Many readers--and authors--can't get enough of their favorite characters. Here's how to write a successful series.
You’ve published a book—and readers want more of the same. Or, you yourself see this novel as the first in a series.
Fiction series may: continue indefinitely or have predetermined beginnings and ends; present continuing stories or standalone titles; let characters grow and change or keep them perpetually the same. However, there are a few specifics for most series writing:
1. Consider practicing on an existing series first; many use multiple authors-for-hire. Choose a mass-produced series you like; study a dozen recent titles (especially recurring settings and characters); then contact the publisher for instructions.
This hint isn’t for everyone. If your tastes run toward literature rather than “pulp fiction,” you may never consider writing a series until your novel generates demand for sequels. Or, your story may simply be too long for one book. In any case, before proposing a whole series:
2. Do some planning. What is the common theme? Who are the regular characters? (See Hints Three and Four, below.) Will the series include a set number of books, or be open-ended? (If the latter, think twice about letting time pass realistically—young characters, especially, may outgrow readers.)
Even for a three- or four-book series:
4. Develop a cast of “background characters.” One to four main characters is enough; but give them families, supporting friends, perhaps enemies. This creates more people for things to happen to, keeping new plots fresh and believable. Secondary characters can also provide emergency backup, such as giving a lift to a hero below driving age. (Never let minor characters take full charge, though, especially if they’re adults and the main character is a child!)
Finally, after a series gets going:
5. Be prepared for reader input. As a regular author, you’ll get ideas and complaints from readers. Consider suggestions carefully, but don’t feel guilty about those you reject. Unless you contradict the core theme of the series or let an established person behave totally out of character, fans will forgive nearly anything. And if your writing is good, there will always be new readers to replace those who go away mad, or who outgrow the books.
Speaking of outgrowing:
6. Know when to stop. Frequently, new series installments continue to appear long after all the plots sound alike. After the first few bestsellers, editors and public want more and more: the fan buys on momentum; the publisher wants the revenue from that momentum. And the author, with a seemingly guaranteed income, is tempted to slack off on plotting, research, and editing; if fans are satisfied with the substandard, why bother with high-quality?
If you no longer enjoy writing each new book, it may be time to lay this series to rest. Don’t just announce that you’re quitting; have a fresh project ready to present. If you do a good job on the new, fans and publishers will forgive you for discontinuing the old.
Series or not, once you’ve published a few books (if not before), you’ll probably wonder: Could I do this full-time, supporting myself by writing?
Katherine Swarts is a professional copywriter and journalist, founder and owner of Spread the Word Commercial Writing in Houston, Texas. Spread the Word is certified by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council.
Katherine Swarts - Margaret Swarts
Since 1993, Katherine has published over 50 articles in numerous periodicals, including Carus Publishing's Appleseeds, Faces, and Odyssey; Children's Writer (on which see comments in next paragraph); and Christian Home & School. She has also prepared two anthologies for Thomson Gale.
Katherine has a bachelor's degree in English from Austin College in Sherman (TX), and a master's degree in written communications from Wheaton (IL) Graduate School. She has also studied with the Institute of Children's Literature, which publishes the monthly newsletter Children's Writer; two annual market guides; and an annual writer's yearbook.