Have you ever wanted to write a book series? Or are in the middle of one and are stuck and have nowhere to go? Today I'm going to talk to you all about outlining a book series.
How did I get on the series train? In 2012, I submitted my standalone young adult paranormal novel to a call for submissions. After that call, I received "the call" from my current publisher. It was as amazing as everyone says it is and what was even more amazing is that they wanted to turn my one book into three books. Talk about a happy dance!
Now after that phone call I had a lot of thinking to do. At the time, I was in the mindset that I could only sell a standalone and not a series, so I didn't think about what I was going to write. The book I submitted wasn't going to be split into three parts. Instead, it was going to be book one. And then I had to go and draft books two and three. In the first book, I tweaked the original ending to give it a little bit of an opening for the rest of the books in the series. I cleaned up with my editor what became Soul Taken. I was excited and happy because my debut novel had come out and hen I had to write the second one from scratch.
Soul Taken had ironically taken my soul for years. I had no idea what to do next. So, I went to the internet. Now AuthorTube was not what it is today. So, I scoured articles about writing series, yet none of them hit the mark for me, and most of them were unhelpful or not what I was looking for. You may be shocked if you watch my writing vlogs to know that I did not have a full outline for what was to become Soul Possessed. I pantsed and plotted my way through it. So, I guess you could have called me a Plantser. I was nowhere near where I am today. But the most important bit about all of this was that I knew where I needed to go for the entire series.
And that is my biggest piece of advice for outlining a series. I believe that preparation is key.
Whether you are the type to write a scene-by-scene outline a chapter-by-chapter outline, a broad outline or even to keep the outline at the back of your head while writing so you don't distract you from the actual writing process. Preparation can work in your favor. To appease both Plotters and Pantsers I'm going to talk to you in a little bit more broad terms here. If you're looking at a series of books, let's say three. The reason trilogies are so popular is that they sort of have that three-act structure built right in. Book 1 - book 2 - book 3. Beginning - middle - end. If we're looking at trilogies you want to look at the trilogy as a whole.
Now, find your end goal for the entire series.
Where do you want book 3 to end? Do you have that in your mind? Comment below to let me know what the main goal is for the end of your series.
To keep those three books compelling, you need to find interesting things to fill those books whether you're writing three books or twenty. The most successful series has each book solving a problem to get to that primary goal. Having books with no purpose and then saving all of the good stuff for the last book will upset a lot of readers. Those readers may not even try to make it to book three if you haven't delivered on anything up until then.
Now I'm not talking about cliffhangers. Cliffhangers can be utilized well to keep readers on the edge of their seat and ready to buy that next book. But good cliffhangers usually have to do with that bigger thread which is that end goal that you're holding on to right now.
Let's break it down into the individual books. How are you going to get to that end goal? Come up with steps on how your main character or main characters get to that end goal. Depending on how many books you want in your series it depends on how many steps you're going to have to reach that main goal.
Preparing ahead of time this way will always put your main goal at the focus of each of the books and keep readers invested in the journey. The reason I say that preparation is key is that I know writing one book is hard. But writing more on top of that can be even harder. And having that core goal will always bring you back if you suffer from writer's block or burnout.
I made my way through The Life After trilogy figuring this stuff out. And when it came to writing my next trilogy, which was The Sisters' Secrets trilogy, I put this method into practice. My publisher offered a three-novella contract for this series. I brainstormed a shorter synopsis for the overarching goal of the series, and also did about two-page summary for all the books in the series. It outlined the main characters of the story and a narrative plot by plot point of each novella. While some of the details changed while I was drafting each book I was able to fall back on this rough outline when I was stuck, and I continued to update it as the series went on.
Inevitably, as I was writing, I came up with more ideas to make the series richer and more fun to read. I always suggest during this process that you don't get rid of anything. Keep little tidbits of information that you may cut from one book in a notebook, or on your phone, or your computer because what might not work for one book earlier in the series may work later on. Now in that same vein of keeping notes for your series I think a Series Bible is crucial for any series whether it's two books or twenty or more. Series Bibles are great to keep all of the details of your story organized so that there's no wasted time when you're in the drafting process after book one. For example, if you forgot the color of the love-interest eyes in book one. If you already had a Series Bible written then you'd be able to look back quickly figure it out and move on instead of reading an entire book for that one instance of eye color.
Now some authors are on different ends of the series Bible process. Some like Charlaine Harris who wrote the Sookie Stackhouse series was dragged by a lot of her readers for the continuity issues in her books which could have easily been resolved if she had a series Bible. But since then she has hired a continuity editor for her books to make sure that her world is consistent throughout the series. And then there are others like Kami Garcia who has an in-depth series Bible. I remember when I first saw her video about it was so overwhelmed, but it is pretty cool.
I'm not the type to use worksheets because I have this thing within me where if there's like a question about a characters something or other I feel like I have to answer and fill in all the blanks. Which can be a procrastination thing for me. What I do because I do write in Scrivener I have just a running list of characters, settings, images, and anything else I might need in the research area of my particular series. That way I can quickly move through my drafts and if I have a question about what someone looks like or what a place looks like I can click away while staying in the same application and then jump back into my story as soon as possible.
My form of a Series Bible/tracker was beneficial when it came to The Sisters' Secrets trilogy in which I had different main characters for each story which made them standalone, but they all took place in the same town. I had to track the main characters, the townspeople stores, and restaurants in town and love interests, etc.
One thing I love about series is the infinite possibilities of your world. Whether it is a fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, etc. And the ability to expand the world with each of the books in the series.
As much as you do your planning ahead of time do leave that opportunity for change while you're writing. While I write, I am continually updating my outline for the book, and the series, and my notes on characters, settings, etc. Keeping flexibility while also moving toward a goal should make the process of writing a series go a lot smoother.
I have homework for you to start working on after this video. I want you to brainstorm steps toward that end goal; as many as you need for each book in the series. Each of these steps is going to be the driving force toward the end of your series. I would say to make it easy you can do one step per book.
Let me know in the comments below if you are planning to outline your series.
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Author. Dreamer. Storyteller.