Writing a fantasy series is a strange and daunting process. Over the course of transforming a single book into a series, I personally realized that rather than planning a whole series in advance, there were some basic things I could include that would allow a series to create itself.
First, sometimes writers plan ahead. Sometimes, we make s#!te up as we go along. Often we do some combination of the two. This applies to books, but also to entire series I’ve learned.
For Finn Fancy, I didn’t plan to write a series. I wrote some chapters for fun, which got turned into a finished book because an editor expressed interest. That book got purchased as the first in a series. Did I have a series? Not really. I had a book. And a few one sentence concepts I’d written out after finishing that book for potential sequels.
But I had a contract that said “Sequel 1”, and “Sequel 2”. And the editor made clear these could be the first books in an ongoing series.
I was thrilled of course to have a multi-book contract. But now what?
Step one: Freak out. Holy crap. I had to produce a finished book in a year, and then I’d have to do it again. No throwing it out and starting a different book after six months. No writing and revising until I felt it was done, however long that took. I had a deadline. And I had no outlines, no grand vision for a twenty book storyline, not even a solid idea of what book two would look like.
Step two: Breathe.
Step three: Figure out what a Finn Fancy series would even look like. Book one was a humorous mystery adventure, where could I go from there?
When I wrote Finn Fancy Necromancy, I’d created a comically dysfunctional group of family and friends around Finn. This was in no small part influenced by the fact that I had just binge-watched Arrested Development, and also because I am a fan of Whedonesque ensemble casts who play off of one another.
It was also because I knew what I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want a lone detective solving crimes. I didn’t want a powerful wizard or demon hunter. I didn’t want a professional problem solver. I wanted a dork like me caught up in the problems of the magical world and having to solve them with the help of — or in spite of — his family and friends.
So when it came time to figure out a series, I realized I could create some storylines and drama around the family members, with them each getting into whacky or serious magical trouble as well: the goofy but loveable brother who thinks he’s a waerwolf, a hacker sister allergic to magic, a mad scientist father, a jealous brother making illegal deals with gnomes to control the family business, and all the rest, they would provide some needed drama and humor.
But this still didn’t feel enough to sustain a series.
Next, I decided to have him start a dating service for magicals. It felt like a positive choice, rather than a dark and grim path, and I know myself well enough to know that as the series progressed, I would need something to help keep me from just going darker and darker. Or at least to balance it out.
The third important piece was the world itself.
As I wrote FFN, the various “groups” of my magical world sort of manifested as they were needed: Fey in the Other Realm first appeared just because I needed an Other Realm for Finn to be returning from; magical creatures in our world appeared just because I wanted mercenary sasquatches in this scene, or a gnome in that scene; and I wanted different types of magical humans with different abilities.
Then came a scene about two-thirds of the way through the book where Finn explains the magical world to a friend, and to be honest he was explaining it to me too, sort of coalescing the various bits and pieces I’d thrown into the book to create a mythology for this world.
And so I had Fey, and feybloods, and human arcana with their five branches of magic. And as I thought about a series, I knew I needed to expand that world-building to have factions within these groups, and some idea of what these groups got from each other, and how they related to each other. I wanted a sandbox I could play in, where new stories could be driven by the tensions and plots between these groups.
So I wrote book two, Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, with the goal of fleshing out the characters and the world-building enough to sustain a series. And as I did, the final piece of my series puzzle fell into place for me: Finn’s love interest. She became a partner who might solve problems together with Finn in the style of Moonlighting, or Hart to Hart, or Remington Steele — if they can both survive, and figure out their relationship. Which, honestly, no promises. They, and their enemies, often go in directions surprising even to me.
So now I felt I had enough to sustain multiple books: Finn trying to establish a new life for himself, and playing matchmaker to magicals; the evolution and drama of his love life; the comically dysfunctional group of family and friends who would create as much trouble as they helped to solve; and a world populated by many different groups and factions of magicals with their own agendas, grievances, prejudices, hopes and goals often in conflict with each other.
And man am I having fun playing in that sandbox.
Randy Henderson is an author, milkshake connoisseur, Writers of the Future grand prize winner, relapsed sarcasm addict, and Clarion West graduate. His “dark and quirky” contemporary fantasy series is published by Titan Books in the UK, and Tor Books in the US. For more on the author’s writing and novels, be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.
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