Writing a series is far different than writing a standalone book, and must be approached as such. I should know. I write not one, but to different series, because I’m an idiot who takes on way more than is sensible for one person. Before that, I wrote a couple standalone books. None of them ended up well, but they were practice novels. Everyone should write at least one practice book that doesn’t go anywhere before they write their actual good material. For me, my practice book was a crime drama about a woman whose husband is accused of abusing and killing a young man. I plan to rewrite it someday, despite being completely different than the genre I write now.
I love writing series for many reasons. Having tried it both ways, there are perks to writing a series, no matter what genre you’re writing in.
I write character-driven novels, and so obviously creating characters is a long process. I want my characters to be real people with real flaws and virtues. So, if I can create a character I’m happy with, I’d like them to stick around awhile. Like, at least two books, please.
Starting out a book with a cast of characters that have already been fleshed out and established is a huge step up. I don’t have to spend a lot of time showing who my characters are because they have already shown who they are. I can now show who they are turning into. That’s always a lot more fun.
I’ve already written a whole story about these characters, complete with plotlines that may or may not have been finished in book one. I can continue those storylines in book two. After all, there really is no happy ever after. Live goes on, and there’s always another challenge to face.
In fantasy and science fiction, a lot of time and attention goes into world building. What kind of money is used, what sort of politics are in play here. What sort of creatures roam the countryside.
When I’m writing a sequel, I’ve already done all of that! Even better, I can safely assume that most of the people reading book two and beyond have read the others first. So, I don’t have to go into as much detail as I did the first time around. I’m currently writing the fourth Station 86 book (It’s called Station Central. Look for it to come out in maybe December, I’m not sure yet.) I can skip a lot of world building and get right into the story. This saves me and the reader time.
Characters become plot bunnies
One thing I do when I’m starting a new Station 86 or Woven book is look at my list of characters and see who’s still alive. Every character that is still alive has potential to provide plotlines in future books. Because the best secondary characters are complete, well-rounded people who have their own lives apart from their relationships to the main character. And that makes them plot bunnies! And as their plots hop along, they bounce off the main storyline and make more plot bunnies! There’s no such thing as writer’s block, it’s great.
Building a fan base
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been obsessed with a series. I have personally had several book releases highlighted in hearts around it on my planner over the years. I waited in front of the bookstore to get a copy of the last Harry Potter book, and literally walked out of the store reading it. I did the same thing for the last Series of Unfortunate Events. I pre-ordered the most recent Tamora Pierce book months in advance.
I don’t do the same thing for books that aren’t part of a series, even if I love the author in question. Because I know that the books may or may not be something I want to read, and I want to know more about it.
If you’ve got readers who read and loved book one of your series, they’re going to eagerly await book two. And for every good book you put out, you get a snowball effect. Some people prefer to wait to see if a series will continue before they get invested. So, when there’s a book two, people are more willing to grab book one. When there’s a book three, it’s even better.
I don’t have to say goodbye
I’m an emotional person, I get attached to things. And when I wrote Woven, I got really attached to writing for Lenore, Devon, Victor, and Sultiana. So, when I finished the series, I didn’t want to let the characters go.
That’s why I started writing a follow-up series right away. Even though I wasn’t writing for the same characters anymore, I was still in the same world. I could include cameos of the characters with this new cast.
It’s even better with Station 86 because I’ve stuck with Godfrey and Sennett for four books now. I don’t have to say goodbye to them and go through that emotional hangover. I can just keep writing about them until the story is over. If you read Virus, you should know that the story is far from over.
There is no good in this world without some bad. Everything has a downside, and writing a continuing series is no exceptions. I’ll explore these in part two of this series on Friday. (See what I did there?)
Are you subscribed to the PBW Update? Here’s why you should be. You’ll get an extra post from me about writing or publishing. You’ll get a round up of the most recent PBW posts. You’ll learn about a new indie writer in every issue. And, you’ll be the first to learn about promotional offers and events for Station 86 and Woven. PBW Update issues come out every other Monday.
Click here to sign up.