, your plot should be connected to your theme. Your plot should be driven by your characters’ decisions and actions. So your plot should help to develop the theme. Otherwise your plot will seem random and unorganized.

Don’t worry about making your theme original. There are only so many themes out there. Instead focus on portraying your theme the best way you can. It’s that hard and that easy.

What story themes have stuck with you the most? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly stories and prompts.

From Idea to Novel

So you’ve got an idea bouncing around in your head for a novel and it won’t leave you alone. That’s great and also intimidating. After all writing a novel is hard work and you might not be sure this idea is enough to craft an entire novel from. So how to do we go from idea to novel? Let’s take a look.

First you have to have a strong idea. This may be a character you envision, a scene that keeps replaying in your mind, or a setting that intrigues you. The first step is to develop it into a story concept strong enough to build a novel on. I wrote about story concepts worth developing here.

Next comes brainstorming and outlining. Freewrite every idea you have for your story. Develop the idea into a 15 word synopsis. Then expand that into a five line paragraph. Begin character sketches for each of your main characters and a smaller sketch for minor characters. Give all your characters a flaw and a goal to work towards, even the minor characters. The protagonist’s goal defines the story and the conflicting nature of the protagonist and antagonist’s goals drives the story forward. Now you’ll need to pick your story’s structure. I’ve written about each main structure; the Three Act structure, Five Act structure, Fichtean Curve, and Hero’s Journey. Find one that works for you and start building your scene list. I’ve written on scene lists here. Decide on each plot point in your structure and then connect all your scenes.

Then create a writing routine. You’ll need to show up and do the work to write your novel. Novels are beyond difficult to write, but having a writing routine can save you from days of writer’s block staring at a blank screen and wondering why you ever decided to be a writer in the first place. Check here and here for more on writing routines.

Write. This is the most important step and there’s no skipping this part. It’s that hard and that easy. Write.

When you’ve finished that first draft, celebrate! Go out with the friends you’ve been neglecting. Eat an entire cake by yourself. Do a happy dance. And put away your draft for at least two weeks if not a month or more. Don’t look at it and try not to think about it too much. This gives you a well-deserved rest and ensures you’ll have fresh eyes to see it with when you’re ready for the revision process.

So now you know how to get from idea to novel so what are you waiting for? Start at step one and let’s get that novel written! Happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.