Hello everyone, and welcome to novel with me. The series which takes you on a writing journey from start, to finish.
Today we’re going to talk about how to plot a series.
Last time we spoke about different ways to structure your novel. Those plot structures are suitable for standalone novels, and while you can use them to plot each individual novel in a series, there’s a different method to organizing and structuring a series as a whole.
Anthology series– A series which has themes or setting in common, but not plot, and rarely characters. Chronicles of Narnia is a good example of this.
Plot driven- This is a series where we don’t see a change in the protagonist. They remain the same. Instead, we see the different adventures they go on. Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew are both plot-driven.
Character driven- This is where the character arc of the protagonist, and the plot spans the length of the series. Name a YA series and more than likely it will be character driven- Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Shadowhunter Series.
We’re going to focus on character driven arcs, because they require a little more planning, but similar methods can be applied to all three types of series which I will mention.
In your series, you can choose to incorporate a series long plot such as Percy Jackson, whose end goal is to defeat Kronos, or each book can have its own standalone plot and each new challenge forces the characters to change more, like Twilight.
There are many different ways to structure a series. I’m going to say trilogy from now on, because it feels like the most common length, although I have noticed a lot of longer series popping up.
Multi- arc series- Perhaps the most popular type of trilogy. Each book has its own separate arc- a beginning, middle and end, but there is also an underlying conflict brewing. The individual arcs are tied up at the end of each book, but that underlying conflict can be seen throughout all three. All the loose plot threads usually culminate in book three.
These are trickiest to handle, because you need to place clues and hints of the main conflict within each and every book, so planning and writing can become difficult.
Two arc series- This one isn’t seen as often. This is where your trilogy has two different arcs. The first book is usually read as a standalone, where books two and three share a new plot which spans both books.
One arc series- This is where you have one plot, but it is split over three different books. Sort of like Avenger’s Infinity War and Endgame. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom also follow this. One plot but separated. This doesn’t mean there can’t be different goals within these plots though.
But Sarah, you ask, how do I structure a series?
If you’re doing a one arc series, structure your story from beginning to end, and then find a natural place within the plot to serve as the end to each book. You should look for potential cliff hangers, emotional scenes, or after a character has learned something vital to the plot. A place that makes the reader want to read on.
If you’re planning a two-arc series, structure your first novel separately. You can then structure and split books two and three like you would with a one arc novel. Or you could do the following:
If you’re doing a multi-arc series, with each book having a separate plot with an underlying plot just waiting to be revealed, it gets a little more complicated. Because that’s four plots you need to structure, and you need to link them together, so they make sense.
My advice is to treat your trilogy as three acts.
Book one is the ‘beginning,’ book two is the ‘middle,’ and book three is the ‘end.’
Book one is the introduction to the character, the world, and their original goal. At the end of book one, something happens which gives way to something bigger.
Book two is reacting against this news, this new situation. This is where your characters have a new ‘book goal,’ to achieve. Midway through, your characters start being proactive against this new threat, and at the end something major happens. They lose.
Book three is setting up for the climax. Your characters are gaining new information, pushing back against the antagonist. The tension rises until the final clash, and then we resolve.
Elements of book two should start to appear around midpoint in book one. Elements of book three should appear around midpoint in book two. This way you’re planting seeds for the next book, and creating threads of conflict and tension that pull your reader to the next installment.
In regard to the underlying story arc, each book should set up and reference it in some way, even if the reader doesn’t understand the importance they hold. Everything the characters do, and every way the characters grow will help determine how the overall climax will play out.
The underlying plot in Harry Potter is of course, defeating Lord Voldemort.
The underlying plot in Percy Jackson is the Great Prophecy, and Kronos.
I’d think of more examples but I’m not a big reader so… you guys can figure it out.
All the book in these series have their own, contained arc. But all of these arcs set up the overreaching arc which is the focus of the final book. There are elements of the underlying plot in each novel leading up to the final, where all these points converge into the plot and climax. With each novel, we figure out more clues about the underlying plot, even if we can’t quite piece them together.
Do you have to plot the entire series at once? With anthologies or plot driven novels no, you don’t. With character driven, or those with an underlying conflict then I highly suggest it. It;s important that you need to make sure you have an overview of the entire series when you begin, so you know exactly what direction you need to head, and what to foreshadow.
People often give the advice that the first novel in a series should be able to stand alone as a novel. Publishers will sometimes give a contract for only the first book in a potential trilogy. If that book does well, then they’ll ask for the remaining books. Because of this, querying the first book as a standalone with series potential can make your manuscript more attractive.
Of course this isn’t always the case, and this doesn’t mean you need to focus on creating two arc series only. Just be sure that the arc in book one is completely wrapped up, and that plot elements for the rest of the series don’t act as loose threads- just in case.
Have any of you ever written a series before? How do you go about planning and structuring them?
Good thoughts and happy writing.