word craft


Writing a series

I may be wrong, but I think it was Ross McDon­ald (he wrote the high­ly suc­cess­ful Archer series of crime nov­els) who sug­gest­ed that if you intend to write a series, start off by writ­ing three or four of them, so you get, not just the sequenc­ing right, but the main char­ac­ters right. 

I have writ­ten a num­ber of series—the Cap­tain Gray books, Crispin Books, the Pop­py books, Mid­night Mag­ic books—and nev­er hav­ing done what he urged, I think he’s right. 

The Secret SchoolThe thought comes into my head as I attempt to write a sequel to The Secret School. The orig­i­nal was writ­ten twen­ty years ago and was com­posed for seri­al­iza­tion in newspapers—published by Break­fast Seri­als. It was sub­se­quent­ly rewrit­ten and pub­lished in book form by Har­court. Har­court was acquired by Lit­tle Brown. Lit­tle Brown request­ed a sequel and I agreed to do it. 

That seemed rea­son­able, but— 

Since I nev­er intend­ed a sequel, I had no idea what the plot might be. 

The daugh­ter of an edi­tor friend of mine who had loved the orig­i­nal, when I asked her what the sequel should be about replied, “It has to be about how Ida (the pro­tag­o­nist) goes to high school.” 

That made sense, but– 

The orig­i­nal sto­ry cov­ered a time peri­od of some six weeks. 

High school is a four-year project. 

And when I went and re-read that orig­i­nal, oth­er than describ­ing Ida Bidson’s height—which is impor­tant in the orig­i­nal book–there is no descrip­tion of what she even looks like. 

Beyond all that the orig­i­nal sto­ry was much-loved. How could I pos­si­bly cap­ture its attrac­tion and energy? 

But I have agreed to write the book.

It’s been a process of get­ting back into char­ac­ter, psy­chol­o­gy, place, style, vocab­u­lary, his­tor­i­cal moment, life in a small-town high school—in the year 1925. 

I should have lis­tened to Ross McDon­ald. But I didn’t. 

Would you be sur­prised if I tell you it’s going slowly? 

Stay tuned.

9 thoughts on “Writing a series”

  1. Oh I will stay tuned. I am sure it will all come to you even­tu­al­ly. I love you let­ting us in on your process!

  2. PS My friend attend­ed a one room school near Buf­fa­lo, NY. She is a poet and writer and about 81 or 82 with a good mem­o­ry so if you would like to hear her sto­ries I am sure she would be very eager to share.

  3. Can’t wait to see what hap­pens with Ida next! I adore the orig­i­nal book which I now will view as Part 1 in a series!! Lots can hap­pen in high school!

  4. By some astound­ing coin­ci­dence I just picked up The Secret School today and read it entire­ly in the after­noon. It was so mar­velous that I had to find out more which lead me to this blog and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that my kids and I will be able to read a sequel. Joy!

  5. I nev­er write my stand-alones with the inten­tion for a series, but now I find that a cou­ple of them could be, *if* the first sells and does well. (No small IF, that 😉 )
    I think Ross Mac­Don­ald’s advice is right, though it also feels pre­sump­tu­ous in a way for mid-lis­ters. But we have to get over that, don’t we.
    Good luck with yours. If any­one can, you can.


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