Raise your hand if you’re writing a series. I can feel hands popping up everywhere right now! Many, many of us are writing a duology, trilogy, or multi-book series. (Stand-alones are great too, but for today’s post, I’m focusing on series *wink*). Writing a series is an amazing thing, but it can also be tricky and stressful. How do we balance the story arc? How do we know what to put in each book? What if one book falls on its face while the others are strong and well-paced? Today, I’ll be discussing three things to consider when writing a series…
CONSIDER THE ENTIRE PLOT ARC
Let’s imagine a scenario –
You write the first book in a series, have a vague idea of where the story is going (but no resolution), get an offer of representation and a publishing contract, release your debut, sit down to write the next books, and realize you have no idea how the story arc will unfold.
Now, it is not always necessary to know every detail of how the plot will play out. However, I would highly recommend knowing the general framework of the series, including the resolution. Here’s a few reasons why…
Once you’re contracted, publishers have a deadline for when the next book’s first draft should be completed. If you sit down and have no clue where the story is headed, it will put an immense amount of pressure and stress on you as the writer.
It will help you designate which events and twists to reveal in which books. Let’s return to the above scenario. Let’s imagine you do figure out the rest of the story arc after your first book is already published and in print. How awful would it be to realize you should have incorporated something into book one? Without knowing the rough plot structure for the rest of the series, it is difficult to know which pieces of information need to be revealed in which book.
This leads into point #2...
OUTLINE WHAT EACH BOOK WILL COVER
I recently faced this while editing WHAT LIES ABOVE. After stepping back from querying and completely restructuring the novel, I realized I had no idea why a particular war was being fought. I wanted something deeper than “power”… something more intricate and twisted.
Once I began to map out the plot for the second and (especially) third books, I realized that there was quite a lot of information/events I wanted to incorporate into book one… things that were not mentioned even briefly in my original manuscript.
Once you finish point #1 and establish your overarching plot, you then want to break that down into what each book will reveal. This will allow you to control the flow, and keep on task with what needs to be written into which books.
As an unpublished author, this is not necessarily an issue, because you can always return to earlier manuscripts and change things. As a contracted author, however, it could become a problem.
Since many (if not most) of us are striving to one day be published, learning this fact now can help immensely in the future.
BALANCE THE SERIES
There is a stereotype in literature that the second book in a trilogy is always the worst. You can see why this may be the case when you examine the general flow of a trilogy –
Book #1: The world is being introduced, and everything is new and intriguing and unknown
Book #3: All the loose ends are being tied up, often with plot twists, a riveting climax, and a gratifying conclusion
The first and last books have substance – enough to make them gripping. In the middle is book #2. It is kind of like the middle of a swinging bridge – without any support, it sags. In order to keep it balanced and level with the rest of the trilogy (or series), you have to give it equal support.
A great way to accomplish this is to have some idea in advance of what each book in the trilogy/series will cover. I am a plotster, a hybrid between a panster and a plotter. Often, I will jump into a story and write freely for a sprint. However, there always comes a time when I hit a wall, and don’t know where the story is going. Then, I write out everything, and develop a pretty structured outline. There is still room for that freedom I love, and the story often takes unexpected and surprising turns, but this outline helps me stay on track and know what comes next.
Some people outline every single detail of their book. That method works for them, and it’s great! I, however, am not that type of person, and many of you aren’t either. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to type (or write) out a general idea of your story arc across the whole trilogy/series, for the reasons I mentioned above.
While you are doing this, try to pay close attention to book two, and make sure it has enough support to hold its weight. When you are introducing threads in book one and tying them up in book three, it’s easy to let book two fall flat.
Instead, utilize it as a great place to heighten the stakes, create intrigue, twist the plot, etc.
Alright, that’s all for today! I hope you enjoyed these quick things to pay attention to when plotting or drafting a series. There is a lot I could take about in regards to series-writing, and I will be going into more depth in future posts.
Are you writing a series? Share about it in the comments below!