How to Plan a Series of Books
Writing a series can be difficult – but it can also be the best work you will produce as a writer. Readers love reading series because there is something incredibly beautiful in joining the same set of characters on a new adventure. Publishers love series too because each installment after the first one will have a fan base. And writers love them because there is a joy in getting to write about characters you love again and again.
But, that doesn’t mean that series are the holy grail of successful writers. In fact, there are plenty of incredible authors out there who don’t publish series.
There are many problems that occur when you’re writing a series without a plan of where you’re going. So, for that reason, we’re going to take a look at several types of series that you might like to write – and what you need to plan ahead in order to do them right.
1. The series with an overarching story
The series with an overarching story have several common features: characters, an overarching plot that spans several books, and location (although, the location can change if the characters actually travel somewhere). The best and most famous example of this type of series is Harry Potter. Book one through six saw Harry at Hogwarts, while in the last book, the location changed as the heroes traveled around Britain.
How to plan this type of series?
There is no right and wrong way to plan your series. But, keep in mind that you need two things:
- A solid plot for each book
- A solid overarching plot for the series as a whole
In other words, each books needs to do be a solid predecessor to the one to come after it. For example, if in book three, your protagonist made progress in facing his or her fear of spiders, for example, then that should be evident in subsequent books. Also, each book needs to move the overarching plot forward. By the end, if you remove book three and the overall story is not affected, then book three is a filler (readers can spot filler books a mile away – and they really dislike them). Trilogies suffer the most from this – the second book often comes across as a filler with no real plot and ends on a cliffhanger.
For that reason, this type of series can be the most difficult to plan. Sooner or later, you will hit a road block, especially if you don’t really know what your protagonist is trying to achieve by the end of the ride. So, know your ending. Of course, you can keep the ending mutable, but always have a goal in mind.
Another thing is location, community, and side characters. Don’t have a side character make a 180-turn without reason. Keep in mind that as you write, you must pay attention to the details because you might make errors in continuity.
2. The series with stand-alone connected novels
Stand-alone connected novels that make a series usually feature a group of characters that appear in each book, while each book focuses on only one or two of them. There are many examples of this type of series in the romance genre, where each book of the series focuses on a different couple, while couples from previous novels make cameos.
However, that doesn’t mean that the novels are connected plot-wise. For a series of stand-alone novels to be connected plot-wise, you need an overarching plot that spans the books. The good news is that you can have a series arc. When one overarching plot is completed, you can continue forward with a new one. A good example of this type of series are Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Primarily romance, each book has a different hero and heroine, while the overall story arc took thirteen books to complete, and now the series is moving on in the second arc.
While not as difficult to plan as the previous type, you still need to know what the overall plot will be and how to get there. On the other hand, each book will have a solid plot by nature, since each book will be a stand-alone novel in a series.
3. The series with stand-alone non-connected novels
This type of series can also be called “endless series” because they don’t have an overarching plot. A good example of this type of series are detective novels. Often, these series might not even be written in the order in which they should be read. A good example are Agatha Christie’s novels featuring the detective Poirot. Poirot solves mysteries and crimes left and right, but the order in which the books were published doesn’t match the order in which they should be read chronologically. In this case, the only thing connecting the novels is Poirot’s character.
Another good example of this type of series are Isaac Asimov’s novels and short stories. Most of what Asimov wrote was in the same universe, and read chronologically, it’s a future history of earth and mankind. The only thing connecting these series is the universe, and the history of the characters that appear in each book. As such, events from one book are referenced as history events in a subsequent book. It is worth noting that within the series’ universe, Asimov wrote books that were connected – the Robots series, the Foundation, etc.
Stephen King’s work can also be considered this way, because events and places from various books appear in other novels.
The good thing about this type of series is that you can work within the same universe, but not focus on an overarching plot. You can focus on a character, a place, a location, or even an object or a house.
The negative side is that you might face the problem of Pokemon’s Ash Ketchum – the character that never grows, or never changes. A lot of detective/mystery series suffer from this, even if the writer has managed to keep the protagonist in his early twenties or thirties for more than ten years.
The best way to plan this type of series is to constantly change. Let the world change, albeit minimally and realistically with each book. If you’re following a single protagonist, let him or her change and age, together with the world you’ve built. Even if there is no overarching plot, let your characters and the world grow and change to keep things fresh.
Also published on Medium.