Learning how to write a series presents several pitfalls. Here are 8 mistakes to avoid if you’re writing your first book series:
1. Choosing a series concept too thin for multiple books
Is your story idea big enough to stretch across multiple books? Would you be able to extend your character arcs and conflicts?
If you are writing in a genre like fantasy where series are popular, you may feel pressured to produce a group of books, but only do so if the story calls for it.
A big part of learning how to write a series is learning what themes and plot ideas will suit a more expansive treatment.
For example, consider a beloved fantasy series like Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, in which a young wizard chases his sinister, escaped shadow across multiple lands. Or Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel cycle, The Lord of the Rings, where the hero Frodo’s quest (defeating the antagonist by destroying a powerful ring) spans multiple territories and side quests.
Before you get started, make sure that you have enough of a story concept. Use the free ‘Central Idea’ section of the Now Novel dashboard to develop a clear concept now.
2. Ending your series before main conflicts are complete
Sometimes series continue longer than necessary because an author is compelled by readers or simply their own passion for their characters to continue the story ad infinitum.
Before you start drafting the books in a series, think about where the natural end might fall. Even though there are multiple volumes, the same focus and sense being able to stand complete is necessary in every volume.
It may help to brainstorm a main conflict that will span the entire series (for example, Harry’s pursuit of the arch-villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series). Then major secondary conflicts that connect to the main arcs (Harry comes up against various powerful allies of Voldemort’s throughout the series, who often crop up in unexpected places).
This will ensure that the main conflict can progress to a satisfying end while each book also feel complete in its own way.
This will help you avoid the next pitfall:
3. Not planning ahead
Planning may be a good idea for a standalone novel, but for a series it’s essential.
Spend time brainstorming characters out of your initial concept and your ideas for conflict so far. Think about where each might appear within the events spanning your series.
Many of these decisions will also occur as you draft, and the concept for each book changes slightly. This is a natural part of the drafting process. Yet having a sense of scope for each book will make your task much easier.
An overview-like document for each book idea will also help you to keep track of what information you’ve introduced, where.
4. Ignoring the passage of time
In learning how to write a series, it’s useful to examine how popular series authors treat time.
In the Harry Potter series for example, J.K. Rowling shows us Harry has a vulnerable kid, first heading off to school. As the books progress, we see teenage crushes and the other new conflict (internal and external) that come with puberty and navigating relationships.
Rowling’s character grew up as her middle-school readers did, provide a world of characters her readers could continue to empathise with and relate to. The passage of time was clear and affected characters’ arcs.
5. Being inconsistent with your series’ details
You may not always know what details you want to bring back from earlier books in the series.
You have to be consistent all the same, however, throughout your series even if that means constantly rereading and taking notes on earlier books.
You can’t have your character be an orphan in book one and go visit her father in book ten (unless she has some special power to commune with the dead).
Places cannot shift around and the basic details of your characters must remain the same across your series’ arc.
Keep an outline as you write. You can use the Scene Builder on Now Novel to create scene and chapter outlines, and link these to fuller scene drafts where you can edit individual details while keeping the overarching structure of your story taut.
6. Supplying insufficient intrigue and change
It’s possible to have too much consistency, too.
Characters must change. Change is the lifeblood of story.
Even in a long-running mystery series without a larger arc, your protagonist should not be exactly the same in book ten as in book one.
Think about yourself and the people you have known for many years. There are subtle shifts in attitudes, living situations, appearances and other qualities of character.
Consider the ways in which the events of each novel will alter your characters.
There are two more potential errors that can sink your series:
7. Abandoning important plot arcs
One of the key points of learning how to write a series is that subplots must be seen through to the end. Foreshadowing should build to something that justifies it.
Even if your series is a mystery series that features a recurring character rather than an arc, you still must still follow through. Some plot points will return throughout the series.
For example, a detective might have a father who is in prison. If this is dropped in at some point in the first book, the reader will expect that this will feature in subsequent books in some way.
8. Making your fictional world too limited
Write engaging settings and take sequels to new places. Make sure ‘who, what, why, where and when’ (the 5 w’s of story) change sufficiently across your series to keep your world dynamic.
A series requires long-form planning. The Now Novel Story Builder makes writing a book easier. Use the step-by-step process to create an easy-to-follow blueprint for your story.