Writing a Book Series
A lot of writers like to wing it when it comes to planning. Sometimes that works - for standalone novels. But that approach simply won’t work if you’re writing a series.
Your plots will get tangled with major holes and confusion. You’ll end up leaving loose ends by accident. You’ll make up facts as you write (eg a character’s middle name) and will forget these facts later on. John Adam Smith could easily turn into John Peter Smith because you didn’t plan or organise your thoughts.
When writing a series of books, you just have to be organised.
So how do you write a series and how do you organise your thoughts? I’ve given some tips below.
Once you’ve thought up your first book’s central idea, think of other plots that can play on the same theme.
Eg, you’ve come up with a story about pirates that are helplessly searching for a famed chest of gold. In the second book, these pirates will need a new goal and new challenges to face - and so on with the third book and any future books.
How do you come up with plot ideas?
In each book, your main character needs a challenge and, as a result, a goal. Will they reach this goal? What hurdles will they meet along the way?
Outline your ideas and identify challenges that stick to the overarching theme.
Will some struggles from book 1 reappear in book 3?
What will have have changed to give this old struggle a new perspective?
Alongside a plot arc, it is incredibly important to give your characters individual arcs.
We want to see the characters develop, for the better or worse. (If they don’t develop, they are boring and unrelatable).
A series containing multiple characters is always richer when each character has his or her own goal, especially when those goals clash with one another.
When coming up with character arcs, ask yourself these questions:
What are the desires (immediate and long term) of this character?
What immediate desires can this character fulfil in this book?
Which desires will they work towards in the next book?
How does this character’s desires affect their actions and behaviour?
What stands in their way? What hurdles do they have to cross to reach their goal?
How do they emerge after they’ve managed to battle through?
Readers read on to find the answers. They’re looking for questions that the MC can’t answer, especially questions that the MC is in need of answering.
You need three categories for these ‘unknowns’:
Answers that are revealed during a novel (these will be answers to more immediate questions)
Answers that are revealed at the end of a novel and set up the context for the next novel
Bigger answers to bigger questions that are paced throughout the series.
Don’t give it all away at once!
The difficult task is deciding what information to keep hidden and which answers to reveal when.
My advice: If you’re keeping information from the readers about history or character background, don’t keep it hidden for too long or things can get a bit confusing. A reader needs to know the MC’s motivations to be able to connect with the character.
Keeping information from the reader and keeping information from the MC are two different things. The former assumes that the MC knows the answer to the secret (and is usually used to maintain a level of mystery) while the latter gives the MC a goal: to answer this question. The unknowns you want to drag out are the ones that give your character an overarching goal.
RISE AND FALL
Rising and falling action helps to maintain momentum.
Each of your characters will have a goal to complete. Give their journeys valleys and hills.
A rise in action doesn’t necessarily mean an action sequence; it could just be an intense internal battle they need to struggle through or a moment when they find themselves juggling too many things at once.
With a fall in action, you can give yourself an opportunity to explore new territory: new characters, new settings, new arcs, new questions.
Stick to elements that are cohesive throughout the series. To the readers, these will feel familiar and comforting. These can be places, characters, or landmarks. For example, Hogwarts and Diagon Alley; Gandalf; the lamp in Narnia.
When planning a series, don’t just consider events. Consider places, cast members, and landmarks that will span multiple books.
There's a lot to think about when planning a book series. You'll find, though, that once you start planning, the plot tends to make itself! Occasionally, you will be called upon to just...make stuff up - but a lot of the plot and character development just falls into place as if it was always there.