Tag Archives: writing a series

How to Plot a Series and Make Every Book Stand Out

16 Aug

As an author with three series under my belt, I’m often asked how to plot a series, and I thought it was finally time to share a few tips. 

First thing is first, anyone considering traditional publishing should make book one a standalone. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the dream of writing a series, but in traditional publishing, that choice is out of your control. Agents/editors will get discouraged by proposals that say, “this is first book in a five-book series,” because no one can guarantee that will happen. (In fact, a series can be very rare for a debut author.) 

Repeat after me: “standalone with series potential”

But that’s more to do with traditional publishing than writing—and it doesn’t affect those who are self-publishing as much—so let’s get to those writing tips: 

Identify the Sub-Genre of Each Book

When I set out to write a series, I know each book needs to feel special. The way that I do that is by identifying each book’s sub-genre. For example, in my Timely Death trilogy, book 1 is a paranormal romance, book 2 is a paranormal mystery, book 3 is a paranormal action. In the Tomo trilogy, book 1 is certainly dystopian action, but book 2 is dystopian horror. (Time will tell what book 3 is.) 

When each book has its own sub-genre, it’ll help them stand apart while also inviting new energy into the storyline. Personally, I’d recommend every first book heavily lean toward your main genre in order to set the overall tone and expectation. Using my example above, the Timely Death trilogy is a paranormal romance, and book 1 is heavily focused on that, both in the main plot and the subplots. It’s the next books where I allow a little more deviation. 

I encourage anyone writing a series to keep that tip in mind when plotting out numerous books that follow the same characters. If you’re unsure what sort of sub-genres might work with your overall genre, “20 Master Plots and How to Form Them” by Ronald Tobias is a fantastic resource that helps explain plot and genre expectations. Play around with a few and see how they feel. 

Avoid the Dreaded Middle Book Slump

Avoid that middle book slump by throwing everything you can at it. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of writers stop themselves from using amazing material because they want to save it for the big, explosive finale. And that’s valid. But personally, I disagree with that method. Trust me when I say not to hold back. Give each book everything you got. You will come up with something even bigger for the next book. I know it can feel scary, but I’ve done it before, not knowing what I was going to do with the last book, and everything came together perfectly. 

If you want that example, I’ll explain, but it does spoil book 2: 

In the Timely Death trilogy, there’s a prophetic fight-to-the-death between two clans alluded to in the first book. Every reader expected it to be in book 3. And guess what? It’s in book 2. Though it seems to be set up as the ultimate climax from book 1, I knew I wanted to push against that formula the moment I started writing book 2, so I trusted my gut and used it in book 2. Book 3 ended up being even bigger and followed the fallout of that fight. Using everything I had in book 2 opened the series to even more dramatics, plot twists, and drama than I ever could’ve planned had I tried to save material for the finale.  

Don’t Fear Character Change, Including Relationships 

Too often I read series where characters’ friendships and romances remain intact book after book. Granted, the romance genre requires a happy ending, but you can still have a happy ending while pushing what it means for a couple to be together. You can break friendships and meld them—or break them up forever. You don’t have to have a happy ending for everyone. In fact, if I know my main couple won’t work out, I make sure to show one that will, and vice versa. 

To me, this tip is reminiscent of being willing to kill your darlings. 

If no one’s relationships ever suffer, then readers might get too comfortable with the stakes. Be willing to part family, friends, and lovers. Allow them to make new friends and find new families. This will allow for fresh scenes and stakes because new relationships mean something new to lose. New relationships will also show how your characters are changing. My favorite kind? A villain who joins the good side in the end. There’s something so interesting about showing what it takes to get the hero and villain to see eye-to-eye, even if one of them can’t exist in the end. 

These are just my top three tips for planning a series.

How do you plan yours?

~SAT

Take Notes While Writing a Series

11 Nov

While on Twitter the other day, writer A.J. Forrisi asked an amazing question!

P.S. Give A.J. a follow!

My quick answer? Take notes on your first book, so that writing the sequel isn’t as difficult. (And definitely do a read-through. ) I keep a character bible and chapter summaries for each book in a series. Notes help! But what type of notes should you take? How detailed should they be? Everyone’s method is going to be a little different, but I thought I’d share a couple places to start.

 1. Keep a Character Bible

This should cover all descriptors and main personality traits/issues. Personally, I keep a list of every single person mentioned in the book, even the tiniest characters. Why? Because that side character’s eye color is going to come up in book 1 on page 18 and in book 4 on page 127. It would take forever to read the entire series over and over again every time I need to find a detail. That being said, I still think you should read through your work multiple times. If you want to get fancy, take a note of the page number information is written down. That way, you can always double-check.

2. Organize Chapter Summaries

Sum up each chapter in a couple sentences. What happens? How does it change the book? If your book is heavy on revealing secrets, keeping track of what certain characters know will also help. That way, if those secrets move into book two, you don’t have to skim over and over again to find out where and what they learned. One thing I’m sure to emphasize in my chapter summaries is when certain characters make their first appearances. That way, I know when they entered the story (and the description tends to appear at the same time).

3. Other Notes to Consider

I keep a “General Resources” tab on my Scrivener. This is basically a sheet with links to educational websites on topics covered in book. (You know, in case I need a refresher, especially if I’ve taken a break between books.) I also keep a History sheet that tracks the years leading up to the book. Sometimes these events come up in the book, sometimes they don’t, but it’s good to know how my characters arrived at the first chapter. For fun and inspiration, I also keep a Pinterest board and a list of songs that remind me of my story. That way, if I’m finding it hard to get back into the series, I can connect with that original inspiration quicker.

Do you take notes between books? If so, what types?

Feel free to share your method!

~SAT

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