6 Steps To Writing The Perfect Book Series
Have you ever felt so invested in an ensemble of characters and their journeys that you wanted to read more about them? Or have you written a story so extensively researched and characterised that one book doesn’t seem enough? The answer to these questions is a word that conjures different emotions in different writers: series!
Writing a book series is one of the best ways to progress as an author and build a loyal community of readers. Series can help you grow your readership because readers love to get hooked into a series of characters or a particular “world” and live there as a component of that world.
If you’re an avid reader, you would certainly be able to relate to the disappointment as a great book approached its end and having to snap out of a fascinating make-believe world and retreating to reality! But when you’re reading a series, the idea of spending more time with your favourite characters is simply delightful. It’s the same reason people order the same meal every time they go to a specific restaurant. Think of yourself as the restaurant and your book series as the bestselling dish that patrons keep coming back for!
A common misconception is that all books in a series must be read in a particular order. This depends on the kind of series you’re writing, and there are primarily three categories that writers must familiarise themselves with to meet readers’ expectations.
- Dynamic series: A dynamic series follows the same character or group throughout the series as they try to accomplish a significant goal in their life. Think of this type of series as an epic story taking place over the course of multiple books, like The Hobbit. Plot and character arcs are significant parts of a dynamic series, and by the end, your characters and the story setting should have evolved considerably. Each book will have its own primary area of focus that gets resolved with an overarching storyline that links the events of each book in a sequential structure. These books need to be read in that specific order to be correctly understood and enjoyed.
- Static or standalone or episodic series: In a static series, readers still follow the same character or group, but the series is more about individual events than a grand, overarching plot. Episodic series feature one main character that readers love and one who doesn’t change much. Readers return to a static series for the characters, not the plot. Often a reader can pick up any book in a static series and follow the story without having read the previous books. Examples of static series are Agatha Christie’s novels, Sherlock Holmes books and Nancy Drew novels. Because static series don’t have a finale the author is writing toward, they tend to be longer than dynamic series.
- Interlinked series: Unlike dynamic and static series, interlinked series such as anthologies are bound by some other defining element, such as their themes or the worlds in which they are set. Some of these may make use of the same characters in multiple instalments. However, most books in this structure can stand independently, with little to no need for the volumes to be read chronologically. Examples: Goosebumps, The Chronicles of Narnia
So if you’re ready to make the commitment towards writing your own trilogies and tetralogies, these are six steps that any writer looking to self-publish a book series can follow. Let’s get started!
1. Decide if writing a series is the right choice for your story: – Even if you’re crying in horror, ‘A series? Writing one book is hard enough!’, don’t rule out the idea just yet! Most writers feel this way, yet sometimes the urge to tell their story takes over and compels them to craft more tales that revolve around the same set of beloved characters. That being said, there are indeed a few ways to gauge if writing a series makes sense for the narrative you have in mind:
- Make sure there’s enough scope for your plot to be sustained over multiple books. While you might believe that your story needs to be told over numerous books, in reality, it might not be able to stretch that far.
- Determine whether your genre is suitable for a series. Fantasy, science fiction and YA fiction are practically made for the series concept, whereas romance or war fiction might not be.
- Ask yourself if you see a potential for growth for your characters.
2. Plan your series ahead of time: The most critical and possibly time-consuming phase of writing a series is planning it. While earning a loyal fanbase for your series is the ultimate goal, you must realise that some of these readers might know your characters almost as well as you do. Without a doubt, they will spot plot inconsistencies with continuity in your book series. So to craft a series that readers will love and want to come back to, it’s necessary to plan out various aspects of the process meticulously. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Create a brief outline of all the key events you have in mind so far, mapping out a rough chronology without worrying much about structure or order just yet.
Have at least a rough idea of the direction in which the story is heading so that the whole process becomes more effective.
Incorporate a less significant, self-contained story arc within every book, and use this smaller plot to move the story along and push the characters forward.
Figure out how the series should start and end, and plan out the ending of each part well in advance.
Know what the climax for the overarching plot and each book will be and what the characters must endure getting there.
Arrive at a number for how many books you should divide the series into. It’s worth mentioning that trilogies( three-part book series) have worked quite well in the past, so three might be a good number to consider!
Once you’ve used up all the potential there is in your characters, or feel that there are no longer new and exciting stories to be told within your world, end your series on a strong note.
3. Keep growing your characters and their arcs: Alongside solid plot development, a series must focus on constant character development to hold any hope of sustaining itself. The reader is invested in the hopes, dreams, and choices the character makes, so they must undergo significant changes throughout the story. Even if your central characters don’t dramatically transform through the book, they certainly should not be the same people at the series’ conclusion as they were at its commencement.
Similarly, it’s imperative to understand character motivations from previous parts and use that to dictate their actions, decisions and journeys in the subsequent books. If your protagonist ages throughout the series, make sure you develop and deepen their thought process, perceptions and relationships as they age or throw some light on their past leading to an interesting backstory.
4. Don’t reuse the same formula for every story – This is a common mistake to watch out for. Even if the characters and overarching theme are the same, don’t make the end predictable with an easily recognisable pattern. While you want to have some consistency and familiarity within each part of the series, your audience’s interest is bound to wane off if your characters deal with the same circumstances and use the same methods to rise above them. To keep your readers interested in and excited about new volumes, you could switch the structure up a little, introduce new places your characters can visit, new occupations they could have or new problems they must solve.
5. Pay attention to the theme that unites the series: Themes create some much-needed cohesion that helps tie together your story. A series will usually have recurring themes that span the entirety of the story, but it may also have ones that are explored or emphasised individually in each volume. For example, the overarching theme in Harry Potter, for example, is the conflict between good and evil. However, the individual books incorporate various universal themes that people can relate to, such as prejudice, power, sacrifice, choice, love, and death. These themes develop and come together as the series goes on. They can also encourage readers to think about aspects of the world they hadn’t previously considered, especially if they’re sustained over an entire series.
6. Time your series to perfection: Spacing your series to one book every two or three years is not ideal if you wish to keep the momentum and interest going. 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 book, whereas others pick up decades into the future or the past.
Once you’ve committed yourself to the idea of writing a book series, learn how to plan and execute your series to its best potential, create engrossing plotlines, develop your characters and stay true to your theme. You’ll be well on your way to crafting a compelling, unforgettable multi-volume story!