Today on Facebook I was sent a reminder that two years ago I launched book one of the Lakeland Series. Now, one of my more exciting accomplishments of 2021 is launching the EBook version of the box set.
The Lakeland Series is a four-book series, and there are so many things I learned about writing over the course of writing these books. For one thing, book one, The Heart of Things, was one of the first novels I'd written. I was still figuring out everything about pacing, plot, and character. All of that morphs when you are writing a series.
Since taking on the Lakeland Series, I've heard that when you are writing a series, you should plot the whole thing out prior to writing any of it. Yeah, well... I'm not much of a plotter to begin with, and oops, too late. Which, likely made it harder on myself later on, because one thing I learned about writing a series? There is a lot to pull together in the final book!
When writing a series, you need an overarching umbrella that holds the stories together as a unit -- even when each book is a fully completed episode. That linking arc could be setting, like Jill Shalvis often does (Lucky Harbour/ Wildstone), or plot-related challenge like Nora Roberts (Circle Trilogy/ Guardians series), or family -- like every author ever including me with the Lakeland Series.
In a series, every book needs to be centered around its own storyline, but there also needs to be enough linking details to keep the series cohesive. In order to make that happen with a project that is going to span close to 300,000 words, you need a filing system of one sort or another. You need to know who did what with whom where when and why -- and everyone's names and bios.
With the Lakeland Series, I used two different systems. First, although I write in Google Docs, I also save my work to a flash drive via Word. This allows me to leave margin comments with ease. At the beginning of each chapter I leave a comment about which character appears in the scene. At the end of each chapter, I leave a one or two sentence summary of what happened. This allows me just to jump from chapter headings in order to remember names and events instead of scrolling through the entire text.
I also use a notebook and added colored stick-on tabs marking each new book. There, I wrote out character sketches and bios, and any other useful information I might ultimately need. For example, I used the notebooks to keep track of names, events, ages, easter eggs and unfinished storylines. I found it particularly helpful when aging younger characters. The margin notes really helped with each individual book, but these notebook tabs allowed me to keep a cohesive timeline of what was happening for each person in each story.
You also are going to need another thing when writing a series -- characters who are or can become complex enough to make multiple entrances in multiple books and who can develop enough to carry an entire story. That is part of the appeal of series. You can learn more about a person over four books than in one stand alone story. Side characters can emerge into more fleshed-out and interesting people. And from a marketing perspective, each book becomes a kind of marketing for the others in the series, since you are never just telling one person's story. You just aren't at the happily ever after part of every story in every book.
Wrapping up the final book is also wrapping up the series. Everything gets trickier. If there is a moral, it has to arch throughout all the books and your point has to be made in the final book. If there are any unfinished story lines (and there should be) you have to wrap them up, too. Most likely, you will also want to have your important characters make an appearance -- without it feeling like they are making an appearance. And, you have to do all of this in a way that supports, instead of interferes with, the story being told in that final book. So, tricky. But also so incredibly rewarding.
For me, at the end of The Merry Kind of Things (book 4, the Lakeland Series), I felt both powerfully accomplished and incredibly sad. The characters of Lakeland had become real people to me -- and now I had to say goodbye. That, of course, is the best and worst part of a book series. You get to stay longer with your characters and know them better. So, when it is time to shut the book on their happily ever after, it is that much more bittersweet. As a writer, it takes that little bit longer to be ready to get up and writing again.