Writing a book series is a tiresome task and can span many years of your life. It takes time and dedication to write a structured book series, but it’s worth the hard work if you’re willing to put in the effort. It’s my hope that these tips will help you write your book series.
When written with care and imagination, a book series can be a rewarding asset to any author; and the things we do now will help what happens later down the line.
Not all writers choose to write an entire series before they publish the first book. Sure, this might help keep everything straight, but that’s a minimum of 200,000 words you’re looking at before publishing a single book.
Because of this, I’ve compiled six tips for writing a book series so you can keep details at arm’s length, know where the story and characters are headed, and write with purpose, focus, and immense courage.
Tip #1 Planning now benefits later you.
It’s not uncommon for first-time writers to write a few dozen partial drafts before they manage to complete one novel-length manuscript. But what most don’t realize is that these partial drafts could be avoided with proper planning and execution. Often, the problem lies in with the systems and schedules—or lack thereof, really—which can elongate a month-long endeavor into several months or years.
Having that initial planning—or outlining—is a great way to cut down on writing time as it fosters increased writing focus because you know what you’ll be writing ahead of time and helps you understand where you’re headed and how you’re getting from Act One to Act Three.
And because you always know what’s coming next, writer’s block doesn’t have a moment to slip inside your head and derail your project.
Tip #2 Character development is critical.
You’ve probably heard people say that books are either character-driven or plot-driven. But what if I was to tell you that every book is character-driven?
When the plot steps away from the main character, you’re left with a protagonist chasing the plot which is the opposite of what you want as it often leaves your characters feeling flat and one-dimensional.
Aside from the main plot, each of your characters should go on their own mini-story inside their head. It doesn’t have to be some big, overarching storyline, but it needs to be some sort of personal journey for them to learn and grow from.
Creating identifiable characters your readers relate to and love to read will encourage them to come back book after book. Tips for crafting well-developed characters will help focus your book series writing efforts.
Tip #3 Create and update a series bible for your series.
It’s hard enough to keep your life straight. We don’t expect you to keep every minute detail in your head, forever engraved into your memory. That’s what notebooks are for.
Keeping one notebook is a great way to compile key tidbits about your world and characters that you can easily revisit over and over again. Plus, a fresh and focused notebook—versus one that’s scattered—makes it easy to jot down things for later and partition your notebook exactly how you need it.
If you’d prefer using something online, something loaded with features for the budding writer, check out Notion.so, which is an all-in-one, online workspace that allows you to write, plan, collaborate, and organize every detail in your world. It’s also great for general planning.
A notebook and online tools like Notion.so also allow you to easily update your series bible whenever you need to. You can do it at the moment or wait until later, but updating your series bible keeps track of what’s important in your story and what should be important to your readers.
Tip #4 Spread out the exposition.
Exposition is the background information your readers need to understand the story and fully immerse themselves in the world and plot. It’s what gives them the incentive to root for or against your characters and continue turning page after page until it’s well-passed bedtime.
While a standard standalone typically tells most of the exposition in the first act, in a series you have much more flexibility.
Of course, you’ll want to reveal major character motivations during the first act of each novel, but the bigger picture and more generalized information can be revealed over the course of the book and/or series.
One mistake I made when writing the first draft of my first novel-length journey was writing exposition like it was going out of style. Almost every point had a story that was often spread over a few paragraphs. It made 80,000 words into 150,000+ words and going through the first few rounds of revisions really difficult because I wasn’t sure what to cut and what to keep.
Thankfully, I figured it out quickly after my first developmental editor tore my book apart with giant red pens and a mountain of a revisions letter. I almost felt bad for her but was too busy being thankful for the immense amount of time she spent on my novel.
Tip #5 Realize that revisions and edits are another phase in the process.
Many writers love the revisions process, and many writers don’t. But the reality is that every book goes through a revisions process. No matter how much we plan and no matter how eloquent our writing, every story needs a developmental editor to smooth out the edges.
The best thing I’ve ever done was hold off on all editing until I’ve finished the first draft. This lets me focus on telling the story, instead of fixing what I’ve already deemed to be wrong with it.
Now that I’ve written a few novel-length manuscripts, I’ve started changing my routine. I focus on writing four days a week, while the other three days are focused on editing what I’ve written. Cleaning up the prose, fixing obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, and making notes and comments will only help the second and third drafts go much smoother. But it took me a few rounds of writing and getting my work torn apart to fully realize what needed to be changed.
Tip #6 Know when to end your series.
Knowing how you want to end your story is one thing. Knowing when to end your series is something entirely different. Whether you’re trying to cram too much information into one story or there isn’t enough plot to go around, knowing when to end your series will help avoid unnecessary filler.
Have you ever read a book and wondered why it was necessary? Like, if they’d just taken that book out nothing from the beginning or end would have changed?
There’s a difference between writing a book and writing a series because you’re effectively writing a story within a story and there are certain parameters you need to address. For example, each installment needs to address the book’s story as well as the series journey.
The best way to navigate longer series is to build a timeline for each of your main plot points and characters and use that to determine each book’s plot. Each book should lead towards the series climax at the end of the final installment.
As rewarding as writing a book series can be, they shouldn’t be forced. You should write a series because your premise and characters demand one, and because you’re willing to commit the time and energy required to craft the best story imaginable.
As you continue your writing journey, I hope you focus on writing what feels right to you at this point in your journey. If contemporary is what you’re passionate about, write contemporary. If fantasy is more your speed, write that. If you want to write a series, I hope you find these tips useful in your writing journey.
Don’t limit your story because you don’t think you’re good enough. Just be ready with your tool belt when things get hairy.