Monday, May 20, 2019

WRITING A SERIES AND WORLD BUILDING 101

By Caroline Clemmons

Remember the exhilaration of finding a book you love and discovering it's part of a series? Like most readers, I love that. As an author, another heady feeling is to receive a message or email from a reader asking if a certain character will have his/her own book. Hooray!

In addition to my love for writing is the love of writing connected books. World building is necessary. If the series is longer than three books, I make a town map so I keep businesses and homes in the right spot. Nothing elaborate is required. I use a piece of cardboard saved from new shirts my husband has received. I've also used a sheet of printer paper.

An author with whom I'm acquainted mentioned that in her studies at the University of Texas in Austin, one of her classes was in world building. I was amazed there was an entire semester devoted to the subject. Think of this as your World Building 101 Mini-Course, no fee or registration required.

To begin, create a bible of each character. I don't mean with a page for each person unless you are so thorough you find a photo to represent your character and create an entire life and background for the character. Keep in mind the time you invest in background is time you're not writing.

I list the name and a brief description. Start with the main characters but add every character as he or she steps into the story--name, age, hair and eye color, occupation. Don't skip anyone because you may need them later and be unable to remember details.

*Example:
Keira Cameron, 22, thick red hair, blue eyes, 5'10", nice figure, came to US from near Aberdeen, Scotland six months ago.

Gideon Ross, 28, black hair that's too long, blue eyes, bushy beard trying to hide bad scar    on face from war, blacksmith and gun repair, owns home next to his sister and brother- in-law, came from near Inverness, Scotland seven years ago

One author I know asked a fan to reread several of her earlier books and discover a character's eye color. She remembered the name but not in which book he appeared. Annoying.

Locate the main businesses. You can't have the bakery next to the law office in one book and then have it between the hotel and the barbershop in the next. Readers, at least some, will remember.

Let's talk names. One thing of which I'm guilty unless I am diligent is having character names beginning with the same letter. This is confusing for the casual reader. Don't have Colin and Cody as characters unless they're twins. For some reason, if I don't pay attention I have several characters whose names begin with D and with M.


Decide whether you have an obstacle in each book that is resolved or whether, along with that, you have a recurring villain in your series. I prefer stand alone books in the series. While readers enjoy meeting characters from previous books, I don't want anyone to believe she/he has to start with book one in order to understand book five. Also, I don't want the suspense killed when someone reads the last book and decides to start at the first of the series.

If you write more than one series, be careful not to reuse the names. I love the name Elizabeth and its variations. I have a Beth in at least two books and a Bessie and Betsy. When I write historical novels, I use family names of that period. Oops, that's why I ended up with a Riley in two books of different series. Now I keep up with which names I've already used in books.

What heat level are you writing? All the books in the series should have the same heat level. Lately I have been writing sweet novels where the bedroom door is closed. That's not for everyone. Steamy, hot, sweet--if doesn't matter as long as you're consistent within the series.

Go forth and create!


*The example above is from A BRIDE FOR GIDEON, Proxy Brides Series, book 16, available at the Universal Amazon link:  http://mybook.to/Keira 



Since this is my first post to Romance Gems, here's my bio so you know who I am.


Through a crazy twist of fate, Caroline Clemmons was not born on a Texas ranch. To compensate for this illogical error, she writes about handsome cowboys, feisty ranch women, and scheming villains in a tiny office her family calls her pink cave. She and her Hero live in North Central Texas cowboy country where they ride herd on their three rescued indoor cats as well as providing nourishment outdoors for squirrels, birds, and other critters.
The books she creates in her pink cave have made her a bestselling author and won several awards. She writes sweet to sensual romances about the West, both historical and contemporary as well as time travel and mystery. Her series include the Kincaids, McClintocks, Stone Mountain Texas, Bride Brigade, Texas Time Travel, Texas Caprock Tales, Pearson Grove, and Loving A Rancher as well as numerous single titles and contributions to multi-author sets. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading her friends’ books, lunching with friends, browsing antique malls, checking Facebook, and taking the occasional nap.

