Write Tip: Five Tips for Writing Sequels.

My goal for 2015 has been to re-launch the Alliance series, and I wanted to discuss what I’ve learned while writing for a series. Some of this information will be a repeat of topics previous discussed, but hopefully will be helpful to writers starting a series.

Tip one: Document details to keep track of your continuity. This should be your mentality from day one of book one. I actually make a pretty good effort to keep documents for each WIP to record important facts, date and time sensitive information, and character bios. There are unfortunate occasions where I get caught up in the flow of writing and forget to record something, but I usually keep that Word document open and ready.

This also means you need to keep editing your information during the revision process. If you change your character’s eye color in a later draft, you’re going to make more work for yourself if you forget to document that change. By the time you begin the next book in the series, you should have a great source of information to prevent you from having to constantly scan an entire manuscript for little details. I like to have my info documents opened and ready before I even begin writing a sequel.

Also remember stick to any rules you create. As I mentioned in a previous blog:

If you make a set of rules in your first novel, those rules need to stay consistent in the sequels. Why? Your readers will remember the rules. If you set a rule of magic or law in book one, but then that rule is not kept in book two, your readers will remember and question you. They will lose belief in your story—in the world that you took so long to create.

Tip two: Consider character continuity. You want your character to further develop over the length of the series. The character in the final book can’t be exactly the same as he/she was in book one. Over the course of the series, your character has most likely faced death, experienced loss, or perhaps gained courage on grand adventures. You need to determine how the events of previous books have made an impact on your character while still keeping some resemblance of the original character. If you’re uncertain how your characters might react to certain situations, go back to the basics and get to know your character.

Last week, I discussed a game of 21 Questions to get to know your characters. This might help you get into the minds of each individual character. Ask lots of questions. Learn their fears and personalities.

Tip three: Plan before you write. I know, I know, not everyone is a planner and some call themselves ‘Pantsers’ as they basically just fly by the seat of their pants. I’m in the middle somewhere. I like to plan a basic idea and outline, but let the story flow and change on its own.

Why do I think at least basic planning is important? Because each book in a series needs to have its own story arch, yet all stories need to fit into the continuity of the series.

When I get a new idea and consider as a series, I ask myself basic questions to determine where the story would go. I do this basic outlining process for all of my novels and comic book series. For the Alliance series, I always had an end game in mind. I knew what kind of story I wanted to tell and where I wanted the series to end. So with each book planned, I had to determine what the individual plot would be and how that individual book pushed the characters and overall story towards the final destination.

Tip four: Balancing standalone and sequential. This is the part I’m still learning to balance. Have you ever read a book out of order? On more than one occasion, I’ve purchased and read a book out of order, but was still able to fall in love with the series. The books offered me balance of past information and a strong stand-alone story.

In Drakon, the upcoming sequel to The Alliance: Bloodlines, I had to decide what information was necessary for new readers, but without repeating so much information that I bored readers familiar with Bloodlines. I would recommend using beta readers who are familiar with the series and new readers who aren’t familiar at all.

Tip five: Take cover design into consideration. Plan for cohesion and your genre. I had a rough draft for Drakon before I ever published The Alliance: Bloodlines, but never once considered cohesion for the cover art. Think of every series you’ve ever read. Chances are good that all of the covers have similarities that tie the series together. Maybe the series always has a character on the cover, a color theme or a specific font. Visit a book store or online store like Amazon and sift through the covers in your genre.

The Alliance: Bloodlines has great reviews, but very low sales because bloody playing cards aren’t enticing the YA readers.  It’s more costly to backtrack and re-launch your series, so take these factors into consideration before you purchase book designs and publish.

I’m currently in the process of saving for new cover art to re-brand the series and make cohesion for the upcoming sequel. Everything read here is being considered when re-branding The Alliance series. I hope to do a re-launch later this year to give Bloodlines a better chance of getting in the hands of new readers.

What struggles have you faced when writing a series? What other advice would you share?

Writing Tip: Play 21 Questions with Characters

I like to play a little game when new characters pop into my head for a story. Maybe you’ve done something similar with a new friend or romantic interest. I play a game of 21 Questions, but the game doesn’t always require a total of twenty-one. Using more or less questions, you can get to know the characters living inside your head.

