INTO THE THICK (WULFEN) FUR OF IT: Writing a series – what you need to know
As a writer, I loved the idea of writing a series. To have the time span of a series is magical – characters can grow, you can plant threads that you harvest in later books, create a whole world and, hopefully, build up a readership that will be waiting for the next book!
Wulfie was always a series idea. By the time I met Little Island in late 2018, I was already writing book 2 and had boxes of Wulfie ideas. They decided to commission both and then, four months before Wulfie: Stage Fright came out in Sept 2020, they commissioned books 3 & 4. Book 2, Wulfie: Beast in Show came out last March and Wulfie Saves The Planet earlier this month. The fourth book will be out next Spring.
So, what have I learnt?
1. You need to know the rules of your series
Especially if you have a vivid imagination and can’t help coming up with more and more stories and twists to those stories. This is the stage when I let myself brainstorm freely – often on an A3 pad with coloured pens. It’s the only way to be sure you don’t miss out on something critical or fun. Having rules helps you structure stories, to know what to include and what to leave out.
How long will each book be? How much time passes within and between books? Do they begin and end in the same place each time? Does the central character age? Will you use the same cast?
For example, every Wulfie book begins with Libby and Wulfie, even if it’s Libby trying to find her mischievous friend, and they end with the duo back in her room, having triumphed – for now. (And just in time.) Each book is circa 21-24,000 words over 21 chapters but, most importantly, Libby has to have agency. Whatever the problem, it has to be Libby who works out how to solve it in the end. Also nobody but Libby and her friend Nazim will ever know that Wulfie is a wulfen from Lupuslandia.
What you need will depend on whether you’re working on a single location (like a boarding school) or across an imaginary world but you need to know the geography and physical rules of your world. Are there routines or patterns we need to know?
For example: Libby and Rex go to the same school and Rex supposedly walks to school with Libby. I knew the location of home in relation to school, the park and the shops, but also specifics such as the lock on Libby’s skylight above her bed not working very well.
Presuming you have created multi-dimensional characters, what key traits do they have that you will use? Are there any that you’re going to hint at and reveal later? Will they change? For example, Libby’s step-mother Veronika will be forced to pretend to change from time to time, but will always revert.
Since Wulfie is a fantasy beast, I needed to know how he moves, what magical skills he has, where he’s from, what he needs and wants, and who can see or hear him. When Wulfie sneezes, for example, time stops – but only within the vicinity of the sneeze, and it doesn’t affect Libby.
2. As you write, keep lists
Have a notebook nearby and update it with the details of your world as you write and as your world grows. Keep a list of characters – central and miscellaneous; you never know when a background character could be handy or even critical in a later story. If there is something distinctive about them, write it down. List objects used in each story and anything else that seems important.
Regarding locations, make a note of every detail you use as your stories develop. Even if you cut it from an early book, these details might be useful later on. I found it really useful to map out locations, to make sure windows/ ponds are where I needed them to be.
Critically, keep updating these lists as your series grows. It’s amazing what you can forget and over the course of a series, you will have a lot of balls to keep in the air. It helps to be able to flick back and see if there’s something that might be useful to include.
I’d also suggest listing spellings/ titles that you use, to make editing easier later on. For example, do you use icecream or ice-cream? Living room or sitting room? Step-mother or step-mum? Sshh or sssh?
3. Let story drive revelations
How much we learn and when is critical. Too much detail and you confuse the reader or overwhelm the story. For example, I didn’t reveal that Wulfie could stop time with his sneezes until book 2, Wulfie: Beast In Show, when it was pivotal to a story. That meant not letting him sneeze in book 1 when readers were already finding out about him changing shape and having three stomachs.
4. Writer Beware…
Whatever you establish at the start of the series, unless it’s an anomaly or its loss will be a story point later, you will have to try and keep it present in consecutive books. For example, in Wulfie: Stage Fright, we learn that Libby’s Dad only hears questions; anything else goes over his head. In later books, this forced me to rewrite dialogue – but I had fun with what he misses. Sometimes writing yourself into a corner can lead to the discovery of gems!
5. Keep The Story Simple…
The simpler the story, the easier it is to write the book. I found this out the hard way! But do keep threads of stories on file. A character trait you didn’t use might be the germ for the lead character of a whole new series!
(c) Lindsay J Sedgwick
About Wulfie Saves The Planet:
The third instalment in a sweet and funny series about a girl and her wolfish best friend. With a diverse cast of characters and lively black and white illustrations, this is a great title for children growing in their reading confidence.
A sweet and funny series about a little girl and her wolfish best friend. With a best friend like Wulfie, anything can happen!
Order your copies of the series here.