Facebook Readers Group - Caroline’s Cuties https://www.facebook.com/groups/277082053015947/ 
Twitter  https://twitter.com/CarolinClemmons (no E in Caroline)

12 comments:

  1. Wow, I wish I had fun classes like that.
    Good point about keeping track and mapping the town.

    I am one of those readers who notice small details.
    So one of the things I find annoying is when a character introduced just for the sake of it, with no follow up or resolution.

    Do you take pictures of the critters you've come in contact with? I live in the city and rarely get to see other animals besides your usual cats & dogs and lol geese/ducklings who are not afraid of humans.

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    1. Great comment about introducing a character with no follow up, Lavender. I'll watch for that.

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  2. Hi Caroline, thanks for the free class. Do you keep your files on your computer or use a writing program? Sounds like you have a lot at your fingertips to refresh your memory when writing.

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  3. This is a great post. I do much of what you suggest, but still have details slipping happily through the cracks.

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  4. I just created a Google Sheet that has all my character names, even the little ones. I can alphabetize it by first name, last name, book, series, etc. I even write a little note who that person is. Luckily I realized I hadn't reused too many names and the ones I had were minor walk on characters who might not even have had a line of dialogue. But going forward I know this will be quite helpful for me.

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  5. When I start book 2, I go back to book 1 search for a name and cut/paste anything to do with the character. A paragraph or dialogue or whatever. I then save each character's "file" in the Book 2 file so I can not only remember what they look like, but can see into their traits and characteristics as well. Helps me keep them consistent through the series. These are great tips, Caroline!

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  6. Great tips, Caroline. I have an index card for my main characters in this new series. I'm forcing myself to slowly get more organized. Although I confess guilty to frantically skimming through a book for pertitent info I did not write down about a character or a place.

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  7. I've just started a new series and I'm planning several books, so I'm world building. I've got the town drawn out on butcher paper, my bible etc. Pretty much as you described yours. Yes, I've learned over the years that it's much easier to have that stuff handy. Great post!

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  8. So glad to have you with us, Caroline. Great post. Ever since I realized I used the same surname in 2 different unrelated books, both in a geographic setting fairly close to eac other, I've kept a Master File of names. I create a bible for series too but have not drawn a map of the fictional town. Thanks for that tip. Recently with a 13 story series I'm working on, I've started a color-coded Excel spreadsheet for characters to keep track of which book introduced them, how in that book introduced them, etc.

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  9. I think what sets apart OK writers from exceptional writers is the attention to details. I've read countless books, and most fall in the OK list - they're not bad, just not rich enough to make me want to read again. World building is definitely lacking in the "OK books" type.

    A book series - the ones focusing on one Main Character from the beginning until the end, not the "each book focuses on different MC from the same world" type - makes great writers stand apart from the average ones. The more the story progresses, the more complex it becomes - and once a book is published, there's no turning back. The writer has to go on with the story the way it is.
    I just finished a series where the book 12 is bringing new light to elements from the book 1 that nobody paid attention to. Wow, just wow. It was brilliant.

    Unfortunately, I do understand that writers who make a living of it have to focus on "quantity" too, so a lot of books from famous authors have that rushed/"canned" taste when you read it.


    Oh, I wish there were a Creative Writing course when I went to college... or even a World Building 101 class. *sigh*

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    1. Rereading it now, I can see how cranky this comment sounds... sorry!

      Your post is brilliant and nailed part of the art of writing!

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  10. Great post, Caroline! World building is my favorite part of writing. And, as I write time travel and paranormal in series form, keeping track of characters and their physical environments is imperative. I also have favorite names or derivatives of names, so I must check myself. BIG lists, but I'll admit I'm not nearly as organized as you are. :D One fun part of world building historic characters is researching what names were popular during certain time-periods. Also, country of origin. Quite the rabbit holes I go down, haha.

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