Writing a series

The novel you’re writing can be even more exciting if you think it has the potential to turn into a series. Fantastic! Instead of one book, you could write three or five or ten, all with these same characters and set in this world. Visions of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games may come to mind. However, there are some important things to consider before you commit to making your book a series.

1. Plan ahead
The most important thing you can do if you want to write a series is to plan ahead. You don’t have to write an outline for each book, but you should have a reasonable idea of what each book will feature. When I was writing my trilogy, I wrote the first drafts of books two and three before book one was even published. This was an enormous help in refining the details in that book, as some things I’d written clashed with the direction I decided on when I started writing the other two.

2. Be consistent
Consistency between books is essential. If your world has a pink sky in book one, it needs to have a pink sky in the other books too, unless there’s a plot-related event that explains the change. Additionally, your characters’ personalities should follow the patterns you’ve established in previous books. If in book two you take a character through some major character development, in book three, you need to keep them in that developed stage, rather than reverting to the way they were in book one. If your character can read minds in book one, unless you’ve demonstrated in a plot development that they’ve lost that power, they have to retain it in all the other books too.

3. Don’t stretch things out
There’s a temptation in any series (also in standalone books) to stretch things out so you can make sure you have three books instead of one, or five books instead of three. The trouble with that is it makes the pace of the story slow. Your reader might get tired of reading about what the characters are having for lunch when they’re waiting for them to storm the castle, which you promised they’d do in the previous chapter. Make sure you have enough story for the number of books you want in your series. If you don’t, then just do one story, or only two. Do however many are required to tell the overall arc. Don’t make it longer just to meet a particular expectation.

4. Try and have plot threads that conclude at the end of every book
While it’s okay to have some plot points hanging over until subsequent books, you should resolve a number of them in each book so the reader feels satisfied and has a sense of closure. If everything is left hanging over until the next story, which the reader may not see for months, they may quickly lose interest. Try and make each book have its own story arc that fits in with the overreaching arc that covers all the books. It will satisfy your reader and keep them coming back for more.

5. Your characters need to grow and change
If your story covers a period of months or years, your characters need to age with the passage of time. If your series is set in high school, with each book covering the final semester of a year, keep in mind that your characters will be a year older each time. Their interests and family situations, even their personalities to some extent, need to change and grow with the story. Change and growth in your characters is an important part of a story anyway, so you need to make sure it’s included in each book in your series.

6. Stick with your subplots
If you introduce a subplot, say a romance between two minor characters, make sure you either continue it in subsequent books or conclude it in the book where it started. Don’t just let it disappear for no reason. If you’re going to introduce it, you need to make sure it’s resolved in some way. If you’re writing a series at the moment and you notice that you’re not going anywhere with one of your subplots, if it’s not too late, remove it from the series altogether. If it’s too late to do that, reinsert it and find a way to resolve it.

7. Resolve everything by the end
Once you’ve reached the end of your series, make sure you resolve all plot threads. Some can (and should) be resolved in the previous books, but the major ones are usually left until the final book. But you need to resolve them all. Don’t leave things that you’ve featured in your series unresolved (especially if they’ve been a big feature) as the reader will go away feeling dissatisfied or even cheated. The plot point you didn’t resolve might have been their favourite part of the series. Resolve everything for better or worse (the resolution doesn’t have to be a happy one) and the reader will feel like the story’s complete.

There are so many issues to take into account when you write a series and it can seem overwhelming. If you’re not sure you can tackle it, just write one and tie off all the plot elements at the end of it. Maybe once you gain more confidence in your writing, you can return to that world and write more books about it.

Lynne Stringer is a published author and works as a professional editor for Publish My Book Online/Australian Ebook Publisher. She is a member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd).

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