I’ll be the first person to admit, I’m obsessed with continuing stories. I love being able to find my beloved characters in new situations and follow their continued growth. As a writer, I feel about the same. So much time and effort is put into the characters and their stories, letting them go can be hard and sometimes you just have so much for them to do. But, I also recognize that this isn’t always good for readers.
Writing a series is a commitment.
Now, we are talking about a series like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, not a serial which is similar to a manga which is released in chapters or parts over a longer period of time. We will get to Serials later.
So, how do we plan for a great series? How do we create a story that flows and elevates itself while allowing the books to maintain their own identity? Here is a list of key elements I like to define before I start writing.
This is only second to coming up with the story idea. The premise is my version of the tell-all synopsis, a summary that gives all the twists, turns, climax, and resolutions. This is for author eyes only but is a vital piece to any series creation. You put all your ideas, no matter how insane or disconnected they may seem, into a flowing synopsis of the entire series. If you want it in your story, write it. I have an entire section in my Scrivener project for the premise of the series and then each book respectfully.
Once I have my ridiculous Premise, I like to set some definitions for my series.
What is my genre? What is my sub-genre?
What are my goals for the series? Why do I want a series?
Can this work as a single book?
Is this a stand-alone series (where each story is connected only by a world or event) or is this a continuous series (where each book tells a smaller portion of a whole story)?
Characters aside, though a character can be a repeating connection, what within my story pops up repeatedly? Is it just my character? Is it a spell, a charm, an amulet, a demon, a murder, a story, or an event? Defining what pulls the stories together, like the red thread of fate, is key. Each story shouldn’t feel too disconnected even if they are stand-alone stories. When a reader picks up a second or third book in a series, they should feel a sense of delight when recognition hits them.
This is also a great time to start tracking subtle cues you want to drop, like breadcrumbs, to your series. Maybe an army went missing, someone saw an explosion in a distant area, or villages are reporting people going missing. While not a conflict directly linked to the current story, giving hints to the next story is always fun for readers.
Are the characters recurring? There are several ways to define your series characters.
Recurring Leads – Our lead is the same from the first book to the last.
Revisited Characters – The Main Character (MC) of the first book is a Secondary (SC) character the rest of the series. The SC of the first book is now the MC or an entirely new MC is introduced.
All In, One Out – All the characters are introduced in the first book and become the MC of their own books later.
Ornamental Leads – Each book has a new MC we’ve never met but original the original MC becomes an ornamental character, there by name only. This could be done through mention of a “legendary hero” or a deceased friend.
There are several ways to deal with characters in a series but the key is to never forget about the original MC.
Define your ending.
I can’t say this enough: end your series. We want to keep going, some readers want us to keep going, but we have to have a point where we put the brakes on. It is for the sanity of the author as much as for the reader. Every story has an ending and there is nothing wrong with letting fans use their imagination to think about the future of their favorite characters.
Keep in mind, plans aren’t written in stone. When writing creative fiction we should always look to our plotting as a guide, however we should still always plan an ending. Every life has an end, so does every story.
This is the point, after you’ve plotted as much of the general information as you can that you start a time line. I love to use Aeon Timeline for this. It may look very basic right now. You only have a few points to plot, but it is important to do this now. Set your start and end points for your story but allow yourself space before and after to make adjustments.
That’s it. Remember, a series is a commitment. You may make a small change in one place that becomes a huge change in every other plot, but it is a labor of love. From here, it is all about building our realm, which is a topic for another post.
How do you plan your series?