Hi, I’m trying to write a sci-fi trilogy (I think, haven’t worked out all the details just yet), and I was wondering if anybody here had finished a series or had enough experience with one that they could help me figure out an order of operations for mine?
What are you specifically needing help with?
I think the number one thing I want advice on is should I write the books one at a time or all at once, and by that I mean finish a first draft for all three books one at a time, but all three before editing any of them, or edit the first one before I write the second?
I’m currently working on a sci-fi fantasy series, but it’s only the first book. However, I think the answer is truly up to you and how you would make it work.
Personally, I would just suggest to write each book one at a time because there’s going to be things you may want to change around, delete, or add that could alter another book. If you’re working on them at the same time, then the editing phase is going to seriously suck because that means you would have to carefully weave in and out of the book’s details to make sure things line up.
Now, with that said, writing one draft of each (one at a time) and then going back to edit all of them (also one at a time) could help you, but it may not give you a different result if you write the first book, edit it, and move onto the next. So choosing either of those two is probably your best bet rather than writing it all at once.
Thanks, the first thing you described in the last paragraph is exactly what I was trying to explain. Right now, which I’m less than four weeks into the first book, I’m thinking I’ll write the first draft of each before I switch to editing mode, because I’ve only planned out the first book thoroughly and only have a vague idea of how I want the others to go. I just have a feeling it might be easier to line up the details if I have at least a first draft of each before I try to edit–and I always need a buffer period between first drafting and editing for short stories (which is all the more I’ve finished) anyways.
I just wanted to see if there was somewhere out there who could potentially offer experienced advice.
I write the books one at a time
My experience has been that my stories are emergent as I go. For my King’s series, I had a number of half-formed ideas about events that would take place and a rough chronology. As I got well into the first book, I realized I had already told more story than I’d anticipated with young Dax as an exiled king on the run.
In the next part of the story, I wanted Dax to be the driver of events rather than just reacting. Therefore, I wound up the first book and started the next a dozen years later. Once again, the story lengthened as I told it, but I found another natural breaking point before a third book in the trilogy.
One book had become three based on the story I had to tell. Once the story of Dax was done, I began to have thoughts about other characters and their stories in this world. So far I’ve written three more books in the dragon-bound world. They are related stories in the Dax does appear, but he is no longer the main character.
Well, I’m more… organized isn’t the right word, but it’s the best one I can think of, so I’ll go with it. I’m more organized than that, not to say you lack organization, I just mean that part of my planning process (which can take anywhere from hours to months) is deciding what happens in each chapter.
I’ve never finished a novel before, but the more I plan it out like that and the less I edit, the further I get. Right now, I’m scheduled to finish about midway through June on a ‘one chapter per week’ schedule, and I have vague ideas (slowly taking shape) for the second and third books in the series (though I may not stop after three if I’m still enjoying this series as much as I am now and have good ideas for another book). I’m planning a three week planning period after I finish the first book for the second book, which will focus largely on the plot.
The way I plan out my books (which, again, I’ve never finished one, but I’ll get to that fact) is usually pretty… simple, but it’s never simple sooo… Yeah. I plot everything out vaguely, then I refine more and more. Sometimes I go back and plot again for character development, but not usually. By the time I start writing, I sometimes have timelines so specific, they include times instead of just dates.
When I start writing, I usually constantly go back and edit this or that and I seldom make it past chapter three. If I don’t edit like that, well, I’m already on chapter four with this project, and I finished my outlining process yesterday, which is when I sat down and said ‘okay, this is what happens in each chapter’ but it’s just real vague and rough, just to keep me on track, more or less. I always wait until after I’ve started writing to assign my plot to chapters, though, because I like to get a feel for how things are moving before I say how they’re going to move for the whole book.
I’m also not holding myself to any word count standards this time around, so that might also have something to do with why I’m finding this project so much easier.
I find my books develop in a surprisingly organic and emergent way. I do have a rough idea who is going to do what to whom, but the characters often surprise me. I don’t really get to know them until I write them. It’s only as I discover who they are that I can figure out how important my original plot points are.
