How I went from sentence to series

Ever wonder how to go from a sentence to a series?

I’m a fan of the National Novel Writing Month, and a couple years ago at this time I pondered what to write about.

A couple of sentences hit me out of the blue: “The first time I ever had a chocolate martini, I was with the most beautiful man in the world. Wouldn’t you know it, the next time I had one the bastard shows up again.

Wow, I thought. This is cool. This is … noir!

I knew there was a story behind this woman and this man. This might become a short story, but I felt there was a long history between these two.

You might have an idea you want to make into a series. Let me tell you what I did. If you like to write, these things might help you too.

Think about the idea in depth.

I didn’t know anything about film noir. But the idea intrigued me. The sentences intrigued me. Who was this woman? Who was this man? What happened between them?

Write down your ideas.

When an idea strikes your fancy, write it down! Write everything you can think of about the idea.

Because her voice in these two sentences sounded noir, but from a private eye point of view, I gender-flipped it and made her the private eye. Then since I like steampunk, I did the story in a neo-Edwardian setting. To keep with the noir theme, I made her the wife of a mob boss.

A neo-Edwardian city with mob bosses sounded Gilded Age to me. Which suggested a whole lot of cultural and political things happening in her world.

Give your people names.

Names are important. Your outlook on life might be different if you had a popular name vs a name that got you bullied, an easy to spell name vs one constantly misspelled.

Once you have your protagonist named (especially a woman) then you have a whole slew of relationships around that person: husband (or father), other family members, possibly children. A name puts a person into a certain time and place, a certain religion or ethnicity, a certain nationality. So name your people.

Brainstorm relationships and settings.

These two people were part of families, of communities. What sort of place has mob bosses? A place that used to be good, but has become corrupt over time. Lots of conflict possibilities there!

Where are you? A city? A spaceship? In the Australian outback? Where you are is as important as when. A problem affecting a place is a whole lot worse if there’s nowhere to go.

What might pit a female private eye and a good-looking man against one another? Don’t stop at the obvious stuff. Go deeper. Are their families fighting? What conflicts could be the cause?

I’m not going to tell you the answer because it would be a huge spoiler, but hopefully you get the concept. Make a list of at least 5 reasons why a conflict might be happening between two people, why a certain situation might be a tense one, and why this place is particularly important. Each idea will sprout ideas of its own.

Figure out your characters’ fatal flaws

Every character’s got that one weakness or shortcoming that dogs them, their Kryptonite, as it were, causing them internal conflict. Your characters have these too, and the collision of fatal flaws is often where conflict comes out. For example, someone who’s deeply insecure, yet wants to feel close to someone who’s struggling for independence. This could be a parent-child dilemma, or it could play out in other relationships as well.

This leads to:

Identify the conflicts

You have people, in a setting, with relationships and flaws. Conflicts will naturally occur between people, but depending on your genre, you may have other conflicts as well. What conflict might arise on a family, community, city, or national level? Is some huge event pending? (asteroids are over-done, but it could be a coup, or an assassination, or foreclosing the farm)

Find out what people and conflicts represent to your characters.

A person might represent freedom to one person, recklessness to another, danger to a third. A conflict might terrify one person while it brings relief or even excitement to another. Identifying what your people and conflicts mean to the others in your cast will bring out even more ideas.

Turn this into an outline.

Once you have your settings, your people, their flaws, and your relationships, it’s time chart the story. Where does it begin? Where does it end? What happens? Who does it happen to? Write it all out.

Now, you might not want to write more than one book. When I began, I thought it would be one book. But once I wrote everything out, I realized I was starting in the wrong place. What happened before this point interested me as much as what was going on right then. Thus the series.

So there you have it! I hope this inspires you to take the ideas that you have and broaden them out into books, or even series of your own.

See more help for authors.

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