Tips on Writing a Series #HNS2019

At #HNS2019 I attended In For the Long Haul: The Craft of Writing a Series. This panel was moderated by Donna Russo Morin (great job, Donna!) with Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, and Anne Easter Smith as contributors. The session was designed to “weigh the pros and cons of writing a series and look at the decisions necessary in the earliest planning stages and beyond.” So let’s see what these wonderful writers had to say.

At the beginning the moderator made two clarifications: (1) a trilogy involves three novels with a tight connect of time, theme, character and sometimes location; (2) a series often involves one main character and is often based on a series of mysteries. As the session began, Donna asked each author to give some general comments on their series.

Patricia Bracewell: has written a trilogy based on the life of Emma of Normandy, England’s twice-crowned queen, which sprang from her life-long fascination with all things medieval. In her novels Pat attempts to re-create Emma’s early medieval world for readers as well as introduce them to this little known queen who has slipped into the footnotes of history. She feels that the same theme(s) will often run through a series/trilogy. For example, family, loyalty, duty. Such themes connect readers to their current lives and circumstances. However, conflicts vary from book to book to make the entire series more interesting.

Anne Easter Smith: her series based on the York family during the War of the Roses deals with different characters and could be considered a family saga. Each book is complete on its own and yet together they give an in-depth look at one of the two families whose viable claim to the throne threw England into civil war. Themes of morality, love vs. lust, duty, family, and loyalty are explored. Anne gave each protagonist a different skill – such as a musical instrument or a love of reading – that allowed exploration of something unique to that time period to enhance the story.

Donna Russo Morin has written a series telling the story of a secret society of women artists, under the tutelage of Leonardo da Vinci, who must navigate the treacherous life of 15th century Florence while trying to bring their artistry to the world.

Nancy Bilyeau’s series begins with The Crown where an aristocratic young nun – Joanna Stafford – must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. Subsequent novels continue Joanna’s story.

The group moved on to the pros and cons of writing series:

  • you can leverage your research because each novel is immersed in the same time and place
  • you have to like your characters because you will be spending a lot of time with them!
  • maintaining consistency of fact is essential (the authors have different ways to do this)
  • you need to avoid getting into a rut in terms of scenes; for example, you can’t have every scene happen in the Great Hall of some grand family castle
  • readers who have enjoyed your first book will usually stick with you for subsequent books in the series
  • you need to find ways to cover the years that intervene between stories in the trilogy, while avoiding a major information dump at the beginning of each subsequent novel
  • in addition to consistency of fact, you must maintain consistency of character
  • at times you can write the same scene but from a different character’s POV

Then there was a discussion about having an overarching storyline or book-specific storylines:

  • leave open questions at the end of your 1st and 2nd books (if writing a trilogy). This will entice readers to return for subsequent novels.
  • each book has to have a major conflict and a major resolution, even if there is an over-arching storyline for the series
  • you have to know what the final resolution will be; Donna Russo Morin (DRM) said that she wrote the last three chapters before writing the rest of the book. Donna has written the Da Vinci Disciples series.
  • Nancy Bilyeau (NB) mentioned that if she had to do it all over again, she would make the books more self-contained so that each story stands on its own. Nancy novels are about a novice in the time of Henry VIII.

General advice:

  • create a genealogy chart and a dramatis personae list for your novels
  • get clear about the historical events that will appear in your series/trilogy
  • start young in the life of your character, which leaves lots of room for excitement
  • think carefully about whether your fictional character has children because those children will have to appear in the story (of course, you can’t change the facts about the children of real characters)
  • PB has a “rap sheet” for each of her 80 characters; she updates these rap sheets for subsequent books and plants the seeds of change in book 1 for subsequent books
  • a huge amount of planning is required to get it right
  • historical series are popular with publishers, although most publishers buy one book at a time

Words of wisdom if you are considering writing a series or trilogy.

The first post I wrote about #HNS2019 is The State of Historical Fiction through the eyes of agents and editors.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Development of a Tudor Historical Fiction Series

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He’s a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony and I have never met and yet I consider him a good friend. He’s been on the blog before talking about what makes historical fiction tick, being a second career author, and how he researches locations for his novels. His latest novel is Brandon – Tudor Knight

Guest Post by Tony Riches – Development of a Tudor Historical Fiction Series

It all began with my research for a novel about the life of Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the Welsh town of Pembroke. I collected more than enough material for a substantial book – and discovered there were no novels about his amazing story. I think this was partly because Henry had been (mistakenly) labelled as dull and miserly, when in fact he was an extravagant gambler, who knew how to broker peace and end the Wars of the Roses.

I also discovered there were no novels about Henry’s Welsh grandfather, Owen Tudor, or Owen’s son, Jasper Tudor, who helped Henry become king. The Tudor trilogy provided the perfect ‘vehicle’ for Henry to be born in the first book, ‘come of age’ in the second, and become King of England in the third.

I’m pleased to say the books of the Tudor trilogy became best sellers in the US, UK and Australia, with the final book being the only historical fiction novel shortlisted for the highly competitive Amazon Kindle Storyteller award. (Henry was a runner up but I won a Kindle Oasis and a large bottle of good Champagne.)

