I’ve written over 40 books (actually, hundreds if you count the ones I’ve written that haven’t been published) and the writing of each one has been different. But Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape is the first book in my first ever series and, as such, I was keenly aware as I wrote it of how different writing the first book in a series is from writing a stand alone story.
- Firstly, before I could write story number one I had to have a strong premise for the whole series: strong enough to cover at least four distinct stories (since that was the number specified in the initial contract). I needed a premise that would give my characters opportunity to experience conflicts (problems) which would be varied but revolve around the same characters. I came up with the idea of a girl whose parents were television chefs, since that would allow me to use varied locations and scenarios.
- Secondly, I had to plan my characters. Every story needs characters, but again, in a series, I had to plan not just the main characters – Sage, her parents, and her best friend Lucy – but also minor characters. In the first book I decided there would be two ‘baddies’ and I had to decide if they would be recurrent characters and whether they would be bumbling baddies or really nasty. This would set the tone for the rest of the series and was really important. In the end I decided my baddies would be not comic-book bumbling, but still a bit silly rather than horribly bad.
- Thirdly, I needed to consider the level of self-containment. Some series must be read in the order of release to make sense, with each title leaving the reader on a cliff-hanger so that they want to read the next book to find out what happens next. Others are so self-contained that each book stands completely alone, and there is no need to read one to understand the others. I decided I wanted to sit somewhere between those two extremes: I want each story to be resolved so that a reader is left satisfied, and I also want a reader who picks up book 2 or 3 or 4 not to feel lost. But, at the same time, I want my characters to develop over the series. So, the books are sequential, but after Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, each book will include enough mention of back-story that a reader isn’t left confused, without those earlier stories being ruined for a reader who wants to go back and read them out of order.
I am still working on the series, and the exciting news is that there will be at least six books in all. And, as I write each book I think back over these three points, and continue to learn more and more about series writing. I hope Sage Cookson won’t be the only series I write in my career.