Secrets to a Series

Our first book was never written with the intent of becoming part of a series, but the characters had other ideas. They weren’t done telling their story, so (for my part) I had to figure out a way to keep it all straight going forward. Along the way, I’ve seen other writers voice the challenges of writing a series, so I’m sharing some ideas that worked for me and might help others along the way.

Who Stays and Who Goes?

Your main character(s) get to come along, but there’s not room for everyone. Some characters may have played out their story arc in the first book and are no longer needed, but their presence in the first book can be a thread that is pulled along into the next. In our series, an unpleasant character dies in the first book, but his equally unpleasant brother appears in the second. It helped move the story forward and introduced a new character (with his own agenda), which readers enjoy; it’s a bit of new along with the familiar.

What About Setting?

There are different ways to approach the setting as your story evolves into a series. The characters can stay where they are and life will change around them or they can move to a new setting. Something needs to remain constant so that the reader isn’t jolted into too much unfamiliarity. We chose to keep our characters in the same setting because we had a town, a manor, and a castle where we could change things up and still keep the reader on familiar footing.

How to Remember it All?

With people coming and going and all sorts of details swirling around, it’s easy to forget who is related, what everyone’s name is, and what physical traits they have. You don’t want a character in the first book with blue eyes suddenly showing up with green in the next. Your readers will catch it and call you out, so it’s good to have a system of keeping it all straight. I have found a couple of things that really help me remember the details so I don’t get bogged down looking for them.

First, I create a character outline. I list each character, who they’re related to, physical traits, and anything else I want to remember about them. For example, Lennox Brodie is tall and dark with wild, black hair. He looks sullen and brooding and rarely interacts with others. His history could be part of the reason – I list the events and what happened to make him the man the reader sees on the page. Not all of these details may make it to the final draft, but it helps shape who the character is in your mind and help you transfer his/her personality to the page.

It’s also helpful if your story spans a significant amount of time and your characters age or something about them changes due to events in the story (injury, family additions, etc.). You can add to the outline as events unfold in your story – that way, you’ll have all of the information about your character you need at a glance.

I also create a plot table where I list what happens in each chapter. It helps me keep track of where the story is going, what needs to happen, and ensure that no one gets left behind. It also helps me break up the story into word count sections (I include the word count of each chapter) so I know that I’m close to where I need to be at critical points in the story (binding point, low point, turning point, etc.).

Writing a series is a challenging and rewarding way to share your characters’ lives and the story they have to tell. Keeping the details, events, and pacing close at hand and easy to access frees up your mind to tune in and focus on their story. How many books will your series eventually be? Listen to your characters – they’ll let you know. They know best.

Image credit: Anne K. Hawkinson

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