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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar for them, 'Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction.'

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Any suggestions for writing a book series? Do’s and Don’ts, information pills etc.—Lyn South

    Here we’re probably talking about genre, healing because it’s all but impossible to create a series without categorizing it in a genre so booksellers can point readers in the right direction when they come in looking for book two or three or four. Even The Lord of the Rings was genre fantasy.

    1) The first thing I always recommend is that every book in a series be able to stand on its own two feet.

    Why? Because you never know which one of your books is going to find its way to a reader first. And you must never, ever, ever antagonize your reader.

    You know what antagonizes readers? Not being able to tell what the hell is going on.

    2) The next thing is to have amazingly complex and fascinating protagonist(s).

    Why? Because both you and your reader have to be completely besotted by them for not just one book, but an entire series of books. Completely besotted! That’s a whole lot of besotting.

    3) And the next thing is to give your fascinating protagonist(s) and their nemesis(es) really huge, enormous, devastating needs. Because those needs have to last them a really, really, really long time. Those are not needs that are easily met. Those needs bring problems that are not easily overcome. Those needs bring problems they just can’t seem to get out from under.

    4) Finally, know what you’re doing. Filler has no place in fiction. In order to write enough mesmerizing words to fill several books, you’re going to have to create a plethora of not only interesting characters, riveting details, striking character development, and an overall main plot you could build the Roman Forum on, but also a plethora of subplots you could build all the temples in Greece on, as well. All of those threads, all of those climaxes and resolutions, all of them always weaving back, back, back into the main plotline.

    Does that sound daunting enough for you? Good. Because we’re also going to make a list out of this for the main blog. So if you’re not there yet, go there now.

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    5 Comments

5 Responses to “Writing series fiction”

  1. This is such great advice! I *think* my YA fantasy novel can be a series, but after reading your post, I have to re-think whether my protagonist and her nemesis have really huge, enormous, devastating needs. I believe my protag does (21st century girl must time travel to keep bad guys from changing various points in history, or the Nazis really will win and become an evil global dictatorship…and her father & mother will be tortured and murdered in her time). As for her nemesis…hmmm, need to put a little more thought into her.

    Thanks, Victoria!

  2. Victoria Mixon said on

    You know, Lyn, you don’t HAVE to have a nemesis. I often don’t. But I don’t write about time travel & Nazis, either.

    However, if you DO have a nemesis, then, yes, you do need to be very clear on who she is, how, and why; what drives her, what is intriguing about her, what keeps her from being the heroine; how her issues plug into your readers’ issues and teach them something they didn’t know about themselves.

    Torture and murder are big topics for YA. Don’t overwhelm your readers just for the sake of tension, because tension is really more about character development than anything else.

    Time travel!. . .now that’s always exciting.

  3. Thanks, Victoria! The potential torture/murder of her family are really in the background, since my protag spends 90% of her time in the past, trying to stop the bad guys’ changes that alter the correct historical timeline. We don’t see their torture, just their arrests before the time travel begins.

    I’ve been working on the nemesis’s needs and desires and made them more complex: The nemesis starts out as a girl seeking revenge for own father’s death at the hands of the English, but then is offered not only wealth, and power, but an opportunity to go back to her own time to stop her father’s death, if she completes her task of changing four key turning points in history to ensure the Nazis win WW2. She’s also a serious adrenaline junkie and finds that she loves the danger and risk.

  4. Victoria Mixon said on

    Wow, Lyn. I’m kind of starting to like your nemesis. I hope your protagonist has an equally powerful character!

  5. Finally, I have reached the bottom of your Advice Column. Early this morning I was a bit tired to venture so far.

    Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston have stand alones with respect to a non-series about Agent Pendergast. Non-series being they hadn’t specifically intended to do a series on Agent Pendergast, it’s just that this character kept turning up in their books. Each book can stand on its own, but carries links to the others through other characters and situations.

    Diana Gabaldon has stand alones in her Outlander series, each book separate on its own. And her Lord John Grey series books are each stand alone books. A reader doesn’t have to read any of the others, or the third in the Outlander series, Voyager, to learn about Lord John Grey. But it would be interesting to know just a little bit more about him.

    Now I’m off to see what else you have in this Advice Column. If I find something that you have not discussed, then I’ll post a comment. Your answer will probably assist someone along the line, and perhaps I might learn something too..




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SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, forthcoming from Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


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