How (not) to write a series – a pantser’s guide
Definitely, at all costs, avoid the planning. With this one simple tip, a writer can avoid months or even years of worry, save themselves from the dreaded note cascade whenever the cat crosses the desk, and, best of all, begin writing sooner.
As award-winning authors Claire Buss and J C Steel can attest, it is hard to over-emphasise the savings in time spent not writing your next masterpiece this one piece of advice can provide. Please note, when we say ‘don’t plan’, we do indeed mean no series arc, no tedious deciding in advance whether your protagonist should have a mole somewhere interesting, and most certainly no poring over a map trying to figure out why cities that famous people are born in exist at the top of mountain plateaux with no nearby water.
Complicated things like these tend to take care of themselves. You had no plan for book one and everything worked out just fine. Repeat this method when writing subsequent books and in no time at all you’ll have a multi-book series and maybe even a box set. Planning takes up valuable time when you could be inventing twenty new characters who bear no relation whatsoever to the main characters in your first book. It’s important to keep things fresh and interesting.
Planning is one of the secret tools of procrastination. Authors who swear by it are really admitting to being closet-procrastinators and they probably don’t even like cake.
How not to world-build
J C Steel maintains that it’s possible to learn everything you need to know about your characters and your world-building by climbing a mast, wedging yourself comfortably above the radar, and chatting with the voices in your head. Not only does it pass the time when the yacht isn’t going anywhere, but when you do this regularly, the character, the secondary characters, and the world they live in become so internalised that the entire setting and cast is ready for you when you reach deck level and reach for your pen (or keyboard, or magic wand, or inscription instrument of choice). Better yet, again, no notes required.
Health and safety tip: Of course, for the younger writer, it is important not to confess to anyone that you are, in fact, chatting with the voices in your head until you reach the local age of indiscretion. Otherwise adults (defined as those who have been doing it wrong longer) have a tendency to over-react.
There is no need to re-read your previous book(s) and re-familiarise yourself with the existing world you built. After all, you wrote it in the first place and you never forget salient details, ever. By continuing to have regular chats with your characters you will have an in-depth understanding of their personality and why they react to things the way they do. Seeing as you have all this information at your fingertips it will become obvious to the reader as well, this is down to secret osmosis of thought. That elusive yet unique connection authors have with their readers which allows them, the reader, to understand every nuance, every subtlety and every hidden meaning. That connection is so strong there is no need to describe buildings, cities, infrastructure or even what your characters look like. All those world-building aspects come under planning and as stated previously, there is no need to get bogged down by any of that.
How to not delay the writing bits
So how does one get from chatting with the voices in your head to successfully writing a series? You may well ask. We feel that the key ingredient for this harks back to our very first piece of advice – don’t plan – freeing up more time for actual writing. Bum on seat and fingers on writing implements is how the words are made to go. A pantser is, therefore, always at a near-infinite advantage. While the plotter is still working out whether using shell pink Post-It notes for the kinky scenes is too precious, the pantser has already powered through that all-important opening scene and is trying busily to get their characters to slow that duck down so they can write down the awesome one-liner someone yelled halfway through the last chase.
There is no need to worry about subsequent books making sense with regards to the entire series or indeed as stand-alone novels. Readers will, of course, read each book in the series in the correct order and will have already established their psychic link with your inner monologue and completely understand all the back story you’ve thought about and not yet written down. This means, again, the pantser wins at writing as they do not have to delay getting on with the actual writing.
Health and safety tip: We refer you to the great Oscar Wilde on the importance of making time for what is most important to you – “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
How not to get buried in the details
Detailed descriptions are so last century. Your enlightened reader just wants the juicy bits, never mind sixteen pages detailing the lavish surroundings your average planner has constructed. Which by the way, took them two weeks to thrash out while you, the pantser, released four novellas.
It’s absolutely true, the Devil’s in the details. In case no one has ever imparted to you the key to lying successfully (and what is fiction writing, if not the art of lying to better convey meaning?), it is Keep It Simple, Stupid – also known in professional circles as the KISS and tell principle. By avoiding the wall covered in sticky notes, and the ensuing panic whenever the air, the cat, the offspring, or the summoned entity moves through the room, we have also successfully avoided not one, but two story-killers; the smothering alive of the story pacing in irrelevant detail, and the trapping yourself in a plot web of such intricacy that the temptation to disprove the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword is put to extreme test.
How not to listen to advice on how to write
Last but not least (by far not least) it is vitally important to ignore other people telling you how you should write. What works for them is highly unlikely to work for you, and as we’re looking at not just a flash fiction piece, a novella, or a single book, but the writing of an entire series…it is extremely important to settle on a method that works for you over weeks, months, years, and even more importantly, a method that doesn’t get in the way of your writing, but which facilitates it. So planners – plan to your little heart’s content and pantsers – blag it all the way!
The related ability to ignore people, no matter what the topic, is another that we highly recommend to aspiring series authors. In fact, it is a skill that will generally make your life better all around. Most great artists became famous long after they were dead, so it stands to reason if they’d listened to the people telling them how bad they were while they were alive, they would never have persevered until the very end.
Meet the authors
Claire Buss: ‘Books and cake.’
Claire Buss is a science fiction, fantasy and contemporary writer based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 setting her writing career in motion.
J C Steel: ‘Knives, spaceships, and dirty fighting – who says a mercenary cult can’t be fun?’
Born in Gibraltar and raised on a yacht around the coasts of the Atlantic, I’m a writer, martial artist and introvert. In between the necessary making of money to allow the writing of more books, I can usually be found stowing away on a spaceship, halfway to the further galaxy.
Find out more about the author and the series at jcsteelauthor.com.