This section is the third part of my presentation for the Horroraddicts.net Online Writing Conference. I hope some of you find it to be useful.
How To World And Character Build in a Horror Novel Series
Charles F. French
Themes, Conflicts, and Arcs
Another aspect of writing a novel series is the issue of themes. I am not saying that ideas should dominate the work, that somehow a horror series should be written as literary fiction. I am, however, arguing Horror fiction is as strong and important as another other kind or genre of writing. I am proud to write Horror, and I believe it, as a genre, should be taken seriously.
As the author of your series, you should have some idea of the over-arching ideas that permeate your work. For example, in my Investigative Paranormal Society series, several themes exist—Is there life after death?; What responsibility do we have towards each other?; And does love overpower hatred?
You may have noticed that I expressed these ideas as questions. I did this because these are issues that I am exploring as I write the books. I am not trying to teach lessons in the novels but to keep in mind these broad questions as I write. I certainly think character and conflict matter more than thematic concerns, but that does not mean that themes are unimportant.
Sometime, the writer can come to more of an understanding about these questions after having created several drafts of his/her book. I suggest that you read your work and answer these questions in a sentence or two:
• What is it about? This may seem like a very basic question, but can you summarize not the plot but the point of the series?
• Do you have any repeated motifs or symbols that you intend to use?
• Are there any political of social issues that you want to include in the series?
Understanding the conflicts that characters have, both internally and externally, is important to developing and maintaining your series. Conflict is the key to action, drama, and impact on the reader. Characters might spend time facing an issue within themselves, something that helps or hinders their actions. They might also have lesser conflicts with friends, allies, and families. With enemies, they will probably have the largest conflicts.
• What oppositions or problems are your characters facing?
• What internal conflicts must the characters deal with or try to resolve in order to achieve their goals?
• What are the conflicts driving the plot?
• What are the characters trying to accomplish?
• What are the stakes for the characters?
• What must the characters overcome in order to achieve success or victory against their opponents?
Understanding these questions will be important not only for the creation of the series, but also they can serve to help you write query letters and pitches for your books, if you intend to do so.
That is a matter for another day!
Another important consideration for a horror novel series is that of arcs, those of character and plot.
All novels should have clear character arcs, the movement that a character takes internally as the external events of the story occur. Arcs should occur in each section of the novel. I tend to think of my novels as being set in three overarching acts, but that is not crucial. In my case, many chapters would occur within a given act. You should view the major divisions of your novel as best suits your needs.
Ideally, you should look at each character and decide these points, but you might wish to stick with examining the arcs of the featured characters.
The most important questions for character arcs follow, and please try to answer each question both within each book and the entire series:
• How much and in what ways does the character grow?
• What does the character learn?
• How does the character change?
I suggest that you answer these questions about the character for each “act” of each novel, for each novel of the series, and for the overall series itself. This may seem, on first glance, to be too much analysis for a creative process, but I think that the more we, as writers, understand what we are trying to accomplish, the better the process will be.
Now, if you disagree, then simply do not use this approach.
This is a similar approach that I take with teaching of writing to students in my college classes, when instructing essay writing—that you should try various approaches. Keep what works for you, and put those tools in your writer’s toolbox; eliminate what does not work.