Tips for writing a series – Helen J Rolfe

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By Helen J Rolfe

Have you ever got to the end of a book and wished there was more to come? Yearned to spend more time with those characters whose lives you’ve been involved with for days? ♥

We are in a culture of binge-watching on television – I know I’m guilty of it, parking myself in front of the television and literally watching as many episodes of a series as I can before my bum goes numb or I’m almost falling asleep. And it’s the same with books. I love snatching up the next in a series and returning to the place, the characters, the plot and subplots.

One of the reasons I love writing in series is because there’s always more of a story to tell if you delve a little deeper. The ending can be just that, The End, or it could be the start of a new beginning for either your main characters or perhaps a secondary character lurking in the background.

Planning & consistency

If you’d like to write in a series, you can plan the books so that each part has a hook to lead to the next. My Café at the End of the Pier series, being published as a free short story and four novellas with Orion, and at the start of 2019 as a bind up of the entire collection, was planned so that each part had a hook at the end, an unanswered question that would be addressed in the next instalment. I think readers have really enjoyed that element of surprise and I enjoyed writing that way too.

But before you think I’m one hundred per cent a careful planner, I should also put my hand up and admit that I’m guilty of not planning my series books too. But it can still work! My first series was set in the fictitious town of Magnolia Creek. I never planned to make it a series but there were so many characters in the book, that it seemed a natural progression. I’d made up this whole new town, this whole world with secondary characters and I wasn’t ready to leave it alone just yet.

So, if you’ve fallen in love with your characters – is someone at a crossroads in their life? are they hiding something? – or if you’ve fallen in love with your setting and want to explore the other people who live there – then go for it. But there are some important rules to remember…

When I plan each book, the first thing I do is to go through and draw up character profiles to make sure that in the next book I am consistent. So, same colour eyes, same job, same hair colour as well as deeper observations such as the character’s likes and dislikes. I develop what I call a Character C.V, and then I can easily refer back to it when writing the next part.

Step into the map

The world you create for your series is important because it can become a vehicle for your story. It tells readers about your characters and their lives and helps them to really leap off the page. Think of some of your favourite TV series – Grey’s Anatomy where the world is the hospital, Gilmore Girls whose world is Stars Hollow.

Creating a setting is an adventure. I love designing a town or a village, putting it literally anywhere, and once I’ve done that, it’s kind of hard not to return to it, which makes series writing all the more addictive. I think readers also feel the connection, as though they’ve been to this place and know the characters, and so picking up the next book in the series is extra special.

I also found it really useful to draw a map of Magnolia Creek for my first series. It really helped me edit book 1 and then plan the other books to follow on. There were shops, a pub, pathways, a lake, a fire station, a chocolaterie, all of which need to be in the same place in every single book so a map – even though my drawing skills are shocking- really helped to keep me on track. And it’s so much easier than trying to flick through your novel every time to find out where things are.

I’ve also set books in real places too, so I find a map one of my essential writing accompaniments. I’ve only been to New York once, but I feel I know lots about the city after studying it so much. I have a couple of fold-out maps, an extra one of Central Park itself, and when I write, these are usually opened up and continuously referred to.

It’s a different challenge writing about a real city but I love doing it, it’s part of the escapism. I loved setting my New York Ever After series in the Big Apple, but I also wanted to add on a fictitious world and so I made up a town in Connecticut called Inglenook Falls. I love that this gives me a chance to not only bask in the fascination of New York, but give the series the small-town feel that I love so much. When creating a world for your characters, think of what will be the best vehicles to tell your story.

Make it easy for the reader

Apart from my pier series, which ends each novella with a hook to the next, I try to make each of my books in a series somewhat standalone. I want to make it easy for a reader to find an entry point, so they can come to the series either by starting at book 1, or perhaps 5, or 4. They can then choose if they’d like to read the others to find out the backstory of some of the characters who appear later on. Of course I hope they will read each of them, and there’s nothing nicer than receiving reader messages to say how hooked they are to a series.

Branding

Covers are an important selling tool. The books need to look like they belong to that series. Take the New York Ever After series as an example, the font is the same size and so far, the same colour, the position of the name and title are similar, and each has something in the background whether it’s snow or twinkly lights. For the pier books, each has the same pier as the main picture but the covers reflect seasonal differences.

What’s next?

I do write some of my stories as complete standalones which I enjoy too, and the variety keeps me on the ball as a writer. So stay tuned for more of those!

Right now I’m gearing up for the release of the bind-up version of The Little Café at the End of the Pier, which will be released by Orion in January 2019. The instalments of the series are available to buy now, starting with a free short story, Valentine’s Day at the Café at the End of the Pier. It all depends how readers prefer to read the story! You can read in short bursts, or curl up with one delicious book.

Christmas Miracles at the Little Log Cabin, the next book in my New York Ever After series, will be released December 6th 2018. Just in time for Christmas!

As for what’s next, I’m planning another New York book, another new series and a standalone title. We will see what 2019 brings!

Helen J Rolfe xx


Helen J Rolfe writes romantic fiction and contemporary women’s fiction and enjoys weaving stories about family, friendship, secrets, and community. Location is a big part of the adventure in Helen’s books and she enjoys setting stories in different cities and countries around the world. So far, locations have included Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Connecticut, Bath and the Cotswolds.

helenjrolfe.com

1 Comment

  1. Elise Holland

    November 22, 2018 at 2:00 am

    Thank you for this article, Helen! I am writing a series and found this helpful. I write children’s fantasy and my first book takes place in a fantasy world, whereas the second goes back and forth between the fantasy world and Earth. I’m excited to bring my characters somewhere new, but worried that my audience will feel cheated if they don’t get more of the original world. Your insights will (hopefully) help me overcome that!

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