The World of Valdemar: How to Read Like a Writer
Not every idea or tangent will fit in your book, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut them completely. When you’re writing an anthology-based book series, you have the freedom to create standalones and mini-series on any thread of story you come up with. That’s what Mercedes Lackey does in her Valdemar series. Her books are successful because she knows which aspects of world and characters to focus on and which to save for later books.
Building Valdemar (And Your World)
Don’t Overwhelm Your Reader with Setting
When writing a book series that’s tied together by a world instead of a main character or plot, you need to be careful not to overwhelm your reader in any one book. You don’t have to summarize what happened previously or every nuance of your complicated world. Instead, only describe the parts of your world that impact that particular book.
In Lackey’s standalone Valdemar novel Take a Thief, the main character is a young boy who spent his whole life in Haven. The majority of the story takes place in the city, so Lackey focuses on that piece of her world. She doesn’t describe the interworkings of the other countries and cities.
She also limits her moments of world exposition and description to what her readers need to understand each scene. Here’s a bit of the information she gives in the first chapter about Haven:
The narrow, twisting streets he followed were scarcely wide enough for a donkey cart. The tenement houses, three stories tall including the attics, leaned toward the street as if about to fall into it. There was not enough traffic to have worn away the packed, dirty snow heaped up against the walls of the houses on either side, and no incentive for the inhabitants to scrape it away, so there it would remain accumulating over the course of winter until it finally thawed and soaked into the dirt of the street, turning it to mud (9).
Notice how Lackey focuses on the immediate setting. She resisted the urge to give an overarching view of the whole city, so she could plunge her readers right into Skif’s life and the plot. As Skif moves around the city, readers learn more about Haven. This keeps her story tight and fast paced.
Don’t Box Yourself In
The other advantage to limiting your world building and setting description in any single book is not boxing yourself in. As you write, you will get new ideas, which may involve altering a part of your world. If you unnecessarily included that aspect of your world in previous books, you no longer have the ability to adjust it for your new plot or character. Lackey was able to write so many standalones and trilogies in Valdemar because she did not box herself in.
Populating Valdemar (And Your Books)
Bringing Beloved Characters Back
Lackey is great at bringing back main characters from previous books as minor characters in later ones and vice versa. She knows her readers didn’t just fall in love with the magic and setting of Valdemar; they fell in love with its people.
The novel Take a Thief tells the story of how a thief bonded with a magical horse known as a companion, becoming a key part of Haven’s society and military. Skif is a brand new character in this book, so are most of the people he is close to. It’s his story about his area of Haven. However, Alberich, the weaponsmaster for many books and the main character of a few stories, trains Skif. Other characters also return or make their first appearance in the novel.
These nods to characters your readers have come to care about will remind them why they fell in love with your series in the first place and give them the chance to see where those characters are now.
Spanning Large Chunks of Time
Every story doesn’t need to take place in the same generation in an anthology series. Valdemar covers a large chunk of time. Lackey goes back in time to tell the story of characters’ ancestors or forward in time to show their children’s adventures. Your character’s legacy is a thread worth exploring.
Because anthology series aren’t tied to a single generation, they are often easy to read out of order. If a reader stumbles across the fourth book you’ve written, they can start your series with that one. Some readers will want to read your series in the order it was published. Others will try to read your books in chronological order. The ability to choose is what makes anthology series successful and fun.
If you decide to explore the world of Valdemar, you can search for Lacky’s series online and find all sorts of orders fans recommend. Lists and forums discussing reading order can build a community around your series that will help spread the word when you publish a new book and continue to bring new readers to your published novels.
Why an Editor Recommends Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Book Series
Lackey’s Valdemar series demonstrates all the ways an anthology series can be put together. It follows related characters, takes place in a single, magical world, and includes trilogies, standalones, and short stories.
When crafting an anthology series, you don’t need to use all of these components, but they are all available to you. If your readers love the mentor of your story and you have a great idea for how that mentor earned their position, go back and write a prequel. If your readers love the technology of the aliens in your science fiction novel, write another book with more of that.
Like Lackey, you don’t have to tie your books together with a large plot or main character. You have more freedom than that. Just remember to only include world details necessary for each book’s story and some characters from previous books to Ignite Your Ink.
What is your favorite anthology book series? Share it in the comments below. For more tips on writing a series and a free Guide to Building Strong Settings, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.