10 October 2020

Special Guest Post by Alison Morton - Serious About Writing a Series

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From Book 1: "It’s about blood, survival and money. Mostly yours."
New Yorker Karen Brown is running for her life. She makes a snap decision to flee to Roma Nova – her dead mother’s homeland, and last remnant of the Roman Empire in the 21st century. But can Karen tough it out in such an alien culture? And with a crazy killer determined to terminate her for a very personal reason?

When I started my first novel, INCEPTIO, I had no idea what I was doing. Writing was an impulse, an outpouring, a reaction to a dire film and thinking I could produce something better. But not even halfway through the first draft, I realised I had a far bigger story than I’d anticipated. So I did the classic thing – I decided to make it a trilogy then add a novella. But it has now grown into a series of nine books; six full length novels, two novellas and a collection of short stories.

My adventure thrillers with a historical framework and a dash of romance are set in an imaginary country, Roma Nova. The first four¬ books – the Carina strand – follow the adventures of Carina Mitela from when she first arrives in Roma Nova as a 24-year-old to sixteen years later when as she puts it, she’s ‘knocking on the door of forty’. She pursues her quests and saves the world as well as herself. The second four – the Aurelia strand – go back to the late 1960s to early 1980s and feature Aurelia Mitela, Carina’s grandmother, as a young woman. The short stories dip into events between AD370 and a few years into the future.

What did I learn from writing these?

1. Work out the overarching plot in advance

Each book should contribute to the overall plot arc of the series. In my own series, Book 1 of each strand sets the scene, introduces the world, the ‘rules’ of that world, the main characters and the initial obstacles the heroine must overcome. Book 2 (novella) establishes the heroine in her own adventure. Book 3 throws a major challenge at her, consolidates the story arc and sets the ground for the final reckoning in Book 4. 

That’s how the four Carina books emerged, almost spontaneously and more by good luck than judgement. Almost by accident, I learned a great deal from writing that first group and applied the lessons I’d learned more scientifically to the second strand, the Aurelia books.

If you go back to write a prequel or in my case a prequel four books, you have the benefit of knowing what is to come, but you also need to fit early events carefully.

2. Do not write instalments

I admit this is a pet peeve of mine. Each book must stand on its own as a complete story with a definite resolution. A reader may pick up Book 2 or 7 first and while they may be eager to find out what went before and what happened afterwards, they must have a satisfying read from the book they bought. Writers need to drip in enough backstory to bring the new reader up to speed without boring the established fan. 

3. Use and recycle your characters 

Adding a raft of new characters in each book is tempting. However, bringing back characters from another book not only helps eliminate ‘character creep’ but is a pleasure for both writer and reader as we see each individual develop his or her own story.  Of course, you do need new people now and again and, however reluctantly, you should kill off one or two or you risk making your world too much like Shangri-La or Pleasantville.

4. Work out big secrets in advance and scatter little ones throughout all the books

As a reader, I like a ‘twist in the tale’ and hints about this should pop up subtly throughout the book. As a writer, I love laying ‘Easter eggs’ in one book that hatch in another one in the series. I was lucky that I was able to do this with the original three books as I had written all the first drafts before Book 1 finally went to print. The later Carina novella which slotted in as the second in that strand picked up other points and expanded incidents that had only been referred to in the original three.

5. Intrigue by revelation over a longer stretch

With a series you have the advantage of being able to reveal backstory and other facets of your characters over a longer span. This needs to be done carefully and not become an excuse for padding. In an epic, saga or high concept story, we all love ‘deep lore from the past’, hidden family secrets or a forbidden passion. Timely revelations also strengthen the interconnectedness of the books.

6. Practicalities

Consistent information on values and culture, government, society and economic structures, geography, history, sources of income, education, food, religion language are essential as is knowing where the power lies. Oh, and keep a track of eye and hair colour across a series. Yes, I fell into that one. Spreadsheets are your friend!

Maps help you anchor the settings for the whole series. I only use a sketch map of Roma Nova, but I know that Castra Lucilla lies to the south and Aquae Caesaris and Brancadorum are to the west and east respectively.

Another crucial technique is to maintain a list of characters for each book, remembering to update it in the next one as characters change job, get promoted, marry, or move on. A spreadsheet of ages will track who is what age when something happens and prevent character X being older that his mother.

7. The very worst thing to avoid?

As a reader, I dislike it when something or somebody pops up like a deus ex machina in a sequel to solve the mystery or make the quest come to a good end and there has not been the least hint about it or them in an earlier book. One step further down the path to Tartarus is when the intruder directly contradicts something in a previous book in the series. Even if you, as a writer, think up the cleverest idea in the world later and are tempted to parachute in, please don’t do it! 

Writing a series can be fun as well as hard work, but very rewarding when you find you have created an interwoven world with layers of personality and history that will entrance readers as much as it does you as a writer. 

Alison Morton 

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About the Author

Alison Morton writes the award-winning Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of history with six years’ military service in a special communications regiment and a life of reading historical, adventure and thriller fiction. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds an MA History and blogs about Romans and writing. Now she continues to write thrillers with tough heroines, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband. Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com and find her on Facebook and  Twitter  @alison_morton


2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much Tony for inviting me to be your guest.
    As a committed reader of series, I've loved writing a series myself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think the comment about instalments is very relevant - it is very frustrating when, as a reader, you buy a book and there is no conclusion at the end.

    ReplyDelete

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