It was a strange thing. There I was writing books about teens struggling with alcoholic parents and depression, when an idea for ninja cheerleaders popped into my head. See—strange? Turns out that idea became The Naughty List, my first young adult novel (released in February 2010). But then things got even weirder… it became a series.
To be honest, I didn’t set out to write a series. But along the way, I’ve learned a lot about them. In fact, I have another series coming out next summer. Again—completely by accident! So what made The Naughty List series-worthy? I can only offer guesses, but I’ll give it a shot.
I really love a character-driven series. I think a writer needs to create a main character that’s likeable, but original. Relatable, but special. Someone we won’t be completely sick of after one book. For The Naughty List, my main character is a perky cheerleader, but as the book (and the series) goes along, you see different sides of her, sides that everyone has. She becomes vulnerable, and hopefully readers can invest in her. If you have a character that you want readers to join on a journey, make them someone they can root for. And while you’re at it, side characters that we can be friends (or enemies) with in real life add dimension to the story. Give everyone some flesh!
HOOK & PLOT
Every good series needs a hook. Whether it’s a story about a future society that puts the characters in a battle of life or death, or a book about cheerleading spies who catch cheating boyfriends, writers need something that can sustain multiple books. And evolve.
Don’t write the same book over and over again. The theme and characters may remain the same, but each book needs to be whole and complete in itself. You should have conflict and resolution, not just a setup for the next book. Be satisfying—like a strawberry smoothie!
One thing I didn’t do when I started (again, because I never planned to write a series) was keep a list of characters with descriptions, settings, motivations, etc. I wish I did. I remember getting back an edit once where the copyeditor wrote, “I’m pretty sure she’s blonde?” It was such a small thing, but I felt embarrassed. Now I have a character bible because it helps me keep my characters straight in my head. I have a lot going on in there!
SOW EARLY, REAP LATER
A fun part about writing multiple books is when you get to plant evidence—little discoveries that’ll come to light in later books. Sometimes they’re on purpose—a narrowed look here, an unanswered question there. Other times they are completely accidental but work great in a new plot line. For example, in book one, there was a character who occasionally showed a darker side. I realized in book two why she was like that, and it ended playing a major roll in the plot. Sometimes, even though you may not envision your book to be a series, you might realize that your characters have so much more to say.
In each new book, I first start out with a quick, not-too-obvious summary of what readers may have missed in the story so far, just in case they’re new to the series. But once I start digging in, I really enjoy visiting with my characters again, their familiar settings. It’s like seeing an old friend from high school—only without all the awkward “we should have kept in touch” moments.
Writing a series is a blast, but I think it’s really important that the first book set up the world. That it’s a stand-alone that can tell a whole story all by itself. And if your editor makes it into a series, that’s fantastic. If you love the characters and the story, you won’t mind spending a little more time with them, and neither will your readers.
Suzanne Young is the author of The Naughty List series—
stories about a group of cheerleaders who investigate
cheating boyfriends. The first book, The Naughty List,
is available now from Razorbill/Penguin. So Many
Boys will be available in June 2010 and A Good
Boy is Hard to Find will be out November 2010.
She is also writing a new series for Balzer and
Bray/Harper Collins. Suzanne lives in Portland, Ore.