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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    This one comes from Lyn South, who submitted her question to Victoria’s Advice Column, which I like to think of as Miss Lonelyhearts for the Word-Worn.

    DO

    1. Identify your protagonist(s) and their nemesis(es) clearly right up front in each book. Your reader wants to know who this series is about. And they’re not going to go hunt down earlier books to learn.
    2. Identify your protagonist(s)’s dilemma for each book clearly. Each book gets a major dilemma, and all of these dilemmas can be traced back to the one overall dilemma of the entire series. Simultaneously identify your protagonist(s)’s overall dilemma clearly. Handle both of these right off the bat, i.e. in your first one or two chapters.

      Although you give your protagonist(s) a new dilemma for each book, always keep the overall dilemma pointed like a diamond at your protagonist(s)’s greatest nightmare (which of course you will address in the final book). This overall dilemma is going on at all times, no matter what else also happens to be going on.
    3. Fill in backstory—what happened in earlier books—as briefly as possible, each time with a slightly new slant, and without repeating yourself. That way your most loyal readers will not be your most ANNOYED readers. They will get something special for their loyalty: multiple layers of the same story told with some tiny fresh illumination every single time. (This is harder than it sounds.)
    4. Think of your series holographically, that is: each book has a hook, development of conflicts, faux resolution, and climax. And the series itself has a hook book, development of conflicts in separate books, a faux resolution (at the beginning of the final book), and climax (the bulk of the final book).

    DON’T

    1. Lose track of your protagonist(s)’s basic, driving agenda. They need something. They have always needed it, and they will always need it. And their ultimate failure to get that something is the climax of your series.

      Although characters should grow and change throughout your series—fiction is, after all, the record of a human change—this basic agenda is your Pole Star. Don’t wind up with a final book starring a main protagonist who couldn’t possibly be the same character as the main protagonist of your first book. If you do make a serious change in character, make sure you’ve accounted for it properly in a significant place.
    2. Muddy your subplots. Make sure you’ve got these mapped out. Writing a novel is complicated. Writing a series—which is really an uber-novel—is that much more complicated. It’s all too easy to find yourself solving the wrong problem for a given book. This is, um, bad.
    3. Guess what? You knew I was going to say this, especially after that last point. Don’t pants. You’ll wind up with your climax in some book other than your final book, and later books won’t be able to compare. And the loyal readers who read all the way to the end will COMPLAIN LOUDLY.
    4. Forget your supporting characters’ personalities. No kidding. It happens all the time with enormously long works—you change your mind about characters in mid-stream. This is completely acceptable in early drafts, so long as you go back later and re-create either character arcs or at least character unity. It is death, however, to published fiction.

    P.S. Hi, Spork people! I don’t know who you are, and I can’t get onto your website to say hello, but you guys are cool. And there are a lot of you!

    Subscribe:

    13 Comments

    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    13 Comments

13 Responses to “4 Do’s & 4 Don’t’s for Writing Series Fiction”

  1. Excellent advice! I’m currently working on book one of an intended three book series and have run into many of these issues myself. My big hang up at this point is how far to plot out the remaining books in the series in order to set them up in the first book. J.K. Rowling did a bang up job of this in Harry Potter (across 7 books, good gosh that woman was enterprising), and I want to make sure I do the same. Any recommendations on that?

  2. I wrote a seven book series for fun (and to learn; for any of it to be publishable, I’d need to completely rewrite three, but boy did I learn!). While I did ‘pants’ a lot of it, most of the time going back a book or two and making a small change or adding something makes things seem planned, so it CAN be done. Probably not as easily, though.

  3. Victoria said on

    JEM, thanks for the question. Do you want me to throw it in the queue for Victoria’s Advice Column?

  4. Victoria said on

    Eika, Flannery O’Connor said, “You can do anything in fiction you can get away with. Unfortunately, nobody’s ever gotten away with much.”

    Keep in mind that what you did was not for publication. Publishing’s a very different world from just doing it for fun & your own edification.

  5. #3 in the “do” list is always problematical. How much to reveal, how to reveal it. I’ve picked up books mid-series and there’s been so much back story I have no need to go back and read the first ones. Which is why I try to avoid reading out of order.

    And if you’re still trying to sell book 1, it’s tough to know how to handle writing book 2 if book 1 might not get picked up. Or if it’s picked up, but as a single book.

  6. Series’ fiction is really serious fiction.

  7. Victoria said on

    Yes, Terry. That’s the thing about each book being able to stand alone. Maybe book 1 really is just backstory before things get exciting.

    You know who I was reading last week who did it well? Dorothy Gilman with her Mrs. Pollifax series. Granted, I don’t think she plotted out Mrs. Pollifax from start to finish. But I don’t care, because I think Mrs. Pollifax herself rocks.

  8. Victoria said on

    That’s a joke, by the way, folks. Mrs. Pollifax does rock, but it’s not quite that simplistic. Dorothy Gilman has traveled around the world, and where she doesn’t travel she researches extensively, so each book is actually a realistic trip to someplace you’ve probably never been before. You know why people read? To learn something they don’t already know.

    And Mrs. Pollifax does go through change throughout the series. For one thing, the woman gets married.

  9. Thank you! This is particularly useful to me at this time. Most of the series fiction I’ve written so far has been regular mystery, with slow long arcs – open ended, no final book. (Although there are arcs within the series.)

    But right now I’m about to start an “old-fashioned serial” series, which will need very planned larger plots around the smaller ones. The reminders in the DON’Ts part in particular are critical to this kind of writing, which can get really complicated.

  10. I’d love to see more YA series authors follow these guidelines – a lot of them tend to fizzle out as they go on. It definitely takes skill to keep the story arc going through a whole series, very different than a single novel or just a novel and sequel! Thanks for the great advice! =)

  11. […] and independent editor Victoria Mixon has a good posting on her blog, too, about how to set up the long-term conflict in a series. Reflecting on her formula of hook, […]

  12. These are good reminders to keep on the straight and narrow of fiction.

  13. This is some really sound advice. I’ll be bookmarking this for future reference as my own series continues.



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