Here are 15 fun questions I’ve used, and hopefully you can use these suggestions to inspire even more.

1. How old is he/she and what’s the maturity level?

2. Where did he/she grow up? (Is your character a city loving NYC native? Or from a military family and relocated a lot?)

3. What kind of childhood did he/she experience?

4. What words would you use to describe him/her? (loud, fun, sloppy, clumsy, hermit?)

5. If this was a love interest, what kind of emotional baggage would he/she confess?

6. Biggest fear? (Zombies? Commitment? Heights?)

7. What are his/her strengths and weaknesses?

8. What secrets would he/she keep from friends and family?

9. What are his/her passions? (Art lover? Looking to save the environment?)

10. Favorite food?

11. Optimist or pessimist?

12. Preferred style of clothing? (Casual dresser, dapper suits, or high maintenance always in heels?)

13. If your character could have lunch with one celebrity dead or alive, who might they choose?

14. If your character showed up at a party, how would he/she act? (Would they be the life of the party? Looking for a hook up? Sitting in a corner hiding?)

15. If he/she could travel anywhere in the world, (or perhaps even out of this world) where would he/she choose?

Hopefully these questions helped someone further develop their characters, and feel free to share other questions which might be fitting. I would also recommend keeping character Q&As on file with any other bios or notes you might use.

Opinions Are Just Opinions

Yesterday I went through an evening of shear panic and proceeded to berate myself for decisions I made as a teen. I read an article by a former MFA teacher and suddenly questioned myself as a writer. Seriously, I sat and questioned everything I was so sure of. I may not be the best writer, but I’ve known for a very long time that writing was my passion. Novels, short stories, comic books and video game reviews. I love to write. I chose this path shortly after high school and took a few wrong turns, but I eventually found my way and improved. I didn’t choose the easy path or the path others would’ve chosen for me.

SIDE NOTE: Despite what others think of the career choice, writing is rarely a life of luxury and vacation. The life of a writer is usually filled with sacrifices and deadlines, but we choose this because we love to write.

So I woke up today, still feeling a little off from the internal battle from last night. I couldn’t shake the thoughts because there were so many other writers who agreed with the article. Surely, I had to be doomed. This article just told me I was unlikely to ever be successful because I didn’t read the classics or take writing seriously in high school. Why didn’t I read those damn books we were assigned in high school? I read a lot of books school, but I almost never read the ones assigned to us.

SIDE NOTE: I was an angry and often rebellious teenager. Like many teenagers before me.

So why did I not bother to read those novels later? Was I even serious about writing in high school? My thoughts? I read what I liked and I wrote what I liked. My reading is much more well-rounded now, but I still believe you should enjoy what you’re reading. You shouldn’t sit and get a headache trying to translate text that doesn’t interest you, simply because it’s a classic and you feel obligated. Try it, don’t like? Then just move on. And I did write crazy stories in high school with my best friends as the characters. Was I writing? Yes. Was it super serious? No.

So still mentally beating myself up, I started my normal wake up routine of checking emails and social media. I was exhausted and my head hurt like a bad hangover.

SIDE NOTE: I didn’t drink last night. Maybe I should have.

Then I read Chuck Wendig’s response to the article, which is fairly vulgar and amazing. I had a great laugh and felt so much better knowing that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one who completely disagreed with that writer’s opinions. See, I had forgotten that’s all the article was. Opinions. Everyone has them, but doesn’t mean they are always right or that they even apply to you.

It’s ironic because I just recently read Chuck’s book, The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience, and he had me in a great mindset about writing. Honestly, writers need motivation and not negativity. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. And read Chuck’s book about writing because his no bullshit approach to giving tips is hilarious and at least you’ll get a positive experience from his opinions. Most likely.

Stay awesome and keep reading and writing. ❤

Writing Tips for Beginners

There’s one question that I get asked more than any other.

“What are some tips for new writers?”

I decided to share a handful of tips that I’ve dished out to friends who are interested in writing. I feel like most of these tips are important regardless of what you’re writing, but some are just my suggestions and not mandatory for success.

