Organizing a Book Series

Organizing a Book Series

When I first started writing books, I thought I would write a single title and then start a totally separate book. When Warriors Within reached 500 pages, I knew I had to break it into a series. I ended where most of the book’s plots were tied up and kept some open for book two. I published it and began the second book, realizing that I limited myself by not seeing the whole series.

I knew my latest book, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs would be a series, but I wrote the first one somewhat knowing what would happen in the next three. Now that I am writing book two, I have discovered the importance of mapping out the series’ plots, themes, and developing a storyboard. By looking at the series as a whole, I end up writing all three books at the same time.

Shimmer’s Eggs focused on the main character Luke, who has been challenged to fulfill a quest in exchange for a wish. I introduce all four characters, but it focuses on Luke’s personality and how he grows. Book Two, Saving Atlantis is based on Rose’s point of view. I had a hard time adjusting to writing the story from Rose’s frame of mind. I had been so used to knowing what Luke would do in every situation. I needed to understand where Rose was coming from, what she wanted to accomplish, what her struggles would be, and how she would or wouldn’t change from them.

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Rose’s character board

This led me to thinking about what Mark and Peter’s themes would be and what they were looking to do in their books. I knew there would be a quest, so this forced me to ask the question: What are their quests? How will the quests move the books and series along? What is the overall theme of the series and in each book?

This is what I came up with for my current series:

Shimmer’s Eggs: Luke overcoming a health crisis and having a wish not come true the way he would have wanted.

Physical theme: Castles, knights, and dragons

Saving Atlantis: Rose learning patience and that people don’t deal with life struggles in the same way.

Physical theme: water, sea animals, palace of seashells

Book Three (Untitled): Mark building his confidence to try new adventures and not be afraid of failure.

Physical theme: Jungle, meteors, dinosaurs

Book Four (Untitled): Peter learning to let go and be the person he is meant to be.

Physical theme: ships, treasure, pirates

These themes give me an idea of where I’m heading. I update ideas for each of the books as I’m writing the current one. Even though each of the characters is dealing with their own problems and growth, I need to understand the overall theme and goal of these books. What is the end result and theme? Why did they go through all of this? Why were they particularly chosen to bond with these dragons? This is something I’m still working on, but it has to do with giving back and sharing their stories of hope. Through their connections to the dragons, they have been given a tool and inspiration to journey through one of life’s toughest lessons.

The beauty of doing this is that it’s fluid. It can change as my characters grow. Nothing is set in stone until that book is published! So make sure you don’t cut off your nose to spite your face as the saying goes. Or get rid of a storyline that you end up needing in the last book. Look at the big picture first, then break it down into the smaller ones.

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Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow

For the last four months, I have been writing book two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis (working title). It’s been a steady flow of writing scene after scene, not really knowing if the chronology of each one works. It’s the process of spitting out the images, words, and scenarios from Rose’s point of view.

It’s very difficult to do this, because we want to edit, review, and get confirmation that we are on the right path. This especially happens with new writers. It can be hard to trust your gut if you aren’t used to listening to it or you haven’t established your voice.

I have learned to trust my gut and go with the flow letting the characters and the situations evolve. The chapters may not make the final cut, but it’s a step in the right direction. It at least shows you what works or doesn’t work. Here are some tips I use to go with the flow:

  1. If I’m stuck on a spot in my book, I might switch modes and journal. Why am I writing this book? What is Rose’s journey? How is she interacting with everyone? What do I want her to learn, how will she grow? I recently did this and it clarified my direction and opened the valve to write a few chapters. I haven’t read through my first draft, but if I have a strong feeling while writing, I know I’m on to something that will probably stay in the final draft.
  2. Be prepared to let go. Once you have that first draft and even as you are writing, don’t second guess, delete, and redo. Keep writing until you think yes, there is a book here. Let it sit, then when you reread it, be prepared to let large or small parts of it go. Always save what you delete. It might lead to something else. It might go into the next book of a series. Someone else who reads it might think it works. Best way to figure if it stays–ask if it moves your story forward. Does it excite your readers? Do you get the same ‘yeah this is amazing’ feeling when you read it again? It’s like a second date where you either know you want a third or have to claim illness and get out of there quick.
  3. Read and listen to books similar to your own. It can help with getting an idea of what works with each age group and understand how to deal with certain writing issues. For example, I have been listening to Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins. I had already written Shimmer’s Eggs before reading this series. The idea of a quest is the same, which a standard theme in an adventure plot. Collins had a prophecy, mine was a riddle. In book two, I was having a hard time accepting that a certain person would betray a main character in the book. Did I want to include this in a middle grade book? In Collins’ series there are major upsets and betrayals. This theme obviously can work in a book for ages 8-12. The world is fraught with betrayal and disappointment. My book will touch on that, but how will I instill hope?
  4. Write what makes you smile, laugh, cry, and whoop in victory, not what you think will sell. Sometimes I worry that Saving Atlantis won’t be as good as Shimmer’s Eggs. It’s a common worry among writers. I can easily get caught up in what people think. Then I remember that I write to soften the harshness of reality, build friendships, instill values, and empower children and young adults to make a difference in their world. To give hope. That’s not ego. That has to come from the heart. As long as I do that, my words will ring true.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Pat yourself on the back when you have a good writing session. Begin again when you don’t. Step away from your story when you’ve have a bad day. Do whatever brings you joy and come back to your writing with the words that lift you up. “I am a writer. I practice my art. My words have meaning.”
  6. Write, write, write, write, etc. Every single day. If you want this to be an important part of your life, your career, you have to practice daily. No other way around it. Don’t expect it to be a bed of roses. Sometimes we hit a thorn and we bleed, but when the roses bloom, the scent is sweet and magical.
  7. Most of all: Go with flow and don’t overthink it.

