Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Planning Out a Series

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

This is a release day week for me, so I've been scrambling to do all the things that one tries to do for a release day. It's not as much as usual, since this is the release for A Deliverer Comes (Kinsman Chronicles, Part 8), which is an ebook-only release. But it still throws a regular work week into a bit of chaos and makes it hard to stay on schedule. You can learn more about the Kinsman Chronicles here.





As to Onyx Eyes, I've spend a lot of hours in the past few weeks, reading over everything I had in my thick story file, my notebook, and the chapters I'd written. I made a list of plot holes and problems and brainstormed my way through most of them. I've got a pretty good handle on the plot for book one, but since I know I'm going to write a five-book series, I want to take a little time to think through my plans for that, mostly so I know where I'm going and can plant important things that will pay off later. In the past, I've always had a very loose plan for the series I've written. They've gone a little like this:


Blood of Kings: I will have three books. One where Achan finds out who he is. One where he travels around the land and gathers and army. And one where he heads south to fight a war.

The Mission League: I will have one (full-length) book for each summer trip of Spencer's high school years. So in book one, he is finishing up ninth grade, book two: tenth grade, book three: eleventh, and book four: his senior year.

The Safe Lands: In each book the captives will experience a new area of the Safe Lands. Book one: the highlands, book two: the midlands, and book three: the lowlands.

The Kinsman Chronicles: In book one I will destroy the land. In book two they will get on boats to look for a new land. In book three they will fight to get to live in peace in the new land (which will be the same land from the Blood of King's trilogy).

None of those series had all that much of a plan. And while little planning has always (eventually) worked out for me, it's been pretty stressful sometimes. Mostly that was due to deadlines from traditional publishing houses. I always felt like I was racing to finish something that I really had no idea what it was going to be. However, I'm not sure a self-published series would be all that different, since, ideally, one would try and publish each book as quickly as possible so readers didn't have to wait long.

Which is why this time around, I wanted to try and get a little more series plotting done in advance. Even if it's not a lot. Even if I only know twice as much as I knew in those above examples. If I'm going to seriously try and pump out five books in two years, I needed (I wanted) a bigger plan.




Here is how I tackled this plan. First, I filled in the little plot chart I created for last week's post for book one, then I printed four more, one for books two, three, four, and five. Since I have tentative titles and a theme for each story, I wrote those across the top of each page. This is what they say:


Book one: Onyx Eyes. Theme: sin/evil.
Book two: Ruby Eyes. Theme: sacrifice.
Book three: Diamond Eyes. Theme: redemption/rebirth/renewal.
Book four: Emerald Eyes. Theme: Growth/change toward being a stronger, whole person.
Book five: Golden Eyes. Theme: Heaven/eternal life/finding a true home.

This was helpful because, as I plot out each book, I will be able to engineer character situations that fit each theme. So while my initial plan for the "sin" theme in book one was that Drake was going to be performing forbidden magic to bond with a dragon. But now I also plan to have Drake discover that the Aerials are kidnapping humans and enslaving them (more sin theme), that Drake's own government has a traitor (sin theme), and that an even bigger crime had been taking place right under Drake's nose for years (sin theme). So I will reveal many sins/evils in book one, and as I take those various subplots through the series, some will pass through the other themes as well. And in book two, someone will make an incredible sacrifice for Drake (sacrifice theme), then later, he will make a sacrifice for another (sacrifice theme), which will show that he has grown over the course of the first two books (character growth is always good stuff).

The next thing I did was tape together several sheets of paper to create one long paper that I could use to create a three-act structure for the series as a whole story. Then I did some more math. If each book was going to be 24 chapters long, the full series would be 120 chapters long, so my inciting incident for the series should happen somewhere around chapter 12 of book one. My "end of act one/break into two/change of plans" situation should come somewhere around chapter 30 of the series, which would be the the end of chapter six in book two. The midpoint of the series would come at the beginning of chapter 60, which is the exact middle of book three. And so on. I tried to ensure that important things were happening in these general areas.

I marked these key story elements on the long sheet of paper with their corresponding book and chapter information. Then I used sticky notes to add plot points to the series (overall story) timeline. I didn't do a lot of series plotting. Until I write book one, I just don't know enough about my characters or the story to have a clue what might happen in the middle of book four, etc. Plus, things change as I write. But this chart helped me organize my thoughts and plans for the series, and I came up with some good ideas too. Here is a picture of this process:



And a few days later, it looks different still. I've re-read through my entire folder for the Belfaylinn series and used many ideas and notes I found to create scenes, which I put on sticky notes and added to the timeline. Then I wrote what was on each sticky note on the corresponding book plot sheets above. This gave me some good bare bones situations that will occur in each book if I'm going to stay on track toward my planned ending. Like I said before, some of this will very likely change, but I now have direction. I'm not writing into a void or with a super loose plan, wondering how I will fill five books with story. I have direction, and it feels great.


Have you ever plotted out a series, completely or loosely? If so, how do you go about it? Share in the comments.

