Elements of a great book series

What makes a great series?

I just read an article by Elizabeth Spann Craig about keeping a series fresh while meeting your fan’s expectations.  She was talking about mysteries, which as a genre often run long series, but it prompted me to think about what makes a great series in my genre of choice, fantasy.

In a mystery series, you start with the character, the mystery solver.  In each book, the character investigates and solves a murder.  This is why the genre works so well for series, because while the character can and should grow and change, the adversary is different in every book.  Fantasies often lend themselves to trilogies because the main characters are struggling against one huge adversary.  Often the story hinges on the hero coming of age.

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The Belgariad

The Belgariad by David Eddings is a great example of an epic fantasy series.  Garion, the young reluctant hero, starts off as a little boy swept up into a global struggle of good against evil.  He is surrounded by powerful people who effect change, and travels across the world.  
Garion grows to become the hero, a powerful sorcerer, and a ruler.

Discworld

Another way to keep The Colour of MagicSir David Jason as Rincewind©RHI/Bill Kayea series going is to tell many different stories on one world.  Terry Pratchett started
out by telling the story of Rincewind, a very (very!) reluctant hero of a wizard, but he has gone on to tell many character’s stories set on Discworld.  Some stories run into multiple books, some stand alone.  He has developed many characters and many adversaries in a complex, well developed world.

Dresden Files

927979Jim Butcher’s Dreden series combines the mystery and fantasy genres to create a reluctant hero strugging against evil while also solving a problem brought to him.  He has gone from solving simple cases involving one monster to dealing with world-shattering problems.  In gaming terms, in each book he has leveled up to the point where he is now at epic level (20th level in classic D+D).

I would say that all great fantasy series have strongly developed characters and settings. They are consistent in tone.  As characters gain power and experience, the level and
scope of their problems increase as well.

Some more of my favorite fantasy series:

  • Lord of the Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
  • Graceling series by Kristin Cashore
  • Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  • Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
  • Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sun Wolf series by Barbara Hambly
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

What’s your favorite fantasy series? What makes it great?

 

 

 

Book Launch

Name Quest launched

My book is now up and available for Kindle, Nook , Kobo  and iBooks for $2.99.

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Flying ships, wild magic, a land in trouble and a toy duck.  Three women and a shapeshifter accidentally save their world.

Long ago, it used to be easy for pilgrims to journey to the northern temple and get a new, adult name.  Now wild magic is flowing like lava across the land, cutting off the route.  A nameless girl hires a guard named Brynn, and they venture into the cursed dreamlands, guided by a mad sorceress and her shapeshifting companion.  They fight their way past monsters, dangers and frightening wonders to reach the temple, where they will be tested to see who they truly are.

Anything can happen in the dreamlands, and there is more at stake than the three women realize.  Their actions will not only effect the rulership of a country, but the fate of their whole world.

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Interested in reviewing?  Let me know!

Looking for input

Preparing for launch: covers and beta readers

I am about to launch my next book, please let me know if you are interested in being a beta reader.  The great thing about self publishing ebooks is that you can create a second edition at any time.

I’m trying to put together a cover that looks professional, but my artwork is um, well, primitive is a nice word for it.  I now understand why most DIY is done with photographs.

drawing name questcovernamequesttrialcoverThis last one is cleaner looking, but doesn’t explain the book enough, even if I add in a pirate ship floating in the distance.  I’ve got to pick something, but if I start earning money on this I am going to get a real cover designer.

Update 5/9/14- I combined the two covers together (using Gimp).

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Middles

penniesThe Muddle in the Middle

I haven’t posted in a while. I gave myself a deadline for finishing the second draft of my novel, and then life happened. Nothing serious, but my life is pretty full.  Still, I’ve been doing my best to slog through the middle of the rewrite.  I’m narrowing it down from four viewpoints to two.  I’m bringing in foreshadowing for events that I didn’t know about in the first writing.  The hardest part of doing this is getting started, it takes at least a half hour of dithering to really get into it.  If I’m not careful, I get sucked into the internet and lose the time I have.  I’ve started turning off my wi-fi before writing time.

I have developed a new behavior system with my son.  He has twenty points, which are represented by pennies in a cup.  When he has all twenty points, he has all privileges. Misbehavior means taking away points.  We emphasize adding points for any small good deed or kindness.  I should do this myself.  When I’m slogging away in the middle and it feels like I will never be able to untangle and smooth out my writing in time, I should give myself points for every effort instead of focusing on feeling bad for not doing more.

 

 

 

Blurbs and Pitches

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Word cloud made with WordItOut

In a World…

I’m taking a short break from revising (I’ve gotten through the first five chapters!) to work on my blurb.  That’s the catchy description of the book that is supposed to draw you in.  I’ve looked at quite a few examples.  Unless I make up something, I can skip the favorable reviews from journals and magazines (“Simply amazing storytelling…” The New York Times). 

What seems to be standard is two paragraphs, setting up the situation and then asking questions the reader wants answered, like “will he finally find the lost broomstick before the blight destroys the forest?” or more often “which man will she pick, the naughty rogue or the simple but sweet neighbor?”

