If you’ve ever tried to figure out how long your manuscript will be or whether you have ‘enough’ for a series, this round-up of series-planning tools and tips is for you. It’s all about choice. Resist the urge to fall down the tool rabbit-hole. 🙂
As the Writing Excuses‘ team points out, the goal for books in a series is “the same but different.” You want to keep the things your readers love about your first book and amaze them with something they didn’t know they wanted.
Here’s a quick primer of choices to consider while you plan your series and the mentors to help you:
1. Is your story the right LENGTH for a series? This feels like a word count question. At the beginning of NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words looks like an infinite sea. But if you set up something too elaborate, you won’t get back to shore in time.
Your creative choices have consequences for your word count. You are in control of the length of your story.
Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, says each suspect in a mystery adds 5,000 words.
Mary Robinette Kowal’s manuscript length calculation tool factors in the number of characters, story locations, and the scope of the story according to the MICE quotient infographic here. M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Inquiry, Character, Event.
Take-home: The more categories, characters, and locations you choose, the longer your story will be. The M.I.C.E quotient can help you make your story into an epic.
2. Is your PLOT epic? For this approach, you must know the Ending.
Writing Excuses‘ tips on creating a series from an existing Book 1:
- Write the first book to give it that “standalone feel”.
- Build an outline for the next books, a page or two for each. Summarize world-shattering events like a historian—in a line or two.
- Revise first book to match plans made for the upcoming books.
Susan Kaye Quinn’s practical video on how to plot a series shows you why second book slump is so common and what you can do about it.
3. Is your STORY WORLD epic? For this approach, you must know the World and the Characters.
Rachel Aaron‘s blog series on series
- Part 1: 5 Basic Steps to Plot a Series
- Part 2: Handling Your Metaplot (a.k.a. The Character-driven Metaplot)
- Part 3: Harnessing Internal Consistency to Create Flexible, Tightly-woven Stories (a.k.a. how world-building can save you when your plot changes in Book 3.)
4. Is your STORY CONCEPT epic? For this approach, you must have a high-concept pitch for at least the first book. Picture book examples are a quick way to illustrate this approach. You can use the M.I.C.E quotient mentioned above for this.
Or try Literary Agent Gemma Cooper’s deceptively simple tool:
- Create a high-concept pitch for first book.
- Use “What if” to get:
- New, bigger stakes. Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series is a wonderful Middle Grade example.
- New characters. Look at Laura Joffe Numeroff & Felicia Bond’s picture books If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin. For Middle Grade, Gail Carson Levine’s wise and funny fairy-tale re-tellings: Ella Enchanted, Fairest, and Ever.
- New settings. Mo Willems’ hilarious picture books Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, and The Pigeon Needs a Bath. Shannon Hale’s Middle Grade series: Princess Academy, Palace of Stone, and The Forgotten Sisters are a great example of bigger stakes and new settings.
5. What series TYPE fits your story?
Writing Excuses’ hosts, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor weigh in on series types here. (Season 12, Episode 45)
- Epic—One, long, continuous story, chopped into books. (Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series)
- Episodic—The continuing adventures of main character(s). Stand-alone tales can be read in any order. The characters change very little so the reader can be easily caught up. (The Boxcar Children)
- Introduce a cast. This series has a different protagonist in each book. The books play in the same universe but don’t have to be connected. Jessica Day George introduces a family of dancing princesses in Princess of the Midnight Ball. Princess of Glass is the next princess’s story.
6. How will you make your new books “the same but different”?
Take inventory. Go back through the choices above and see what you chose for your first book. Brainstorm a list of “ingredients” you have for the next book(s).
- Know the Ending? Try #2
- Know the Characters? Try #3
- Know the Concept? Try #4
- Can’t figure out whose story it is? Try #5
- Need to know if you’ve put in too much or too little? Try #1
Writing Excuses suggests aiming for a mix of good “old stuff” and good “new stuff that goes with the old stuff.”
Remember you have the power to make your story any length you like. The creative choices are yours.
One last tip: If you use Scrivener, you’ll like Darcy Pattison’s Series Tips: Characters, Timeline & Plot.
Note: This is my collection of other people’s insights. All brilliance belongs to them. Mistakes belong to me.
Happy plotting and writing and revising!
Do you have favorite tips to survive a series? Did you find anything new in this list that you want to try? Please share in the comments below.
LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany.