When we think about a book series, a couple of different types come to mind. There’s the series featuring the same main cast of characters but with a different plot for each book. Murder mysteries are a good example. I’m a fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series. In each new installment, I look forward to catching up with Alex and his cop friend Milo. I also know that they’ll be working a new case, most likely unrelated to the last. It’s what I expect from this kind of series.
Then, there are series that require more than one book to complete the overall story arc. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games are favorites of mine and good examples of this kind of series. Each book is a satisfying in its own right, but each segment carries us toward the completion of the overall story. For this post, I’m going to discuss some things to consider when writing stories with arcs that take several books to complete.
Be sure you know the ending.
When your plot stretches across several books, it’s important to have a plan for the finale. Complications are good. Intrigue and suspense are good. Not having any idea for a resolution is not good. That’s not to say your ending can’t evolve as your story unfolds. In the course of your writing, things will change. You may find a more exiting way to bring about the demise of the villain, save the kingdom, or settle on a new planet. But, it’s important to have an idea of where you’re going before you get started. Without a road map, you may wander aimlessly for hundreds of thousands of words.
Don’t lose the thread of minor plot-lines.
You’ll likely have several minor plot-lines over the course of the series. It’s important to keep track so you can bring them all to a satisfying conclusion. If you’ve chosen to leave something open, it should be a conscious decision that serves the story, not because you’ve forgotten something.
Maintain consistency with your world-building and in the details.
The rules of magic you’ve created or the advanced technology you’ve described in your worlds should remain consistent throughout. Important details, whether they’re about a character’s quirks, or the geography of a planet, should remain consistent. Readers notice when they aren’t.
Show character development.
Your characters will be faced with danger, endure loss, fall in love, overcome challenges, etc. Their adventures will have an effect on them, and it’s important to show this impact to the reader. Knowing where and how the action of the story will conclude is important. I would suggest that it is equally important to know how your characters will fare in the end. Will they be bruised but still standing, traumatized but healing, wiser or jaded? Your characters are the heart of your story. Show how they’ve changed in response to their experiences.
Know when it’s time to end.
After spending so much time with them, you’ve probably fallen in love with your characters and with the world you’ve created. It’s tempting to keep going, even after the story ends. Maybe there’s room to do this. You could fast-forward years into the future and create another conflict in your world. You could focus on minor characters from the first series and give them an adventure of their own. Possibilities exist, but be sure you have a fresh tale to tell. Don’t hang on and keep writing beyond the natural life of the story.
Starting a new series is exciting. As readers, we look forward to prolonging our time with interesting characters and spending more time on an epic adventure. Writing a series is just as much fun. If you decide to commit to a series, use the ideas above to help chart your course.