Writing a series of novels isn’t much different than writing a single story. Series take just as much planning as your first story does. Pantsing (flying by the seat of your pants with your plot) may work in the short run, but when you’re going epic, it’s easy to lose track of details.
Single or Series?
A series comes into being in two ways. The first is you’ve written a novel, your fans read it and they want more. You may not have planned to do a series, but you want to please the masses and give them what they want. Besides, you probably like the characters too and want to see what happens next for them.
The second way is you’ve got a HUGE story to tell and one book just won’t fit it all.
We also have two categories of series. One is what I like to call world based. These are series like Terry Pratchett’s Disc World or Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. In these series the focus is on a world of the author’s making. Each book takes place in a specific setting, but the characters change, old characters may make cameo appearances, and each book works well as a stand alone. You can pick up any one of them at any time and not have to know the details of book one to read it.
The other category is character based. These series revolve around an ongoing story where we follow a specific set of characters as they continue to evolve and meet challenged presented in a much bigger uber plot.
With a world based series you don’t have to worry about leaving bits of the plot unresolved. Everything in it ties up nice and neat at the end and readers are eager for the next book because they enjoy discovering what happens next in this world of yours.
A character based series is an expanded version of classic fiction story structure. This type of series is like one of those Russian dolls. Each book is a story within a story and each one has very specific goals that propels the story forward.
Structure Within Structure
Every fiction story has key points:
- Part One: Introductions and set up
- Part Two: The Response
- Part Three: Hero(es) take action
- Part Four: Resolution
These are the same points you’ll use when mapping out each book. In the first book, readers are introduced to your world and your main characters. They’ll discover the uber plot, the overall arc that won’t be fully resolved until the last book. Book one ends with things like the baddies getting away, a piece of the map still missing, or some other aspect of the greater story unresolved. Book two is the response to what was left open in the last book and so on through parts three and four.
Within each book is a smaller plot, full of challenges that do get resolved. These are the things you’ll wrap up. They’re the more immediate challenges your characters meet, helping them to evolve and grow in order to meet the resolution of the final conflict in the last book.
Always Leave Them Wanting More
No matter which type of series you decide to write, or how the series comes into being, having your readers clamoring for more is what every author wants. Pay attention to what your readers are saying. Listen to what kinds of questions they’re asking about your story. The things they see as unresolved will help you decide where to take the next book if you hadn’t planned on a series. Those same questions also help the intended series writer know whether or not they hit the mark with their resolutions in the first book. Maybe you left something open by accident, or maybe you resolved too much.
Either way, a little planning will go a long way and make your series a more cohesive piece.