Nancy: Series Q&A with Maria V. Snyder

Today is the final post in my series on series. Last week, friend of the blog and fabulous author Mindy Klasky stopped by to talk about what it takes to write a series, and many different ways to approach it. This week, I asked Maria V. Snyder, author of the best-selling Study series, to talk to us about her experiences writing series and to give us a hint about what she has planned for future stories in her series world.

The original cover of Poison Study. With multiple reprintings and foreign language editions, there have been many gorgeous iterations!

The original cover of Poison Study. With multiple reprintings and foreign language editions, there have been many gorgeous iterations!

A meteorologist turned fantasy and science fiction novelist, Maria has published thirteen novels and seventeen short stories for both YA and adult readers. She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, won a half-dozen awards, and earned her Masters degree from Seton Hill University where she’s been teaching and mentoring in their MFA program. Readers are welcome to check out her website for more information at http://www.MariaVSnyder.com or check out her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/mvsfans! Information about her books can also be found on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/maria_v_snyder. Meanwhile, feel free to ask Maria questions of your own, as she’ll be stopping by the comments section later today.

NH: You’ve recently released book 4 of the Study series, which began back in 2005 with Poison Study. Was this conceived as a stand-alone book or did you know that first book would lend itself to a series?

MVS: Poison Study was conceived as a stand alone book, but when I finished I thought I could write another book with the same characters and world. However, I wasn’t going to start working on a book 2 unless I sold Poison Study. I sent the book to publishers as a stand alone, but when the editor of Harlequin LUNA called me to buy the book, she already assumed there was a second book. Good thing I had about a year to write it!

NH: What was the most difficult thing about turning a stand-alone book idea into a series?

MVS: When writing the second book, Magic Study I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough story to write a full length novel. While writing the first half of the book, I fretting I didn’t have enough and then while writing the second half of the book, I worried I had too much! And then there’s the problem of how much information from book 1 do you include in book 2? Too much and readers will be bored and too little and readers will be confused – it’s a fine line and one of the hardest things to balance when writing a series (IMO).

NH: Do you create a series bible for your works? Can you share how that looks, what information it includes? What format do you use, e.g., hard copy notebook, electronic spreadsheet, Evernote, etc.?

MVS: With Magic Study, I started using a hard-copy notebook to write down information. Each of my novels had its own notebook. In the notebooks, I include character descriptions, magical powers, timelines of story events, research notes, revision notes, sketches of various things like maps of the castle or the Citadel, and possible plot ideas or twists. It worked, but after writing six books in the same world, it was getting harder and harder for me to find the information I needed. One of my diehard readers offered to put together an Excel spreadsheet for me of all the characters from all six books. It’s a thing of beauty and has been so helpful as I write the next three books set in that world! I can just search for a name and all the info about that person pops up!

NH: Although you’ve written additional books in the Study world, Shadow Study circled back to the characters (Yelena and Valek) who began the series. What was the most difficult thing you encountered in returning to these characters? How did you overcome it?

MVS: There were a couple things that were difficult. I had to re-read the Study books and get back into their world and characters – reacquaint myself with them. I also needed to find new challenges. In the first three books, I put them through all types of trouble and danger and I needed new problems that made sense. Since I’d concentrated on Yelena’s character arc in the first three books, I spent more time in the new books on Valek and his history and his arc—the poor guy is going through the wringer!

NH: What was the most fun/rewarding thing about returning to the series and these main characters?

MVS: In the new books, I decided to alternate POVs between Valek and Yelena which gave me more of an insight into Valek and his history. Writing his flashbacks to when he trained to become an assassin was a ton of fun. I also wrote short scenes from Janco’s POV. He’s my favorite character to write and seeing the world through his POV was just a blast – that was pure indulgence on my part!

NH: Is there any information about upcoming projects you’re willing to share? Maybe some hints about the next Study book?

MVS: The next Study book is Night Study, and it continues with Yelena and Valek as they attempt to discover what’s going on with the Commander and why Yelena has lost all her magic. This time I have short scenes from Leif’s POV, Yelena’s brother, which show the reader how his magic works and explores his relationship with his wife, Mara. And then there’s this new Cartel of wealthy and powerful business owners in Sitia that are determined to protect the country from Ixia. They believe the Commander is about to invade Sitia and plan to stop him. Also, if you thought Valek had a difficult time in Shadow Study, that’s nothing compared to what he goes through in Night Study! The book is scheduled to be released late January 2016.

