How to Properly Plan a Dynamic Book Series
Many times when people think of book series, they imagine epic classics like J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. These are plot-based, dynamic series. If you’re writing a series driven by events, you need to make sure you have enough story for your books and learn to love the middle.
Measuring Your Amount of Story
Plot-driven book series are all about the series of events in the story. While you still need fully realized, believable characters, you readers will likely return to your story more to discover what happens than to revisit your characters or world. That means you need to make sure you have plenty of twists, turns, and situations to carry an entire series.
The easiest way to measure your amount of story is to outline your series. Even if you’re more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer, you need to know where you’re going in a dynamic book series.
There are several different ways to approach plotting your series. There are story grids, three act structures, and general outlines. If you’re planning a book series, you at least need to know the inciting incident for each book, the major conflicts and obstacles, the climax, and how your main characters will be affected. This can be as detailed or as sparse as you need for your writing process. Some authors simply list these story components; others go in depth into each of them.
One aspect of your series you need to nail down while outlining is how much time passes over the course of the story. This will affect the type of events that can take place in your story, like characters aging or having babies.
By outlining your series, you’ll be able to see how many books your story idea can sustain. You might find you only have enough events for three books instead of four or you need five. Just remember, an outline is a blueprint. You should remain open to new ideas and make adjustments to that outline as you write.
Know Where Each Book Is Going
After you’ve outlined your plot-driven series, you should have a better understanding of the overall plot arc and the individual arc of each book. Each book should have its own plot arc that takes your reader one step closer to the climax of the entire series.
This is especially true for the first book in a series. It needs to feel somewhat complete by the end, so you prove to your readers you can and will provide a satisfactory conclusion. No one wants to commit to an eight book series and find out the author didn’t know how to end it so they just stopped writing.
However, the story shouldn’t feel over at the end of book one or any book except the last in the series. You keep the plot going by leaving minor loose ends or introducing the main conflict of the next book during the resolution of the proceeding one. You can make a reader curious without falling back on the hated cliffhanger.
Your characters should grow and/or change in each book because they’ve gained new experiences, but they shouldn’t complete their overall arc until the final book. Let them slip up or fall back on old habits now and then. Like people, your characters shouldn’t be perfect.
Learn to Love the Middle
If you’re going to commit to a dynamic book series, you need to learn to love the middle of a story. Most of the books in a plot-based series are the middle, so you can’t get away with any amount of sagging.
Sagging middles are when a story starts to wander or the elements are out of order, so the book isn’t constantly building. It falls – unintentionally – at times. You must become a master builder in a dynamic series.
Allowing your characters to make mistakes is a key component to a middle that drives a story forward. If they never make a mistake, it feels like they’ve already learned their lesson or grown or can’t possibly lose. Your reader needs to believe your characters could lose. If not, they won’t be curious, they won’t keep reading because they already know what happens.
The other key component to a successful middle is to constantly make the obstacles your characters face harder. You need to up the stakes and add more intense or complicated conflicts. In hero stories, this means each henchman the hero faces is stronger and/or smarter than the last. If there’s a strong romantic plot line, the consequences of the characters being together go from annoying a friend to potentially losing multiple friendships. Ask yourself “What could be worse?” and make that happen.
You can also deepen and solidify your characters’ motivations to prevent a sagging middle. Using bits of backstory and revealing new information, you might show how the antagonist is like your heroine’s old mentor who betrayed her and that’s part of what’s driving her. If you continue to develop your characters, making them complex and contradictory like people, your story will remain interesting.
Why an Editor Recommends Planning Your Dynamic Book Series
Unlike anthology (world-driven) and static (character-driven) book series, you need to know where you’re going in a dynamic book series. Your story is all about the plot, so if you don’t spend time making sure your plot is the best it can be, you risk delivering a mediocre or unsatisfactory series ending. You might write yourself into a corner or be unable to figure out an ending. Readers will not be happy and some will not forgive this.
A dynamic book series promises a killer plot with a satisfactory ending, so make sure you have enough story and love writing the middle to Ignite Your Ink.
How do you approach plotting a series? Share your process in the comments below. For a free Revision Checklist to help prevent a sagging middle and weekly writing tips, 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.