How to write a series - particularly the first book?

by Lisa
(New York)

Question: I find myself thinking of a great series yet the first book seems both the most fun and most complicated to write. In most good series and seemingly as a standard on most advice sites, the first book should be able to stand alone, as should most of the books. What is your advice on this? Also, what would be your insight on having an overall story goal which is developed and met in the series as a whole, and then a different story goal for each book in the series? I know a lot of authors seem to take this approach, but still there seems to be that stand alone book 1 standard. Just curious about your thoughts, and I have not been able to find a section on the website about series, if you even have one (which I believe you definitely should if you don't).

Answer: You're not the first person to ask about series, so perhaps you're right that the topic deserves a page. (Of course, you might check out the question and answer section to see what's been discussed before.)

Individual books in a series must stand on their own, if for no other reason than the fact that your reader, who might only ever buy one book in the series, will be very frustrated to find out that the story isn't resolved. Some readers were very annoyed when Tolkein's The Fellowship of the Ring left them hanging.

the same time, I'm very much in favour of having an overarching story that covers the entire series in addition to each book in the series standing on its own. That way, you can give your reader a satisfying and complete story in book one (so he doesn't feel cheated), and also create the sense that this is only the beginning of a much bigger story, and so make your reader hungry for the second book.

One thing that is great about Dramatica is that the theory is recursive. Events are part of sequences, which are part of acts, which are part of novels, which are part of series, etc. So you can structure each element to fit into the bigger picture.

As you suggest, you can have a story goal for the entire series (which will probably also be the goal for the last book when the series is wrapped up). Each novel becomes a part of the big plot.

At the same time, all but the last novel has its own story goal and is a fully developed story in addition to being part of the big story.

Incidentally, I suspect that the reason the first book in many series seems more standalone than the rest is because the author didn't have a series in mind when he/she wrote it. Later, when the publisher asked for a sequel, the author started thinking in terms of a series and wrote the remaining books in that light.

Comments for How to write a series - particularly the first book?

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Aug 23, 2011
So if you're already planning to write the series...
by: Anonymous

Would it be okay to put that in the title or no? Like calling it a part 1 or "book 1"?

Aug 23, 2011
Selling a series from the get-go
by: Glen

Well, saying upfront that your book is the first of a series is like telling someone on a first date that you're interested in marriage. I think it can sound a bit pushy. And unless it's love at first sight for them, they may not be thrilled.

My personal feeling is that it's best to let the agent/publisher fall in love with the book first. If they do, they may ask if you have a sequel in mind, and then your plans for the series will be a bonus.

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