So you’ve written your first novel, way to go! It’s a major accomplishment you should be proud of yourself.
But now that you’ve made it through that challenge you see that conventional wisdom recommends writing in a series. What do you do next?
This is exactly what happened to me.
My first book, Annihilation, was a story I had been going over in my head for years. It was actually something I made up to help me fall asleep at night. When my brain was creating fiction I couldn’t stress and obsess over the laundry list of tasks on my plate. The characters were basically my family (with plenty of embellishments) and I loved that story.
But it was just one story.
Initially it was written just for me. But once the words were down and I shared it with my wife and a few other people I was encouraged to-
- Get an editor
- Explore self publishing
The story went through several rounds of editing and proof reading (the manuscript was on it’s 20th iteration before I started laying out the ebook) while I researched indie publishing. My research showed that publishing a book was possible by yourself, but the best success came to those who were writing in a series.
Of course writing in a series makes sense. If a reader likes your first book it’s a lot less work to convince them to buy the next one. The problem I faced was how to turn this one story into a series.
How do I go from “A teen genius discovers dark energy” the concept of my book, to “A rag tag group of humans survive the apocalypse and venture off into space” the concept I had for a series?
In order to move from a book to a series I had to grow my world. That meant I had to stop thinking about the main character and start thinking about all the characters. Looking at his story and where he was headed, wasn’t enough, I needed to understand where he came from and what the back story looked like. I kept digging down on the why and what of how this one story came to be.
The bad news is that you have to ask yourself lots of questions. The good news is that you’re writing fiction so you can make up all the answers!
I started asking about Seamus’ youth. Did he discover dark energy and invent his reactor overnight? No.
Did he learn from anyone else? Yes.
If he was learning about something so powerful from other people was it possible that no one knew who he was? No.
If people knew about Seamus and his genius would the government leave him alone? No, something this powerful could be weaponized.
Was there anyone in his life that could have a big secret from him? Yes, his mother traveled often for business and had their families best interests in mind.
The world of my story grew. This teen genius was working with incredibly powerful technology, but not trying to hide it. Leading scientists and the government were watching and helping him. His mother wanted to keep the family safe so she was willing to make a deal when the secret agents approached her.
My initial story had a main character and a supporting cast. Now I had multiple characters with their own motivations and goals. I also had a conspiracy that involved Seamus’ mother and secret agents. If she wanted to keep the family safe, there had to be a threat.
The apocalypse, which was mysterious when I started writing the book, became a government plot. While it was too late for my characters to go back and stop the plot I could go forward. A plot audacious enough to wipe out life on Earth had to have an equally remarkable contingency plan.
Ideas for the next four books came to me quickly. The survivors from Book 1 have to evacuate the planet book 2, colonize a new planet book 3, deal with aliens already living on their new world book 4 and then grow into their new setting book 5.
While I was planning book 2 I realized that there was a book 6 that capped it off. These humans could not have been able to survive completely by accident. There had to be some justification for humans being able to planet hop, even if it seemed like a miracle.
Because I’m a slow learner my second series, Dylan Cold, started out in a similar fashion. I decided to write a book for a concept that I had thought about for a while. But again it was just one book. Fortunately I was only half way through when I realized I needed to expand some of the pieces if I wanted a series.
In this case my characters back story was already detailed and held no room for conspiracies. To come up with a series I needed to look forward. If Dylan survived the predicament faced in Book 1, how was his life going to change? Did the events from book 1 make him different or just highlight the real Dylan?
This series could explore Dylans struggle to become himself. But there needed to be some conflict. To find this conflict I built out the other characters so that they would have goals and needs that might cause Dylan to make concessions to what he wanted.
The back and forth Dylan was about to experience could be played out over several novels. As these are thriller novels, I determined his character struggle first and then fit a crime around it. This series has 6 books so far, but there is no telling how many adventures Dylan Cold may undertake.
If you’ve written a book and are now struggling to turn it into a series don’t fear, it can be done. Get deep into multiple characters and ask lots of questions about their world. Chances are if these characters were involved in an interesting story once, they will get into more trouble that’s worth writing about.
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