So,the third book in the Grimm Agency series (Wish Bound) is off getting copy edited. The second book (Armageddon Rules) is launched, and now I’m thinking about what I learned from writing a series.
First off, I learned that writing a series requires more thinking than writing a one off. When I started the Grimm Agency series, I kept everything in my head. This didn’t work out well, as my head can be a confusing and crowded place. I eventually produced a world bible, and I’m so happy I did. Keeping note of what happened to everyone when is a full time job.
Secondly, I made a shift from pantser to plotter. Plotters know every step of the way before they start. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants – they sit down with an open document and surprise themselves. To this day, I do some portion of all first books this way. But if you’re writing a series, you really need to know where you are going.
It’s not that I’ve become an outline-aholic, but I’m telling two stories at once now – the series arc, and the book arc. I detest books that end on a cliffhanger. Every book must have its own story to tell, even while it advances the series arc as well. An outline helps me to do that. I treat it more like a guideline. I want to start in Seattle and end up in Chicago. Along the way I’d like to be nearly eaten by Sue the T-Rex.
So I know where I start and end, and I know some of the highlights, but I’ve never hesitated to follow my instincts off a cliff. When my brain says “No, this happens,” I trust it. I know where I’m going and the stops along the way, but the back roads by which I arrive are a pure joy to discover.
Thirdly, there is no right answer to Series Debt: Series Debt is the cost of understanding the latest book in a series. In some series, the first chapter of book two picks up minutes after the last scene of book one, with no introduction of characters. Some, you can pick up book three and have a passing familiarity with all the main characters five chapters in. You may miss some crucial nuances or be left wondering “What’s the significance of this?” but you can read and enjoy the book.
No matter what you do, you will frustrate someone. If you give quick introductions on the fly, you’ll be dinged for rehashing past books. If you don’t, you say to the reader “You must start with Book X.”
I tried to split the difference in Armageddon Rules – those who haven’t read Free Agent will be able to understand it, but not everything will have as high an impact.
For Wish Bound, that’s a tall order. Two books worth of previous relationships and actions are hard to sum up in a few chapters. I’m not saying it’s impossible. Just that I start to wonder how much a returning reader wants to go through so that a new reader isn’t totally lost.
Novellas are supplemental content. Requiring readers to read novellas is evil. The Grimm Agency series contains one Novella – “Soul Ink”. Set between Free Agent and Armageddon Rules, this was a short story that just got out of hand on me. If you loved Free Agent, Soul Ink is another helping of the same.
If you don’t read Soul Ink, Armageddon Rules isn’t ruined for you. There are three or four lines in it that don’t have the same impact, but I didn’t take anything from you or increase your requirements for enjoying Armageddon Rules.
Lastly, I can’t keep a straight face about anything. My witches use crockpots. My fairies are stingy bastards. My Fae don’t like interacting with humans, and my angels are unhelpful when they’re not downright hostile. My werewolves consider themselves just wolves, and my princesses don’t take guff from anyone.
And that’s the way I like it.
If you want dark, serious urban fantasy, look up Jennifer Estep’s Elemental assassin series, or Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series, or Illona Andrew’s Magic [verbs] series. I love them all, but they already exist. I like my urban fantasy mixed with humor. I like for fun things to happen alongside the horrible.
And that has been more fun than anything. To tell a modern fairy tale, in my own way. To look at happily ever after and ask with each book, what is it? Is it a person? A place? A state?
I’d go into that more, but Wish Bound is coming, and I’ll save my thoughts on that for later.
For discussion – what do you think? Should new readers need to start at the beginning? The second book? Or third?