Thursday, February 3, 2011

T.K. Toppin Guest Blog

Quick intro, here. T.K. Toppin is one of our talented SF crew over at Champagne Books and she has a great futuristic yarn going where a young lady takes a bit of a nap over a few centuries. The Lancaster Rule is an awesome tale and the anchor for a series of novels. That is what she talks about here, the fine art of writing a story arc across a series of novels. I can relate to that!

Without further ado, I give you T.K


Serial Writing — my take on the topic

I’ve read many serial books, and you can’t help but see a trend. Sometimes, it can get a little repetitive, but that’s for the benefit of the reader who is reading out of sequence (the shame!) or the newly-introduced reader who hasn’t a clue what’s going on with the story so far. That is, if the story is a continuing saga into the lives of the main characters. So back-story is imperative. Of course, info-dumping is not so imperative. Honestly, I get sucked up into that all the time since I’m eager to get it over with. Scattering the back-story around throughout the book is a challenge in itself! As I complete the last in my series, I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. But boy, the temptation is great to just dump it all in one go.

My first journey into the world of serials began when I picked up the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I was hooked. Of course, I read it out of sequence, since that is actually the second in the series. I scrabbled around until I finally found the obscure first book, The Magician’s Nephew. (If I’d waited a couple of decades, I could’ve saved myself a great deal of trouble and gotten the complete boxed set, like I do now and it sits proudly in my bookshelf).

After C.S. Lewis, I moved on to the Little House on The Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. After that, came the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys, then later on, The Lord of The Rings, Dune, Harry Potter, Outlander, Artemis Fowl, Bartimeaus, Odd Thomas, even the J.D. Robb’s In Death series (which I still like to seek out and read every time Nora Roberts dishes out another).

When I began my own journey into the written world, I didn’t start out thinking I was going to write a series. I mean writing one book is overwhelming enough, but a set of them? Well, a trilogy, in fact, as it stops there. However, whilst writing, I realized that I had more to say, more adventures for my main characters to fall into. And it just wouldn’t work in just one book. But I also wanted to make sure that if a reader read the story out of sequence, they would get a relatively good feel for the characters and their surroundings — even if it ran the risk of getting the loyal reader bored. After all, sometimes we all need a little reminder about the little things. I also wanted each book to be a story within itself, but would also move smoothly onto the next story, as a sort of progression and development of the main characters. It can get tricky, and you find yourself using some of the same words to describe someone or thing that even you, the writer, starts to cringe. Trying to keep things fresh and new is a challenge.

Continuity is another factor to consider. I’ve kept notes with fictional dates, names, places, occurrences — even sub-characters children’s names and birth dates — just so I could maintain a certain level of accuracy and continuity to the story. After all, a devoted reader picks up on little discrepancies and remembers these tiny little details. I should know, I’ve done so myself and then formed a not-so-good opinion of the writer, thinking they were either forgetful, or just not that into the story to remember or even care. Having an eagle-eyed editor helps too and eliminates that “oops” situation.

Maybe it’s because I like to meet old friends each time I pick up a serial book and not have to worry about getting to know them from scratch. Because, you know, reading about their lives and adventures so many times, you can’t help but get to know them, and yes, even love them. The more you read about them, the more things you learn about them. That’s another trait you see in serials and one I hope I’ve managed to capture in mine. Developing a character, from perfection to flaws, is one thing you see a lot of, so you kind of know what to expect from the character. But you can also leave things hanging, keep the reader guessing. After all, you have other books in which to develop the character and story more. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be crammed into that one book. For me, I see serials as something were the reader and the characters involved grow and learn together.

In my first book, The Lancaster Rule, it was important for me to lay the groundwork down. I wanted to get the story of my main character’s past out, the relationship she had with the people around her, and how she developed and struggled to change towards the end of the story to discover who she really was. For the sequel, The Master Key, everything was in place, including the world I had built, but now it was the time to discover the main character in her new ‘matured’ state—flaws and everything. Like going out on the second date and you just happen to accidentally let a little wind slip out. The third book, The Eternal Knot, is a lot like the second and I hope I’ve captured characters that are more integrated in their personalities and relationships/interactions with each other.

So, that in a nutshell, is my brief take on serials. I could elaborate a lot more, give examples and get into detail about the nitty-gritties but that would take all day.

Thanks Kerry for allowing me to share some of my thoughts with you. And I’d like to say, your Dancer series…excellent. I’m hooked! Best part in Rogue Dancer (part 2 for those uninitiated) is:

“Sound like someone stepped on a field hen.”

Where T.K. Toppin can be found on the web:
Facebook: The Lancaster Rule / Written by T.K. Toppin
Twitter: TKToppin


  1. Great blog. But, if you are like me you lose your notes, so I went to a spread sheet. The columns include, name, date, first appears, associated with, etc. It sure helped with those notes I keep losing.

  2. Thanks Allison! Haha...if I lost my notes, I'd go mad. I might do like you but also save it to disk, just in case. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Totally enjoyed your blog, and we can relate to your serial reading. We, too, have read many of the same books. The LANCASTER RULE looks like a TBR to us.

  4. Boy, am I ever old fashioned. I back up my running character notes on my HD and FlashCard, but also keep them, their characteristics, their names/titles, whether they are human, animal, vegetable or mineral in a box of file-cards on my desk.

  5. @Angelica & Zi: Thanks and I'm sure you'll enjoy The Lancaster Rule.
    @Judy: Me too...all my notes are crammed in a spiral bound notebook. I suppose I really should back up stuff digitally. PS: Prepare to receive book 3 soooooon. :)