As I work on my chapter books series, I’m always keen to learn from those that have gone before me. That’s why I was so excited to host this guest post all about writing a series from the author of The 8th Island Trilogy.
12 Steps to Writing a Series That Doesn’t Suck
I have a love-hate relationship with book series. The author needs to be wise in so many ways when penning a duology, trilogy, saga, and so forth. One of my personal pet peeves is when an author’s first book in a series is well paced, but then the subsequent books begin to slow to a painful trudge with no ending in sight. I’ve read a couple amazing series that simply never finish. One of those authors, who shall remain nameless, told me recently that he plans to finish his trilogy—eventually. There pops up another pet peeve: Years (even decades) between books.
If it sounds like I’m ranting here, I am. I thought very hard about these topics during the writing of my own series, The 8th Island Trilogy (Above the Star, Below the Moon, Inside the Sun). While I write for pleasure, I also write for a purpose. I want to stir the hearts of my readers, give them a thrill, keep them guessing, help them be present in reading while simultaneously having an out of body experience because they journeyed with my main characters. I also want my readers to feel surprised yet satisfied with the overall ending. These things are challenging enough in one book and even more so in a series.
Here are my 12 Steps to Writing a Series that doesn’t Suck:
- Create charming characters with flaws. Let these characters experience moments of growth and failure in each book and to a greater extent over the course of the overall story.
- Situate these characters in a variety of evolving relationships. These relationships can be the heart of the plot or a sub-plot of the overarching narrative. Remember: everyone has secrets. No one person’s desires ever totally align with another. Divulge these revelations slowly, seasoning them into each book, culminating into one complete puzzle by the end of the series.
- Paint a picture in readers’ minds of a dynamic setting. The location of the story needs to impact the characters and their mission. Nature could mirror the protagonist’s struggle or could be a player in an epic game. In a series, you might note the changing seasons or the passage of time, and ultimately how these play into the development of the plot.
- Plan incrementally more complex and harrowing obstacles for your characters. When writing a series, each book should follow a character arc with growing challenges, however remember that the ultimate test must occur in the final book of the series in order to finish strong.
- Incorporate exposition, dialogue, description, reflection, and action. A series—though can be speed-read like a sprint—is ultimately a marathon. Mix up the delivery of the story so that it doesn’t read as one note within one book and from novel to novel.
- Tell one overarching story from book one to the final book in the series. Flex your plotting muscles. Consider: How can you keep the reader wondering what is to come? How do you end one book while stoking the fire for the next installment?
- Tell *almost* complete stories in each book of the series. Decide if you are going to leave each individual novel as a cliff-hanger or if your books—while unified—can be read a standalones.
- Make sure the plot, characters, and subtle details do not suffer inconsistencies from one book to the next. Fact check your own books two, three, etc. against their predecessors. Your ardent fans will notice if your main character’s eyes change color from book two to four, for example. As with any great novel, careful professional editing is key.
- Deepen the development of the characters, setting, and plot in each subsequent book. Just as in real relationships, the more time we spend with our friends or work colleagues, the better we know them. We learn what makes them tick, cry, laugh, blush. So too with characters in series. Readers want to learn more and more with each successive book, so make sure your protagonist and supporting characters are not simply caricatures without substance.
- Remember your audience and write to them. The more books you write, the better a writer you will become. While your style grows and changes, your series must flow and remain consistent. Those who loved book one will be perturbed if book three suddenly changes the reading level, tone, or maturity of content.
- Create a unique structure that the books can follow that unites them. This could be through chapter titles, point of view, timeline, and other devices. This harkens to cover design as well. The goal is that the books look and read like a set.
- Write strong beginnings and endings for each book in the series, as well as the start and finish of the series as a whole.
Good luck writing your series! While there are many challenges, there are equally as many (if not more) joys in writing multiple books with the same characters and environment. I was terribly sad to conclude The 8th Island Trilogy. The characters still feel like friends to me. I suspect they always will.
Don’t forget to visit the Blog Tour + Giveaway post highlighting The 8th Island Trilogy and enter to WIN the entire series!