On Writing Series

If you’ve dropped by the young adult or children’s section of a bookstore any time in the last few years, you might have noticed the shelves are dominated by series. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Wimpy Kid, and I could go on and on. Series are great because readers can live in the fictional world longer and continue the stories of their favorite characters. It’s also great for publishers and writers because they bring a built-in audience for future books and more real estate on bookstore shelves.

But writing series is tricky, especially if you’re a new writer. It’s hard enough to get published, but to have a publisher sign an untested author for 3, 4, 12 books…they are taking a major chance. This is why most writing advice is to focus on a single book, not a series. This way, a writer doesn’t waste years writing sequels that might never sell. Then, if the publishing house likes the first book, they might be willing to consider expanding it.

This is what happened to me. I wrote The Madman’s Daughter as a stand-alone title. I like books (even books in series) to have a satisfying conclusion and not just drop off in a mid-page cliffhanger. But when I finished The Madman’s Daughter, I realized the characters’ story had only begun. So with my agent and editor, I drafted a plan for a second and third book in the series. I’m working on the second book now, and I love taking these characters on to even bigger adventures.

But series are challenging to write. Writers take years to study plot arcs and character arcs and how to tie everything together at the climax. But when you have a series or trilogy, each book must have its own arc, and then the series as a whole must also have an arc. This was tough for me to wrap my brain around.

One thing I did to understand how to craft series is to study TV shows. Each season (heck, each episode too) must have its own storyline that feeds in to the overarching series’ storyline. Take Dexter, for example. The overarching plot arc is a serial killer who kills other serial killers. Will he be caught? Will he be able to cure himself and live a normal life? These questions have run through all six seasons. But each individual season has its own unique story, too. In Season 1, the plot is for Dexter to pursue the Ice Truck Killer, with whom he has a personal connection. In Season 2, it’s Dexter’s attempts to cover his tracks as someone discovers where he hides his victims. In Season 3, it’s Dexter’s shaky friendship with a district attorney. Though each of these plots is new, they all feed back to the overarching plot and character struggles. This is basically genius. Kudos, Dexter writers. (Also, when is season 7 coming out??)