Just a long story chopped into bits?

Writing a series has to be easier than stand alones, surely?  The characters, names, country etc, all known, all plotted.  Just a long story chopped into bits, right?

 As I mentioned last week, Ellen’s Tale, the first in my series, was meant to be a short story! It was never planned, just catch-up all the way through.  By the time she was finished with me I knew this story was the beginning of a series, three maybe, the second, jumping around in excitement in my head.  Easy.  This series writing is easy.

 When The Storyteller’s Tale, the second chronicle, was finished, after quite extensive research and the beginnings of a planned world,  I had the ideas for further chapters in the lives of my characters but. . .  yes a great big BUT. . .

 Writing a series, it seems to me, grows ever harder as the series progresses.  It is not just that I hadn’t planned the world, after all it is set on this planet just a few years hence.  There are no monsters, vampires or zombies, no magic. It is the problem of how the characters behave over time; how plot lines can be developed to follow correct time lines, believable scenarios.  How to build fresh excitement and anxiety into every book.  How many times can one realistically make the characters suffer, falter or fall and still keep the readers on board with you? How does one leave them with hopeful and/or intriguing endings? How to leave the reader desiring to read more of them?

 Jack’s Tale, the third in The Sefuty Chronicles, was a labour of monumental proportions, compared to the first two.  I knew the story in my head, had thought out the various incidents and accidents, had charted the rise and fall of fortunes. . . and then. . .

 And then I faltered.  Who would want to read yet more of this band of travellers?  Why did I think I could manage another chronicle?  These doubts walked sullenly alongside my struggles to find men’s voices, not just men, but fighting men; while I struggled to learn a new language of shorter sentences and different adjectives and personal pronouns.  My research was of wars and battles – I understand neither.  However these were soldiers I had invented way back in that short story and they were now demanding that part of their story be told.

 I would spend days staring at blank screens, chewing nails to the quick. Maybe it was only ever meant to be two books.  Maybe. . . But I had plans for at least two more after Jack. Had left clues and hints all along the line.  Shouldn’t I at least solve those before I gave up?

 I struggled for months with Jack, never quite happy with it, and finally it went into print and eBook.  Still I had my doubts and fears. I was loath to offer it to my friends. Scared of a resounding silence or frowns.  Slowly, slowly, the responses came in, better than The Storyteller’s Tale one said, really?  Couldn’t decide which they preferred another said, really? I became more confident, but were they being kind?

 Then last week someone I barely know from the choir joined us ,on our walk back to the car park, after singing, to extol Jack’s  virtues and dissect what she liked about the series, she hasn’t finished Jack yet, but she was so enthusiastic, even finding stuff I hadn’t realised I had meant in it (I do like that, when meanings, I had no idea about, are found, all things to all folk:) this lady cannot be called a friend as such, I barely know her.  She was also the most unlikely person to buy the first, let alone the second and third.  Not a friend but a fan.  I had sung to the sky at choir practise, I sung to heavens on the way home.  I had pulled off a third.

 This month I began the fourth, with the aid of JuNoWrMo, and the doubts are trotting out, marshalling their forces.  Is a fourth do-able?  No, writing a series is not easy.


5 thoughts on “Just a long story chopped into bits?

  1. Alberta, that’s quite a story!

    It reminds me of something I’ve recently read; the WOOL omnibus. The first episode was just a short story – then the novelist Hugh Howey continued on with 5 novellas, each taking the reader deeper into a world that seemed simple on the surface, but turned out to span generations.

    Agree that for a series, you just have to hook the reader, and then keep things interesting – and it sounds like you’re doing just that!

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Hildred says:

    As somebody who has only ever written series (what is this “stand alone story” thing?) I know nothing but and have pretty much perfected the way I build series over the past couple of decades. That said, I can understand. Sometimes I wonder if my characters are that likable to keep a reader along. But the biggest problem was figuring out what the overall plots and climaxes would be for a couple novels in my current series, the novels bridging the big-big plots together.

    What I’ve realized is that people will stick with most series no matter what. Once you’re hooked, it takes a LOT to shake a reader off (You basically have to jab at their inner morals and values repeatedly, or just totally slack off on the writing because you don’t care anymore.) And as a series reader myself, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing those characters come to life and over and over. I never get thrown out of characters facing danger all the time. Look at Harry Potter! He had his life handed to him once a year for seven years and people ate it up – and he was a teen! We expect characters to face the impossible multiple times…especially, as it sounds from your work, you got some warriors up there ;)

    Good luck and keep going!

    • alberta says:

      A master at the series writing – ’tis all new to me and started late in life – I am enjoying it tho’ – have a great fondness for my characters and weep for them:) – I tell my readers if I haven’t made them cry in each book I have failed. Thanks for your words of encouragment – I cannot stop yet with my Sefuty Chronicles, the tales unfolding all the time in my head, for goodness sake I’m worrying over the ending of the 5th book and have only just started the 4th!:)

      • Hildred says:

        Haha, I know that feeling. The series I’m working on now has 5 books. The first one is getting ready for publication and I’m a little over halfway writing the first draft of the second. When I started writing the second I had no idea how it was going to end, although I know exactly how #3 and #5 will go. (Still figuring out #4.) I know the themes and main characters of all of them, but sometimes I don’t know what the “end game” of each book is going to be until I start writing it and see what direction everyone’s going in. It can get a bit nerve-wracking though!

      • alberta says:

        Nerve- wracking is exactly the word:) the end of my 3rd came to me at the end – about two weeks before final edit and proof copy bit – two characters slid in under the tape – and they’ve muscled themselves into ‘the whole point ‘ of number 4- do we have any control here!:)

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