Writing a Series: Tips and Questions (Part Two)
By Jack A. Taylor
In Part One of this post, we considered five tips when it comes to writing a series of novels. The complexity of development, diversity, detail, design, and draw can be accentuated as you unleash the full breadth of your dream series. Each book needs to include a complete adventure and yet still be part of a larger whole.
If you’re even considering the idea of writing a series, I assume you love writing. More and more authors are seeing this practice as a beneficial way to expand the character arcs and more develop the world-building in which they have invested so much time and so many resources.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are considering writing a series:
1. Do I have more than one book in me?
Some writers have enough of a challenge fashioning one book. “Pantsers” (writers that fly by the seat of their pants) arrive, mug in hand, hoping for inspiration. “Outliners” focus on the details of the story they have organized. Each requires discipline and determination to keep themselves pointed toward a clear destination for their characters.
Underneath, there are some unspoken questions. How am I going to write something that will keep my readers coming back over and over again? And will I commit myself to hours, months, and years of growing with my character? Do I really love this story that much?
Hopefully you’ve already forced yourself to think through whether a series is right for the genre you are writing in. (I mentioned previously that historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, young adult, and romance are natural fits.)
Your compelling characters will carry the story if you develop their hopes, dreams, and desires well. Are they endearing, embraceable, and evolving enough to carry the reader along? Will people invest their time and resources to find out what happens next? The timeline, plot depth, and overall narrative arc may help you see how far you can stretch your books.
2. Do I want to spend time and resources on a series?
For myself, I cannot not write, so a series makes sense. My first book, One Last Wave, was a standalone therapy manual after spending eighteen years in Africa. I chose to write in the first-person present from the point of view of a female character, capturing my experiences through my daughter’s eyes.
When readers were done that offering, they asked, “What happens next?” A trilogy grew because the character had room to grow and too many unresolved questions.
Sometimes a series grows as you grow with your character. My Salome trilogy actually started as a single book, but it became too massive to contain within the usual 80,000 words most novels have.
There are many different reasons for why you may end up thinking of writing a series.
So, you’ve thought through your setting, timeline, character background and development, world-building, structure, plot points, and story arc. You’ve mastered the conflicts, fears, successes, desires, and choices of your protagonist and antagonist. Your inciting incident and hook grab the reader, and by the ending you’re tying up loose ends and setting the hook for the next adventure. You’ve paid attention to the natural turning points of a story and ensured that the contained plot of each book feeds into a larger whole for the series. Now what?
3. Have I done the background work, research, and organization needed for a series?
If you’re familiar with Tolkien’s rising and falling action pattern in Lord of the Rings, you will see that the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, is about beginnings. The second book, The Two Towers, lays out complications. The third book, The Return of the King, brings us to a climax. He masterfully draws us into caring about his characters and the adventure they are drawn into.
The works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle present Sherlock Holmes in such a way that you can read any of the stories in isolation and be completely satisfied that you’ve experienced a complete adventure. Most of us will need to present a completed story arc within each work in order to keep readers hooked and satisfied over the course of a series.
Establishing a sense of place and an atmosphere in which things happen is also important. The key is to keep the reader connected to the character until the climax in each book, and until the climax of the series. Perhaps a Pinterest board with saved images, character descriptions and backgrounds, and overall plot points might help you keep everything consistent along the way when there are too many facts and details to keep in mind.
4. Is this my story to tell, and is it a natural one?
When we’re considering questions to ask ourselves, an important one is to consider whether we’ve allowed our themes to emerge out of the natural storyline our character is living out. The majority of our readers are gifted and intelligent enough to absorb what we’re trying to share when we immerse them in the world of our story. Some good editing and input from beta readers may help you determine whether you are successful in this area.
If you’ve presented a character profile consistently and faithfully to what is true and realistic; if the transformational journey of your protagonist is broad enough; if the desires, goals, motivations, and fears of your hero/heroine are clear; if you can see relationships change and grow; and if the reader is cheering for their success, then you have faced the essential questions.
5. Do I understand the journey I am about to undertake?
Post industry professionals urge us not to edit as we write. Inspiration needs to be harnessed before we can subject our work of wonder to the hard scalpel that may cut it up and reshape it. Writing in a way that continues to get the story down is essential.
Remember why you started your series in the first place. Fan that passion into energy to keep plugging away. Schedule time and stay committed to the characters you’re bringing to life.
Capture the answer to these questions ahead of time: What’s the main idea, theme, and reason for this story? What is your elevator pitch when presenting your story—one sentence? Who needs to read this, and what do I need them to understand through this character? Which sections need to be expanded and which sections need to be contracted or eliminated? Does the story seem natural in each book and over the whole arc of the series?
6. Do I have the support system I need to sustain this effort?
Writing is a lonely journey and is becoming more and more a team effort as writers, editors, beta readers, marketers, and publishers collaborate. Outside eyes, hearts, and voices can help bring clarification and satisfaction to what we hope to birth for each book. Others can see gaps, provide suggestions, celebrate insights, and provide needed skills.
The last thing you want to do is invest years into something that no one wants to publish or read. Focus on your genre, develop your characters and setting, sharpen your conflict, ratchet up the stakes, share your work as you go, and invite others into the journey. And I didn’t even mention praying your heart out!
How long will your series be? Well, a series will be about 80,000 to 90,000 words multiplied by the number of books you envision. The words are in you, but do you have what it takes to birth them, nourish them, and unleash them to a community that may not embrace them like you do?
Start writing and see.
Someone once said that if you spend five hours a day for five days a week for seven months, you will have the basic idea of what your creativity demands. Now, do that over and over for each book and then spend more time editing and publishing.
If you can answer these questions, you’ll have a good idea of whether you have a series in you that’s waiting to be born.
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.