Story Development and Execution Part 13: Planning a Series

Ciao, SEers. Today is my final post of the year, and it’s the final post of this series. We’re going to talk about planning a series, either from the beginning or by turning a standalone into one. I discussed types of series before. You can read that post here. This post is about how to do it.

Before you consider subsequent books in a series (either before or after the first book is written), you need to be certain there’s more story to tell. Just because your fans want more or you’re not ready to say goodbye to those characters does not mean you should write a series. Subsequent books should only be written if there’s more to say.

If you decide to write a series, go all in. There’s no concept that’s too big, even for a beginner. That said, it will be harder for a beginner because there’s so much more to learn and account for. But if your story calls for multiple books, I encourage you to do it. Better to learn the hard stuff right from the beginning than to short-change a concept because you were intimidated by the work. If you’re not ready now, write a standalone, then come back to this idea when you can do it justice.

If you’re writing about the same characters over the course of a long period of time, they’re going to change and grow. Keep that in mind as you write. They need to physically age, but they also need to comply with their character arcs.

Consider all of your readers. Some of them will have read your books sequentially. Others will (accidentally or on purpose) choose a book in the middle of the series. Every story needs to welcome both kinds of readers. Include relevant backstory, but only in small chunks, and not very close together. If done correctly, it can be a good refresher for fans as well as helpful for new readers.

We talked about story bibles in the second post of this series. The information you include in them is important for each book, but if you choose to write a series, it’s absolutely crucial to have an evolving story bible. This is how you ensure consistency.

I touched on this in the beginning of this post, but I think it’s important to call attention to this point, so I’m going to address it explicitly here. Not all standalones should become series. But if you feel like one of your standalones isn’t really finished and there’s more going on in that world than a single book (even one that closed all its mystery boxes) covered, by all means, expand it into a series. I usually plan my series in advance, but I have written a series that came from a standalone. It’s a little bit more work, and I wouldn’t want to try it without a story bible, but it can be a rewarding experience. The better records you keep when writing your standalone-turned-series, the easier your work will be.

To summarize:

  • Should you write a series?
  • Don’t shy away from the hard work.
  • Show the character grow.
  • Include backstory for all readers.
  • Refer to your story bible for consistency.
  • Consider standalones for expansion.

And that’s it. Book creation from ideation through editing, and a bonus discussion on series work. I hope you enjoyed these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

One last time, I’ll include the list for all the posts. Meanwhile, I’d love to know more about how you handle series work. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!

Links to the Whole Series:

January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series

Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.

Finally, I wish you and yours
a very merry Christmas and
a happy and healthy new year.

Staci Troilo bio box

59 thoughts on “Story Development and Execution Part 13: Planning a Series

  1. This has been an interesting series, thank you!

    My Goblin Trilogy started as a stand alone, Dance of the Goblins, but by the time I was halfway through it I was taking notes for not one but two sequels, because there were things that had to develop in subsequent generations. I stopped at three, figuring that short story collections could fill any gaps, but that world calls to be and has somehow wangled a crossover scene in my current WiP.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: This Week at Story Empire – Joan Hall

  3. This has been a fantastic series, Staci. The information is both useful and easy to understand. I haven’t tried my hand at a series, but if I ever do, I’ll be returning to your posts. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love mystery series that use the same sleuth for each book but with different crimes or murders to solve each time out. If I love the detective, I’ll love the book if it’s written well. So I’m a big fan of series. Mystery series are different from most fantasies, though. Many have an over-arching problem to solve over several or more books. And I love those, too. I was so impressed with your Astral Conspiracy series under your pen name D.L. Cross. Have to say, though, it’s really hard to find those books on Amazon. And they were so well-written!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats on a year’s worth of Story Development and Execution, Staci. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I plan all my series from the start and write them all before publishing the first book. That way I’m sure they’re consistent, have relevant forecasting in place, have a definable structure individually as well as over the whole series, and don’t have any dangling plots, characters, or other loose ends. It’s a ton of work and it means delaying publishing until everything is done, but it works for my OCD personality. Lol

    I was interested in your comment about each book being able to stand alone. I guess my books are more like serials than series since they definitely need to be read in order. I provide a tiny bit of backstory to catch a reader up if it’s been a while, but I don’t try to achieve any comprehensive understanding of the past. Perhaps this is more common with fantasy where trilogies (for example) are often one story divided into three books. I can’t imagine just reading the second book of The Lord of the Rings, or reading them out of order. 😀 Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know fantasy isn’t my “thing” and I agree that jumping into the middle of a vast saga would be difficult, but I was taught to sprinkle in enough backstory to clarify if someone did grab book three first for some reason. They’d NEVER have as rewarding an experience as someone who read in order (and shouldn’t), but they shouldn’t be LOST. Given how involved world-building is in fantasy, I suppose that would be challenging. I don’t really know if fantasy and sci-fi are exempt from that “rule.” I do know when I wrote my sci-fi series, I tried to give clarity to important points that an out-of-order reader might need. It wasn’t easy. And I don’t know if it helped. My OCD prevents me from reading things out of order.

      You now have me thinking…

      Thanks, Diana.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha ha. I don’t read out of order either. And you’re right that it’s hard to know if it worked unless a beta reader was just reading book 3, for example. Perhaps the important thing in the case of a serial is for authors to somehow let the reader know in the blurb that it’s one continuous ongoing story.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think Amazon says “book two of four” (or at least “book two” if it doesn’t know how big the series will be). I confess I’ve missed that before. I actually enjoy blurb writing, but that would be an added challenge. Now I kind of want to revise all my series blurbs. lol


  6. Great wrap-up to this series, Staci. (No pun intended.) As you know, I intended my first novel to be a stand-alone book until a character demanded otherwise. I turned that into a three-novel series. I planned for my second (and current) series. One of these days, I’m going to write a stand-alone book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You had a good start at standalones with The Stranger. I don’t know that you need to set out to write a single or a series. I think you should just plan for the best story you can, then decide if it’s one book or more. (I know; the pantser in you is cringing. lol) Thanks, Joan.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This has been a great series, Staci. You provided such down-to-earth, practical writing advice for creating a series. It’s funny that my current WIP was going to be a standalone, but looks like it’s turning into a series. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. Glad I’m still in the early stages so I can make any adjustments needed. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The earlier you can adjust, the better. The series I wrote that evolved from a standalone gave me several frustrations along the way. But I don’t think people can tell it was expanded rather than planned. Wishing you all the best with your WIP. Thanks, Jan.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This has been a great series and a wonderful wrap up. I’ve written (or partially written) a series but not published. As a reader, I like to binge read rather than wait for the next book, and I think this reflects in my writing approach. I got interrupted on my WIP trilogy with COVID and then I’ll health, and it’s so hard for me to pick up that dropped thread, even though I actually planned the heck out of this instead of my usual pantsing. What you say about growth and having a reason is so important. Thanks for sharing, Staci 💕🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have quite a few abandoned series, so I can relate. Once I had to set them aside, I had developed passion for other stories. I say I’ll get back to them, but I keep getting new ideas! I hope to circle around again, but as I grow, I fear I may be leaving those behind. It will be interesting to see. I’m sorry your trilogy is on pause.

      I know what you mean about binge reading. I think that’s why so many authors are now completing their series before dropping them. Then they do rapid releases. I’ve seen authors have some success with that approach and intend to try that myself soon.

      Thanks for weighing in.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve written both series and standalone. The first series I wrote (my Point Pleasant series) I knew from the start I had enough story for three books. The second series was something my publisher wanted. I struggled a bit more with that one, but thankfully the characters produced enough for second and third books.

    I also have an indie novella (In Search of McDoogal) that has excellent story potential—if I ever get back to it!
    In all cases, Story Bibles were essential to me in developing and tracking my series. I’d never attempt a series without one.

    This has been a great series of posts, Staci, with a fantastic subject for the closing wrap!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 13: Planning a Series | Legends of Windemere

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