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Random Thoughts on Writing a Fictional Series

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

There are libraries filled with educational commentary and “how to” prescriptions for writing fiction. Many of these ‘works’ are produced by highly successful authors and present profound thinking on the techniques and mechanics of creative writing. By comparison, the paragraphs that follow are ideas that I have used, consciously and unconsciously, in producing my published literary output. Two series of twenty volumes and four composite books plus independent short stories - sixty tales in all. Some of these thoughts are principles I have invoked deliberately and intentionally. Some are reflections that are best expressed as “Oh, that’s how I did it.” All of them are personal to me and should be evaluated as such.

First off, my remarks apply to serial fiction - a totally different construct from its nonfictional counterparts. In the past, I have written several instructive books on technical topics. The process is akin to teaching with analysis of the topic and lesson plan like structure. Yet again, memoirs, biography and history require a discipline based heavily on research and discovery. I’m not interested in producing a doctoral dissertation that goes no further than a review board granting degrees. I like to think my audience is the casual reader seeking entertainment with a little edification tossed in the mix.

Enough preliminaries!

Random Thought #1. What’s the genre and what’s it about? Those are the questions that most authors are asked first when they are discovered to be producers of a “book.” Genres are tricky, especially when an author like me crosses the boundaries with gay, carefree abandon. My Octavius and Glamorous Ghost series are a mix of mystery, history, humor, science fiction and fantasy. Blurbs on the back covers of the books purport to describe what they’re about. So do reviews. But while this is the reader’s first interest, it shouldn’t be the writer’s.

Random Thought #2 I believe the creative order in developing a fictional series should be Characters, Contexts, Conflicts and then and only then, narrative. There is a monotonous sameness to many of the characters in today’s novels and no amount of plot and narrative spinning can enliven them. I spend a great deal of time inventing and developing characters and letting them evolve in counterpoint to other personalities, in a variety of contexts and then situations. Most of these characters are designed to evolve and span multiple stories.

Some characters, such as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, are almost totally predefined by the massive amount of material already written. Others, such as Lady Juliet, the Glamorous Ghost and her dog Pookie allow for great flexibility. They offset the rigidly defined Holmes. Her personality is everything Holmes is not. An ethereal persona. Sassy, feisty, rebellious but she shares his curiosity, an active and acute mind and energy. The dog is intended to be comic relief but she too is an evolving character. Heaven and Earth provide two contexts and platforms on which the characters can behave differently. e.g. A ghostly baroness in Paris and Paradise or on the Orient Express tied up in international intrigue.

In the Octavius series, I have given myself even more latitude. A whole different world sans Homo Sapiens and dominated by sentient animals. Each animal has a personality and physical presence unique to their species. Plenty of counterpoint. Nine foot Octavius and his two foot tall wisecracking meerkat sidekick. Not totally original. There are plenty of such partnerships but not between a Kodiak and a small mongoose. There is also a broad mix of males and females each manifesting their own characteristics. By the way, as the series progressed, I preserved most of the personae to re-introduce them in different contexts. Some remain the same. Frau Schuylkill is unaltered. Some change. For example, the Twins grow and mature. Mlle. Woof becomes Madame Giselle, the Tarot Queen. Bearoness Belinda transitions from a showbear aqueuse to an astute business sow. Chita has a complete personality rework. Otto goes from hopeless clown to a slapstick hero. Octavius stays pretty much as-is while the world and its occupants change around him.

Above all, make the characters as unique, dynamic. long-lasting and interesting as possible. They will carry you over dead spots in the plotline. Test them out on what some authors call ‘beta readers.’ You don’t have to take their opinions to heart but it will open your eyes to possibilities and interpretations you didn’t think of. Be willing to repair and rewrite.

Random Thought #3 Pay attention to the mechanical details. I worship at Wikipedia and the Microsoft synonyms feature. Nothing says amateur writer more blatantly than repeated nouns, adverbs, adjectives, verbs and phrases in adjacent paragraphs. Try writing a couple of paragraphs without using "very". Take time to expand your vocabulary within the context and character profile. Make it natural to the individual even if he or she is an illiterate.

Random Thought #4 Write about something you know or can learn and be comfortable with. Sorry, I can’t handle little old ladies who are crime fighters. Police procedurals can be traps that often result in ludicrous boners. Be consistent and attentive to detail. Watch out for anachronisms especially if your context is historic or future. One story I read had Holmes sneaking under the radar. In 1900, hardly. Be careful about cultural and social no-no’s. I avoid sex but many authors think it’s a necessity to attract readers.

Finally, it’s dangerous to deal with but strive to inject humor wherever you can. Not rimshot gags or ‘wait for it’ jokes but comic asides, comments or situational humor. The more subtle, the better. Readers generally enjoy ‘aha’ moments funny or otherwise.

Top priority: WRITE! Don’t be afraid or concerned with ditching your output. Learning to discard is almost as critical as learning what to keep. Most of all. HAVE FUN!

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