Writing a Series? Plot the Series Arch from the Beginning.

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I got into a discussion yesterday about writing series; the other writers in my group were blown away by the idea that I’m planning 15 books in my Gods reality.  They all write stand alone novels, or maybe one that could lend itself to a sequel or a trilogy, but an entire series thought up at the beginning?  I think the word they used was ambitious.

But that’s what I’ve always done.  I started my first book, ‘Parata’s Shadows,’ planning on it being the first book in a series (Sphinx).  I have such an attachment to series and connection of characters over years, I’ve already come up with ways for my different series to tie together later on even though they are in completely different magical realities. (I can pull it off though, my first series is about reality jumping witches 🙂

I have this dream of all 3 series running, a book every year or so in each, and of people thinking this new character causing problems in the SDF series sounds a hell of a lot like the MC in Sphinx, and then have their minds blown when names get exchanged and they make the connection that it was these characters from Sphinx all along, and then whatever action is going on gets picked up in the next book of Sphinx from those characters’ POVs.  And then having Sphinx characters come into the Gods reality and them having a huge impact on the story there.

I have a dream! *shakes fist dramatically*

But anyway, when you’re reading or watching a series and it just seems to go on and on and the danger gets bigger and bigger, but when it finally ends and the ends weren’t all tied together, do you feel a little… unsatisfied?

I do.

This is where we get into the Series Arch.  When you write a book, you know generally where it starts and where it ends, and the middle is the stuff to get it there, basically.  A well written series does the same thing.  I read in some interview (sorry, no clue where so can’t cite my source, *slaps hand* bad lawyer) with Jim Butcher that he’s done this for his Dresden Files series.  And you can tell later on when there are new explanations for baddies way back in the first few books that he’s thought this through.  Kelly Armstrong did the same thing with her Otherworld series.  The world started out small and got bigger and bigger until the characters could see the full puzzle and they all faced down the big bad in the last book.

Everything connects and you see the bigger picture and the greater battle and it’s awesome.

Come on, it can’t be just me that finds that satisfying.  Why?  Because we do the same thing in a novel!  We have a beginning, middle, and end.  And all the weird, seemingly random things in the book come together and have an explanation and are connected, and it’s beautiful.  Because we feel like there was a point.  Why have that tiny detail if you aren’t going to use it?  Why show that scene if it doesn’t move the plot forward?

Same with a series.

In Mystery series, they can do this for plot a little more naturally, because every case ties into the detective’s main career.  So in these, the author just has to make sure the character development is going somewhere.  I say just, but that’s not easy either.  But they only have to do it for character whereas fantasy has to do it for character and plot 🙂

In Fantasy series, it’s a little harder for us.  Because there is no overall career usually.  It’s more like weird magic stuff happens and characters deal with it, and that’s natural.  Criminals on the streets aren’t part of some big conspiracy, so why should people doing bad things in fantasy be?

Because we want it to be that way.

We want full circle, resolution, a reason!  We want order, dammit!

The world is chaotic and things randomly happen.  So we find fiction that ties up all the ends and links them together in a pattern so satisfying because we wish real life worked like that.  People look for patterns in nature because we feel that gives us some control, or at least warning before something bad happens.

Now, is it difficult to do from the beginning?  You betcha.  And things are going to change along the way.

But here’s the thing, you don’t have to plot out all 15 books right now, you can still let things come to you and change things up, even add in some books or cut the series down, and keep to your arch.  I’m planning 15 so I can have the first 3 be the set up (beginning) next 9 the troubles along the way and things getting worse (middle) and last 3 be where everything comes to a head and they finally have to deal with shit hanging over them since the beginning (the end).

You just have to know where you’re going with it.  They say with books figure out your end before you start writing, even if you’re a pantster, do that much.  So you know where you’re going.

So if you’re writing a series, how do you want it to end?  Who’s the big bad boss at the end?  Was this an overall problem like (my Gods reality) society trying to deal with magic and the two finally reach an equilibrium at the end, or (my Sphinx reality) was it a conspiracy by people who want power.

Then, where do you want your characters to go?  How do they grow, learn, find love?  That’s the character arch you want to be on a trajectory for.

From there, think of things you could do as hints to that final ending in earlier books.  Or questions that must be answered that you have dangling over the characters’ heads the entire series.  Carrie Vaughn does a great big conspiracy that you can see hints of early on.  I’m reading Ilona Andrews right now and you can tell early on who the big bad MC’s building up her strength to take on is.  You know what the final battle will eventually have to be, and all the other stuff ties in because that’s how she’s growing her strength.

So, plot it out, doesn’t have to be detailed.  Just something like, books 1 -3 are the problems being set up/becoming evident, and the love interests come together.  That’s all I’ve got for most of the series.  I don’t know the plots for most of the books in the middle, and obviously books change as you write them.  But if you have that string going through all of them, something to tie them together, your readers will love you.  Because you’ve given your world meaning, order, purpose.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s all we really want out of our own lives, isn’t it?

Happy Writing 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Writing a Series? Plot the Series Arch from the Beginning.

  1. It’s very good advice. Years ago I was at a Science Fiction conference where a writer said about the same thing noting that when you write a book without thinking of a squeal you end up with something like this:
    first book: Hero saves universe
    second book: Hero saves planet
    third book: Hero saves ship
    fourth book: Hero saves boss’s job

    Plan the arch ahead of time, please.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! And your books sound fascinating. I have a couple stand-alone books that readers want sequels to. Yet I didn’t plan them as series and have difficulty conceptualizing how another book would attach to an already wrapped up story. Recently, I actually planned a series, plotting out each book individually and then applying the story structure/arc model to the whole series (as if it was one book). It feels much more cohesive. I can’t even conceive of what you do, but it’s a start. Thanks for validating my approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks. You are a peach… sorry, it was right there, I couldn’t resist 🙂 But yeah, it sounds like you have a great grasp on the concept of plotting for a series.

      Liked by 1 person

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