The challenge I then faced was how to follow a successful trilogy. I’d enjoyed developing the character of Henry’s daughter, Mary Tudor, and realised the story of how she became Queen of France is little known. (In the TV series ‘The Tudors’ Mary was ‘merged’ with her sister Margaret – and some people understandably confuse her with her brother’s daughter, also Mary Tudor.)

I wrote Mary – Tudor Princess, which has become my best-selling book this year, then followed up with my latest book, (published just in time for Christmas) Brandon – Tudor Knight. Readers are probably familiar with Charles Brandon’s story of how he risked everything to marry Mary Tudor against the wishes of her vengeful brother, Henry VIII. What they might not know is how Brandon found himself seriously out of his depth fighting Henry’s wars in France, or that after Mary’s death he married his fourteen-year-old ward, wealthy heiress Lady Catherine Willoughby.

Now I have two ‘sequels’ to the Tudor Trilogy, with the five books forming a series providing a continuous narrative throughout the reign of the two King Henrys. Where to go next? I’m busy researching and writing the amazing story of what became of Catherine Brandon after the death of Charles. Her story deserves to be told – and leads right up to my next series, which will explore the fascinating world of the Elizabethan Tudors.

A fascinating tale, Tony. I’ve yet to read Brandon – Tudor Knight, but I can tell you that Tony’s novel about Mary – Tudor Princess is a great read and one I highly recommend. I suspect someone on my list will be receiving Brandon – Tudor Knight for Christmas 🙂

For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebookand Twitter @tonyriches

Brandon – Tudor Knight by Tony Riches

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy:Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the King’s consent.Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell. Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

What I’ve Learnt From Writing The Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches

Owen-and-Jasper-by-Tony-RichesIf you’re thinking of writing a trilogy (or for that matter a book with a sequel), Tony Riches has some excellent advice for you. Tony is the author of four novels and has recently released Jasper, book two of his Tudor Trilogy. Over to you, Tony.

What I’ve Learnt From Writing the Tudor Trilogy

Although I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, I only began to study its history when I returned to the area five years ago. I was amazed to find there were no books about Owen Tudor, the father of Sir Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, who once owned and lived in the Castle. I found several accounts of the life of Henry Tudor, Jasper’s nephew, (who later became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty) but there were no novels that brought his story to life.

I’d just reviewed Pat Barker’s Life Class Trilogy for my blog and was reading Conn Iggulden’s impressive Wars of the Roses trilogy, when the idea for the Tudor Trilogy (unsurprisingly) occurred to me. I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.

I started with a year of research, as I do my best to ensure my novels are historically correct, and feel the role of the historical fiction novelist is to ‘fill in the gaps’ with a plausible narrative and explore how people might have reacted to often quite dramatic events. I am always disappointed when authors distort or manipulate the known history, and firmly believe history has more amazing stories than anything I would ever dream up.

The first book of the trilogy was my fourth novel, so I had a good idea about the structure, and it had a ‘natural’ and dramatic end point (not wishing to give anything away for non-Tudor aficionados). In book one, OWEN, a Welsh servant of Queen Catherine of Valois, the lonely widow of King Henry V falls in love with her and they marry in secret. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor marries the heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort, and fathers a child with her to secure her inheritance. Unfortunately, Lady Margaret is barely thirteen years old and the birth of her son, Henry, nearly kills her. When her husband dies mysteriously without even seeing his son, his younger brother Jasper Tudor swears to protect them.

This all takes place during the Wars of the Roses and in book two, JASPER, (published 25th March), Jasper and young Henry flee to exile in Brittany and plan to one day return and make Henry King of England. In the meantime, King Richard III has taken the throne and has a powerful army of thousands – while Jasper and Henry have nothing. Even the clothes they wear are paid for by the Duke of Brittany. So how can they possibly invade England and defeat King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?

I am currently researching the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, and plan to explore how he brought peace to England by marrying the beautiful daughter of his enemy, King Edward IV. I also want to understand how their son, who became King Henry VIII, became such a tyrant and transformed the history of England forever.

Now I have some experience of writing a trilogy, I’m convinced it is something any historical fiction novelist should consider, for the following reasons:

  • If you write a book like CJ Sansom’s 640 page Lamentation (which I’ve been reading since Christmas) you may be able to sell it for double, but I was able to promote book one while writing book two (and it became a best-seller in the UK, US and Australia.)
  • Readers actually contact me to ask when the next book in the trilogy is going to be available, which is encouraging, as I’ve already managed to build an international reader base of Tudor fans.
  • Although I’ve tried to make sure each book works as a ‘stand-alone’ I expect people reading them in the wrong order will be at least tempted to buy the others. As a reader I know I always do.)
  • As a writer, there is a liberating sense of space and freedom, as ideas previously hinted at can be developed and explored over the three books. The complex relationship between the Tudors and the Woodvilles is a good example!
  • Amazon (and other retailers) are happy to promote and market a trilogy (or any series) as a discounted single purchase, which is good value for readers and means your books are more likely to be ‘discovered’.

Owen-and-Jasper-by-Tony-Riches

About the Author

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.