Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Writing Wednesday: On Writing a Series with Guest Author J.C. McKenzie



 “Parting is such sweet sorrow…”  
~ Juliet to Romeo (William Shakespeare)

When readers and writers discover the final book of my series is being released, I usually get asked one of two questions (and sometimes both):

1)    How does it feel to be finished?
2)    How did you do it?

Well, I’m going to attempt to address both those questions today in my guest blog post.
Juliet said it best to her tragic love interest in Shakespeare’s famous play. Her words resonate with how I feel regarding the release of BEAST OF ALL. This is the 5th and final book in the award-winning, Amazon best-selling Carus series which launched my publishing career almost three years ago. To say the ending of a series is bittersweet is putting it mildly.

It’s hard to say goodbye to the characters who’ve been yacking in my head for over 5 years, who’ve taught me all good laid plans and plots are nothing when confronted with a strong-willed heroine who has a mind of her own and a secret agenda.

But saying farewell is also liberating. The conclusion of a series releases me of the (mostly) self-imposed pressure to write the next installment, then the next, then the next. The ending is a sigh of relief—the writing itch I’ve been scratching for so long has finally been relieved like I’ve been doused with barrels of calamine lotion.

Bittersweet and liberating aren’t the only emotions swirling around, though. With the release of BEAST OF ALL, my nerves have been a jumbled, tangled mess of misfiring signals. Those who know me well, know I’m a total A-type, OCD, stress-head, who may or may not struggle with anxiety from time to time… I worry. A lot.

I worry readers won’t find the ending satisfying. I worry the lovers of one of the characters will hate me forever and spurn any future works of mine because I killed their favourite. I worry that without the self-imposed pressure to pump out the next installment of a series, my drive and motivation to write will wither away…dissipate into the ether of the writing world, along with any popularity my books currently hold.

So how do I feel to “finally” be done a series? Sad, satisfied, nervous…

And proud.

I’m truly proud of myself for committing to this journey—the steep learning curve of the unknown-to-me publishing world with all its quirks, foibles, and secrets. I’m proud I stuck with it, and no matter what happens with the reception of BEAST OF ALL, with the series as a whole, with my future writing career, I can look at the accomplishments I’ve made along the way and feel that fuzzy warmth bloom in my chest.

To all those writers struggling with self-doubt, or faced with the debilitated prospect of rejection—stick with it! Even if it only ends up being for yourself, finishing a sentence, a chapter, a book, a series…it all adds up to build confidence and craft.

 

“How lucky I am having something that makes saying goodbye so hard”
~ Winnie the Pooh

Tips to writing a series:

Now for the second question… How did I do it? I’m not going to lie, I stumbled, a lot, but through the process I discovered a few things that helped make things easier.
 


1.    Write plot summaries for each book (preferably in advance). This doesn’t need to be detailed scene-by-scene, but major events that need to take place in each book should be noted. I won’t post an example here because it would include serious spoilers for the series. I always knew where my characters would eventually end up and the major events that had to occur to get them there. Now, some of my characters were crafty and wily and they ventured off-path more than a few times. And that’s okay.

2.    Keep a timeline for your main character’s backstory.
For example, you don’t want to say they found out about their abilities 14 years ago in one book, and then say 20 years in the next (when 6 years haven’t gone by).


3.    Keep a timeline for your books.
For example, if book 1 starts in spring (i.e. May) and follows the characters for a few weeks (3 weeks), then the story ends in June. Book 2, if it starts a month after the end of book 1, it’s now July and summer time. These are important details to know, especially for scene-setting.

4.    Keep a spreadsheet for your characters.
I use excel, because I like its sorting features. I put in every single character mentioned. And I included as much detail as I had for them. Obviously I had more detail for some characters compared to others, but that’s okay. This spreadsheet ensured I didn’t use duplicate names, mess up physical descriptions, or use incorrect scent signatures. And the added bonus? I didn’t have to reread my books to find the information.


5.    Keep notes of important features/facts.
For example, my characters have supernatural abilities. I recorded the wording used for demon summoning and facts about the animals some characters shifted into. Bears don’t roar. Mountain lions yowl. Shifters don’t retain any clothing when they shift.

6.    Other?
Did I miss something? I’m sure I did. I have a document with words to search for and replace (or cut) during the editing process. I have a list of alternatives for very (very tired = exhausted). I use the “Emotion Thesaurus” by Ackerman and Puglisi to get ideas when stuck for a description. When I want to use a comparison (simile or metaphor), I think of the generic overused one and then twist it (the wheels spun in his head = the wheels in his head clanked around and fell off their axles). But all these little quirks are more to do with craft in general. Did I miss a great tip for writing series? Let me know!

