Creating a Book Series: Great Idea or Think Again?

This guest post is by Fiona Ingram.

Creating a book series is both rewarding and taxing for the author. It is not an exact science and neither is it a guaranteed road to writing success. Many authors might think, Aha! Captive audience. They’ll just keep coming back for more. In fact, many agents and publishers advise against it. However, when either the story or the characters take over, sometimes a writer has no choice.

There are three types of series:

1. The standalone books

2. The closely linked books

3. A combination of both

 

Let’s have a look at standalones and examine why they succeed. Some familiar examples are usually detective series such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple; the Midsomer Murder books (Caroline Graham); the Inspector Çetin İkmen books (Barbara Nadel); and the Inspector Rebus books (Ian Rankin). Standalone books have a background that creates a definite world, a world in which various events or crimes take place. The main and secondary characters interact, solve the crime, and wrap up the story. In each book, the reader discovers personal elements of the character(s). They may have work, family, and personal crises that help the reader like and appreciate the character(s). However, they are secondary to the actual event, although their personalities may influence events. The characters have a particular history or set of circumstances to retain the familiarity for readers although the external events change constantly. Readers keep coming back for more action.

A prime example is how the wildly successful television series Midsomer Murders retired Tom Barnaby and appointed his cousin John in his place. The series continues because events in a familiar setting define it more than actual characters.

Closely linked books in a series are usually more emotionally intense and have a finite story arc. Each book takes the reader closer to the conclusion. The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter. One wonders if readers would be interested in Bella and Edward’s marital problems, or whether Harry Potter (now grown up) can cope with a job in the Muggles’ world, or if Katniss can live happily ever after with Peeta. The skill demanded here is for the author to create an ending in each book that satisfies, while still keeping the reader hooked on the major story. The author must also avoid big, clunky info dumps about what happened before as each new book begins.

A combination of the two will suit sweeping epics, historical romance, or family sagas. A prime example is the Georgian historical romance, such as the Roxton series by Lucinda Brant. The first three books delve into the life and loves of heroine Antonia Roxton, while the fourth book brings secondary characters to the fore, to begin a whole new family drama.

Can a writer tell if the story has the potential for a series?

The plot will evolve naturally if the characters are appealing, and if their personal growth and development hold the readers’ attention. Again, appealing characters are not worth anything if the action and conflict are not compelling. There has to be a perfect marriage between plot and characters to sustain the strength of a series.

Why do people love exciting series?

A gifted author will be able to create characters readers can relate to and either love or hate. The readers get to know the characters well as the action evolves and, as each book comes out, can explore something new about their heroes.

Characters become friends to the avid reader

The reader shares in the hopes, dreams, and choices the character makes. Readers are amazingly loyal to their favorite characters, even though they may often disagree with the character’s choices. A good writer can explore these further, enabling readers to begin to make their own choices, especially in a moral dilemma or emotional conflict.

Sensible advice

There are many good reasons why a first-time author should not start out with a series. The biggest pitfall is a writer’s inability to sustain an intriguing plot and compelling characters over several books. Perhaps writers should not set out to “create” a series deliberately, but rather let an original good story develop, allowing the characters and plot potential to determine the end result.

Tell me your opinion: Will your book be part of a series?

About the Author: Read more about South African children’s author Fiona Ingram and her middle grade adventure novel The Secret of the Sacred Scarab by visiting FionaIngram.com or secretofthesacredscarab.com. The Search for the Stone of Excalibur (Book Two) will be available in late 2012, and Fiona is working on The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper (Book Three). PS: Fiona did not set out to create a series…

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. MikeyTheWarrior says

    I’m planning on making a series of books. It is about a super cat that is blue. In the 2nd book if i do plan on making a book 2 will introduce a team of 3 ninjas that has fire powers. In the 3rd book will introduce a kid that can make fire balls from his hands. In book 4 it will have the ultimate conclution of the series but will lead to the prequel of the series. Then it will lead to the series sequel. The main part of the series is called Team Formation. The prequel of the series is called The Team’s Past. The sequel of the series is called Team Formed. When Team Formed series end will be a time gap from the end of that series to the next series begining.

  2. Leto Kersten says

    I thought that writing series works best when planned from the beginning. Each book obviously must indeed have an ending in where the main problem in that book is solved so that the book can end properly. But how can an overal arc be written if a second book is only written after the success of the initial standalone first book and without having a series in mind from the beginning?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although I definitely recommend plotting an entire serial arc with the ending in mind, it doesn’t *have* to be done that way. I’m actually writing an unexpected sequel, the middle book in an unexpected trilogy. I intended the first book to be a standalone, so never considered the story beyond its end. But I’m finding that it’s actually very possible, and rewarding, to turn loose ends in the first book into meaningful foreshadowing for later books.

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