How to Effectively Plan an Anthology Book Series
Anthology book series are a collection of stories tied together by a place or interpersonal relationships. They don’t have an overarching plot like a dynamic series or follow a certain character or small cast like a static series. In this way, anthology series are more open. If you wish to write an anthology series, you’ll need to fully develop your setting and/or the relationships between your characters.
Location, Location, Location: Developing Your Setting
Picking your Setting
There are two kinds of anthology series: setting-based and family/relationship-based. In a setting-based book series, you need to thoroughly develop and understand the place your stories occur. Readers fall in love with and return for the setting, so you need to make sure you’ve chosen a place that will enhance and propel your series.
When you choose your setting, pick one you love and want to explore and learn more about. Don’t pick someplace will-nilly. Your setting is a major commitment. Also, your setting for your series can be as large or as small as you wish. In many historical and romance anthology series, the setting is a single town. While in speculative fiction series, the setting is often a country or world.
Building Your Setting
As you write, you will discover and create new components of your setting. However, if you’re committing to a long series, you need to understand the environment and society up front to be consistent.
For the environment, you need a map of the places your characters frequent. This includes both room maps and street/landmark maps. That way you can refer back to these blueprints as you develop your series. It’s ok to have some holes and areas that are more detailed than others. Readers like to learn more about a setting each time they read. You might want to give yourself some leeway to do the same as you write.
You also need a good understanding of the climate. What plants and animals are present? What’s the weather like? The season? The technology? Any important landmarks? These are the logistics and realities of a place.
For society, you need to know the basic structure and where your characters fit into it. Do you have a monarchy, democracy, or communist government? What is the class system like? What are the traditions and beliefs of the society? You don’t need to know every nuance of your society, but you do need to create a solid foundation before you commit to multiple books.
If you’re writing fantasy, you also need to develop your magic system. Who can use magic? What are the consequences? What can and cannot be done with magic. Similarly, if you’re writing science fiction, how do people travel in space? Who has access to travel and advanced technology? What’s the relationship between humans (or your characters) and other specific in the universe? To learn more about developing your setting, check out my article Building Your Story’s Stage: Why Strong Setting Matters.
Planning a Setting-Based Anthology Series
When planning a setting-based anthology series, remember your reader is returning to your series for that place. That means each book needs to reveal something new and significant about your place. This could be a new downtown shop each book or a new city or tunnel system. At the same time, readers want to return to their favorite areas, so make sure you give a nod to previous books.
Before you start, go back to your setting blueprints, notes, maps, and details. Look for aspects you can use as obstacles in or key points for a plot. Look for sections that define or mean something important to your characters. See how many pieces of your setting you can focus on in different books. Sketch a major plot thread and character arc you can associate with each piece of your setting. That should give you a rough idea of how many books you can get out of your anthology series. Then, if you’re a plotter, develop a rough outline for each book. If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, pick a book and jump in.
Family Trees: Developing Your Main Characters
Picking Your Family
Relationship-based anthology series revolve around a specific family, but think of the term family loosely. People don’t have to be blood relations to be a family. These series are particularly common in romance – where each book is the story of how a different member of a family, team, or group of friends finds their love.
How many members are in your family will roughly determine how many books you can get out of your series, so choose your family wisely. If you want to write a four book series, make sure you have at least four people in your family or group and that they are capable of carrying a whole novel or more.
Mapping Character Relationships
Once you’ve selected your family, you need a family tree. You need to know how all of your characters are related to each other and how they feel about on another.
Your family tree might be a list, a series of connected bubbles, or a true family tree. What it looks like only matters for you. However, make sure you give yourself space to include a few juicy details about each character and their relationship to everyone else. Look for conflict and characters who have so growing to do. Those are the kinds of characters you can build a novel around.
Planning a Relationship-Based Anthology Series
After you’ve mapped your family tree, it’s time to look for characters with a perspective, arc, and plot worthy of a book. Go back to your notes about your family and pick out the characters you’d like to devote an entire novel to. List an arc and plot for each point of view character. Again, not every member of your family needs their own book, so don’t force someone to be a POV character if you can’t see an arc, plot, or story for them.
Remember, readers read relationship-based series to return to the characters, so make sure you give your main characters at least a cameo in most of the books.
Next, work on deepening each point of view character’s relationship to the others and their characteristics. Try to get a better sense of who they are and who they might become by the end of your anthology series. Then, if you’re a plotter, outline each book. If you’re a pantser, pick a character and start writing.
An Editor’s Thoughts on Anthology Book Series
If you’re the type of author who enjoys spending a lot of time creating your world, a setting-based anthology series might be the best choice for you. This type of series will give you the opportunity to explore most aspects of the world you spent so much time creating and you can continue to develop that world as you go.
If you’re the type of author who’s fascinated by interpersonal relationships, a relationship-based anthology series might work well for you. This will give you the opportunity to explore all the different faucets of a family or group through the eyes of different members. You can really dive into how each person relates to and fits (or doesn’t fit) with everyone else.
Also, an anthology book series can contain static and dynamic book series. You might have a trilogy that follows one character on their quest, a standalone about a character who runs into your quester, and more. Anthology series are wide open, so make sure you thoroughly develop your setting and family to Ignite Your Ink.
What’s your favorite anthology series? Share your love in the comments below. For more articles on series and a free Guide to Building Strong Settings, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.