NH: What advice do you have for writers contemplating trying their own hand at writing a series?

MVS: Keep very good, detailed notes! Readers will call you out if you get something wrong. Also by having the information organized and in one place, you can find it faster. I recommend a spreadsheet or even notes in a Word file will work – anything that is searchable. And make sure you save backups just in case. I kept my spreadsheet on my desktop, but it’s also saved to a flash drive, and I’ve emailed it to myself.

As for writing the series, I think of each book as a weekly episode for a TV show. Each book should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I try to wrap the main plot line up in the book so readers have some closure. You can let a few subplots dangle to be picked up in a later book and you can have an overall plot that won’t be resolved until the end of the series, but I do believe the readers like an ending for each book. Cliffhangers are good, but they can be very frustrating for the readers. I finally had a big cliffhanger in my 10th novel, Scent of Magic. However, I resolved the main conflict so the cliffhanger didn’t have anything to do with that. In Shadow Study, I ended with what I call a bombshell! Again the main plot is resolved, but then I added this little bit of info at the end just to make things interesting.

 

5 thoughts on “Nancy: Series Q&A with Maria V. Snyder

  1. (-: Hello, Maria! Informative post! I just finished reading Poison Study last month and enjoyed it very much — talk about using the senses of taste and smell in a story! The romance between Valek and Yelena was also great — thrilling without being TMI, and very solid.

    I’d like to know more about your story bible. Did the spreadsheet have some sort of tagging system? What kind of major categories do you use when organizing those details?

    • Hello Michaeline! I’m glad you enjoyed my book and happy you picked up on the taste and smells in Poison Study and Magic Study – for Fire Study I tried to concentrate on touch :).

      As for your question, the spreadsheet opens with a main page of all the character names – The column has the character name and then the side bar has character’s family, minor affiliates, and enemies – so for each character there a list of names. When you click on a name, it takes you to another page where you’ll get all the details about that person like physical details, clothing, biographical info, political info, alternate names/nicknames, magical abilities, weapons of choice, horse’s name, significant history, and which books that character has appeared in, plus a few more. The pages of characters are organized by region since I have books set in two different countries and there is one page just for the main characters. As I said, it’s a thing of beauty!

      What you want to keep track of are things that are significant in your series. I have magic in mine so it’s important that I know what all the magicians can and can not do. I also have fight scenes and need to know what weapon a character is going to grab when in trouble. If you have a complex political system, then you’ll want to keep track of all those details. In my Healer series I have the Fifteen Realms and each Realm has a different government and main industry so I kept detailed notes on who had the monarchy and who manufactured all the leather goods, stuff like that.

      I hope this helps you! Let me know if you have any more questions :).

      • Thank you! This is very useful. I didn’t realize you could essentially “wiki” a spreadsheet. (IE: click on a character name to go to another sheet with other details.)

        In our McDaniel’s class, our teacher brought up the fact that a wiki could be used to keep track of characters, etc., but I couldn’t wrap my mind around how that would work. This gives me some ideas!

        I do like a book with a sound economical and scientific basis — even if it is a magical world! Especially if it’s a magical world . . . .

        You might be interested in this, but my current WIP is very concerned with the weather — the Great Blizzard of 1899. I haven’t figured out why yet (not terribly worried yet, but it is a niggle). I think there’s a weather witch involved, because New York experienced a terrible heat wave later that year. I spent about two weeks compiling a Word Document full of the weather reports — forecasts, actual weather reports, and also info about how the weather affected people and transportation, and how it looked/sounded/felt. If nothing else, I’ve got something for the setting! Anyway, it’s searchable, and in chronological order. I wish it were a bit more organized, but I guess I’ll stumble my way into organizing it better as I go along.

  2. Just wanted to say thanks to Mindy last week and Maria this week for taking the time to come and talk to the blog. As someone who is planning more than one series, I’ve found these Q&As really useful. Oh, and, of course, thanks you to you too, Nancy, for arranging these! 🙂

    • I really enjoyed delving into what makes series books work, and talking to series writers about how they do what they do. I hope you got some nuggets of wisdom to use for your own series adventures!

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