Sitting down to write a single book is intimidating enough, but writing an entire book series? That’s almost traumatizing. But while writing an entire series might seem daunting in the beginning, in time you’ll come to realize that learning how to write a series is both easier and quicker from the beginning.
Standalone books are feats of their own, and if marketed well can garner the author royalties for many years. However, a well-crafted book series can do the same, and bring readers back time and time again each time a new installment is released. A good book series can not only help you retain readers but grow a new readership who enjoy your overall writing style and genre.
What type of series will you write?
There are two main types of series, each with a different purpose. The first and most popular type of story is the One Big Story Arc type and the second is the Self-contained Story Arc.
One Big Story Arc
The One Big Story Arc type is what you’ll see in books like the Harry Potter Series, where each book is a standalone story that breaks one big story into smaller pieces. Typically speaking, each book has similar or familiar settings, voice, tone, and characters; and even if new characters are introduced, your protagonist and main supporting characters remain the same.
The Self-Contained Story Arc
The second option—the Self-Contained Story Arc—is popular among serial mysteries. Self-Contained Story Arcs often have different characters, settings, tone, and voices with each installment, with few things crossing between books. Oftentimes, nothing will be similar aside from the book’s genre and themes.
Cross-Genre Story Arc
The final and least used story arc type is the Cross-Genre Story Arc, where the series begins in one genre and then shifts into another as the story and characters progress. The main reason to heed caution to this story arc is that readers typically choose books in a genre they know they enjoy. With Cross-Genre stories, the might not.
Should you or should you not write a series?
Why you should not write a book series
But just because people love them doesn’t mean every book needs to be one. The key to a successful book series is to have enough content to justify more than one book.
If you’re having trouble writing a fifty-thousand-word story, hold off plotting and writing a series until you smooth out your process. Think of it this way, even if the length of each book is on the short, novella-length side—let’s say, fifty-thousand words—you’ll need enough content for a minimum of three times that for a trilogy.
And, that’s on the short side. Most books are upwards of 70,000 words, with fantasy novels between 90,000 and 125,000 for each installment.
Ask yourself: Does my story require that much story?
Writers often begin journeys with large, almost insurmountable goals. Taking a step back to realize whether those goals are surmountable or an incredible feat for a first-timer is the first step. It’s important to remember that not every book or story idea needs to be a series. Some are better told as a single standalone. What’s important is that you’re crafting the best story you can and choosing the best delivery method to engage your readers with the best experience possible.
Why you should write a book series
Simply put, people love book series. A series continues a story readers have already fallen in love with, meaning they aren’t opening a book to a complete stranger. The protagonist becomes more akin to an old friend. They grow and befriend the character throughout the first book, and we love to see people we love flourish.
Because of this, readers may choose to continue to follow the journey through different phases in their own life. Particularly memorable journeys might see readers come back even after the reader has outgrown the genre.
For example, The Bad Beginning of the Series of Unfortunate Events released in 1999, while The End, which was the series’ final installment, released in 2006. Another example is the Harry Potter Series, which began in 1997, as a middle-grade book, and ended a decade later in 2007. Both series covered a wide variety of light and dark themes not often covered in material meant for younger audiences.
These are both very popular series, but they are but two examples of successful stories successfully turned into a successful series that people still enjoy today.
What is your series plot structure?
What most people get caught up on is they think writing a series means you’re writing a part of a story. In fact, you’re writing an entire story from beginning to end, and each plot point points to the series plot.
In the Harry Potter series, each book is an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each book’s plot points point towards the climax of the book, but many subplots and main plot points also lead the reader to the series resolution. Even if isn’t completely clear until we reach the final book.
4-Step Process for Writing a Series
Figure out the beginning, middle, and end of your series.
Write your series’ beginning
When writing a series, the first thing you’ll need to do is understand where you want your protagonist to start. Or, where they’ll be with relation to the main plot at the beginning of the series. This doesn’t exactly mean the first scene; just where they are in life. This place needs to be a mix of vulnerability and openness, though it can be a mixture of many things. Wherever your character is, they need to be on an actionable trajectory.
Write your series’ middle
Outlining the middle of the series is a little different than outlining the middle of a book, but it’s not so different that it’s unrecognizable.
When doing this rough outline, all you need to determine are the objectives your protagonist needs to learn, overcome, and understand before they can move into the final stage of their ultimate journey. This could be any number of things, like a puzzle they need to piece together or something they need to arrange or learn before they can overwhelm a great evil.
This might mean one thing is talked about per book or many items. Depending on the complexity of the problem in your series, you’ll have to decide which route is best for you and your story.
Write your series’ end
As with any story, it all must come to an end eventually. No matter what the end is—a long journey, a final battle to end the war, self-realization—you’ll need to write an end that suits the genre and characters.
I’ve seen many early drafts that create an end that is very unlike the main characters. Like, the protagonist will completely switch personalities to fit the end battle. They’ll become witty and sarcastic when they’re normally quiet and shy. Or they’ll master their abilities after spending four books struggling with it. While everyone grows and hones their skills over time, these changes appear to happen overnight with no other reason other than the big battle.
You have an entire series to train and focus your protagonist’s skills. Why would you choose to wait until the last fifty pages to really show us how much they’ve learned and how they can use it?
Break down the beginning, middle, and end of each book.
After you’ve determined the beginning, middle, and end, you can break your story down even further. Your first book will cover the beginning of your series and a few bits of the middle. The last book covers a few bits in the middle and the series resolution. Everything in the middle—whether you’re writing a trilogy, quartet, or a longer series—will need to directly point to the resolution.
If your middle stories don’t point to the resolution, you need to ask yourself what their purpose is; and if they don’t have a purpose, other than a few things that are learned, consider condensing.
Each story should not only be a steppingstone to the series resolution but a complete story of its own. Each book should have purpose and action. Nothing should feel stagnant.