How to Write a Book Series - Part Two
Hey, lovely friends!
Welcome to part two of How to Write a Book Series, our mini blog series on the three types of book series and how to write them.
In part one of this mini-series, we discussed an overview of each of the three types of book series and broke down the first type--the dynamic series--in full detail. We went over the character and plot arcs present in a dynamic series, how to pre-write your own, and additional tips for rocking your dynamic series the first time around.
If you haven't checked out part one yet, what are you waiting for? Click on over now! No worries, I won't start today's post without you.
All caught up? Great!
In this second installment of How to Write a Book Series, we'll break down the two remaining types of book series--static and anthology series--and discuss how you can write your own. Sound good?
Let's get started with a review of the three types of series just in case you missed last week's post. Then, we'll dive straight into discovering static and anthology series!
The Three Types of Series
First things first, not all book series are built the same. In fact, there are actually three different types of book series: dynamic, static, and anthology. Let's take a look at an overview of each:
A dynamic series features a dynamic main character. In other words, the series' protagonist undergoes an internal transformation of personality, beliefs, and/or heart throughout the course of the book series.
This type of book series is by far the most popular, and as such, it is also the most attractive to publishers and marketable to readers.
Examples: Common examples of dynamic book series include Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones series), The Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games.
On the other hand, a static series features a static main character, a protagonist who does not undergo any sort of emotional or mental change during the course of the book series.
This type of book series used to be widely popular in the early days of modern fiction, when books and book series were most often published as magazines serials rather than paperbacks. This isn't to say that static series are now extinct. There are still several popular static series being published today.
Examples: Common examples of static book series include Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and the Hannibal Lecter series.
Anthology series are a completely different beast. Rather than being defined by their protagonist's character arc, anthology series feature different characters and stories in each book, with the series overall being tied together by a common thread (more on that in next week's post).
Anthology series are the least popular style of book series, but several have still gained critical acclaim and commercial success.
Examples: Common examples of anthology book series include Goosebumps, Fear Street, and The Chronicles of Narnia (though the latter is a bit debatable).
The important thing to remember about all three of types of book series is that no particular one is better than another; they are simply different. Though dynamic series are by far the most popular (making them the easiest to sell), the examples for static and anthology series go to prove that you can write a commercially successful series no matter its type.
Ready to dive deeper? In part two of our two-part mini-series on How to Write a Book Series, we'll break down exactly what static and anthology series are and how you can write your own. Shall we begin?
Breaking Down Static Series
Static series always feature a static main character, meaning the main character does not undergo an inner transformation throughout the course of the series. Because of this, many static series are high-action and feature a new adventure in each installment (a lá Indiana Jones or James Bond).
Though static series can certainly be complex in their own right, they are often less complicated than their dynamic counterparts and can be outlined one book at a time without any specific end goal for the series in mind.
This allows the author to continue writing installments in the series until reader interest dies out or they grow tired of writing about the same character. Just take a look at Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew for example.
Even though the main character in a static series doesn't undergo an inner transformation, your novel should still feature a character arc; in this case, a flat character arc.
Whereas a positive or negative character arc shows the protagonist's inner transformation, a flat arc reveals the protagonist's journey, focusing on their struggle to remain true to their morals and beliefs in the face of conflict and danger.
Let's talk about that in more detail...
A flat character arc is the second most common type of arc, coming in after positive arcs but before negative arcs. At its core, a flat arc shows the struggle the protagonist faces as they fight to maintain their integrity while taking on external challenges.
To create an effective flat arc, your protagonist must begin the story with a strong sense of self. They should know who they are and what they stand for and be willing to fight for those beliefs no matter what comes their way.
Throughout your series, your protagonist's strong sense of self should be in peril as they fight to achieve their story goal. The more attractive you can make the temptations that threaten to pull your protagonist away from their strong beliefs, the more suspense you will create for your readers.
Identifying Your Story's Plot Arcs
Now that you have a strong idea of the internal struggles your static series' protagonist will face, it's time to talk about plot arcs.
Unsure of what a plot arc is? Take a look at this quote from part one of How to Write a Book Series:
" Essentially, a plot arc is the storyline of your novel, and though a novel can have multiple plot arcs (which typically occurs in complex fantasies, sci-fi's, and thrillers), it isn't a requirement.
Now you may be wondering why you have to sketch out both character and plot arcs before beginning to write your book or book series. The answer is simple: a character arc follows the protagonist's internal struggles while the plot arc follows the external.
These two types of arcs are not mutually exclusive; they're actually quite interwoven. The external struggles your protagonist faces will force them to confront their own emotions, thus affecting their mental state. Meanwhile, the protagonist's mental state will affect the actions they take as they approach those external struggles.
Every part of your character's story should see them dealing with either their thoughts, their deeds, or a combination of the two. In fact, the more you pit your protagonist's thoughts and deeds against each other, the stronger your novel's tension will be. And high tension = high reader interest. Hurray! "
When it comes to writing a static book series, you have three plot arc options. Either you can:
1) Create an individual plot arc for each novel, allowing each installment to stand on it's own two feet.
2) Create a single, series-long plot arc.
3) Create an individual plot arc for each novel while also maintaining a series-long plot arc that serves as an overarching plot line.
Options one and three are by far the most popular. In fact, by creating a single, series-long plot arc, you run the risk of your series reading as drawn-out and slow-paced. This can bore readers, discouraging them from picking up future installments of your series or giving the series a good review.
On the other hand, ensuring that each novel in your static series has a complete plot arc (also known as a story arc) will grip readers and encourage them to keep reading future installments. By also creating an overarching plot arc (also known as a series arc) that takes the entirety of the series to resolve, you'll ensure that readers stay hooked for the long run.
How to Build Your Own Static Series
If you choose to create a static series that features a sole, individual plot arc for each novel, it will be fairly easy to create each installment. Simply outline each novel as though it were a standalone book using a plot structure such as the ones discussed in this past She's Novel post.
If, however, you want to write a static series that features individual story arcs for each installment, as well as a series arc for the entirety of the series, you'll need to give your series some special treatment, "television treatment".
In part one of How to Write a Book Series, we used television cop dramas to explain how to create a series with both story and series arcs. Let's review that idea today!
So here's the deal: let's consider a cop show like NCIS or Law and Order. In almost every episode, the team works to catch a killer. This process begins at the crime scene and ends with an arrest. Bing, bang, boom. A complete plot arc plays out in just one hour.
This would be a story arc, making a single TV episode the equivalent to one individual book in your book series.
Now sometimes, while working to catch an individual killer in each episode, the team also tries to track down another killer. But this ingenious killer isn't so easily caught. It takes the team several episodes, or even the entire season, to finally arrest this particular bad guy.
This multi-episode long plot arc would be your series arc, the equivalent to your book series as a whole.
We're going to use this same technique, which we used to build a dynamic series, to build your very own multi-arc static series. Here's how...
1) Think back on your character arc.
In order to build a killer series arc, you need to take a look back at your protagonist's flat character arc. Take time to identify their strong morals and beliefs. What do they believe is their purpose? How do they see themselves? What will they fight tooth-and-nail to protect?
Once you have a strong understanding of these elements, it's time to craft your series' antagonist. This is the person (or force) your protagonist will fight against for the entirety of the series, so getting to know them is vital to building your series' arc.
Since a flat arc has your protagonist fighting to stay true to their beliefs, your series' antagonist should challenge their beliefs as much as possible. The easiest way to do this? By making your series' antagonist a foil.
In other words, your series' antagonist should hold almost the exact opposite beliefs as your protagonist, and you should make these opposing beliefs as clear as possible so as to emphasis your protagonist's own.
2) Build your series plot arc.
Once you have a strong idea of how your series' antagonist will foil your protagonist, it's time to think about the series plot arc.
First, identify your protagonist and antagonist's story goals. Are they both fighting to achieve the same goal with different motivations (these will stem from their beliefs) or are they fighting to stop one another from achieving individual goals?
Once you've made this decision, it's time to find a plot structure to use as a foundation as you outline your series' arc. You can find three bestselling plot structures to use for your own series in this post from She's Novel.
3) Outline your first story arc.
Now that you have a good understanding of where your series is headed as a whole, it's time to think about the first installment. Specifically, what will the plot of your first book look like?
As you create your story arc, think about who you want the antagonist of your first installment to be. Will it be the series' antagonist or someone entirely new?
