What does it take to become an author of a series or books? Is it hard work, a universe-building idea, blind luck or do you just have to be J.K. Rowling? Here to give us an insight into how she cracked the formula is Kallie George, author of popular series including The Magical Animal Adoption Agency and Tiny Tails.
When I was young, I loved reading series. Narnia. Oz. Nancy Drew. Little House on the Prairie. When I was a bit older, Harry Potter. Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Ender’s Game. I still love series. Characters are my friends, and the worlds they live in are places that I want to live too. (Attend Hogwarts? Yes, please!) I never want to say goodbye, and in a series, you don’t have to say goodbye — at least not right away.
I always wanted to write series, too. In elementary school, I started a comic strip called Walter the Whale and Rover and Friends. The cover read, ‘Volume 1, Issue 1’. There never was an issue 2! Still, the desire was there to create more than just one book.
As I grew older, my patience and perseverance grew too, and now I am writing four series — from picture books, to early readers, to chapter books — for different publishers.
I am still learning, but here are a series of things I have learned about writing a series:
How do you do know if your idea is meant to be a series?
The idea is bigger than one book. This could mean that the character has a journey that can only be told through more than one story. But it could also mean that the world is so delicious it demands further exploration.
For example, my second series for Disney-Hyperion (HarperCollins in Canada) is called the Heartwood Hotel, about a hotel for animals. The series begins in the fall, and I really wanted to describe the hotel during the winter, spring and summer, too. It seemed natural, therefore, to tell the stories in four books, one for each season.
Once you know that your idea is suited to a series, the next step is to figure out what kind of series you are writing. In one type, the character grows from book to book (like Harry Potter). In another, the characters are static throughout the series (such as Magic Treehouse or Nancy Drew); only the adventures change.
The Magical Animal Adoption Agency and Heartwood Hotel are both series in which the main character is slowly growing older and learns something new about herself in each book. This can be challenging, of course, because how is the character growing and changing? It also usually means a series has a natural ending, such as when the character’s personal journey reaches a satisfactory conclusion or the character grows up and is too old to be of interest to the intended audience.
But developing a character in this way provides pleasure too.
- The joys
In fact, for me, this is one of the biggest joys of writing a series — getting to know a character and world better. Almost equally pleasurable is to slip into a comfortable narrative voice that I’ve developed.
Some of my series feature a changing array of characters — Tiny Tails has a new magic animal in each book — but the narrative style and setting remain consistent. The structure of the style and world are limitations that can be ironically freeing, allowing ideas to run wild. Plus, it’s nice not to start totally from scratch every time.
- The challenges
Of course, these very same limitations are challenges, too. Readers get to know characters well, so you have to stay true to those characters, even if there is another plot or idea you would prefer to pursue.
Also, you need to be consistent and track what has happened in previous books so that no contradictions occur. For example, in The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, book 1, the main character is told some details about looking after a hippocampus, details I almost forgot when she actually has to look after a hippocampus in book 3!
Another challenge is staying true to your character and world while also offering something new, some sort of twist from book to book. It is easy to want to compare each book to the first one, which has the natural ‘newness’ of introducing the world and characters. How can each book be strong and exciting in its own way? As a writer you want each to be as good as possible.
After spending so much time building a world and developing a character, coming to the end of a series is really hard — for readers and for the author.
I recently finished the third Magical Animal Adoption Agency book and provided resolution in that the summer is over. But at the same time, I left this particular series open so that there is the potential for me to write more.
So I must admit at this point I have not yet totally said goodbye to any of my characters! I am afraid to; I love them so much. But there is always a new idea on the horizon — a new character that beckons, a new series to develop, and so just as one ends, another can begin.
Unlike with a series, I’m sure this list could be never-ending. But just like with a series, I can’t wait for what I learn next!
About Kallie George
Kallie George is a children’s author, editor, and teacher. She completed her Master’s of children’s literature at the University of British Columbia in 2007.
Kallie is the co-creator of the award-winning Simply Small board book series, and author of The Melancholic Mermaid, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, released in 2010, which earned a starred review in Quill and Quire.
Spark, illustrated by Genevieve Cote, and the first in the Tiny Tails series, was published in autumn 2013, and a Junior Guild Pick. Flare, the second in the series, was published in the autumn of 2014, with Splash, the third, to be published in autumn 2015.
You can learn all about Kallie on her website.