Ins and Outs of Writing a Series

Series are bread and butter for authors. Readers like me who decide to binge read a series if they love the first book make it so. Some of us enjoy writing series, too.

But things can get tricky when you’re writing a series. I know this because I’ve written several trilogies in my short career. And even if you write them back to back and they’re only novella length (like two of mine were), you can’t count on your brain to remember all the essential details.

Plotting a Series

The first trilogy I wrote was about a teenager who was the Daughter of Water. She was cursed because she’d inadvertently betrayed the God of that reality and doomed her entire family to punishment. The series was about her road to setting things right.

I fast drafted all three books in four months, and only mixed up my character’s hair and eye color dozens of times. Because who can keep that straight? Especially since you don’t mention it all that often, but you need to early in each installment to remind readers. But who’ll remind the author?

The two romance trilogies I wrote took longer, but I kept a document that described the main characters. That way, I could reference it rather than having my editor say something like, “Blue eyes? I’m sure they were green in chapter two.”

Still, the plot is the main thing that needs to be kept straight. A series generally connects the books in one of two ways: 1) an overarching quest that is introduced in the first book and completed in the last; or 2) Various story problems are solved in each installment by the same character or in the same setting.

Harry Potter falls into both categories but is really the first type. Each book gives more hints about the main antagonist who is faced and finally defeated in the final book. A series like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander is the second type.

Even the first type of series requires that each book has it’s own story problem that is resolved by the end. Along the way, clues and information about the overarching series problem should also contribute to solving the story problem. It can be confusing to keep everything straight, especially if a series grows and grows.

The Series Bible

When I wrote in Melissa Storm’s First Street Church series, she provided a series bible for us. It listed all the characters and places in Sweet Grove, Texas.

I took a page from that book for the series I wrote in that world and created a character and setting sheet. It was in the resources folder of my Scrivener project file. I could pull it up to double-check character descriptions, place names and even distances between places.

It’s essential to have one of these if you’re writing a series. I suggest keeping a list of minor characters that includes their names, relationship to main characters, ages, physical descriptions, jobs and character traits.

If you can, create a physical map of the setting. That way, you can put in the places your character’s visit so you never get the directions wrong. Add in where character’s live to keep things straight in your own mind.

I had a character who went for runs every day, and I needed to know how far it was to the hero’s house since I had their meet cute happen while she was sweaty on a run. Obviously, if she can jaunt over there in a minute in her car, readers are going to get suspicious.

And, yes, readers pick up on things.

Series I Recommend

If you’re looking for a series to read either as an example of how to plot one or just because they’re fun, I can recommend several series in various genres.

If you don’t mind a steamy romance, I highly recommend the Wishful Series by Kait Nolan. Her character’s are well-drawn and she’s created an excellent setting.

Prefer fantasy? I’ve enjoyed the Death Before Dragons urban fantasy series by Lindsay Buroker. She’s challenged herself by setting it in modern day Seattle. I’ve visited the city and think she does a pretty good job of incorporating setting.

I’ve also reviewed books from the Montana Marshalls and The Health and Happiness Society on my blog before. All of these series are the second type, with the exception of Montana Marshalls which does have an over-arching mystery that deepens with each book.

Do you read series? Which type are you most intrigued by? Can you recommend a good one?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.