July 26, 2020 by Sarra Cannon
I’m back with video #3 in our How To Plan & Write A Series series. This is honestly a topic we could discuss in an entire month-long course, but I have done my best to condense my advice on how to plan your novel series to this one video and workbook.
Exciting news! I also have a FREE series planning workbook I created just for my email list subscribers. If you’re already on my list, you should have just received an email from me with a reminder link to my free resource library.
If you are not yet on my mailing list, what are you waiting for? There are so many great free resources there for you, including my plotting and editing guides, word sprint trackers, and now this workbook on “How to Plan and Write A Series”.
As I was creating the workbook, I realized there is so much more opportunity to create something even better for you with this. What can I say, I’m an overachiever, haha :P. I hope to be working on a more detailed version in the future, so as you use the workbook, feel free to reach out and let me know your ideas for making it better! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When planning a series, there really is a lot to keep track of. Characters, story threads, places, magic, and more. As you work on your series, however, remember that you will learn as you go.
You don’t have to be perfect or have all the answers from the beginning! The story will evolve as you write. Trust yourself to figure it out!
How much or how little you plan depends on two factors:
If you’re writing a complex Dynamic Series with multiple-povs and a really detailed magic system and world, you may want to have a lot of that planned out before you even begin. You will definitely want to keep track of what you write into your world after the fact, too, which we’ll talk about in next week’s post and video on creating a series bible!
If you’re writing a small-town romance series with five books all set in the same place, no magic system, and a traditional romance plot structure, you might not need as much pre-planning before you begin.
One thing I encourage you to do, however, is to pay attention to your own process and what works for you (and doesn’t work for you). Writing is such an iterative process. As long as you pay attention to what’s working and move forward, you’ll continue to refine your process with each book or series you write.
Don’t allow a desire for perfection to hold you back!
One of the main challenges about writing a series is the sheer number of decisions you need to make along the way. It can feel overwhelming.
You’ll need to decide the genre, type of series, main characters, setting, tense, and length of the story. You’ll need to plan out series arcs, story arcs, and characters arcs, keeping track of any breadcrumbs or subplots along the way. And if you’re writing a book that includes fantasy or speculative elements, you’ll have a bunch of decisions to make about creatures, technology, or magic systems, too.
The first part of my series planning workbook asks questions that will help you start working through some of those decisions.
Then, the second half of the workbook is more of a fill-in-the-blank template for tracking and planning the rest of the decisions along the way. With the second half, you will want to print out several copies of each page, depending on the number of characters or books in your series.
A common question I get asked is how to know if have a big enough idea for an entire series? Figuring this out is partly going to rely on understanding what type of series you are writing.
With a Dynamic Series, where each book builds on the storyline of the previous book and has an series arc that unfolds over multiple books, you will simply need to sketch out the plot or turning points of the first book. Can you tell the entire story in that one book and give the character or story world a satisfying ending? Or will you need multiple books to tell the full story?
Another thing to look at is your character arc in a dynamic series. Who is your character when the story begins, and what skills do they have? What do they still need to learn? If they can learn everything they need to know to “win” the story or “defeat the big bad” by the end of the first book, then your story might not be big enough for a series.
If they will need to grow on multiple levels and experience a lot before they are ready for that final conflict, however, you have a series on your hands.
Standalone series are easier to determine. With a Standalone romance series, you’ll need to decide what elements tie your series together or connect them. Often it can be a group of siblings, residents of the same small town, a group of friends, employees at a company, dog lovers who all go to the same dog part, etc. The possibilities are endless!
Once you have your connection, all you need to do is figure out if there are multiple potential couples you could write about in that series. If yes, then go for it!
A mystery Standalone series is similar in this way. What ties the mystery together? Usually this is a detective or sleuth of some kind. If you want to tell multiple mysteries with the same main sleuth, you have enough for a series.
Another common question from writers is often, “How much do I need to plan or know before I start writing?”
I wish there was a definitive answer to this question, but the truth is that it depends on your process and comfort level.
You need to know enough to understand where your story is set, the type of people who will appear on the page, and you’ll need to know the conflict of the first novel’s story arc. Those are great places to start.
But when it comes to connecting your entire series, it’s going to come down to your process. Some writers will plan every detail and character arc, while others will just start writing and see where it goes.
There’s no right or wrong way to write a series. There’s just “it works” or “it doesn’t work”. Figure out what works for you. That’s the most important thing.
My advice is to go through the workbook and brainstorm as much as you can before you write. The more you understand about your story world and the people and places in it, the better and more cohesive your series will be.
Once you’ve tapped out all of your ideas, plot that first book and just start writing. The rest will start to come to you as you go.
I know this is a question many of you have, and while I do plan to touch on this in a future video, there is a ton of strategy involved in this question. It’s a bit more than I can cover today.
If you’re interested in self-publishing your series, however, I would love for you to join my Publish And Thrive course. I just opened enrollment today, and we’ll begin on August 10th! We talk a lot about marketing and release strategy in this class, so I know you will find it valuable in creating your own series strategy.
I try to get as much into the actual blog post as I can, but the magic in this topic is really on the video itself, so I encourage you to watch the video that goes along with this post to see a walkthrough of how to use the series planner.
Thanks for being here, and I look forward to Video #4: How To Create A Series Bible. I’ll see you Thursday!
I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.