20 comments:

  1. This sounds like a great way to plot a series! I wish I'd thought to plan more when I started writing my current WIP, but at the time I'd wanted it to be a standalone book. (Heheheh...somehow that idea morphed into a trilogy with a prequel and a side novella...) Now that I'm beginning work on the sequel, though, I'm finding lots of things that I have to go back and change/fix so it works as a series. Maybe I'll borrow some of your ideas! :)
    Thanks for this post!
    ~J

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  2. My series is kind of evolving all over the place, but I finally have a solid plan for how I'm going to do it and I'm almost done with the first book! :P I'm also starting a seperate trilogy, and at the moment my plan for that is similar. It's alternate history about the ending of World War II, so at the moment the outline looks like this:

    Book 1: Destroying the blinders
    Book 2: Destroying the camps
    Book 3: Destroying the oppression

    I have a very solid plan for how book 1 is going to go (mostly setup, obviously, as it's the first book, but still with enough plot to get things moving), a semi-solid plan for book two, and basically nothing for book 3. I know how that last one begins and have a very, VERY rough idea of what needs to happen in the end. But otherwise I'm flying blind, hoping that the first two books will reveal what needs to happen. So, I definitely feel you on that! Thanks for this post--definitely very helpful!

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    1. Yep! That sounds about right. :-) Once you write book one, you'll know more about book three, and once you write book two, book three will be much clearer to you. But it's still good to try and think it through some, if you can.

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  3. I'm currently doing this, and wow! The work is overwhelming. First I read through my whole series... six novellas. I taped sticky notes to my mirror, a different color for each book. I didn't have many up there. Then I wrote down every detail about every character... how they look, age in each book, and if they died or etc. I also have a page for every place (town, etc), and then for each space ship, and so on. Now I'm just trying to organize all this information into one solid timeline that flows AS I research. And then I get to rewrite the whole thing! Definitely a new process for me, but then I've never written a series before.

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    1. I'm excited you're going to write a series, Keturah. It will be a different experience, that's for sure. I know you can do it, though. :-)

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  4. My current WIP is not a series, but I do have ideas for other seires. I've never been much a planer, but that has been getting me into trouble recently with my current WIP because I have almost no clue where I'm going. Thanks for the post!

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  5. Wow, Mrs. Williamson! How do you do it? Your method of calculating where plot points will be based on chapter is very impressive. It may take me a few books-worth of experience to be able to function like that, because I currently am very bad at guessing how long a story will turn out to be. It always grows because I find that I have to flesh out so many things as I write the story.
    The book I am working on currently I intend to publish as a stand-alone and then turn into a series after I have set more roots down through a sci-fi trilogy. I never considered giving the series a three-act structure, so I'll definitely have to work on that! I'll probably try this with my trilogy, since those books are closely linked and next on my to-write list.

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    1. I used a calculator . . . even though everything was in multiples of three. LOL And, yes, my stories might not actually be 24 chapters long when I'm done. They might grow or shrink. This is a starting point for me. Now, I do know authors who "always write a twenty chapter book." I've never been able to be quite that formulaic. I've tried, but I just keep failing. And that's okay. We're not all the same. I'm just always looking for ways to write faster, since I have so many ideas and I want to write them all but there aren't enough hours in the day, etc.

      A trilogy naturally fits into a three act structure, so the math for a trilogy won't be as complicated as the math for a five book series. :-)

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  6. My series pretty much grew out of nowhere and bloomed. I originally didn't want to write a series, but one day I remember having four ideas come to my mind, and the four ideas were the four books of my series. I had already been writing book one, and since then it's changed as I wrote it. I've been thinking about the last two books for about three years, so I have a lot of plotting in my head.
    astoryspinner.blogspot.com

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    1. Nice, Erica! I love it when stories just land in your head, all ready to go. :-)

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  7. I really like how you planned your series! For my book, I'm not sure if I'm going to have a series, so I planned out character arcs and where in which books certain growths will happen so I can see where the plot takes me later on. If I do decide to pursue a series I'll definitely come back to this post!

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    1. That's clever, Josie, to plan out your character arcs.

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  8. I like the sounds of this method. I've been itching to rewrite an epic fantasy series of mine, but I know it's going to require extensive planning. This looks like a good starting point, so thanks!

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    1. Ooh, fun. You're welcome. Yeah, maybe you could break down everything you have and see where it fits. Fun, Tracey. I love rewriting so much. It's my favorite. Writing the first drafts kill me! lol

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  9. Ah yes, just what I needed! Thanks so much! I've presently been working on plotting all the rewrites for my sci-fi series (Which is by far the craziest thing I've ever attempted at seven books long!), and this, all this, your ideas sound like the type of thing I've wanted to try, but didn't know how to go about doing.

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    1. Excellent, Gwen. So glad it's timely. And a seven-book series? Wow! You go, girl! I sure do hope this helps. :-)

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  10. This looks amazing! Really helpful, although for me the sticky notes are quite overwhelming (but yeah, I am easily overwhelmed ;)).

    When I went back to writing after a 15+ years hiatus, I had an idea for a trilogy. After a year or so, I realised I was not ready to tell this story, or any story bigger and comllicated than a standalone novel.

    So, I shelved my trilogy and started working on an idea for a standalone novel. It was the right decision, als I think I can handle this story. And I learned so much along the way.

    So when I finished this story within a couple of years, I will go back to my first idea. And I bookmark this article so I can use it then :)

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    1. I think that's awesome, Marja, how you trust yourself so well and know what you're ready for. It can certainly be overwhelming to work on a series. Taking things at your own pace it super wise.

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