PlanningSeries1

Planning Your Book Series, Part One

Want to write one book? How about three or more?

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It’s no secret that series books are favorites among both readers and writers. Readers anticipate spending more time with people and places they’ve grown to love, eagerly awaiting the newest installment of a beloved series. Midnight release parties and advance sales herald sequels. Series books are especially important to indie writers as they provide a solid format for promotion.

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Writers enjoy developing deeper story lines for their characters and turning what might have been an 80,000-word book into a fuller, meatier 250,000+-word story arc. For the author, signing a contract for or planning multiple books offers a sense of career security – you know what you’ll be working on for at least a few years. But planning a series that satisfies publishers, readers, and writers takes a little extra forethought. Ready to write? Here is the first of a three-part blog of a few considerations to keep in mind.

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Types of Series

It’s helpful, first, to define what a series is. Fiction books are commonly referred to as either stand-alone books, which have no relation to other books by the same author, or series books, which are related in some way to other titles. What ties series books together can vary, but there are several common approaches.

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Many series have the same character as the protagonist in each book. While every title in the series reveals something new and different about his or her journey through life, the focus is on one person. Because of that, we grow closest to, and cheer on, the main character even as we also enjoy the minor characters. It’s important, then, that you take a lot of time crafting this character because he/she will be carrying not only one book but many.

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Other series have the same cast of characters, with each book in the series focusing on a different point-of-view character. This approach allows the reader to learn more about several people over the course of the pages. Oftentimes readers quickly grow attached to the point-of-view character in Book One. If you hope to have each book focus on a different person, you’ll have to effectively set up those secondary characters that will become central characters in future installments. If you make them likable and vulnerable when they are introduced as supporting cast members and hint at problems we want to see them overcome, we’ll look forward to seeing the spotlight on them in future books. Some series carry over only minor characters, but we’ll recognize them as friends, too.

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Sometimes series are tied together by theme, locale, or period of time. For example, the series theme might focus on people getting through hard times. Or the setting might include a locale, like Hawaii. Perhaps the series takes place during a specific period of time, such as the Civil War era.

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Next, we’ll talk about the series and story questions.

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Planning Your Book Series, Part Two

Asking the Right Questions

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Fiction is really about questions: posing them, complicating them, delaying the answer, and then arriving at a satisfactory resolution. For the series author, two sets of questions must be considered.

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Series Question

First, the overall series arc will have a question. In order to make sure a series feels like parts of a whole, it’s important for the author to think through what the overall series question will be before beginning. This question will be posed, either expressly or implicitly, at the outset of the series.

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For example, in my series about a twenty-something woman who is finding herself, the series question might be, will she find the satisfying life that God has planned for her or is she missing it, or has she been forgotten? Book One might detail how she comes to understand God’s love for her and risks leaving behind what she thought she knew to test what is unknown. Book Two might show the resolution of her professional life, while leaving an unanswered question about her romantic life. Book Three would wrap it up, showing that yes, as she learns to trust God her faith life, her professional life, and her romantic life all come together.

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A historical series may show different people, either common or well-known, living out their faith through difficult times, or may be centered in a particular era that works toward a common theme – the empowerment of women or the social justice issues of the day. Each book would then aptly explore those questions through its characters and the situations they find themselves working through.

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Story Questions

Even though series books will be episodes of a larger story, it’s important to make each book a self-contained whole. When a reader buys a book, she expects to feel satisfied with the journey as she finishes the last page. It’s not playing fair to lead the reader through an entire book only to say, in one way or another, to stay tuned for the next book in order to have anything resolved.

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Does this mean that there are no unanswered questions in a series? Of course not. What it does mean is that each book will have a story question of its own that will be answered by the end of the book. However, the overall series question will still be outstanding, and readers will want to follow the series to have that question answered, as well as join the characters for the next installment in the adventure.

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While the overall series question is being answered bit by bit, each book has a story question that is answered within its own book. That way, the author both satisfies and tantalizes the reader.

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Next, let’s look at how many books are in a typical series and how to close them.