I realized that, while I’ve gone over most of my creative process, there’s one tool that I’ve designed over the last few years I’ve never talked about. It’s an essential tool, though, and one that I’d like to share with you today.
A series outline.
Why to make a series outline
You probably have an overlying plan for your series, unless you wrote one and then got another idea for the same characters. This happens, but I rarely think it’s as fun. One of the reasons why I loved Harry Potter and Hunger Games so much is that there is a plot, tight as a piano wire, through the series. It’s undeniable how a well plotted series sings.
A series outline is also a handy place to store ideas for future books that you don’t want to forget. We all think we’re going to remember our bolt from the blue ideas, but we don’t. Why do you think I’ve twice nearly been hit by a car while walking? I was trying to pull up literally any program on my tablet to get the idea down before I lost it.
How to make a series outline
What should go into your series outlines? I have two, and they look pretty much the same, despite how different my books are.
- Who’s the main characer?
- Where’s it going to be set?
- Major plots.
- Minor plots.
- What series plots will be involved?
- What happened in the books before that I need to wrap up in this one?
- What do I need to foreshadow for future books?
- Any other notes.
No, I don’t know all of that for every book I have planned. Start with what you have, other ideas will follow. For instance, I might know the major plot for a book, and who’s going to be in it. But I really won’t know what minor plot lines aren’t getting settled until I’m done with the book before it.
Don’t put it on paper, it will break your heart. You’re going to change, add to and take away from this document all the freaking time. If you try to put it on paper, you’re going to have a scratched out, scrambled mess. I use Evernote, of course, so that I can add to it and refer to it on the fly.
And I do add to it often. I get ideas as I’m writing, editing or just brushing my teeth that I don’t want to lose. I also take time after every draft to update it.
I also find some additional lists to be helpful additions.
- Who’s still alive.
- Where each character is, geographically.
- Master list of series plot lines.
Nothing is set in stone
I’m sure the pantsers among you have dismissed this idea as a bad one. How is anything to be creative when it’s all so structured? Isn’t it nothing more than dictation if you already know what’s going to happen? What if a new idea strikes?
That’s why you have a delete key. If you’re looking over your notes, and something doesn’t fit anymore, take it out. If something strikes you as boring, your reader probably thinks it is, too. If you have a burst of inspiration that changes the whole structure of the series, just change it! That’s why we don’t write it on paper!