We were lucky enough to get to attend an event called Teen Author Boot Camp and got some amazing advice from amazing people. One of these amazing people is J. Scott Savage, author of the Farworld series, the Case File 13 series, and the Mysteries of Cove series. At the conference he got to talk on the topic of writing a multi-book series. Which is a group of books that create one large story. We have written down all of our notes that we found might be useful to you.
There are a few questions that you should ask before you start writing a multi-book series, like is it traditional or indie, do you have a one book or multi book contract, and does this have series potential. Find the answers to these then shift your focuses accordingly.
Now what is a multi-book series? J Scott Savage explained it as a set of stories that share one of the following: setting, story, timeline, or characters. Now if you are planning on writing a multi-book series you should consider if you are going to be traditionally published or self-published. The reason for this is because publishing companies can determine how long or how short a series is, so Savage is constantly prepping up ways to finish a book if the publisher doesn’t allow more books. Or sometimes the inverse happens where you have to write an extra book. But if you self-publish you can decide how long your series goes. There are benefits to both sides of the coin though, so don’t go attacking publishers.
Savage gave us a very important tip on planning on where you’re going to go. Always have a destination in mind, it’s better to know than to not know.
In case you weren’t sold on the whole multi-book series idea J. Scott Savage gave us a pros and cons list on them, so you can decide based on your abilities and wants.
- Kids love series
- Can tell a larger story
- It creates a built in audience
- Have a known set of characters and world
- Some won’t buy or read your book until the series is complete
- Harder to pull off
- Sales can go down with later books in the series
- It can be hard to stick to your rules that you set earlier
Savage gave us some more questions to ask to narrow down what you need to do in your books. Is your series a bunch of stand alone adventures that somehow tie into each other, or is it a larger story told over multiple books (or movies for screenwriters)? Does your world take place in a multiverse type of situation or is it contained into one universe? One important question is, do you have enough story for multiple books/movies? If you don’t, then consider reworking either by making it a standalone or less books. What is your big mystery that will be revealed in the last book? And what are the smaller mysteries solved in each book? His final question was, how will the story grow throughout? These are some great questions to help with the writing process and possibly outlining.
You need to balance the readers emotions between interest and “What?” in your novel. One way to do this is to have a satisfying ending, an example of this may be Avengers: Infinity War, when at the end when the outcome was unexpected everybody went “What!?” Also if your writing one book in your series just so you can have a bridge to the next one, that is just a massive waste and it’s not even beneficial, it’s been shown that you lose readers doing this, so make every book important and exciting.
Now let’s talk about characters, throughout your series your characters can change what they want, like if they started out wanting to get a magical amulet and then find out that they actually wanted a magical staff. Sometimes as your character progresses they become a completely different person than to the person you saw in the first book/movie. Your main characters should be introduced in the first quarter of your book/movie, but don’t be afraid to add new ones throughout, in fact Savage encourages it to help expand the world in the reader’s mind. In the case of moving lower tier characters up in the rankings Savage explained this by using Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter, and how he had started out as a clumsy sidekick character then after we got to know him throughout the series he became a main character, even an essential part of the plot (we won’t spoil what exactly he did, just in case). But how did J.K Rowling do this, well over each book she built up the character of Neville Longbottom to the point that we knew him and could cheer for his moment of victory.
As you move into the books after your first one, it’ll be good to ask yourselves if the main character should grow or change yet, If you’ll be moving into new settings, how will the world expand and grow, and have you prepared the reader for expansion? If you are planning on moving your setting elsewhere, it’s a good idea to still have a home base or lair to return to somewhere that the reader can understand more fully.
One very important question to ask is, is your story based on the world and it’s characters, like Harry Potter, or based on the magic (or technology in sci-fi’s case) like Brandon Sanderson’s novels.
There are usually multiple layers of villains you have to use in each book to get to the main one at the end. Savage divided up what types of villains there are and how they usually fit in. The intro villain is the antagonist that gets your main character into the tangles of conflict. Then comes the higher-up villain that is more powerful than the intro villain, but is not quite the boss. Sometimes you can even have single book villains that only appear for a specific book. And finally there is the main boss, the person that your story has been leading up to for the grand finale. It is also very good to keep in mind that your villains should be stronger than your hero.
Scott Savage gave some advice that we here at All The Writing HQ use often, keeping a series bible with all the info you need to write your series inside. Savage said that the essentials that you should keep inside your series bible are as follows:
- Character descriptions
- Hanging threads that you leave to fix later in other books
- Stories for inside your book that help with world building
- Detailed timelines
- Planted searches
Savage said that if you can’t envision a place in your head, then you need to work on it a little bit more. And in the story if you have rules there are cases where you don’t need to explain why the rule is like that, it only needs to be established that it is a thing. Savage talked about how we can try and trigger the ‘Reader Radar’ which is what happens when the author sets something up and the reader tries to piece it all together, and find out when/what is going to happen. But this can backfire if you set something up and then don’t use it, it can be very unsatisfying and frustrating to the audience. A famous example of this is the if you mention that there was a gun on the wall, then you have to use the gun later. Going back to the Neville Longbottom analogy the more information/backstory we get on characters/world/items the more important they become. Unless you’re writing a standalone then you shouldn’t kill the main boss antagonist in the first book, unless it wasn’t the main boss antagonist after all (*dramatic music*). Have multiple sub-plots and story lines to follow through and keep the adventure flowing. Stop background info if it becomes boring, and work through trial and error to get things right in your story. Have a character that your audience can connect to and make sure they are proactive not reactive.
That was all that J. Scott Savage got to share with us, and it was great. Hopefully you guys enjoyed and got something out of it, we know that we did. Also please check out the links below to find J. Scott Savage.
Click here to go to J. Scott Savage’s website.
Click here to go to J. Scott Savage’s Amazon page to buy some of his awesome books.
Thanks for reading and see you for next weeks Teen Author Boot Camp article, Writers.