I’m trading in my coffee shop blog this month for a visit to the Fortnum & Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon in London to discuss elements of writing a trilogy/series. There’s a shared experience, particularly among readers with stories that go beyond book one. The way I want to discuss with someone—anyone—after finishing a great series about the characters, the plot twists, and ooh the ending I didn’t see coming. The first book gets me hooked. I dive into the second book expecting a lull. I look forward to the thrilling conclusion in the third (or fourth, or fifth). How fitting is the topic of series-writing while sitting down to a three-course tea? I think it is meant to be. This trip is a bonus as I’m sitting with my dear friend who’s known me long enough to know I’m in love with this place from the moment the elevator doors open and I step inside.
From the first seating to the last, not a moment of quality is spared at the tea salon. I pick up a menu devoted entirely to just that, teas. I don’t have ask, is there enough? Do I have enough? When I write…when I think of potential story lines for a series laid out in my mind, the thought is often short-lived. If I try to imagine the offshoots of problems and backstories that can be used as a catalyst for conflict, the answer to the question is usually a resounding “No.” No, I do not have enough content for three plus books. No, I do not have enough trouble to sustain the tension between characters. Can every problem be solved in the first book? If the answer is yes, then a series isn’t realistic. It’s okay for a book to stop, well, at the end.
Writing more than one book using the same characters involves some dedicated world-building. I sit at a beautiful table dressed in white linen and a tea pot spoiled in pale blue with gold accents. Set the tone of the entire story, not just one room, one house, or a single city. Bring in elements of the bigger picture. Does the setting take place on Earth? Space? Another dimension? Whether the story is in another time or in the backyard of your imagination the tiniest details are important. It’s the first time your readers are seeing this world. Can you visualize the scene of stepping off the elevator and being greeted by the calming music coming from the woman sitting at the grand piano?
I take my seat and embark on a meal that isn’t meant to be rushed. The selection isn’t lacking what with the options of Black, White, Oolong, or Green teas. I go for the Iron Goddess with the orchid aroma. Afternoon tea consists of different courses, each one punctuated by finger sandwiches, scones, and tea cakes. The range of options will get me to the end of the meal without wanting more. Like a series, the plot must be maintainable and cannot lack in conflict—conflict is what gives a boost to the second book. The resolution should be appropriate, while leaving the door open for characters to work towards solving their problems. Stretch their story line and give away elements about their own histories throughout the chapters. Not up front and all at once. I don’t want the patisseries before the Coronation Cauliflower.
Our waiter brings the three-tiered serving tray with our food selections. It’s all uniform and detailed right down to the honey and apricot jellies. A sweet middle in what could potentially be lacking.
Any solid series needs a healthy dose of struggle and action. Characters who are essential to the story cannot be killed off in the first book. Although, some may come to know loss, are better saved for pivotal points for the main character when he or she needs to grow the most. It’s that moment, they feel fire and can continue that drives the reader into empathizing with their pain and rooting for them by the end. Carry the tension over with fresh energy to the second book. By now, I’m familiar with the hero, the heroine, the and the villains and they each have a story to tell. I don’t want the same problem recycled. I want a story that strings out the problem of the first book with the introduction of new dilemmas in the second book. Whatever troubles the main characters, whatever or whoever works against them, also has a past worthy of being discovered. Utilize the untold stories to create tension. It is with this idea that I decide to go darker and select a black tea for my second tea.
My afternoon at the tea salon is going to come to an end. I’m onto the tea cakes and considering ordering a glass of champagne. Did I get my questions about the menu items answered? Do I know what makes a tea rare? The third book should have every question answered; every conflict extinguished. The conclusion should be satisfying, leaving no room for second-guessing if the author will return for just one more installment. I don’t like to reach the end of a great story, but I’m afraid dragging it out would ruin the entire series and that should be considered when it’s time to let the characters go and when the story is truly over. At the tea salon, I can get anything off the menu more than once, but if I keep ordering, I’ll eat until I’m uncomfortable and I’d rather stop while I’m ahead. Don’t settle for writing a halfhearted series. Take the time to write a royal one.