Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Series Writing 101

My last project, Oracles Promise, was the first of a trilogy.  Trilogies are different beasts all together.  I may address those in a future post.  We’ll see.  For today, I’m discussing series.
My bright shiny new idea that came to me in a dream (literally, it was a dream I had) almost two weeks ago would be potentially the first in a series.  I’ve been wondering off and on just how many books I could milk out of this idea.  I don’t want it to become the fourth Indiana Jones movie or the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy.  (Meaning, superfluous, unnecessary and totally ruining the concept, charm, and appeal of the original.)
Yes, I’m a total nerd and proud of it.  Give me a flag to hoist on a flagpole and I will.
Anyways.  So I’ve been researching series writing and thought I’d share what I found.
A number of things, events, or people of a similar kind or related nature coming one after another.
A set of related television or radio programs, especially of a specified kind.
A set of books, maps, periodicals, or other documents published in a common format or under a common title.
There are several types (courtesy of this post by Kaye Dacus).
1- Spinoffs: Taking a minor character, setting, or concept from the first and creating a separate plot for that element.
2- Serials: Taking one character and writing multiple stories about that person, all unrelated, standalone episodes but with each book still deepening our understanding of the character.  The Indiana Jones series of movies would be an example.  Each movie was unrelated to the others save only for Indiana and his reluctant search for various objects.  He also came to a better understanding of himself.  In the third film, he even began to reconcile with his father and the final resolution of that thread came at the end of the movie.  (Why did we need that fourth one?)
3- Sequels: One continuing story in a finite number of novels.  A duology, trilogy, quadrilogy, etc.  (Maybe I’m making up terms here.  But Glam just proved me wrong.)  Examples would be Tamora Pierce’s series.  The Song of the Lioness books all follow one character in a continuing story.  Same with Protector of the Small, the Immortals, and Trickster books.
Tips.  (Courtesy of this post at the Keep Me In Suspense blog.)
1- Don’t assume that your reader has read the first book in your series when he picks up number two.
2- Introduce your main characters in detail.
3- Add some reminders with enough details that someone who didn’t read the first book can still understand what’s happening.
4- Each story in the series needs to have a resolution.  In the case of a romance that won’t be resolved until the last book, each book needs to act as a step toward that conclusion.
5- Include threads that continue through the series.
6- Keep good notes as you write the series including descriptions of characters, setting, habits, etc.  More than likely you’ll have to use them.
So, what’s the point of all of this?
I think it means that to write a series you have to be a plotter.  Or an in-betweener.  You can’t be a straight-up pantser.
And you have to do your research.
Thanks for reading everyone.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for what I hope to be an entertaining study in genre.  I’m still formulating the series so it may not start right away.


  1. That's what I'm writing. I don't think I could write a book that didn't go on for two. Or three... I guess that makes me a plotter. Mwahaha!

  2. The first thing that came to mind when I read this post was Jim Butcher's post on Characters, more specific, under the Verisimilitude section, his little note on character Tags. Which is funny, because I haven't read the post in 5 years, but it's so awesome that the point has stuck with me. (Heck, read all of Jim's posts. It's not so much a blog as an online booklet about writing, and it's AMAZING. The man knows the craft of writing, and it's no wonder he keeps hitting the Times list. Look for his 12th Dresden book, Changes, to hit #1 when it debuts next month (as the 11th did last year).)

    But yeah, being conscious of your world and characters is key in series work.

  3. Great tips for series and I like how you outlined the difference between spinoffs/serials/sequels. My romance is set up to be a series (although based on your definition, I guess they would be standalone spinoffs actually). :)

  4. I've never tried writing a series....but I should. :)

  5. Nisa, I know the feeling. It's hard to turn away from old friends for the new.

    GK, if I ever have time I'll track those down. Thanks for stopping by. I totally agree that awareness of what you create is essential.

    Roni, Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. Spinoffs are series. It's just a specific type of series. There's a connectedness to your romances that keeps them in the realm of series.

    Aubrie, series can be fun but totally daunting. Only take one on if you totally feel up to it.

  6. Ah, this is why I will never write a series. I have big problems just writing one novel. Now prequels or companions, I could do... Maybe.

  7. LOL, Elana. I know what you mean. With Lodestar that's probably how it would be. Spin-offs, prequels, etc. But definitely not any sort of continuing series.

    But with SNI, it's a different matter entirely.

  8. I like reading series, but I don't like it when there's essentially a full synopsis of the prior books at the beginning. I think Suzanne Collins did well with this in Catching Fire.

  9. I haven't read those. I do think that it's a tricky balancing act to get enough backstory in that your readers know what's what without boring them to death. I think that Tony Hillerman's novels were excellent at it. I read a handful but never felt like I was missing something.


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