Writing a Series: Tips and Questions (Part One)
By Jack A. Taylor

If J.K. Rowling can do it with Harry Potter, Francine Rivers with Hadassah (A Voice in the Wind), Lynn Austin with Hezekiah (God’s and Kings), and Karen Kingsbury with The Baxter Family, why not you? If one novel is good, then three or more should be better, right?

If you’ve heard the term “jumping the shark” you’ll know it refers to trying to extend something good beyond the interest of your audience. This can easily happen when your brainwave for a dynamic character exceeds the capacity of your reader to absorb all the adventures you are taking them through. I’ve packaged my books in five trilogies although two of those trilogies are actually a series of six books. Readers who got hooked on book one wanted to know, “What’s next?” But what do you need to consider before launching a series?


  1. Consider the timeline, number of characters, research, complexity of development, and depth of strategic planning you are willing to engage in to keep bringing your protagonist and antagonist to life. Each book and major character in the series will need its own story arc, but so will the series as a whole. Introduce your major characters early and don’t waste time in detailing side characters along the way. Focus clearly on their inner, outer, and psychological fears, desires and hopes, to add depth and familiarity. Keep track of their inner faults and failures. In my series The Cross Maker, the main character lives out his desire for peace by aligning with a Roman Centurion only to find that his childhood friend ends up carrying one of the crosses he crafted for the man who murdered his father. He is forced to compromise many of his own values and his own inability to love and forgive is tested to the limits. By the third and fourth books, the main character starts to fade in favor of another successor allowing for a new trilogy to arise.
  2. Review the diversity and realism of the conflicts you have to carry your characters through multiple volumes. Is your central conflict strong enough to carry you through? For example, in my series on Salome, the central theme had to do with whether one has to be good enough to be loved. Book One focused on that theme in her own family after both her sisters became pregnant out of wedlock. Book Two focused on that theme in an arranged marriage that was abusive. Book Three focused on that theme when it came to living it out through your children and in community. Secondary conflicts are useful as long as they lead back to the main issue.
  3. Understand the details of the world you are creating for your character. The more books you have the more details you will have to organize and remember. Consistently repeated details make the world familiar to the reader. Unique and unusual details might raise curiosity and an element of fun. New characters in each new book add freshness and breadth. Unveil backstories slowly but surely over the series. Use foreshadowing in a way that you won’t forget when that nugget is needed later. Consider whether your point of view is clear. The more settings and characters you develop to keep the action moving, the more thought you will need to put into what you are presenting. Your characters need to operate normally, rationally, and expectantly in the world in which they live, act and react.
  4. Outlining or storyboarding may help you keep an umbrella view over the whole story arc. I’m a “pantser” (a writer who flies by the seat of their pants) who depends on my characters telling me what they’re doing and saying in a scene. I often don’t know what is happening next. New characters show up with their own designs and desires. “Plotters” may find it easier to break down a series so they can manage the storyline along the journey. Plotting the points of the hero’s adventure and the story arc may make it easier to manage with clarity. Each book in the series needs its own focus to make the end goal more challenging to achieve.
  5. Finish each book strong with a hook that will pull the reader toward the next novel. Major conflicts need to be resolved in each book and yet the overall underlying conflict needs to be unresolved enough to keep interest alive. A series will allow you to present a longer developmental arc for your characters so know when to begin and complete the story. When C.S. Lewis presents his characters in the Narnia series, they begin as curious children. By the conclusion of the series, they are adults ruling a kingdom. Keep your titles compelling for each novel while tying them together.

Plots twists and fascinating characters can come to life through a series and marketing pros say this is also good for your bottom line in selling. Some books are best left as stand-alone books so ensure that you have the time, energy, self-discipline, and vision to manage a longer-term project before you begin.

One other thing to keep in mind is the genre you are writing in. Some genres are natural for a series. I focus on historical fiction which lends itself to a natural movement of experiences over several years. Fantasy, mystery, science fiction, young adult, and romance novels can also be a natural fit for series. I prefer to write a dynamic series where several books form the backbone of working out a single storyline. Others prefer an episodic series where each book is a complete set of experiences and challenges.

Know yourself, your interests, the desires of your audience, the niche market you are dabbling in, and the resources you will need to carry you through from start to finish. It is better to start and finish one good book than to get stuck part way through a series and abandon the lot because you get lost along the way.

For more considerations on tackling a series, check out part two here.

About this Contributor:

Jack A. Taylor (PhD) embraces the world through the six novels he has written. He spent 18 years in Kenya and 20 years pastoring a church. He and his wife Gayle live in Vancouver, Canada. They have four children and ten grandchildren. Jack is an award-winning author with Faithwriters and writes monthly for Light Magazine and other publications. Jack has helped found nine organizations, including the New Hope Community Services Society, which has provided housing for more than 600 refugees from 60 countries. He is also the founding chaplain for Canuck Place, a hospice for children with life-limiting challenges. Jack’s hobbies include raising tropical fish and reading.

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