Tuesday, January 28, 2014

9 Craft of Writing: Crafting A Series by Mindee Arnett

Mindee Arnett is the author of best selling YA Fantasy series The Arkwell Academy, the second book called THE NIGHTMARE DILEMMA is coming in March, and the first book in a new series, AVALON, which came out January 21st. Avalon is an amazing sci/fi book full of twisty turns and creepy space goodness.

Crafting A Series by Mindee Arnett

It’s no secret that I am not a plotter. I’ve never so much as pretended to do an outline. I’m just not made that way. Instead, I consider myself a “pantser who likes to stop for directions.” I write my stories primarily on instinct, but I take the time to question those instincts, to give them a sort of sanity check, before letting them enter the story. These sanity checks help me keep the story in line and they also help me do a little planning ahead. The farther along I get in the story, the clearer the end becomes.

Given this approach, I often find myself doing a double-take at the notion that I tend to write series more than standalone. I currently have two series at present—one almost finished (Avalon—the sequel is in first draft stage) and one still a book away from being done (The Arkwell Academy series). Although I do have an idea of where my series are going, they are fairly vague and general ideas, along the lines of “I think the good guy will win and the bad guy will lose.” As with the individual books, the farther along I get in the series the more I can sense the ending.

Of course, given the fact that the early books are already in print by the time I’m writing the later ones, this presents all kinds of challenges in creating a cohesive story arc. If I get some kind of brilliant idea in book 3 that’s completely left field, there’s no going back to book 1 to put in any foreshadowing. If it wasn’t already there, too bad. Imagine for a moment if JK Rowling initially had decided to give Harry and Voldemort wands that shared a dragonheart string core instead of phoenix feathers in Sorcerer’s Stone. It wouldn’t have been a show-stopper, but the lovely cohesion and symbolism we get with Fawkes wouldn’t exist. I suppose she could’ve made Fawkes a dragon instead, but that would’ve been problematic given what we saw with Norbert (again in book 1).

One way around this problem if you’re a pantser is to write the whole series at once. Then you can go back to book 1 and make those necessary changes. But if you’re a writer still at the querying stages, the last thing you should do is spend oodles of time and energy writing a series that might never sell. For me, I never dared let myself consider the possibility that The Nightmare Affair or Avalon would be more than a single book until after I had an agent and a book deal on the table. Too much heartbreak in investing in a dead end series. But if you are writing a book that you think/hope will become a series, don’t fret. I’ve been there, and I’m here to share some techniques that I found immensely helpful when you’re a pantser working on a series.

Treat Each Detail As Possible Foreshadowing
In your first book (and in the second if there’s a third and so on), treat each detail you add as something more than what it appears. Don’t treat your details lightly, in other words. Be deliberate. In the first chapter of The Nightmare Affair, my main character visits a cemetery. One of the mausoleums she sees has the name “Kirkwood” on it. It’s a detail dropped in a single sentence and never referenced again. Except, of course, that one of the characters she meets later on has the last name of Kirkwood. I could’ve used any old name for this mausoleum, or not have named it at all. But I did name it and I used it again later on. I even used the mausoleum again in book 2. Whenever you have an opportunity to name something or to get specific about a seemingly random detail in your story, do it. Don’t settle for anything vague or halfway. Be concrete. You never know when one of these details might come in handy later. They’re like tiny threads that you leave hanging out of the tapestry of story just to weave them back in again later.

Add Unimportant Details
I know that sounds strange to purposely add things that are unimportant, but I’m not talking about entire scenes here. I’m talking about a sentence there, an observation here. Little things. Things that most readers will regard as a world building details. Pepper your story with little moments that aren’t related to the plot of the current story. Maybe your heroine is daydreaming in class and notices the student in front of her has a brand new tattoo shaped like a skull. Does that tattoo have any meaning? Probably not. In this first story it’s just part of the description but later...

Which leads me to my final bit of advice:

Mine Your Story For Ideas
Before starting your sequel, go back to the prior book (or books) and read them. Read them thoroughly, slowly, taking notes as you go along. Can you use that random character who played a prank on someone in book 1 as a victim in book 2? Was revenge for the prank part of the motivation for the crime? Does your MC come across a skull-related clue and remember that she saw a tattoo of one not so long ago? The more you can draw on these small details from the prior books, the tighter your series arc will feel for the reader. And for you, the writer, the more it will seem less like flying by the seat of your pants and more like divine inspiration. Stephen King believes that stories are found things, like fossils in the ground. He’s right, of course, and mining for details is the best way to discover it.

About The Author

YA Author of THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR, a contemporary fantasy coming March 5, 2013 from Tor Teen (Macmillan) and AVALON, a YA sci-fi thriller coming Winter 2014 from Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins). Represented by the fabulous Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. Addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

A ragtag group of teenage mercenaries who crew the spaceship Avalon stumble upon a conspiracy that could threaten the entire galaxy in this fascinating and fast-paced sci-fi adventure from author Mindee Arnett.

Of the various star systems that make up the Confederation, most lie thousands of light-years from First Earth-and out here, no one is free. The agencies that govern the Confederation are as corrupt as the crime bosses who patrol it, and power is held by anyone with enough greed and ruthlessness to claim it. That power is derived from one thing: metatech, the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light.

Jeth Seagrave and his crew of teenage mercenaries have survived in this world by stealing unsecured metatech, and they're damn good at it. Jeth doesn't care about the politics or the law; all he cares about is earning enough money to buy back his parents' ship, Avalon, from his crime-boss employer and getting himself and his sister, Lizzie, the heck out of Dodge. But when Jeth finds himself in possession of information that both the crime bosses and the government are willing to kill for, he is going to have to ask himself how far he'll go to get the freedom he's wanted for so long.

Avalon is the perfect fit for teens new to sci-fi as well as seasoned sci-fi readers looking for more books in the YA space-and a great match for fans of Joss Whedon's cult hit show Firefly.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads


  1. Wonderful post. I love the idea of using concrete details that can act as foreshadowing. As a pantser with aspirations of publication, I hope someday I can use your advice!

  2. Thanks for the tips, Mindee. Writing a series on contract terrifies me because I don't plot that far out either. You're giving me hope I could do it.

  3. Great tips, especially as I work on the first in my new series. Thanks!

  4. A pantser who asks for directions…that's great! Never written a series, and I'm amazed at those who do.

  5. Very interesting post. I love the line "a pantser who likes to stop for directions." That is a smart thing to do! Thanks for a useful and entertaining post. The book looks great.

  6. Thanks everyone. So glad to know I'm not the only panther out there. There's definitely hope for us all!

  7. I love reading a series where the author pays off all kinds of details over the course of the books. I know I want to write that way!

  8. Really helpful advice. Wish I'd read it before writing book 2 of my series!

  9. Great post! Avalon sounds like a terrific read.


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