10 BEST TIPS FOR PLANNING A BOOK SERIES
Today I am finally tackling one of your most requested topics–if not the most requested topic–and that's book series. You guys have been asking me to cover this for ages. However, I didn't want to tackle this topic until I was a decent chunk of the way through my own book series. I don't want to give advice on something without having the proper experience. However, now that I'm writing the third book in The Savior’s Series, I feel like I got a good handle on this. This topic was also requested by one of my patrons over on Patreon, ShoobyDoo. Like many of you, she was overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating her own book series, so I'm here to help. I’m breaking down my top 10 tips for planning a book series. Let’s jump into it!
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Number 1: Consider Structure
There are two main types of series: episodic series, and what I like to refer to as the “standard series.” “Standard series” is not a technical term by any means, but let's just pretend it is for the sake of this post. An episodic series is where each book within the series covers an entirely different story or plot. For example, if the series follows a detective and each book within the series is a brand new case. A "standard series" is one that has the same overarching goal or conflict throughout every book in the series. For example, an evil baddie is introduced in book one and then throughout the series we follow the hero's journey as they try to defeat them.
Before you tackle a series, you need to understand which structure your storyline fits into. Episodic series are easier to plan because each book is pretty much separate. The only thing linking the stories is the cast. “Standard series” take a bit more time to plan. However, they tend to be more prevalent in a wider variety of genres and they are pretty desirable to authors who are planning a very complex plot.
Number 2: Divide Up the Plot
If you're writing a standard series, that means each book within the series revolves around one goal. Reclaim the kingdom. Take down the capital. Save the galaxy.
The thing is, every single book within the series needs to have its own plot or goal. A plot is structured as an inciting incident, rising action, climax, and resolution. And each book within the series needs to contain the structure in order to entertain and engage readers. Thus, you need to divide your overarching plot into mini plots. One mini plot for each book.
Say, for example, the overall goal of your series is to defeat an evil sorcerer. Maybe the plot of book one revolves around finding the sorcerer's enchanted staff. The plot of the second book is about summoning the sorcerer's exiled army. And the plot of the third book is about using the staff and the army to defeat the sorcerer. These plots never veer away from the main goal, but they still stand on their own as individual stories. Each book needs to have its own individual plot while carrying the series forward.
Number 3: Divide Up the Subplots
(Quite a famous subplot, if ya ask me.)
If you're writing a series, particularly a standard series, you're likely to have a variety of subplots. While you may be able to work on some subplots as they appear throughout the series, it's a good idea to have your main subplots on lock. This doesn't mean you need to know every single detail. You just need to know how they're going to develop. For example, I have a side character who loses his love interest in books one and two of The Savior’s Series, but through my series planning, I know he's going to meet his new love interest in book three. It's as simple as that. Chart the path of your subplots so you have an idea of where they're headed.
Number 4: Consider the Formats and Entry Points
A lot of people think a series is a book with a sequel, and then another sequel, and then another sequel. However, there are tons of different types of books and formats to consider. Your series could include companion novels, which is when two separate books have stories that are occurring simultaneously. There are series that are made up exclusively of companion novels. This is especially prevalent in the romance genre.
There are also series that include sequels and companion novels. The most obvious example of this is my dark fantasy series, The Savior’s Series, where the first two books–The Savior's Champion and The Savior's Sister–are companion novels.
There are also prequels to consider. Are you gonna go back in time and give the readers a look at what the world was like before the story came to be? And of course, there are spin-offs, where a side character or the offspring of one of the characters gets their own story. Consider the different types of books you can include in your series; this will create more entry points for readers, which is always a good thing.
Number 5: Character Arcs
This is important to consider before you start a series, particularly when it comes to the main character. It helps to have an idea of where you want your main character and the most important supporting characters to end up once the series is over. This is not to say that you need to have every aspect of their personality figured out, I just mean a general idea.
For example, is your main character going to turn evil and then eventually die? This is specific enough to give you direction, but vague enough to give you creative wiggle room. With The Savior’s Series, I know exactly how the story ends for the main characters. I also know the major hurdles they're going to face along the way, but the wiggle room comes down to personality. I know the path of their arc, but not necessarily how it's going to change them as people.
Number 6: Thought Dump
This is probably the most fun you'll have throughout the planning process. Write down all your ideas for the series. Doesn't matter if they're great or if they're shitty. Doesn't matter if they're in order or if they're scattered. If you're not sure which ideas will go into which book within the series, you can dump them all into one word document and then divvy them out later. But if you already know the general plot for each book, I recommend separating the thought dumps. For The Savior’s Series, I have a separate word document and thought dump for each book within the series.
The great part about this step is it allows you to be free with your ideas. We all struggle with focusing on one book at a time. Having a thought dump allows you to get your ideas written down so you can save them for later. This also helps with foreshadowing. If I know certain events are gonna happen in book three, I can foreshadow them in book two.
Number 7: Create the Structure
Once you've determined the plot, subplot, and character arcs, and you've got your thought dumps going, it's time to create a general structure for your series. Note, I said general. I'm not asking you to create a detailed outline of every book within your series–we will touch on why this is a bad idea later. But give yourself a vague guideline of how each plot is going to unfold.
This is where it pays to look at the general plot format: inciting incident, rising action, climax, and resolution. Nail down these points for each book, considering all the details you've already amassed. You shouldn't have more than a page of information for each book. Because again, we're keeping it simple. This should only take you a day–or maybe even an afternoon–to figure out.
Number 8: Outline
Specifically, outline the book you're writing right now. If you are starting a brand new series, that means it's time to outline book one. NOTHING ELSE! With all the details you've generated, you should be at a good starting point for whipping out this outline while taking the rest of the series into consideration. Now that you have a general idea of how each subsequent book will unfold, you should be able to sneak in some foreshadowing, maybe some easter eggs, or breadcrumbs. Outlining at this point should be fun, because you have so much information, you get to pick and choose which of it should be presented in this particular book.
Number 9: DON’T Outline
“But Jennaaa, should I outline every book within the series right at the beginning?”
Some writers disagree with this and ultimately it's a judgment call, but my personal answer is “No.” I would not recommend outlining every single book within the series right at the start. There's multiple reasons for this. For starters, sometimes stories change as you write them. Even if you're a hardcore plotter like myself, sometimes details might deviate from your initial outline. It's one thing if details deviate from a single outline, but if you've outlined the entire series, that's gonna fuck up your whole plan. Plus, while you're writing, you may discover certain characters or subplots you hadn't initially intended to explore. Maybe the character was supposed to die, but as you write for them, you realize there's a whole other story possible for their personal journey. I definitely recommend outlining, but when it comes to series, just outline the book you're working on. This grants you the structure and ease outlining provides, while giving you the creative wiggle room to deviate and grow.
Number 10: Allow Your Mind To Wander
People always complain that they're supposed to be working on one book, but they can't stop thinking about its sequel. Guess what? That's fine! Yes, you want to get words on the page. But when it comes to a series, there is so much potential story to explore! If you get a new idea to tack onto your series, whip out the applicable thought dump and jot it down. Again, multiple entry points are a blessing! It gives readers different avenues to potentially fall in love with your work! Don't be so hard on yourself for having a wandering imagination. That is an asset to writers! Let your thoughts flow freely, and write down all of those juicy ideas. You'll be glad you did!
So that's all I've got for you today!
Planning and writing a book series can seem like a daunting task, but if you take it one step at a time and follow these tips, you should be good to go!
What’s your favorite part of planning a series? I wanna hear it!
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