How to Plan a Book Series

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Are you thinking of writing a book series, but not sure where to start? You’ve landed on the right post. In this post, we’re discussing all things book series.

You should know this upfront:

Writing a book series can be incredibly challenging (that’s the bad news), but it’s also one of the best ways to develop a loyal fan base (that’s the good news).

Some of the most treasured books in all of literature were written in series form, such as The Millennium Series, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Goosebumps, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire, Little House on the Prairie and The Ramona Collection (a childhood favorite of mine). That’s just to name a few.

Readers love book series because they can follow a character through various adventures. You’re a reader, too, so you can relate to that sad feeling you get the end of a good book. But then those sad feels melt away when you find out that the author is coming out with a new book in the series. You, as the reader, get another chance to be with the characters that you love (or love to hate).

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Image Courtesy of Giphy

So, what do you need to know to create a book series of your own?

Let’s start by defining what makes up a series of books.

There are two basic types of book series.

  1. One story arc that’s too big for one book and is fleshed out over multiple books
  2. Self-contained, episodic stories that resolve by the end of the book and follow the same cast of characters

In the first type of book series, characters evolve and progress through the course of the expanded story. This type of series is typically constructed in a chronological manner, meaning that it should be read in order.

A twist on this type of book series is a story that’s told from multiple points of view, such as the aforementioned A Song of Ice and Fire.

The second type of book series can be read out of order. The stories are self-contained, or independent of each other, although the characters can (and should) progress in episodic book series as well. Characters can fall in love, have children, or change jobs within an episodic book series without it confusing for the reader, especially if it makes sense to do so.

A book series can be two books or 50 books and counting. It all depends on what type of story you’re telling and how long it takes you to tell that story.

So, let’s get into the nitty gritty of planning and creating a book series, along with a few things you should keep in mind.

Here’s a worksheet to help you plan the perfect plot for your series.

Start with Enough Story

The first rule of writing a book series is having enough content to justify more than one book. Even if you plan to write an expansive multi-book series, editing is still your best friend. No reader wants to drudge through unnecessary passages just because you have the room.

Don’t just pad your novel with extra content that deserved to be on the cutting room floor.

But, if you have a story that can’t possibly be told intelligently within one novel (and you’re sure it makes sense to go with a series), then go for it full force.

I do recommend that you set off to accomplish at least one thing within each book. If you’re planning a multi-book story arc, it’s okay to have an unresolved bigger story at the end of the book. However, resolve smaller plots in each book so that the reader feels satisfied. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a reader who doesn’t trust you.

Planning is Everything

This is especially true with a one story arc series.

Here’s why:

If you don’t plan, you’ll create plot holes. That is officially the worst thing ever. No one likes inconsistency in storytelling.

And if you earn loyal readers, they’ll know your characters almost as well as you do. Without a doubt, they will spot problems with continuity in your book series.

So, to avoid plot holes and angry readers, plan your story from beginning to end.

Additionally, I recommend threading the same themes and motifs throughout your multi-book story. It creates much needed cohesion that will help tie together your story.

And it doesn’t just happen through magic. You’ll need to carefully plan it so that your story, no matter how many installments, reads seamlessly, which leads me to my next point…

Study Your Previous Novel(s)

Be sure that you follow the threads you’ve already created.

For the sake of continuity, pay close attention to the following:

  • The names and descriptions of minor characters
  • Characters’ motivations
  • Key events (such as birthdays, anniversaries and other pivotal moments)
  • Character language and phrasing (how they express themselves)
  • Character habits
  • Ideals they hold about themselves, their world and their future

Check, double check, triple check your story to make sure that there are no inconsistencies in the plot.

Time It Perfectly

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Along with planning, it’s crucial to time your series so that you take advantage of your reader’s memory. They. Will. Forget.

Spacing out your series to one book every two or three years is a no go. This is especially true if you’re a new author and looking to build your readership. Consider publishing the next book in your series no longer than one year after the last one.

Also, consider how much time should pass within the characters’ world. Some novels dive immediately into the action hinted at from the previous novel. Others leapfrog decades into the future or the past.

Keep Growing the Characters

“And they lived happily ever after.”

You probably aren’t using this the last line of your novel, right? Especially if you’ve checked out this post: Everything You Need to Know About Writing Endings.

But if you’re thinking of ending the first novel of your series on a happy note where all loose ends are tied, consider this: Why should the reader keep reading your series? You haven’t left much room for further development of your characters. If you don’t have a looming plot that’s hanging out in the background and waiting to destroy your characters’ happiness, there’s no need to write a second story.

I’ve come across many, many stories where the ending was satisfying and I had fallen so far in love with the characters that I wanted to follow them on Facebook. I just wanted to know what happens next, now that they have this new life. That’s usually because there’s a question in the back of my head that says, Are they really going to stay happy? Or, I wonder how this protagonist would handle this problem?

That didn’t happen by accident. It’s the job of the author to plant these questions. You can do this through amazing characterization. Or you can do this by creating a plot that’s big enough to take multiple books to resolve.

Don’t Regurgitate the Same Story

This is what I call the Scooby Doo method of series writing. Every story is predictable. She’s going to find trouble, she’s going to solve it through grit and sarcasm. Yawn.

If you’re following the same protagonist, instead of doing the same story with a slightly different setting, consider focusing on different aspects of that main character. Use the plot to develop and flesh out the character. By the end of the series, the reader will have a deeper understanding of who the character is.

But if you prefer to stay within a set formula, think of ways you can evolve the character, even if subtle, to bring interest and excitement to your story. If I’m reading 10 installments of your mystery series, I want to feel like the protagonist becomes more self-aware.

Master the Middle

The middle book tends to be a muddled mess. They’re usually slow and vulnerable to filler.

However, I recommend delving into character development during your middle works. Here’s your chance to explore the backstory and shed light on the character’s motivations.

But remember to incorporate a smaller, self-contained story arc within every book. The character needs something to do, not just wait around for the grand finale. And this plot should serve to push the character forwards.

Create a Character Bible

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When you create a series, having a reference file for your characters is extremely helpful. This will help you avoid inconsistencies and create a believable, dimensional cast of characters.

Take the time to understand the characters, their backstories and their motivation. As I recommended in this post, develop a character bible where you define everything about the character, including demographics, history, moral code, body language and dialogue.

Also, check out this post for guidance on creating secondary characters.

Remember to introduce your characters early on, but spread out their back stories throughout. There’s no need to give it all away at once, especially if you have the space to pace yourself.

Understand Your World

When you’re writing a book series, you definitely need to have a clear understanding of the world your characters live within. Chances are, each of your novels will exist in the same world.

Create a file that tackles the following:

  • What’s the physical description of the world?
  • What types of people live there? (how do they look, how do they dress, what are their beliefs)
  • What type of language is spoken there?
  • What’s considered normal?
  • What are social classes and how do they engage with each other?
  • What do they believe about wealth, poverty?
  • What type of government do they have?

The more details, the better.

Know When to Call It Quits

Not every story needs a sequel, prequel, different angle, spin-off, et al. Some of the greatest stories stand alone.

By forcing a sequel (especially if that sequel sucks) you can sour the reader and dissuade them to ever buying another book that you write. I know that’s not what you want, so be sure that you have a compelling reason to go with a book series, and if you do (and even if you don’t), we’re here to help.

Over to You

What’s your favorite book series, and why? Let us know in the comments below.

Don’t forget to download this plot planning worksheet.

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