A current project had changed a good bit in plot direction and magic system even as I worked on it. I had to put it on hold while I worked on some other business. Now I’m back at it, but to pick it up, I went back to the beginning for an edit. This does two things for me. First, I can catch all the little things I changed later in the narrative—sort of a chance to “bring it up to code” as a remodeler might say. The other thing it does is remind me of the characters and story so I can make sure I have my head on straight as I add new material to the narrative.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, some of my best friends write that way, too, but I’m a planner. I plan everything, and I plan it thoroughly. Heck, I practically plan my stories into existence. That being said, it does ring true, what you said about not knowing your characters until you write with them. I always write several flash-fiction stories with my characters before I have any idea what kind of people they are or what kind of a story they belong in.
When I don’t plan everything out, I find myself stumbling along with no idea where the narrative should go. This happens if, in my planning process, I look something over that’s as simple as where a character who does not appear in a scene is during that scene.
The argument comes up all the time for me because my sister writes a bit like I think you’re describing, with a vague idea of the direction she wants the story to go in, but without any really definite outline to fall back on. She’s tells me stuff like ‘real authors don’t plan books out like that’ all the time, which I simply respond ‘Peretti does’ and continue on with my day, but there seems to be a constant debate over whether it’s better to plan it out or just go with the flow. It’s frustrating. The answer clearly is and always has been it depends on the person.
If just going with the flow works best for you, that’s terrific and I encourage you one hundred percent to go with your flow, but I do ask that you at least try to understand that for me, I need a solid and definite outline to work with if I want to create anything worth while, and, for me, this even applies to flash-fiction.
I’m not trying to pick a fight, sorry, I know it might not read that way, but it’s true. I just get really defensive, and often offensive, over the way I do things. I think I’m going to go with writing the first drafts one at a time with a three-week planning period between writing each book. The more I think about it, the more this seems the best option for me and how I do things. About a year and a half from now, when I should be done writing all three first drafts, I’ll decide the best way to go about future drafts.
In the meantime, I thank everybody who’s posted in this thread. Believe it or not, you’ve helped me reach this decision, which, knowing me, could change by then. I don’t know.
Good luck with any and all projects, everybody!
I think “the medium is the message.” How you write is part of the message and should fit the rest of it. Sometimes the how of writing and art is the major point. There’s no need to claim one way is better than another. The interesting part is in now it fits and conveys the message of the story.
My problem with both plotting and pantsing is when the story slips into cliches. It’s easy with either to take the shortcut of cliches and formula. I understand pantsing as starting at the beginning of the story and writing it to the end in a linear fashion. It seems to me that the only way you could do this is if you are following a formula, possible while being unaware of doing so, Same with plotting. It’s easy to plot in a formula. I’m a puzzler. I don’t write by formula. I write out of order, edit, and alter untl all the parts fit together in a pleasing manner.
Planning and pantsing? Yes, I do both. I have the characters and plot in mind at the start. However, my storyline and characters usually take on a life of their own. If I do extensive planning at the start, I soon find it outmoded as I explore my characters who then suggest more interesting plot points and so on.
There are times when I find detailed planning very useful. When I’m headed into a complex scenario where several lines in the story are coming together, I need a sketch to follow to make sure I hit all the points. It’s either that or come back for extensive revisions and rework later.
Another place where planning is important to me is when I hit a block of some sort—the plot peters out, I lose interest in what the characters are doing, and so on. If I’m smart enough to think of it, I’ve found that replanning the section can get me back into the story. I back up a chapter or three and rethink the story line. Once I see where I am in the arc of the story I want to tell, I lay out a more (or less) detailed plan of how to get there. Putting markers in place that I need to hit gets me writing again. Once I’m back in the swing of the story, my writing gets more organic again. However, that planning piece helps me over a hurdle.
Again, nothing wrong with that. I have nothing against people who don’t plan or plan less than I do.
That doesn’t work for me, it’s more or less been established, and it has been established what works for you, moving on because it literally couldn’t matter less. If it gets words on the page, it works and that’s that. Different people process information, retain information, and react to information differently. For this reason, you cannot expect the same method of anything to work for everybody. That includes writing and all aspects thereof. It’s an art, not a science. There’s no formula that will ever work.