Don’t stop writing. Sounds simple enough, right? Writing is a craft made better through practice. I keep all of my writing projects filed away whether I finish them or not. If I need a boost of confidence that shows me that I’m improving, I’ll flip through an old manuscript and marvel at how I’ve improved.

Never stop learning. The web is filled with information that can help you improve your craft, so take advantage of online resources. You can join writer critique groups or attend writer’s workshops.

Read as much as you write. I analyze everything I read whether I’m reading a comic book or a novel. You’ll learn new words, new ways to get inspired or tell a story, or just something that pushes you want to write more.

Build an outline. Outlines aren’t used by every writer, but I personally work best when I make a basic outline. Outlines can be modified throughout the drafting stages. I start with just the basic plot points, and then I work off of that building block. If my story evolves and goes in a different direction, I simply adjust my outline and keep writing.

Don’t edit until the first draft is finished. This is one tip I always give new writers. You can fix anything in the revision process, so don’t slow yourself down during your first draft. To attempt editing before you even finish the complete story would have you running in circles, and would be a complete detriment to your progress.

Read On Writing by Stephen King. I don’t care if you purchase the book, borrow it from a friend, or go to the library—just read it! This book offers invaluable information for writers to improve their craft. I also find the book very motivating, despite King’s no bullshit approach to explaining. This is a book that I always keep on hand, and I read whenever I feel like I need a swift kick to get back on track.

Write what you love. This tip sounds like a no brainer, but it’s easy to forget what’s important. Don’t write a story that you aren’t interested in just because you think the topic would please someone else.  What’s the point in writing any fiction if you can’t write with passion? Write the stories that you want to tell, and stories that you would want to read.

Hope you found these tips to be informative. You can subscribe if you don’t want to miss future writing tips, and don’t forget to keep reading and writing!

My Methods for Avoiding Writer’s Block

A friend recently asked how I fight writer’s block, and I realized that I don’t suffer from the dreaded condition often.

Why?

I’d like to pretend that I’m just fortunate, but the truth is that I’m always doing activities that allow for great brainstorming. I’m going to share my top methods for avoiding writer’s block, so grab a pen and take some notes!

ART- You can try to sketch your own characters, but this doesn’t have to be related to your writing at all. I enjoy both acrylic painting and sketching portraits which can act as great meditation. Art can really help you relax and free your mind for a brainstorming session.

MUSIC- I like to build a playlist of music for each of my projects. I do a lot of brainstorming when I’m in the early stages of a new writing project, and I try to consider what music would set a good tone for the story. I use the selected playlist shortly before I begin a writing session, and I let that set the mood for my writing.

I really like to implement this method when I am plotting out fight scenes too. I envision the scene with music that fits the mood, and then I ask myself one question. If this scene was turned into a live-action movie trailer, what would the scene look like? I let my mind really visualize the part.

I also love combining art and instrumental music to free my mind for ultimate creativity. I enjoy writing or painting while listening to video game soundtracks. You’ll find some really beautiful instrumental pieces inside Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim, and Dragon Age games.

DREAM JOURNAL- This is a fantastic way to spark ideas! I kept a journal by my bedside that pretty much held the inspiration behind my current work in progress. I haven’t used this method in a while, but I would wake up from some crazy dream and jot down as much detail as possible. When I decided I wanted to try writing a new story, I flipped through my journal for something that spoke to me. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that over half of the crazy events in Sacrifice actually spawned from my dreams.

EXERCISE- I saved this one for last because I’m sure it will receive several groans from my readers. Get off the couch you lazy bum! I’m kidding, it’s rude to call you that! In all seriousness though, I’ve had great brainstorming sessions during and after a workout. This is not only beneficial for your body, but also for your mind as well. Exercise doesn’t have to be some strenuous full body workout either. I spend a lot of time sitting down writing or sketching, and I find that it helps to walk away for some fresh air. I’ve spawned great ideas while taking my dog for a short walk.

So those are the methods I use to keep myself inspired, and I hope the information helps another writer! Want to know more writing tips? Send me a topic suggestion on Twitter or Facebook, and your topic may inspire my next blog!