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.

Learn Writing from Reading

Learn Writing from Reading

The best way to improve your writing, besides writing, is by reading what you want to write. Even better is listening to books. When I listen to an audiobook, I can hear an author’s repetition, flow, style, and voice. This is especially helpful when writing a series. What storyline do you complete in the first book and continue into the other? How does the author focus on the protagonist and include secondary characters? What is the teaser at the end of the book that will guarantee a reader won’t be satisfied until they read the next book?

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My buddy Conge, who is a fabulous writer and one of my beta readers, suggested I read Gregor the Overlander in our last writing workshop. I had read The Hunger Games, which was the series Suzanne Collins became well-known for, but Gregor was written for ages 8-12 just my book, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs.

Whenever I begin a new story or continue a series, I start with the characters. I immediately loved Gregor and his connection to his baby sister, Boots. Even at age 11, he was a protector and head of the family. Collins quickly throws them into a quest, similar to Luke and Peter with finding Shimmer’s eggs. I won’t spoil the book, but it’s a fun travel through time or a black hole would be more descriptive.

There are many storylines in this first book, but for Gregor to follow through on his quest, he has to be pushed beyond what he is willing to live with. He has to get back what he has been wanting for more than two years–his father. Collins describes how hard life is without Gregor’s father. Gregor is laden with responsibility, and his mother is struggling to keep food on the table. It’s a sad situation, and Gregor has the chance to change that.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quest to find Shimmer’s eggs in order for Luke to be healthy again or Gregor having to fulfill a prophecy to get his father back. When what a character wants more than anything is jeopardized or who they love is thrown into danger, a plot is formed. It’s something we can all relate to. Who wouldn’t go above and beyond to save a family member if they had the chance? The characters become relatable and that is why we stay with the book.

I also loved Boots. Hearing her call, “Hey you!” was adorable. She stated the obvious and kept Gregor grounded. “Fly you high,” was how everyone wished each other luck, and they were lines that stayed with me. They made the book real, even though it was set in a fantasy genre.

As far as setting up book two, Gregor may think he’s finished, but we know he isn’t when this little thing called the Prophecy of Bane is mentioned before he returns home. He figures he’s never seeing any of them again, but we already know different.

I just started book two. New characters have been introduced, which is extremely helpful for me as many new characters have come into play in Saving Atlantis. Some revisiting of the previous storyline is necessary, but finding that balance will be key to keeping the story flowing.

I’m lucky to have great readers who can recommend books for me to enjoy and learn from. Give Gregor the Overlander a try, especially if you liked The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs! If anyone has other middle grade books to suggest, let me know!

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Ask Away!!

Ask Away!!

 

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My favorite part of promoting a new book is connecting with my readers and hearing their questions. I especially love watching kids burst with questions and ideas. The questions they come up with are interesting and sometimes mind boggling, because of their insightfulness.

One of the kids on my husband’s soccer team started reading Shimmer’s Eggs and had a ton of questions for Luke today at his game. Luke said he wished I had gone to the game just so I could answer them for him.

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I want to give kids and anyone who has questions a chance to ask away. Of course, I hope you come to my upcoming book events on November 18 from 3-4:30pm at The Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza. This is a book signing, but you can definitely ask questions and buy a book!

My book launch party will be on December 10 from 1-2:30pm at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. At this event, I will share the inspirations for my book, talk about my writing process, have a group writing adventure, and save a lot of time for questions. You can register for that at www.cphlibrary.org.

But if you absolutely can’t wait to ask a question, there are two ways you can get some answers. The first is to email me at j9camm@gmail.com and follow this blog. I will post the answers here with your questions in the title.

Another place you can ask questions and get the answer is on my Goodreads page. In addition to asking questions, you can check out my other books and until November 30, enter a giveaway to win one of five of my autographed books!

Comments, reviews, suggestions for book two, which I have already started, as well as questions are more than welcome! I look forward to hearing from you!