Writing a Series: Unconventional Experience

My good friend Patricia J. (Patty) Parsons is the author of several novels as well as some rather serious books in the realm of health and medicine. Patricia has written a delightful series – she’ll tell you more about that – featuring Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson. Highly recommended! I’m currently reading her latest novel, It All Begins with Goodbye, that has her signature combination of wit and wisdom.

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It seems that everywhere you look these days, writers are being told to write a series of books. The thinking goes like this: if you can hook a reader on one book, that reader will buy another one that continues the story or theme. But if you’re a writer like me who writes because the characters and stories overtake you, writing a series simply to sell books doesn’t ring true. Can you imagine how surprised I was to find that a single, stand-alone book I wrote in 2020 has become a six-part series—the most recent book, It All Begins With Goodbye, has just launched.

I started my writing career in the 1980s as a freelance writer in health and medicine. Thirty years later, with a dozen nonfiction books under my belt, I began doing what I’d ways dreamed of doing: writing fiction. I was an insatiable historical fiction fan, so I started by penning two novels. The truth is that I discovered my passion for strong female characters whose personal journeys intrigue and inspire. So, I began writing women’s fiction, and didn’t concern myself about the story’s timeframe. Then, as I followed my characters and their stories, I fell down the historical fiction rabbit hole again. 

After that first book in my series, the almost-but-not-quite-true stories, the character of Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson took hold of my imagination and wouldn’t let go. The second book in the series, Kat’s Kosmic Blues, emerged as the prequel to Charlie’s story, beginning in 1965 when Kat Wilson Hudson, Charlie’s mother, was eighteen. Is a book that begins in 1965 considered historical fiction? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but Charlie’s great-grandmother’s story that begins with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 certainly is. The Inscrutable Life of Frannie Phillips became the prequel to Kat’s story. 

Two more stories followed until this most recent one, where Charlie is now a middle-aged widow when she embarks on a journey that takes her back to the 1920s Paris and les années folles—the Crazy Years, the Jazz Age. But I never intended to write a series, and I’ve learned that conventional thinking about series writing might limit writers.

There’s a lot of advice around on writing a book series, and most of it is the same. Most of it starts with the admonition that you must plan your series. Much of what I’ve learned in writing this series is 180 degrees opposite from conventional wisdom. (Although, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure anyone who’s written that advice has ever written a series). Here are some unconventional things I’ve learned about writing a series. 

First, it’s essential to understand what constitutes a series. It isn’t just several books written by the same author. In fact, many bestselling series authors have penned several different series. And there are different kinds of series. 

For example, publishers can group books by different authors and call them a series―one of my nonfiction books is part of just such a publisher’s series—but I’m talking about a specific type of series. I think of a book series, especially in fiction, as a sequential group of books that share one or more specific characteristics. Characters’ through-lines connect some books in a particular series like mine. In other series, the connecting characteristic might be the setting.

Next, I learned that it’s best not to set out to write a series. No matter what anyone tells you, write one book and see how you feel about it at the end of the process. Could it be the beginning of a series? If it could, the book will tell you. 

Each book should stand on its own outside of the series. Not all readers will find book number one and go through the series. Tell enough of the story but not too much about what went before. 

For example, when I wrote book three of the “almost-but-not-quite-true stories,” a reader had to be able to become immersed in the main character’s life without having read the previous book. But the reader also had to be able to think that he or she might like to go back and read the previous two books. Keep meticulous notes on the backstory. These notes should include the complete backstory of every character who might reappear. It should also include details of recurring settings such as towns and neighbourhoods—fictitious or real. It’s interesting to note that when writing a series, each book becomes, in its way, part of the backstories of the next books.  

Let one book lead to the next one. Each well-crafted paragraph in a book contains a transition into the next one. Each well-crafted chapter transitions into the next. It should be the same from one book to the next―even if you have to go back and revisit the ending of book one when the character tells you there’s another one you must write. 

Keep the material fresh by introducing something new in each book. Don’t make each one same-old, same-old. When I wrote book two in my series, Kat’s Kosmic Blues, the main character was the through-line from one book to another, and the events were sequential. But in book two, although my use of point of view was the same as in the first one, this book came with a Spotify playlist―where each chapter was named for a song from the 60s and 70s, the years in which the book was primarily set. 

I once saw it written that a series is the meal they keep coming back for. Maybe. But I believe a series is at least as much a feast for the writer!

Great advice, Patty. I love your Coco Chanel quotes that begin each chapter of It All Begins With Goodbye. The first one made me chuckle: “If you are sad, add more lipstick–and attack.” You can find Patty’s other novels on her website.

It All Begins With Goodbye by Patricia J. Parsons ~~ Recent widow Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson embarks on a journey of discovery only to find there may be no line between reality and imagination—and no such thing as time. 

What does it mean to live a life? To react to whatever life throws at you? Or is it to write your own story? Create Your own life. These were the questions Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson began to face as she tried to shed the cloak of widowhood she had been wearing for over a year. To begin again.

Charlie’s dilemma was that to begin again, she knew she would finally have to say goodbye. And that was her problem. With the help of her daughter, Frankie and her sister, Evelyn, Charlie takes the first step by agreeing to travel to Mallorca to take a course. The focus of the course is making replica Chanel jackets, something Charlie has long wanted to accomplish. She soon learns that there is much more to the course than making jackets.


Charlie finds herself confronted by secrets and mysteries—secrets borne by the people she meets and mysteries about her own life. As she learns the intricacies of creating her imitation Chanel jacket, she begins to question what’s real and what’s not—in both the world around her and in her life. When by chance, she meets Patrick, an art history professor whose presence conjures deep feelings of déjà vu for both of them, Charlie and Patrick embark on a journey back through time to 1920s Paris, where they find their lives intertwined with two Parisian lovers.

Now all they need to do is figure out how to say goodbye to begin again.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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2 Responses

    1. Delighted to host you, Patty. I’m almost finished with It All Begins With Goodbye – such a great title!

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