How to Write a Fiction Series

How to Write a Series

It begins surreptitiously. Multiple characters speak to you, and each point of view is important. Complex patterns of plots, each with its own protagonist, weave through your pages. You write, and you write, and you write. One by one, you attempt to resolve plot arcs, even if they don’t rely on each other for answers. When someone asks you to describe the book, you’re not sure where to begin — other than to say it’s complicated.

It’s time — time to get serious about a series. Come on, you know  you have more than one novel in you!  If you’ve developed characters who are rich and alive, they’ll have lots to say. And your loyal following of readers will appreciate the chance to get to know them in depth too. Remember, it’s all about the reader!

In fiction, we typically see two character classifications for a series:

  • One primary character or a set of characters, with the action in each book of the series happening to that primary set of characters.
  • An ensemble of characters, with the action in each book happening primarily to a member of that ensemble, and with a different character featured in each book.

For ensembles, I’ve found it useful to think about my characters as a group of friends, or a network of business associates, or people who share a location. There is a reason for them to interrelate, even if they each have their own story to tell.

Application of plot also varies in a series:

  • A primary plot arc spans all the books in the series. Resolution of a component of the plot happens in each book, but the big messy issue isn’t decided until the end of the series.
  • Individual plot arcs are resolved in each book. The common thread that holds the series together is the ensemble, location or big plot arc issue.
  • And there’s the ever-popular combination of the two.

A tactic I’ve used that has won reader kudos is a teaser in each book about the kind of conflict that another character will face in an upcoming book. And if there was a big reveal that built suspense in a previous book, I don’t refer back to that in a way that will give away the previous surprise.

Your final consideration is point(s) of view:

  • One individual character speaks, and we see all the action through this person’s experiences only.
  • The points of view of each primary character are expressed to move the plot(s) along.
  • Secondary characters’ points of view are also used.

Whose voice you use to tell your story can be tricky. Use too few, and you limit what your characters (and your readers)  know to their perspectives only. Incorporate too many, and your readers have to adjust too frequently  to whose head they are inside of, leading to distractions that break the tempo and flow of the story.

Ultimately, the best reason to use a series is to develop a relationship with your readers. If they fall in love with your characters and come to care about them, they’ll buy the next book. If they begin with a book in the middle of a series and you’ve skillfully incorporated previous primary characters, they’ll want to go back and start at the beginning. And when they come to the last book, they’ll be begging you for more!

What are the greatest challenges that you’ve faced in writing or considering a fiction series?

Yvonne Kohano began releasing her Flynn’s Crossing contemporary romance series in 2012. In 2013, she’s adding a suspense series that invites readers to consider that our world is not all that it appears to be, and an international finance thriller series.