3 Types of Book Series: Writing Best Practices
Series sell. Regardless of your industry, it’s easier to keep clients than create new ones. Readers are your clients. If a reader loves your first book, they are more likely to buy book two in that series than take a chance on another unrelated book you’ve written. It’s the same reason people order the same meal every time they go to a specific restaurant. They know they like that meal and don’t want to risk being disappointed when they try something new. A series is the meal they keep coming back for. There are three types of book series, and before you dive into a rough draft, it’s good to know which kind you’re writing, so you can meet your readers expectations.
1. Dynamic Book Series
What Is a Dynamic Series?
A dynamic series follows the same character or group throughout the series as they try to accomplish a large goal. Think of this type of series as an epic story taking place over multiple books – it’s more like a mini-series or set of movies such as The Hobbit than a regular TV show.
Plot and character arcs are major parts of a dynamic series. By the end, your characters should be changed significantly, and likely the setting or world has been affected. You should think of a dynamic series as one whole story, not distinct installments in the characters’ lives. The individual books are not standalones and need to be read in order for the story to make sense.
Dynamic series are common in science fiction, fantasy, and young adult stories. They are less common in romance and detective series. (Notice I said common, not always or never). Most trilogies are dynamic series. Some well-known dynamic series are The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry.
Dynamic Series Best Practices
Writing a dynamic series is easier when you outline. You need to know what’s going to happen at the end of the final book, so you know what to put in all of the other books. Have people pantsed (flew-by-the-seat-of-their-pants by not plotting in advance) a successful dynamic series? Absolutely, but most of the authors I know who did this had to do a lot of revision and rewriting and did not write their next series this way.
Outlining the entire series – to a point – is essential for a dynamic series because readers return to this type of series more for the plot than the characters. Yes, readers still fall in love with these characters, but they keep reading to see what happens to the characters, not just to visit them.
2. Static Book Series
What Is a Static Book Series?
In a static series, readers still follow the same character or group, but the series is more about individual events than a grand, overarching plot. There can be a larger plot, but it’s not the featured plot of the books, especially in the beginning novels. Instead, each book is more of an installment in the characters’ lives than a series of related events. These are closer TV shows than movies.
Static series feature a main character readers can’t get enough of and who often doesn’t change much. Readers return to a static series for the characters, not the plot, although each book still needs a plot. Often a reader can pick up any book in a static series and be able to follow the story without having read the previous books.
Mysteries, chapter books, and crime solving stories tend to be static series. Although most fantasy is dynamic, urban fantasy with a crime solving element is usually static as well. Examples of static series are Agatha Christie’s novels, Patricia Brigg’s Mercedes Thompson series, and Nancy Drew novels. Because static series don’t have a finale the author is writing toward, they tend to be longer than dynamic series.
Static Series Best Practices
Because static series are carried by their characters, you need to make sure you know your main characters well. In depth character backgrounds and worksheets will help you develop someone your readers want to keep reading and keep track of those pesky details. Don’t skimp on character development for this type of series.
When it comes to planning, pantsing can work for a static series, but will still lead to more revisions. I recommend taking some time to list all the things that could happen to your main characters. These events don’t need to be related. It could be different mysteries they need to solve, people they could help, or events they could experience. Then divide these into books and you’ll have a rough idea of how long your series might be.
3. Anthology Book Series
What Is an Anthology Series?
Anthology series are tied together by a world, a setting, or character relationships. They don’t follow the same character or group of characters for every book in the series. However, anthology series can be made up of mini dynamic and static series. This is more like a franchise such as the Marvel or DC universe movies than a TV series.
Readers fall in love with the world of anthology series. People are not just obsessed with Harry and his friends from J.K. Rowling’s famous series, they are passionate about Hogworts and the magical world she created. This is why fans still geek out over the Mysterious Beasts spin off. Because it’s about the world, these books can often be read in any order and the reader can still follow the story line. If an anthology series is made of individual dynamic and static series, then those mini-series can be read in any order, but the mini-series themselves might have a specific order they need to be read in.
Anthology series are common in romance, literary, historical, fantasy, and science fiction. Romance, historical, and literary anthologies tend to focus on different couples who are somehow related, such as Dennis L. McKiernan’s Once Upon a Time series. Fantasy and science fiction anthology series are more about the worlds the author has created like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series or the Star Wars books. Sometimes anthology series are written by multiple authors.
Anthology Series Best Practices
Because anthology series are about the setting, you need to world build. Whether you’re creating a whole new world, one that has additional elements like in urban fantasy, writing about a specific town, or changing the era, you need to know as much as you can about that setting. Even if your anthology is about different characters who are related, those characters are often bound together by a town or some other setting. Readers will return for that place, so it needs to feel as real as possible to them.
You’re going to have to know everything about this place, but your readers don’t need to know everything, especially at first. Use this knowledge to create a place readers want to return to, but save tidbits of history and nuance so readers can discover new aspects of your setting in each book.
Your minor characters need to be particularly memorable in anthology series, so you can use them in different books with different protagonists. This will save you time and energy because you won’t have to create as many characters. It will also help ground your reader; that person will be familiar and become a part of the world they want to return to.
An Editors Thoughts on Crafting a Series
Regardless of what type of series you want to write or whether you love outlines or hate them, a small amount of plotting will be a major help in the long run. When you commit to a series, you’re committing to hundreds of thousands of words in one story. Don’t go into that space blind. I’m not saying you need a detailed outline broken down by chapter or scene. If you’re that kind of writer, great. Use that. However, if you’re more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, then brainstorm. List ideas for what could happen. Use a bubble cluster/mind map and think about how those ideas could be connected. You don’t have to commit to anything, but at least consider the possibilities.
And now that I’ve freaked you out with how many words are in series, remember to take it one moment at a time. A series of books, is just a long series of moments and scenes. Each time you get the chance to write, pick one moment or scene. Don’t think about the whole series. As Anne Lamott would say, take it bird by bird. Know what type of series you’re writing, so you know what aspect of the story you need to develop in depth to Ignite Your Ink.
What type of series are you working on? Share it in the comments below. For more articles on writing your 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.