Most series feature individual antagonists in each installment alongside their series' antagonist, but some series, such as Harry Potter, feature the series' antagonist as the main antagonist in some, if not all, of the individual story arcs.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure to create some sort of outline for your story arc before beginning to write the first installment of your series. This will help smooth out the process, reducing the amount of time between when each new installment is published.
4) Begin drafting.
Now that you have your character, story, and series arcs all laid out, it's time to look towards writing the first installment of your series. You can either jump right into the drafting process, or you can take a few extra days to continue pre-writing your novel.
This would include doing research, creating character sketches, building a story bible, and more. You don't have to go this route if you tend to be more of a Pantser, but if you do want to pre-write and would like more structure, make sure to check out The Pre-Write Project.
Breaking Down Anthology Series
Time to discuss our third and final style of book series: the anthology series!
As mentioned in the overview at the top of this post, an anthology series features different characters and stories in each installment, with the series as a whole tied together by a common thread.
This thread is most commonly a theme (e.g. true love), a niche genre and age market pairing (e.g. Goosebumps being children's horror), or a story world (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia). Finding this thread is what will tie your series together, preventing it from being known as several standalone novels.
Your anthology series can feature positive, negative, or flat character arcs. The choice is completely up to you!
If you've just scrolled down to this portion of the post and aren't sure what a character arc is, check out part one of our mini-series to learn about positive and negative arcs, and scroll up to the static series breakdown to learn about flat character arcs.
Since each novel in the series features a different story, you don't need to worry about creating separate story and series plot arcs. You should, however, try to use the same or very similar plot structures to build each installment of your series. This will serve as another thread to help tie your series together.
How to Build Your Own Anthology Series
Though creating any type of novel or novel series is always a tough job to tackle, building an anthology series is certainly less complex than its dynamic and static counterparts. All the same, you want to make sure you get it right, so allow me to walk you through the process:
1) Identify your common thread.
Every anthology series needs a common thread to tie it altogether. Before you start writing your anthology series, you need to figure out what your common thread will be.
Themes are often used to tie together similar stories. For example, I recently interviewed Stephanie Taylor and Holland Burris, authors of The American Dream series, on the blog. Their series, which is an anthology, features the individual tales of immigrant children as they move with their families to America. Their series features two themes in particular: braving new experiences and finding your identity.
Another popular common thread for anthology series is a niche genre and age market pairing. In other words, the genre and age markets the author chooses to write their books in is so unusual that it's easier to market the books as a series rather than standalone novels. This is the case with anthology series like Goosebumps and Fear Street, both children's horror series by R.L. Stine.
Of course, you don't have to use either of these two common threads if you have another idea in mind. Using the same story world or having the same minor character appear once or twice in each installment will also create a strong thread.
2) Validate your anthology series idea.
At this point, it may be tempting to dive straight into the first installment of your series, but I urge you to take a step back and make sure that this series is something you're passionate enough to pursue.
After all, writing a book series will take up years of your life. You want to make sure that you don't get two or three books into your series and run out of ideas. Let's do this right!
The easiest way to validate your series idea is to look back at your common thread. Can you easily come up with at least five, if not ten or fifteen, ideas for future installments of the series? Ideas that you're truly excited to write about?
You don't have to come up with all of these ideas in ten minutes flat, but if you can't come up with an ample number after one or two days, it might be time to reconsider creating this particular anthology series.
3) Begin drafting your anthology series.
The next step is simple: it's time to get to work! Take the time to outline your first installment's plot arc using a plot structure or gain a more-detailed understanding of every element of your first book using The Pre-Write Project. Then, dive into drafting!
Because anthology series tend to sell better and better with each installment, it's important to keep publishing new books in the series as often as possible. I'd recommend at least putting out a new book each year, if not two or three books yearly.
That may sound like a lot of writing (which it certainly is!), but this doesn't have to be an overwhelming process. I highly recommend putting a drafting cycle into place. "What's a drafting cycle?" you ask. You're in luck! You can find my full breakdown on drafting cycles in this She's Novel post.
Can you believe it? We've come to the end of our two-part mini-series at last!
I have had such an incredible time putting this series together (I get so excited to talk about everything I've learned in my own journey towards publishing a book series). I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
If you have any questions about the three types of book series or if you would like me to continue creating mini blog series such as this one, please let me know in the comments below or by getting in touch with me. Thank you so much!