Memories in Writing

Memories in Writing

It only makes sense that when you are writing a creatively fictional memoir, to look back at photos for ideas. I recently did this while writing Book Two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis. It’s told from Rose’s point of view–the darling in the pink hat, pictured below.

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February 19, 2009

Hopefully I am forgiven for sharing this photo, but it’s special in so many ways and launched a couple chapters in my book. This was taken on my dad’s birthday. He had been gone for 12 years already, and only four months after my son, Nick, had passed. Family came over often. It reminded me of how supported we were and still are in our journey without a son, brother, best friend, cousin. There is this gap without Nick that can’t be filled, but the gatherings we had soothed it. Losing my dad at only 57 didn’t help either.

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In addition to games, there was some serious manicotti training. At least for some!

In Saving Atlantis, I actually change these scenes to Easter. It reminded me of this special holiday that has been at my house since we moved to Clifton Park 27 years ago. Everyone always came to the Cammarata house for food and a savvy Easter egg and scavenger hunt. The children had different colored eggs to find. In addition to candy in the eggs, there would be clues to the location of the basket of treasures. Or there would be a word puzzle they would have to be solved to find the treasure. It makes sense that I am writing books about quests and finding lost items.

Each year was something different, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. My heart broke a little when they were done with the hunting, but when the youngest three were 15, I figured I kept it around long enough!

A scavenger hunt is the perfect way for Rose, Peter, and Mark to escape through their puzzle to help Luke and Natalia in Atlantis. In Book Two, cousins Quinn and Mackenzie get involved. Quinn distracts the older cousins, while Mackenzie protects the portal.

The plot is unwinding, twisting, and sometimes falling back on itself, but these photos give me inspiration and precious memories.

Creative Stories are All Around Us!

Creative Stories are All Around Us!

I am currently teaching a middle grade writing workshop at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. It’s a great group with very enthusiastic writers.

The focus is finding different topics in the world around us and observing for inspiration. A writer must also keep eyes and ears open for unique characters, settings, and plots.

I begin each session with a journal entry about their day. Learning to record details is essential. Then follows a photo prompt. Last week, I had two photos, each of a dog. Even with the same photo everyone will come up with a different description, idea, and possible plot.

If you’d like to write from either of these photos, stop reading and write what you see, what the characters are feeling, how and if they connect, and what you think might happen. Then read further and see what the teens came up with.

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Zoey Cammarata

Zoey probably wouldn’t have liked me sharing this photo of her. She is often misunderstood, when she really is very happy to see people!

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Dakota Cammarata flipping Marvin in the air!

Dakota gets the free spirit award as he always wants to play!

Some of the descriptions were clear like Dakota wanting to run around all dayand Zoey growling at Dakota, because he stole Zoey’s toy.

Another scenario was that Zoey lives in an alley and has had a rough life. She is scared, but shows her teeth to hide her fear and look tough. Dakota is a happy dog who lives a good life. They might interact when Dakota gets lost or vice versa. How will their different experiences affect how they treat one another? Do they go on an adventure?

Photo prompts are a fantastic way to get unstuck or use actual events or descriptions in a story. Just make sure that they are changed enough, so that it is truly a work of fiction.

Of course if this is a memoir, then that’s a totally different story!

Skipping Around Saving Atlantis

Skipping Around Saving Atlantis

With The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs out to the public and going through its second printing, I have been diligently working on book two–The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis (working title, but so far feels right).

My plan is to write all four books in the series to keep the flow going, and I have been challenged by an avid fan (my husband!) to have a working draft by the end of the month! Yes! This month, January, which only has 15 days left. I am almost at the halfway point. I don’t worry about what I’m writing so much as going by the feel of it. It is a very rough draft, which is where I should be for the first one.

A couple days ago, I was stumped. I reviewed my notes, but felt stagnant in the current chapter. At lunch, that avid fan suggested bringing in Dakota, one of our rescue dogs. To be honest, I was thinking about including Zoey, but she is more my dog and Dakota is more Peter’s. However Zoey’s personality and the signature white patch on her gray chest does remind me of a certain koalephant in Shimmer’s Eggs.

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Dakota at 12 weeks when we first adopted him.

It was like an earthquake broke a dam and everything poured out. What if Peter found Dakota and brought him home? How would Dakota help Peter in his healing process? How did Dakota just happen to be in the dumpster that Rose and Peter just happened to be riding by at that particular moment? With many questions, come many answers, and great writing most likely ensues!

With all that activity, Dakota made his debut into The Puzzle Quests series. Wait until Zoey hears about this. She does have her own blog, but this will launch Dakota into permanent stardom!

Writing what moves me at that moment is the key to writing continuity. Where I placed this chapter right now may not be where it will stay, but the essence and power of that chapter is strong, and I know it will be a part of this book.

If you are stuck in your story and another thread pops into your mind, go with it. Writing is not linear. It’s like water, so let it pour out.

All I will say about Dakota’s story is he was rescued from a dumpster in Tennessee. He was starving and scared. How this plays into Saving Atlantis and Peter’s growth as a character will remain to be seen.

To find out when The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis will be going to press, Sign Up for my mailing list at www.janinedetilliocammarata.com