Inkpop Blog

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How to write a book series

Posted by inkpop on January 29, 2010

inktips #14: Pretty Little Liars author Sara Shepard shares tips for keeping your cool (and readers’ attention) with multiple installments

“It’s all a big puzzle that takes a ton of planning, but I love it.”

That’s how Sara Shepard feels about writing Pretty Little Liars, the series that has become so popular that ABC Family casted for a PLL television pilot in fall 2009. PLL centers around a clique of four teen girls (Aria, Hanna, Emily, and Spencer) who deal with a mysterious stalker named “A” after the death of their former ringleader, Alison.

On the eve of the release of Heartless, the lucky number-seven book of the series, Shepard said she counts working from home in her pajamas as part of the “dream come true” that is being a professional writer. “The feeling of walking into a Barnes & Noble for a book event and having girls waiting for me to talk about Pretty Little Liars is indescribable,” the New York writer says.

Writing a book series can be a daunting task, but Shepard says it’s doable so long as you know what you’re aiming to achieve with the series and where it’s going. “You have to know the end before you write the beginning. Otherwise, what if you’re stuck halfway through and don’t know what to do next?” she says. “A little planning goes a long way.”

Here, Sara Shepard shares her tips for writing a book series. Got more questions for Shepard? Follow up with her in the live inkpop.com “Author Is In” Forums chat on January 30.

KNOW WHERE THE STORY IS GOING

Before Shepard began writing the first installment of the Pretty Little Liars series, she had to determine the characters’ desires and where they’d end up at the end. “I had to know the secrets Ali had on them, and the pertinent flashbacks that would make sense for the mystery as a whole,” she says. “ I knew who the first A was and now who the second A is. And I knew the mystery of what really happened to Ali from the start, too.”

To help her keep the details of the storyline and characters straight, Shepard keeps documents of notes on her computer that she titles something along the lines of “What’s Really Going On.” Also, each Pretty Little Liars book follows a structure—there’s a flashback from when Ali was alive, which serves as a vital clue. “Each girl has a soapy front-story, and each girl receives torturous notes from A,” Shepard says. “But each girl also has her own flashback relating to Ali, usually adding more intrigue and insight into who Ali was and what might have happened to her.”

MAKE A PLAN, AND PACE YOURSELF

Shepard stresses the importance of knowing where the series is going from the very start. Whether you’re writing a mystery series or even a series that is more relationship- or school-based, it’s important to know where the characters will end up at the end.

“Outlining is your friend!” Shepard says. “Also, you want to make sure to stagger what happens in each book—you don’t want to load up one book with lots of twists and turns and conclusions and then have nothing to talk about in the next book. It’s all about pace and keeping readers wanting more.”

DEVELOP COMPELLING CHARACTERS

Like all stories, a series relies on winning characters and an intriguing setting . “The great thing about a series is that you get to develop characters in deeper ways that you might not be able to in just a stand-alone novel,” Shepard says.

For example, the Pretty Little Liars characters have a variety of love interests, and they learn something in each book—“even if it’s who not to go out with!” Shepard says.

“A series lets you flesh out minor characters, too, and make them bigger stars,” she says. “You have the opportunity to create a rich, highly detailed world.”

LET THE STORY ROLL

All in all, the entire Pretty Little Liars series is 2,400 pages, and a new installment is released every six months. Which boils down to this: Sara Shepard doesn’t—because she can’t—suffer from writer’s block when she’s on deadline.

Bottom line? In order to write a series, you must be certain that you have more than just one book in you. “Maybe this is just my personal opinion, but I think series are more suited to writers who are okay with writing massive volumes of material over a relatively short amount of time,” she says.

The inkpop blog is written by inkpopAmy

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8 Responses to “How to write a book series”

  1. Clara said

    OMG I loveee the PLL series! I can not WAIT for the 8th one! I pre-ordered it 🙂 You are a great author. Keep on writing!
    Your faithful fan,
    Clara <333

  2. Celeste said

    Awesomeee! I love Sara Shepards advice and views and such. They are- amazing!

  3. Fantastic advice here!

  4. Sarah Williamson said

    Wow. I have not read any of her books, but she really does give great advice. I hope I can be as good as her in ten years!

  5. […] for professoinal advice. From “How to get a nonfiction book agent” with Kate McKean to “How to write a book series” with Sara Shepard, these experts have been around the publishing block and are chock-full of […]

  6. i haven’t had a chance to read these books yet but I’ll be looking for them. I found the videos through dana ward , clevver tv on youtube, and posted them on my writers blog, the idea girl says wp

  7. […] an interesting post on writing a book series from Pretty Little Liars writer, Sara Shephard on […]

  8. Kristin said

    i’ve read the whole pretty little liar series and i’m still head over heals for Sara Shepard and her amazing writing abilities. because of her ability to fluently write and relate to girls in their teenage years like myself, i have started writing myself. the tips for writing a series of your own is very very helpful and i love the fact Sara is willing to give others her incredible advice of how to plan, hook readers, and have powerful climaxes. thanks! 😉

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