5 problems in writing a series … and some answers

Jeans of different shades lined up in a row.


  1. Plotting: to get beyond the stand-alone novel and develop it into a series demands a strong plot that will capture and sustain a reader’s commitment across all the books in the series. This is quite a challenge and many authors balk at the prospect of such a planning task. However, the pantser writer may well see where the story has taken him/her and plot each book at the end of the last.
    • Consistency: It’s no easy task to keep track of characters’ ages and acts, the plot points, and aspects of the story’s world – a continuity necessity that even the most pantser of pantsers must address. Readers demand this, and rightly so. Even a single mistake such as a character picking up a coat when she arrived in a jacket, let alone wrong birth order, can leave readers irritated or confused. A time-line is easy to set up, and all details can be added to it. This can be constantly referred to while writing a new chapter. It is vital for later books in the series.
      • Character Development: In a series, a writer can’t leave characters to remain exactly the same. They need to change as result of events, or over time. This is where a writer who can stand in his/her character’s shoes makes a mark. “How would X feel after Y has cheated or in the face of demotion? What would be his/her next step?” Given his/her origins and experiences, how is s/he likely to be on growing up or getting old?
      • Ending: Each book in the series needs a satisfying ending but with threads to be picked up in the subsequent book. When does the series really end? Characters will always have more to say and do, so the ultimate conclusion of the series must be definitive. Like a celebrity’s “final tour” there is always the temptation or desire for a come-back, for more to be said. Even a pantser can decide on that ultimate ending before getting far into Book One. If s/he has done that, the plot can unravel its way to that well conceived point.
        • Reader Expectations: At the end of writing a series, readers now expect the same quality and probably genre from the author. That’s a pressure: to deliver more of the same, rather than writing something different. Although wise to meet reader expectations to some point, life is short. Therefore it seems sad for authors not to write what’s in their heads. What they are most motivated to write is likely to be stronger than what others tell them to do.