I’d like to thank Katie for hosting me on her blog today. It’s always a pleasure to interact with other Wild Rose Press authors. I hope you enjoyed what I had to say and/or found something helpful in the post. To learn more about me, my books, or to get in touch, you can find me in the following places.




Until next time, happy reading.
J.C. McKenzie





26 comments:

  1. J.C., thanks for being my guest today and sharing with us. I so totally love this series -- and really can't wait to see what you come up with next! Congrats and Good Luck!

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    1. Thank you very much for having me Katie! It's such an honour being featured on your blog all week for the last book in my series. <3

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    2. And thank you very much for the beautoful graphic with all my covers together. I love it :-)

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  2. Congratulations on a huge accomplishment. I'm working on my first series now, so these are great pointers. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you Amity! I hope the pointers save you a few headaches in the future. :-)

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  3. Wow! wow! wow! Congratulations! Revel in your accomplishment.

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    1. Thank you Charlotte! I'm so excited! :-)

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  4. Great post, JC. I'm working on a series for the first time. Getting writing advice is easy, but not a lot is said about linking a series together. Thanks for that.
    We're all looking forward to your next one.

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    1. You're very welcome Sandra! I wish someone had told me about the excel spreadsheet in advance. I didn't think of it until book 2, which meant I had to reread the first book. Not a terrible thing, but let's be honest...by the time that book hits publication, I've already gone through and read the book so many times that I'm borderline sick of it! LOL

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  5. Great post, JC. I just wrapped up the final book in my series this year and went through the same celebrating, mourning process. I don't do spreadsheets (I write medieval and need to feel the ancient), but I do have one giant leather journal--from birth dates, which are extremely important, and every detail of the series. I will definitely require the "tome" when I write the stories of the next generation of Knights. Wishing you all the best! Congratulations!

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    1. LOL! I love how you embrace the ancient! That's awesome, and a leather journal is just as equally fantastic for keeping your thoughts, plots and details together. :-)

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    2. And congratulations on coming to the end of your series, too! I'm glad I'm not the only one going through the celebrating/mourning process. <3

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  6. Wow, are you ever organized! I write down notes in a notebook and refer to it for info. I think I'd spend more time writing on a spreadsheet than I would on the manuscript. I managed to write my Dangerous Times series that way.

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    1. LOL. I LOVE technology, so to me, writing all my details in a journal would be far more painful that keeping it in a spreadsheet. I envy those who can do it this way, though, because it means you can take it everywhere with you. I guess I could have printed my spreadsheet out....doh!

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  7. Terrific post! Finishing a series is such an accomplishment. I get the sad feelings needing to say goodbye to loved characters, but Proud, Yeah, you should definitely be proud. :) Congratulations.

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    1. Thank you very much Allison! It was really hard for me to write that I was proud, to be honest, but my husband talked me up and I gathered enough self confidence to put it in...because it is true. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

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  8. Congrats J.C. Finishing a series is BIG, it's really big. I love the spreadsheets, especially the one about the characters. This could save so much time and keep the researching frustration to a minimum. Good luck with your future writing and your dousing with a barrel of calamine lotion. What a great image! Best, DeeDee Lane

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    1. LOL! The itch is gone! ...oh my. That sounds a bit wrong, doesn't it? Thank you for stopping by and commenting! :-)

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  9. Hi J.C.! Congrats on finally reaching the end, although I'll be sad to no longer see a new Andy book. :) I'm glad I'm not the only one with a spreadsheet, but I've got to admit I cannot plot a book before I start writing it to save my life. I commend you for that. I wish I was as detailed as you! Best wishes for a great many sales and a new series. :)

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    1. Thanks Karilyn! I'm too OCD and love my control over things NOT to have something plotted out. Flying by the seat of my pants would just stress me out (more than usual! Lol)

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  10. I'm on the second book in a series right now and I wish I'd thought of the spreadsheet. I'm always going back to look things up.

    Great tips and congratulations!

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    1. Thanks Lori! Better late than never! I started my spreadsheet during book 2 as well and wished I'd started it earlier. I couldn't imagine writing the rest of the series's without it! I'm glad you found the tips helpful. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 😊

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  11. Congrats J.C.! What wonderful tips! I'm a panster- but I'm certainly taking notes. It would certainly expedite the process so I don't have to keep rereading ;)

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    1. Panthers aleays amaze me! I would go a little crazy trying to write without a plan, but it just goes to show there's more than one way to accomplish a task and neither is better, just some are better suited for the individual. Thanks for stopping by! :-)

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  12. Congratulations on a huge accomplishment. I can't wait to see where your writing career takes you next. After a nice break.

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