Client Jodi Rath is releasing her first mystery, Pineapple Upside Down Murder, later this month. Below she discusses how she has planned out the entire series already!
Many indie writers who are new to the profession get so caught up in writing that first book that it becomes daunting to think about an entire series. I mean, we get to the point where we feel like it will be a miracle to finish the first book. I was that way for the first seven years I attempted to write Book One. Excuse me while I clear my throat . . . Yes, you heard correctly, ONLY seven years. Why seven years? Well, I could go on and on about everyday life, a full-time teaching job, and having no clue what I was doing, but the truth is I had zero direction. Does this mean you have to be a planner to write a book? Heck no, but if you have a destination and don’t know how to get there, you do need a map.
It’s the same with writing a series. I would contend that it is immensely important to go into writing a series with a direction. I feel like I could be scaring some of you at this point. You may be thinking, “Well, I can’t even figure out Book One, so how on earth am I going to plan an entire series?” Excellent question! BTW: I would have hated the person who wrote I needed to plan out an entire series seven years ago when I started, so permission to cyberslap me!
In all seriousness, though, don’t be afraid or discouraged. Can you think back to your high school English class when your teacher taught you about the elements of the story? You remember that triangle? (I was a high school English teacher, so no teacher jokes please.) I taught the triangle as a roller coaster ride, telling my students that when reading or writing a story to start with the foundation at the bottom, where they are boarding the ride and beginning to understand the story, with the exposition of who the characters are, where the story is happening, and what the initial problem is that they find. Once that ride starts rolling, they need to brace themselves, as they slowly chug up and up and up with the rising action, learning more about those characters and their faults, successes, and failures. Also, don’t forget that initial problem. That will help in understanding the plot as the rising action leads to the tippy-top of the ride, where we all find ourselves waiting in anticipation for the big climactic moment—we feel like we are hanging on by a thread and NO we aren’t sure we want to fall over that hill, but too late! We are now over the highest point of the ride and are going forward into the falling action, where we now know our characters and setting better. We are rooting for some and hating others and enjoying the little village they live in, wishing we lived there too, but there is still that dang problem from the beginning back at the exposition, when the ride started. That problem is like a bullet that penetrates the body and expands and explodes, with fragments of that problem flying everywhere, and we need our protagonist to figure this out. We need a satisfying resolution.
See what I mean? A story is a wonderfully exciting ride we choose to go on when we read or when we write. Now, you are probably asking, “What does this have to do with planning out an entire series?” Again, great question! You were obviously a top-notch student in school!
Remember I said seven years ago I started writing one book. Well, today that first book is complete and is called Pineapple Upside Down Murder, which is Book One in The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series. There will be fourteen books in the series. I know that because I had a “duh” moment. I spent close to twenty years teaching Freytag’s pyramid of plotting and realized that is my map for each book but also for an entire series. I realized part of what would help me move from writing Book One to Book Two and so on has a direction. Below is a list of the steps I used to develop my cozy mystery series of fourteen books:
From there, that duh—or AHA—moment sunk in with Freytag’s pyramid. Fourteen books, a nice even number, allowed me to start with Book One, in which the village setting and the main characters take the stage. Then Books Two through Six have an overarching theme that has rising action leading to a climactic moment that happens in Book Seven. Can you guess what Books Eight through Thirteen do? That’s it, again—gold star for the best student—falling action, leading to Book Fourteen, in which there is the resolution for the story. Once I had that overarching theme and the titles, I created a document in which I listed out the titles and wrote a quick sketch (two to three paragraphs) about possible plots for each book while building on that overarching theme. Keep in mind I use the word “possible.” I still have to write each book, and there is room for changes as I move from one book to another. At least, at this stage, I have a detailed map that helps to hurl me forward at the end of each book.
That was a general description of how I moved from writing Book One to planning for a fourteen-book series. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions or go to my website at https://www.jodirath.com to sign up for my newsletter and follow me on social media.
Lourdes Venard is a freelance editor and copyediting instructor.