So you want to write a series? There are questions to ask yourself before starting that might help you make that final decision. Claire Bradshaw has a great article on the Writer’s Edit website, titled “Ultimate Guide: How To Write A Series.” I’m going to give you the gist of what she said. I highly recommend you check it out!
What story do you want to tell over multiple books, and will it lend itself to that?
For me, writing a series about paranormal assassins with powers of the zodiac signs very much pointed to a series, and a long one.
The genres that seem to be best suited to being a series:
- Science Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Children’s/Young Adult
Is your story idea meaty enough to sustain a trilogy or an even longer series?
Questions to ask yourself:
- Does my plot follow a single narrative arc, or does it contain many separate threads that can be woven together?
- Does the timeline of my plot span a short or lengthy period?
- Is there potential for extensive character development, world-building and subplots within my main plot?
Are your characters going to work for a series?
- Can you see how they will undergo a compelling journey, both physical and emotional?
- Do they have enough potential for development that can be sustained across multiple books?
Do I want to invest the time it will take to write a series?
Whether it’s a duology, a trilogy, or a longer series, there is an obligation to finish what you start.
- How much you love writing
- How much you love your story
- How badly you want to achieve the goal of creating a series.
Okay, so you’ve answered all these questions and you still want to write a series. What’s next?
Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter writing a series requires at least some organization to keep you from getting lost in the weeds or, worse, falling off a cliff.
The most important thing here is that you know the beginning and end of your series.
- The inciting incident, kicking off the events of your series
- The ending, tying up the majority of your story’s threads.
Next, according to Claire, answer the following questions about your plot:
- Does it raise enough questions? And, more importantly, does it answer them all? If not, why? Will readers be disappointed or will they understand the purpose behind any open-ended aspects?
- Does the plot have potential for creating tension? (Tension is one of the most important driving forces in fiction, and without it, your series is likely to fall rather flat. Take a look at these eight effective ways to write page-turning tension for some inspiration and ideas.)
- Is the plot driven by characters’ actions? Can you spot any potential instances of
deus ex machina?
How many books will be written for the series?
Each book in a series should stand on its own as its own entity with a contained plot that feeds into the larger plot of the whole series. I agree the main plot should have resolution, but to propel the reader into the next book, there have to be compelling, unanswered questions at the end, a natural starting place for the next book.
Break the overall story into sections, whether it be 2 or 3 or more, and use them as stopping and starting points for the individual books.
What and where are the climaxes?
Claire notes: There’s one key thing to remember here: your series as a whole must have a climax point, but each individual book must also have its own climax as well.
What theme is a throughline for the entire series?
I’m quoting the article directly here: “A series is united as much by its themes as it is by the events of the story. A series will usually have recurring themes that span the entirety of the story, but it may also have themes that are explored or emphasised individually in each volume. Overall, a series’ themes must weave together to create a broad, relatively complex tapestry.”
If your story is going to work, readers must care about them, especially when they’re investing their time in reading the whole series. Give them characters they have to know more about, that they can become so deeply invested in, they’ll one-click every book.
Pantser or plotter, you must invest time in getting to know your characters. Character profiles, especially for your protagonist (and the love interest if you’re writing a romance) are critical. Their history so you can glean their backstory and ferret out their wound. That will help you understand who that protagonist is at the beginning of the story and what kind of character arc they need. You may not have much of this information in the story, but it will help keep you on track as the plot progresses.
Speaking of character arcs, your protagonist and others must undergo a transformation over the course of the series; they shouldn’t be the same people they were at the beginning.
Claire poses these questions:
- What does each character want? What are their desires, goals and motivations?
- What changes and developments will each character undergo throughout the course of the series? Will their desires change? Will their mindset and worldview be different by the end of the story? What will happen to put this change in motion?
- What are the key events or turning points in each character’s arc?
- Is there any information you can withhold about a character, in order to reveal it with impact later in the story?
- How will the relationships between various characters change and develop throughout the story?
Is vitally important!
“If readers are to stay with you for multiple books, you must create a setting rich enough to immerse them and complex enough to sustain their interest. They must want to return to the world you’ve created, whether it be completely imagined (as in fantasy or science fiction) or realistic (as in a crime or mystery series).”
Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Sci-Fi
In fantasy, lay groundwork for your world-building. Consider the following elements of your world and if/how they will come into play throughout the series:
- Magic or technology
- System of government/power structures
- Culture and society
- Climate and environment
Setting as mood in crime/mystery
“Setting is just as important in a crime and mystery series as it is in speculative fiction. In this genre, however, the primary function of the setting is to help create the mood of the series as a whole. It’s all about atmosphere; about a sense of place; about creating a setting so vivid and detailed that it could almost be considered a character itself.
As Stuart Evers points out in an article for The Guardian:
A sense of place is important in most novels, but in modern crime fiction, I believe, it’s practically an imperative. It’s something hinted at in the smog-soaked London of Holmes’s cases, and in the country houses of Allingham and Christie.”
To plan the setting of your crime or mystery series, think about the sort of atmosphere you want to create. For example, if you’re writing a bleak, gritty detective drama, you should aim to let those feelings (bleakness, grittiness) infuse your setting. You can achieve this through descriptions of things like the weather and the environment in which your characters find themselves.”
Final tips for writing a series
- Keep a digital or physical folder of your notes and ideas (your bible) about the series. Do not lose it! Back it up everywhere!
- Every writer has their own way. For me, moving ahead with the story, not editing as I go, not backtracking, is necessary to keep up the momentum. If I need to add vital information or an addition to a scene, I type it up in a separate file and hold onto it until it’s time to edit.
- If you’re stuck in a particular part of your series, take notes about where you were stuck and power through. I write chronologically, but others write random scenes then insert them where they belong. You do you!
- Clichés have their place but there are some that are overdone. “In fantasy, for example, the ‘chosen one’ character arc is a little overdone; likewise, the tough, virtually invincible action hero is a tired trope of the crime/thriller genre. Try to turn these kinds of clichés on their head and subvert reader expectations with original plot, theme and character elements.”
You chose to write a series because you have a larger story to tell. Let your passion for story be your guide!
Have you written a series, or are planning to write one???
May your words flow freely,
The Zodiac Assassins series
Available on Amazon Kindle and Print, Nook and Kobo
Lyon’s Roar – https://amzn.to/2IB
Leona’s Descent – https://amzn.to/2yaDfjW
Libra’s Limbo – https://amzn.to/2q3VkNg
Leona’s Cage – https://amzn.to/2QTbVyp
Gemini Asunder – https://amzn.to/2PyNUig