Series Fiction

Question: I have this idea for a novel series. I don't know; do people usually decide how many books are going to be in a series before or after they get into it? I have decided 8. And I pretty much know the result and/or problem for each book, but how do I keep my readers interested enough to keep reading, and waiting for the next book?

I also have no idea how the main characters are going to do anything, I just have little episodes played out in my mind. Like it would be cool if they got captured by pirates or they had to rely on the mercy of a crazy wizard. Or maybe all the heirs of The Seven have this huge magic duel because they don't believe that the main character is who she says she is. I have eight books to fill and there was seven because of The Seven but then I decided what was going to happen at the end of the seventh and realized I'd need another book. I'm only 15, but i have wanted to write this novel since I was 10. (Trust me it's come a long way from being a ten-year-old fantasy) So anyway, my question is: what do I do with these episodes I imagine, and how do I fill in the holes?

Answer: A lot of writers, particularly in the fantasy genre, think in terms of series from the beginning. This is probably because they are also fantasy readers, and fantasy readers who like an imaginary world tend to like spending a lot of time with it.

So, one technique is to make your imaginary world interesting and vivid enough for the reader to want to come back.

Even better, consider creating some mysteries that are introduced in the first book but not uncovered until later books, or an overarching plot that won't get resolved until later. That gives the reader another reason to read the whole series.

I know I refer to Harry Potter a lot, but it's a good example. Rowling planned all seven books in advance, and left plenty of unanswered questions in book one to keep readers coming back.

For instance, she doesn't really explain why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry until book five, even though his
attack on Harry is the event that begins book one. Nor do we learn whether Snape is really evil until book seven.

Now, you say you have a number of events or episodes in mind for your series. So why not start by treating the entire series as one big story? Decide who the characters are that fit into this story - the protagonist, antagonist, etc. Use Dramatica theory to give this story its own Story Goal Requirements, Consequences, Forewarnings, and all the other elements, as outlined on the "How to Write a Novel" page. Choose an event that gets the story started. Have events that create bigger problems for the hero. Take the reader towards a climax.

Then see if you can make each major event in this overarching plot the subject of one book, and turn them into complete stories in themselves.

For instance, the Harry Potter series is the story of how Harry transforms from an underdog into a wizard confident enough in his power to avenge his parents' death. The event that gets this plot started is Harry's meeting with Voldemort and his discovery that they have a mysterious magical connection. That is the first book.

How does Harry come to meet Voldemort and discover their connection? By pursuing a different Story Goal that applies only to Book One: that of preventing the theft of the Philosopher's Stone. So the first event in the overarching series becomes into an entire novel in itself.

This is great structure, because each book in the series does two jobs: 1) it gives the reader a complete story with a satisfying ending and at the same time 2) it advances the overarching story.

The reader of book one can enjoy Harry's success at saving the stone, yet is also left knowing this is only the beginning. The reader wants to see what happens in the next book, and whether the questions will get answered. Will Voldemort come back? And why did he want to kill Harry in the first place?

As the series progresses, the stakes should get higher. The complications should increase. The truth should gradually emerge, until the hero has to make a great decision/action that will determine the outcome (which obviously won't happen until the very last book).

Hope that helps.

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