What if you could write a novel which pre-sold your next novel? And future novels too? A series of novels can do that. Series fiction is hugely popular. For an example, look no further than the uber-successful Harry Potter series.
There’s big challenge in writing a series of novels however: plotting.
Plotting fiction is challenging for all authors. The thought of plotting a series can be so intimidating that it paralyzes you.
Let’s make it simple, even for pantsers. (A pantser is an author who plots by “the seat of his pants.” He eschews formal plotting, and just sits down and writes.) These tips will help you to write a series.
Plotting a must-read series of novels (even if you’re a pantser)
I’ve been watching the Greenleaf TV series on Netflix.
Here’s what struck me about watching the series:
- There’s a “world” of the series;
- While there are many characters in the series, they’re all differentiated, and memorable;
- There’s an over-arching plot device.
So, with thanks to Greenleaf, and TV series in general, here are some tips to help you to plot a must-read series of novels, even if you hate plotting.
1. Create a framework for your series: a world, and big conflicts
Keeping your characters together — giving them a reason for interacting — is a challenge for every author, no matter the genre. Devices to keep characters interacting can include:
- Family relationships;
- Settings: a workplace, or a small town;
- A quest, or a challenge, or a crime.
The framework for the Greenleaf series is a Memphis mega-church, the Greenleaf family, and a crime.
If you’re a pantser, and hate plotting (me, too), spend time on your framework, and the rules of the world of your series. Once you know the world, and your over-arching plot, you can cheerfully pants the novels.
2. Choose: will you have one major character, or several major characters?
In the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter is the major character; he grows up during the series.
Depending on your series’ genre, you may choose to follow your major character through many books, or you may choose new main characters for each novel in the series.
3. Decide on an over-arching plot device which affects every major character
As we’ve said, the over-arching plot device in Greenleaf is a crime.
Using a mystery as the over-arching plot for a series can work well. Your series doesn’t end until the mystery is solved. While a mystery may work for many genres, it’s harder to sustain in romance, although it can work.
Vital: while each novel in your series can end on a cliffhanger which introduces the characters and theme of your next novel, each novel should nevertheless be complete in itself. Wind up all plot strands, other than your over-arching series plot, before ending each novel.
4. Plot your timeline, and keep a series Bible
I like to create a timeline while I write a novel. Working out a timeline during the editing process can be frustrating.
Create a tentative timeline for each novel in your series. Or at least, the first three or four.
Also essential: a series “Bible”, which includes short character summaries and micro plots of each novel. Over the course of a series of five or more novels, you’ll create hundreds of characters. Using a spreadsheet or a looseleaf folder for your Bible helps you to remember who’s who and what happened when.
5. Plan for cliffhangers: kickstart the next novel in your current novel
Your aim with each novel in your series is to entice your readers to read the next novel, and the entire series. You’re balancing readers’ need for closure with their desire to know what happens next.
So build suspense by withholding information. Be careful with this. In romance, you’ll earn one-star reviews if a major conflict in a novel could be resolved with a simple conversation. In a mystery, play fair: don’t deliberately withhold clues.
With the above provisos in mind, kickstart the next novel in the series in your current novel. Layer in the plot strands of your next novel, and you’ll have eager readers waiting to read what happens next.
Why write a series? To get readers
When you write standalone novels, you’re starting at zero with each novel. The big benefit of a series is that your first novel builds your readership for your next novel, and following novels.
If you dislike plotting, and haven’t considered a series for that reason, I hope that these tips will get you started on your own series. I can’t wait to read it. 🙂