A pitch is slightly different, it is meant for a gatekeeper like an agent or editor.  The imagined scenario is that you happen to bump into an agent in an elevator and strike up a conversation, and between the second floor and the fourteenth, she asks about your book and you come out with your pitch.  “It’s a love story between a bat and a bird, it’s “Stellaluna” meets “Pride and Prejudice”.  This scenario seems far-fetched, perhaps a little more likely at a convention where the elevator line can take hours.  More often you are sending these pitches as part of a query letter to agents and editors.

The Book Doctors discuss pitches and their annual contest related to NaNoWriMo, and they limit a pitch to 250 words.

Here’s a start for my blurb:

Flying ships, wild magic, a land in trouble and a toy duck.  Three women and a shapeshifter accidentally save their world.

Long ago, it used to be easy for pilgrims to journey to the northern temple and get a new, adult name.  Now wild magic is flowing like lava across the land, cutting off the route.  A nameless girl hires a guard named Brynn, and they venture into the cursed dreamlands, guided by a mad sorceress and her shapeshifting companion.  They fight their way past monsters, dangers and frightening wonders to reach the temple, where they will be tested to see who they truly are.

Anything can happen in the dreamlands, and there is more at stake than the three women realize.  Their actions will not only effect the rulership of a country, but the fate of their whole world.

*** too much?  Need to keep working on this.

 

 

Revision

Rewriting for “Pantsers”

If you write by the seat of your pants instead of carefully outlining, rewriting can be difficult.  I’m revising a first draft that I merrily wrote without any restrictions.  It was wonderfully freeing, and gave me a full, rich story I might not have gotten from a tidy little outline.  However, trying to follow the plot now is like following Billy in  a “Family Circus” comic strip.

I have four main characters and alternating points of view (close third person) with all of them.  The antagonist is on another continent and doesn’t actually show up for the final confrontation.  I separate the characters and have them “scooby-dooing” through most of the book.  At one point, I even gave one character the temporary ability to fly in order to get her where I needed her to be!

I am not giving up, for I really feel that there is a good story in this mess.  It is definitely encouraging me to have at least some preplanning before starting my next project!
13126099I am reading a great book right now- Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.  It talks about the science behind good story telling.

Book Cover Design

People judge books by their covers

As a Librarian, I stare at hundreds of book covers a day, not only in our collection but in book review journals, online reviews, book stores, Goodreads and Pinterest.  I know that a great book won’t get checked out by browsers if it has an ugly cover.  A cover has to do many things, including conveying genre, target audience and tone.

An ebook cover has to do even more.  I started working on ideas for my work in progress, Name Quest.  At first I tried sketching out a scene from the book, but realized that when it was rendered down to a thumbnail, it would be hard to see clearly.  An ebook cover should be readable at thumbnail size.  Many great print book covers would become too busy or unreadable when rendered down.  I decided to convey the tone (lighthearted fantasy) with a doodle background and the three main characters’ faces.  This is my first sketch, it’s not quite right yet.  I especially want to redo the character on the right.  I’m trying to decide if the final cover should be painted, done as computer art, or kept as colored pencils.

drawing name quest

Future of writing

Hybrid writers, the writing business and my own plans

I just read an article in Writer’s Digest (2/2014) by Chuck Wendig about “hybrid publishing”.  This is where an author pursues both traditional publishing and self publishing simultaneously.  He likens it to diversifying your portfolio.  Put all the eggs in all the baskets!

I’ve concluded my experiment that I started last year, where I self-published a novel into Barnes and Noble and Amazon.  I did no promotion beyond telling my friends and family it existed and putting a link here.  I sold 15 books at Amazon and 27 books at Barnes and Noble.  The book was not my best work, it was a quirky mystery/humor book.  I could be discouraged by the low numbers, or encouraged.  I choose to be encouraged.  What can happen if I really work at promotion, quantity and quality?  If I have ten great books on all the ebook places, with promotion, I can see a real side business.  I am going to rewrite and polish a fantasy novella  (Name Quest) and self-publish it.

At the same time I will continue to keep looking for an agent for my paranormal romance, “Seeking Clarity”.  After I finish my rewrite, I will start looking for publishers and agents for my kid’s book, “Other People’s Magic.”

For my self-published work I need to have a great cover, a great description, and promotional materials.  I am doing research on covers, looking through my own bookshelf for inspiration.  A great resource I found was Joel Friedlander’s site, the Book Designer.  He does a monthly contest and talks about what makes a great cover and what just bombs (no plain white background without borders, check!).

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Creative Writing Encouraged

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I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for many years, and this year my daughter is joining in with the young writers program.  Classrooms and individuals can sign up to write a novel in a month.  They encourage creative writing in a judgement-free, entertaining way.  There are pep talks, writing prompts, trackers and forums.

I find NaNoWriMo to be helpful in emphasizing getting words on paper (or screen) and avoiding the self doubt that can block creativity.  It’s not about the finished product, it’s about the act of writing.

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