John posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
In your last newsletter you talked about giving away the first book in a series as a way to find your readers and get them hooked on your stories.
I was wondering if, while planning out the “first book”, an author should also plan the sequels as well? Wouldn’t that make the series better and allow for nuggets of foreshadowing? Or is it enough work to write the first story that one shouldn’t worry about future stories?
Randy sez: That’s an excellent question, John.
First, let’s review why writing a series makes sense. There are several reasons:
- Readers like series. You are in the business of selling readers what they want.
- Once you’ve done the research for the story world of the first book in the series, you’ve done most or all of the research for all the books in the series. This is good use of your time. The less time it takes to write each book, the more books you can write and the more you’ll sell.
- Once you’ve created the characters for the first book in your series, you can reuse those characters in later books, and you’ve already done most of the work on those characters. They will probably grow a bit and you may want to add some new characters, but a lot of your work is already done.
- Once you’ve sold a reader on the first book in the series, they know that the rest of the books will be “just like the first one, only different.” If they love the first, they’ll buy all the rest, with very little extra marketing work. (You just have to let them know the new book is available.)
Now to John’s question: Should you plan your whole series out in advance? There’s no simple answer here.
Some authors write each novel by the seat of their pants. This is an effective way to write a novel, and if this is how you work, then you probably won’t be planning out your series because you like surprises and you “think by typing.” That’s fine. Trust yourself to come up with more novels in the series and get to work!
Some authors like to plan each novel. They may write a long, detailed synopsis or they may use my popular Snowflake Method or they may use some other method of planning. But they feel most comfortable writing when they have a plan. This is also an effective way to write a novel. If this is how you work, then it very much makes sense to plan out the rest of the books. And yes, this gives you a chance to write a more coherent story, foreshadowing things to come.
You may also be somewhere in the middle, where you have a rough idea on how you want the series to go, but you’re willing to play it by ear, planning out each book in detail only when it comes time to write it.
It’s all a question of what makes you the most effective writer. There isn’t any method that’s best for everybody. We’re all different. We can learn what works for others and try out methods that sound good. If they work out, then we’re ahead of the game. If they don’t work out, then there’s nothing lost except a little time.
Having said that, there’s also the question of how closely the books in the series are related to each other. Is this a series of books that could each stand alone, or nearly alone? If so, then no planning is necessary for the series. The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is like this. If you removed any of the books in the series, there would be little or no impact on the others.
However, some series have an overarching story that ties them all together. For example, the Harry Potter series has a tightly connected narrative that carries on for all seven books. Writing a series like this probably needs quite a lot of advance planning to make it work. If you’re a pure seat-of-the-pants writer, this kind of series might be tough for you to write.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.
nancy adair says
You are right about the efficiency of research for a series. JK Rawlings researched alchemy to death before writing Harry Potter. She had so much information it allowed her to have an ample number of symbols and ideas to carry all the way through the series, like the 3 colors of alchemy, red (Rubeus), white (Albus), and black (Sirius Black) and the 7 elements of the universe tied into 7 books.
I think new writers get overwhelmed by thinking of their books as part of a series, but you explained it really well. For those who are intimidated by the planning, I think it helps to consider each book independently first, then step back and see where the connections fall naturally.
Glad to have stumbled on your site…will definitely be checking back often!