With almost a dozen published novels and novellas under my belt, I thought I’d figured it all out by now so far as writing a series–you know, how to write a sequel. In my adult romances, a “sequel” usually featured a secondary character from a previous novel, promoted to the role of protagonist. Occasionally, a lingering element of a story arc continued from one related novel to the next, but basically it was like hitting the “reset” button every time I started a new book. Yes, the setting was often the same, as was the supporting cast of characters. But each book featured a new lead couple, a new main story arc, and a new developing romance.
How Writing a Series for Young Adult Readers is Different
Fast forward to my present situation–writing a multi-book young adult paranormal series. When I sat down to begin the second book in the series, I thought to myself “Easy-peasy. I’ve done this before. Plus, I already know these characters.” But as soon as I started writing, I realized it wasn’t easy, and I hadn’t really done this before.
First off, writing a young adult series requires far more advance planning than anything I’ve written before. More plotting. I started off thinking “Well, all I need to know is how the series ends.” But, as it turns out, that wasn’t all I needed to know. I needed to figure out the road-stops along the way–the obstacles my protagonist was going to come up against, and the choices she’d be forced to make. I needed to include some well-developed “red herrings” relating to some of the mysteries, and they needed to be in place early on.
When Writing a Series for Young Adult Readers, Plot
I admit, I’m a bit of a pantster (as opposed to being a plotter), so it’s difficult for me to plan it out so far in advance. I enjoy the surprise element of seeing how things develop as I write. Sometimes I’ll just throw something out there, with no clear idea of where I’m going with it. When my critique partner read through the completed manuscript for the second book in my series, MIRAGE, she told me she was particularly intrigued by a certain element in the story, and couldn’t wait to see where I was going with it. I confessed to her that I actually had no idea where I was going with it–that I basically just tossed it in, and would figure it out in the third book. She was shocked, and told me that it seemed like a gutsy thing to do–and that she admired my confidence in my writing (you know, confidence that I would eventually figure out where I was going with it!). But the truth is, it’s a scary situation to put myself in as a writer, and I don’t recommend that you try it–at least, not often.
When Writing a Series for Young Adult Readers, Plot More
But many of you will have the same problem as I did–I wrote the first book with no idea whether or not it would see publication. In fact, I mostly figured that it wouldn’t. So I wasn’t all that concerned with the details of the series arc as I wrote. Now I’ve learned my lesson: Plan ahead. Figure out the entire series, book by book, right from the get-go. Know exactly what that element you tossed into book #1 will mean for book #2 and beyond.
When Writing a Series for Young Adult Readers, Plan Romantic Tension
Another significant challenge was keeping up the romantic tension between the leads (assuming there is a romantic story arc). Some authors solve this by throwing in a love triangle, or by breaking up the lead couple in book two. For me, the trouble with love triangles is that they are seldom believable–especially once the author has established a relationship between two of the characters. And the “big breakup” in book #2 causes problems, too, especially if readers have come to care for the love interest, whom the author has now banished for a good chunk of the book (NEW MOON, anyone?!).
But if you don’t continue to have some sort of “will they/won’t they” tension, readers can lose interest. This was a big challenge for me, and something I wasn’t really anticipating. For me, what seemed to work best was to utilize a bit more external conflict rather than internal (as in, readers know that Violet has already “chosen” Aidan–but will circumstances and their own natures allow things to work out for them?).
When Writing a Series for Young Adult Readers, Be Prepared
Writing the second book in the series was a challenge; I assume the third book will be even more so. It’s been a learning experience, but a worthwhile one. Young adult series are wildly popular now, and it’s definitely something to consider if you’re writing YA. Just follow the Girl Scouts’ motto, and Be Prepared! I know I wish I had been.
Kristi’s YA debut, HAVEN, was released by Simon Pulse in Feb. 2011. She also writes adult fiction (historical romance) as Kristina Cook and Kristi Astor. Visit her online at www.kristi-cook.com.
It is great to see it’s a common problem amongst all writers. great read.
Interesting post, thanks for sharing. I’m working on a series of books and I’ve also found this to be true. Trying to write something in book one, that is important to book four, is a challenge. Sometimes I find myself writing out a few sentences, or even a rough chapter for a later book helps. I know where my characters are going. I know how they’ll get there. The details are fuzzy until I actually start writing. The characters often have a mind of their own, and I’m just along for the ride.
Have a great day!
Glad I’m in good company, Melissa! And Juli, that’s exactly how I feel about my characters, once they “take over”!