Friday, October 23, 2009

Of Sense and Sensibility: Writing a Series

Just having left Mr. DZ’s Dinner on Route 66, this blog comes to you from the navigator seat of our Kia Sedona as my husband and I drive through the Arizona desert toward the Grand Canyon! After twenty-five years in Alaska, I am finally taking advantage of seeing America. Thank heaven for laptops and satellite connectivity. As a full time writer, I can work from anywhere, including a van doing 75 mph on Route 66! But I digress… this blog is supposed to be about the pitfalls of writing a series, not my life on the road.

Vamp Squad; The Series began as a single book about one particular member of a group of female undercover anti-terrorist operatives for the US government. My group of hot vamps were the invention of a mind that wanted to combine strong female characters, exciting action, hot romance, and the paranormal twist of vampires. I combined all of that with the need to kick the Taliban’s butt and came up with Strange Beginnings, the first mission of the newly formed Vamp Squad. And that was fine, until I got to the end of the book and wanted more… I wanted each of my lively and individual characters to have their own love interest and mission. Hence a series was born! Like any first time mother, I had no idea what I was in for.

I knew writing one novel involved knowing your hero and heroine intimately, doing your research well and adding secondary characters as the plot and scenes developed. But writing a series, holy moley! Strange Beginnings centered around Natalia and Yuri, and rolled out of my mind in a flurry of words and key strokes. I had no idea I would need to recall all of the little details I had built into their world and the intricate facts I had established with the first book. When Susannah, my fledgling nineteen year old, began screaming about her own story in my mind, I was at a loss to squelch the urge to write her book. Then came Monique, the French vixen and the coven’s mistress, Elizabetta. Lastly, quiet, stately MorningStar, my wonderful Native vampire urged her tale. It was only the beginning!

So, what color was the Colonel’s hair? Who was Natalia’s assistant? Where was Yuri originally from? Was Develin a captain or a major? Which bad guy died and which one will come back to haunt us? Where did Monique come from? Who turned Elizabetta? I was scrambling for the details and continually re-reading my own manuscripts. After a while, it’s amazing how much you can’t remember of the stuff you created and wrote! Sense should have told me to keep track of things. The sensibility of it was glaringly apparent, later on. As Susannah’s story, book 2, unfolded and I built more specifics into the history of the Vamp Squad, I found that I needed to edit some of the first book. And I couldn’t always remember who belonged to what car and the correct names of secondary characters that popped in and out of both books. I even spelled some names a couple different ways. What I did know was that if I got it wrong, someone would let me know when they bought the book and found the mistake (readers are great at that).

Thank God for the Emerald City Writer’s conference that came along about the same time as Susannah’s incessant yowling. I attended a workshop on writing a series and within forty-five minutes, figured out how to solve alleviate my problems. It’s called Continuity Profile and comes in a file (or three-ring binder) full of tabs, forms, timelines and other very helpful notes. I learned how to create and record a character profile (everything from eye color to favorite pets and ugly childhood memories), set up a master timeline of events and keep track of special notes cataloged by book, character, event, and timeline. It was a God-send. Though it took some time to create, especially after the fact, having an easy and quick way to look up information made writing subsequent books much more efficient and I spent less time wading through previous books looking for that one little fact from Book 1 that just happened to raise it’s ugly head in Book 4! I know the colonel’s hair is sandy blonde, Natalia’s assistant is the ever-vigilant Petra, Yuri is from Petropavlovsk, Develin is a captain and the bad guys all die. Except for… well, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?

My series is into Book 7 and my gals are happy, but some of the more interesting secondary characters have begun to talk out of turn. When will it end? Probably never! A good series with fresh plots and great characters is like a little piece of home. There may be some new faces as the family grows, the places may have a different coat of paint or take on new elements, but the series will be there when you want another taste of the new and exciting but familiar in some aspects. Just like home, only with vampires and big guns…and missions to save the world, and fabulously hot romance. How could it be anything but fabulous with the Vamp Squad?

So here’s a little piece of advice from the one who did it the hard way. If you decide to write a series, develop a Continuity Profile right off the bat. Keep it updated and handy. It will make your life much easier and writing much more fun!

Happy hunting.

Miriam Matthews

To find out more about Miriam Matthews or see a sneak preview of Vamp Squad; the Series, go to


Boone Brux said...

Deb, great job. I can totally relate to your subject matter as I try and pound out my series. Great advice. Have fun out and about.

Boone Brux

Juniper Bell said...

People who write series AMAZE me! I wish my mind worked that way. But I guess when you have a great concept such as yours, new stories keep popping up in an organic kind of way. I can't wait to see Vamp Squad in bookstores, on TV, and what about merchandising ... ;)

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I am writing a more loosely-tied series, but still have many of the issues you describe. I'll start keeping a file too. Thanks for the idea.

The Vamp Squad is such a great concept, and I've enjoyed what I've read of Book 1. Hope to see the whole series in print one day soon!:-)