When I began writing my fantasy novel, The Charismatics, I never intended for it to grow into a series (one with a third book in the making, and potentially more afterward). I’m a pantser by nature (someone who doesn’t outline beforehand) and for me, the excitement of having no idea where the early drafts of my first and second books would go was intoxicating. I personally believe that some of my best plot twists come from the fact I hadn’t planned anything beforehand, but as I attempted to begin drafting my third book a few months ago, things took an abrupt and worrying turn. The words weren’t flowing, because I’d gotten to a place in the storyline where huge questions needed to be solved, yet I had no idea what the answers might be. It’s the risk an author takes when they don’t outline ahead of time, especially when multiple books are in existence: there are so many threads to keep track of that a lack of proper preparation is especially daunting, and you can write yourself into a corner. Since this is the first book series I’ve ever written, I wanted to share some of the small bits of “wisdom” (mistakes I’ve learned from) gathered over the past few years of writing and editing full time, in the hopes others might glean something for use in their own journeys.

1. Even if You’re Not an Outline, You are Eventually Going to Need a Plan

You might be able to get several books in without a definitive idea of where the series is going to end, but it will have to be wrapped up at some point—and you want the final conclusion to be one that’s logical and gratifying for the readers. That means answering every question that’s been asked in a way that makes sense, which can really only be done with an outline that’s detailed enough to avoid plot holes. They can still crop up (and most likely will), but if you’ve got a pretty solid sense of what the characters want and where the series is ending, you can keep from writing entire chapters that’ll have to be thrown out later.

2. Your Writing Will Improve Over Time and It’s a Good Thing to Cringe a Little When You Read Your Earlier Works

Nothing is more painful for an author than to read over their previous books, which is oftentimes essential when continuing a series to refresh one’s memory. Sure, there are various passages that might bring about pride or at least a quiet sense of satisfaction, but overall it’s just an uncomfortable procedure that needs to be done (much like a root canal). The upside to these agonizing few days or weeks when rereading earlier books is to have a chance to analyze those weaker parts of your manuscripts like clichéd characterization and generic vocabulary, and feel confident in the fact your writing has become more refined.

3. Just as Every Child is Different, the Process for Each Book is Unique and Unpredictable

This has been the most illuminating lesson for me so far and it is important to remember when embarking on a new book. There’s no exact formula to crafting a new manuscript (at least, not one with the organic creativity that springs from unbridled imagination), and while a specific process is certainly something to make use of, you shouldn’t feel like you’ve “lost your touch” or that the story needs to be written a certain way. Perhaps you need a more detailed outline for the second book or the fourth one in your series requires a serious overhaul from a different point of view than originally intended. Writing can be terrifying, intimidating and exhilarating all at once, but never forget that the end product of a world you created from your own mind is pure, distilled magic.

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