Monday, August 20, 2012

The Challenge of Writing Five Overlapping Books

This was written several years ago, but I thought it might help those writing a series, especially one that overlaps.

When I first began writing The Circle of Friends, I did not envision a five-book series. However, halfway through the first book, I realized that several of the secondary characters possessed stories that begged to be told. I created outlines for four more books, and at that point, realized I’d set myself up for quite a challenge.

The five books in the series overlap while also moving forward in time. With the exception of the final book, each begins during a point in the previous story. It was imperative that I maintain consistency with the characters and ensure that the overlapping scenes were similar in detail. The perfectionist in me wouldn’t tolerate such mistakes, and I knew readers would notice lapses in continuity.

Since the main characters appear across multiple books, I needed to stay consistent with their personalities. To do this, I created a detailed profile for each one. I recorded their personality traits, background information, strengths & weaknesses, family, and friends. I even noted material possessions such as vehicles. It would not do for the Mitsubishi to suddenly turn into a Toyota in a later book.

I then took all five outlines and merged them into one master timeline. This was divided into years and months, covering the entire eight-year span of the series. Major events in each character’s life were recorded in the appropriate location, and I even went beyond the boundaries of the actual books, giving each person an in depth past and/or future. This provided me with a quick, at-a-glance outline that covered all ten main characters. Even if I was working on just one character’s story, I always knew what the others were doing should they be required to enter the storyline. This alone probably prevented the most mistakes.

Since the ten main characters are friends, there were several interesting crossover situations. I found myself constantly referring back to an earlier book when a scene was repeated later in the series. Dialogue was the easiest, as I could simply lift and insert, but it still required adjustments. To keep it fresh, I focused on the new character’s perspective, expanding or shortening the exchanges as needed. I did not want perceived continuity errors pulling readers out of the story, nor did I want them to grow bored with a familiar scene. Talk about a fine line!

My greatest challenge came from a scene repeated in three books. The main characters from each book were all present and it was a pivotal moment for everyone. In fact, the stakes escalated with each book! Book III carried the greatest consequences for the main characters. However, I discovered that switching the point of view with each story provided a unique opportunity to view the same scene from a new perspective. Each character responded differently to the situation, especially in terms of their feelings. Even on my third run through this scene in Book III, I was able to retain the tension, and the intense, emotional response of the main characters really carried the scene.

Five overlapping stories were difficult to write, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching things unfold from another viewpoint. Characters who were offstage during a portion of an earlier book were suddenly thrust into the spotlight for their story. Those readers disappointed when one book comes to an end will be delighted when that character reappears in later books. Considering the stories move forward in time, readers will also discover what happens next in their favorite character’s life. Of course, once they reach Book V, the storyline ends and The Circle of Friends comes to a close.

Or does it…?

Only time will tell if I’m up for that challenge!

22 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to write a series. For one, I think I would get sick of all my characters. So, seriously, good on you for accomplishing it! I don't even want to try ...

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

This must have been such a challenge, but you were on top of it! Great way to organize your book information.

So maybe a Book VI is in the works? :)

shelly said...

Secondhand Shoes is supposed to be a series and all I have for the second book is a posterboard full of ideas. I've written it 3 different ways and don't like any of them. Oh my...so I'm working on another WIP.

Bish Denham said...

You took the time to get organized which usually makes all the difference!

Jemi Fraser said...

This couldn't be better timing for me! I'm drafting the first book in what I hope is going to be a 4 book series. I'm not an outliner or a plotter, but I've been doing more of it with this draft because the connectivity will have to be there. Knowing the main stories lines for each main character is proving to be vital. It's fun - thanks for the tips - love the timeline especially!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad my three books didn't overlap - that's a lot of work!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I write in series, but all the books follow one another. Overlapping sounds really challenging.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! I struggle just to keep my story straight from beginning to end, plus keep notes for the next two . . .you are amazing!!!

Clarissa Draper said...

I have to do a similar thing with my series as well. My characters overlap a lot and so I have to keep detailed character cards.

michelle said...

Five overlapping stories? That is amazing!
I'm sure meticulous planning played a major part in the success of your series.

Jo said...

Sounds difficult to do. I have always wondered how authors achieved this overlapping, now I have an idea.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Jessica, by the last book, I was DONE.

Elizabeth, I have an idea for one...

Jemi, delighted it helps you.

Clarissa, it's challenging.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

LOL. Anywone who has actually done this should be in a position to advise! Sometimes it's hard to track eveb one. I often edit books in which the author has duplicated the a scene (sometimes slightly different, but duplicated nonetheless).


Best,

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo)

LD Masterson said...

Huge organizational challenge. My hat's off to you.

Arlee Bird said...

You developed a great system for building a series. Excellent advice even for those who aren't doing a series.


Lee
Wrote By Rote

Stephen Tremp said...

I love writing a series. I really get into the characters and the character arc and the challenges an obstacles they have to overcome. So writing a series comes naturally.

Stephen Tremp said...

But I also have a couple stand alone books in the pipeline with all new characters. So keeping it fresh is important to a writer too.

nutschell said...

I can only imagine all the difficulties you faced with your interweaving storylines! Thanks for sharing your experiences, there are great tips here!

Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

M Pax said...

I keep notebooks for each project, but I need to find a better way of filing info for a series ... especially what I name things or if I ever named something.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diane .. you've always come across as so organised and systematic in your approach .. so I'm delighted to read this re-post (if it was) ... I'm sure it'll help many.

Sounds like Book Vl is on its way .. great to read .. thanks - Hilary

Misha Gericke said...

Wow it must have been a real challenge to find a working system to record everything.

I also write series, but as a continuous story-line, so I have it a lot easier than you did. :-)

Jai Joshi said...

I'm gonna forward this post's link to a friend of mine who's thinking of writing a series. Thanks for sharing, Diane!

Jai