I’ve always been an avid series reader. Growing up, I was obsessed with Baby-sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, Ramona, Judy Blume’s Fudge books, and Frog & Toad. As an adult, I’ve expanded to The Penderwicks, Junie B., Wimpy Kid…and Kristan Higgins’ adult romantic comedies. Every time I open up a book in one of my favorite series, it feels like opening the door to find a house full of friends.
There is something comforting about the predictability of series books; a sense of security knowing what you can expect before reading the first page. I love that I can always count on my favorite series to follow a certain formula and end the way they’re supposed to end—with a few twists-and-turns and surprising character evolutions along the way. So when I set out to write the first Puppy Pirates book, I knew there were some “rules” I needed to follow if I wanted to earn kids’ trust.
In my opinion, the three most important aspects of early chapter books are: humor, accessible characters, and a consistent structure. Luckily, I love writing silly scenes and have a two nine-year-olds and an eleven-year-old at home who are huge goofballs…so that part comes easily and naturally. As for characters: before I figured out what should happen in the Puppy Pirates stories, I thought about who my crew would be. As I developed each character, I created a detailed character bible that I refer to constantly when I’m writing these books. Character consistency is key and kids are very careful readers, so I keep notes of my pups’ favorite nap spots, fur color, hobbies, and favorite phrases, among other things.
For me, the hardest part of writing is plot and structure. Before I started writing the first Puppy Pirates adventure, I knew I wanted to build a series—so I had to come up with a solid structure that would hold up for many adventures.
Years ago, I was given the opportunity to write a series of Scooby-Doo chapter book mysteries (FYI: I write books about other people’s characters using a pseudonym!). To prepare, I binge-watched a bunch of Scooby TV episodes and paid close attention to the structure of the show. I realized that part of Scooby Doo’s appeal is the predictability…you know that in every episode, Shaggy and Scooby will eat a snack, there will always be a chase scene, and every mystery has a masked bad guy (or girl).
When I set out to write Puppy Pirates, I decided to take a cue from Scooby and develop a clear structure for the series that kids can count on from book to book. I don’t always follow it exactly, but most books go something like this:
- Chapter 1-2: Intro with a pug prank/practical joke that becomes crucial for solving the climactic problem
- Chapter 3: Henry/Wally (my main characters) are put in peril
- Chapter 4: Chase scene that leads to a bigger problem
- Chapter 5: Resolve original conflict…but now they’re in even more trouble!
- Chapters 6-8: Main conflict—chases, battles, challenges
- Chapter 9: Wally faces a fear and overcomes it
- Chapter 10: Wally/Henry friendship moment/resolution
So far, I’ve written eight books in this series (with two more on the horizon), and having a road map to guide me on each adventure has been a big help. I always start with this basic structure, and then figure out what twists and turns and character developments will get kids excited about reading the next book. I love writing this series just as much as I enjoy reading series. Luckily, it’s just about time for me to start writing the next Puppy Pirates adventure—all my mates are waiting for me aboard the Salty Bone, so let the outlining begin!