On the note of clichés, they’re getting harder and harder to avoid. The more people who write, the more that’s been written. If the same thing is written twice, it becomes a cliché. Now, I do believe that a cliché can be used in a great story, there just needs to be more than just a cliché involved.
Cliche? I think I read once where, if you boil all writing down to its essence, there are only seven (or something like that) basic plots. Okay then, time for characters, setting, and so on.
Once upon a time, I was on my high school’s yearbook staff. Our advisor once dubbed me the king of cliches because my writing was riddled with them. I try to comfort myself with the thought that you have to know them to avoid them.
On the other hand, I enjoy a little word play now and then when I want a character in one of my epic fantasies to express themselves in a colorful way. Well, given the settings, current, slangy cursing would be jarringly out of place. I try to invent different ways to convey the same thought. A synonym of two, transposition, context shift, maybe a rhyme? Anyway, it’s a form of amusing myself.
I’d say that you are a puzzler. Not a pure pantser or pure plotter. I suspect that most of us are puzzlers. As I understand it pure pantsers start at the beginning of a story and write to the end with neither planning nor editing. Such a process mystifies me. I don’t see how it can be done.
A pure plotter writes and outline and then fills it in. Everything planned.
If you depart from your outline or alter what you’ve written, you’re puzzling. I think with puzzling it doesn’t matter if you start by plotting or by pantsing. It will probably be altered beyond recognition by the time you finish writing the story.
I would guess that purity on either side does not lend itself to telling a good story. To me a pure pantser could get lost in the introspection of their characters’ lives. Yes, character development is important, but I prefer books where something interesting happens along the way to learning about the inner workings of the main character’s mind. Sadly (in my opinion anyway) a lot of literary fiction falls into his category. (I often sound like a nose-picking hick at our writers group meetings.)
On the other extreme, I’ve read action-based “thrillers” where the story bounds from pre-planned plot point to pre-planned plot point. A whole lot happens in a tight-knit narrative that is kind of boring because I don’t really care about the characters. There are several egregious examples of this flaw that I will not mention because they are regularly on the bestseller lists. (Sigh.)
Therefore, having displayed my qualifications as an uneducated boob, I’ll continue to write in a way that works for me.
I would like to point out Frank E. Peretti. He’s… he’s my role model for writing, I guess. His work is a great balance of action and character, and I just love reading it. In an interview I read once, he said it takes him two years to write every novel he writes (and he’s written quite a few). I forget how long he spends outlining his novels, but it’s much longer than I’ve ever spent on mine.
When I outline, I purposely leave wiggle room for characters to grow. Unfortunately (or is it fortunatly?), the characters I’m working with only have about four years of their memories, so there’s not much backstory I can tell for them (in the first book). One of my characters has fragmented memories of her past, which is what drives my story, basically, but it’s not enough to give any substance to her past.
Then there’s my world building. My sister tells me I need to write a prequel for every single one of my stories to explain how the world came to be. I probably could do it, given time, too.
Outlining works for me, and I outline character development into my plot points, but your system seems to work for you, so I won’t try to push anything at you or say what’s wrong with it.
That forgotten past idea has intrigued me a time or two. I’ve thought about a character who is accomplished at doing (something) who doesn’t remember his/her past. Embarking on a journey to (do something), the character gradually realizes some of his/her old skill set guaranteeing the success of the quest.
There you go. How much more outline do you think a pantser needs?
If that’s all the outline you need, that’s great! Personally, before I ever considered writing, I would need to know what the skillset was, but if you don’t, I congratulate you. I need an outline to help me with my paranoia of things like info dumping and under characterization. (Also, having outlines for my writing helps me cope with my generic and social anxiety for some reason, so that could be a huge part of why I outline.)
I use my social anxiety in my work. I channel it into some of my characters. I think putting internal barriers in their way makes them more interesting.
And I was sort of kidding about the forgotten skill set. If I had a good idea, I would be writing that book right now. A champion fencer? Eh, too obviously useful for a fantasy story. A brilliant mathematician? Interestingly unexpected, but I’d have to be awfully creative to find a way to make it useful to the character. Hmm . . .