The last few weeks I’ve been going through the idea and planning parts of writing a successful series. Those are critical to your success, but in thinking about the series I’ve loved there are five keys to a truly memorable series.
Before you dive in and start adding meat to your outline, take a minute and work on these five areas. These will take your work beyond simply well thought and finished. When you’ve nailed these five keys you’ll have a series that truly engages readers.
- Characters – This sounds obvious but bear with me. My first two series had main characters that I put lots of work into. The supporting cast didn’t get nearly as much attention. If you know you are going to be writing a series think through the supporting characters in as much detail as the main character. Really think more about how this team of characters is going to work through the series. Building rich, deep supporting characters gives your readers more than one story to follow along with. In the end you’ve done a good job if some readers are passionate about characters other than the main character.
- Conflict – Also obvious, but not really. Of course your story is going to have a main conflict. There is something standing in the way of your protagonist achieving their goal. But there has to be other conflict to make the story real. If all the primary characters get along all the time it will feel contrived. Having conflict between the characters who are working together to achieve a goal creates realism and adds to character depth. Don’t create conflict for the sake of conflict though. Any conflict between your core team should relate to deep character traits and beliefs that these characters hold.
- Touch points – This is a layer deeper than setting but relates to the characters environments. In my first two series I did a terrible job of having a touch point for the characters to go back to regularly. Think of this as a physical home base where your characters return to work through new issues and information. It could be a very simple place, but complex enough that your readers will dream about being a fly on the wall there. Not only does a solid touch point give your characters a place to take a break, it allows your readers to catch their breath and think about the events that recently transpired.
- Change – Everything must change. Your main character, the world they live in, the antagonist, everything. When you’re writing a series it’s not enough to say the protagonist wants A and in the end they are happy with B. For the Off Earth series my main character was initially focused on earning a life of solitude on Earth. He has a big change coming that involves friendships and interstellar travel. But the world also changes. When the series opens the world is Earth centric. Everyone either lives on Earth or orbits the planet. All the laws, rules and common practices are focused on the planet and everything has that narrow focus. By the end of the series that scope will be blown wide open.
- Mystery – It’s good to keep a few things unknown. Even if you are not writing a mystery, you don’t need to dump every fact and detail into the readers lap. Leave some things out of the story so that your reader needs to think and wonder. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore details. If you have situation that works out logically behind the scenes, it’s okay to not craft a way for the protagonist to learn these details. Give the reader enough information to know that someone is working behind the scene’s, but don’t spell it out.
In short, readers are awesome. They are intuitive, creative, and passionate (just like you!).
To create a compelling series you need to feed those reader strengths. When you give your readers and ensemble of rich characters, multiple compelling conflicts, and deep, richly detailed touch points they will stay engaged throughout the series.
I started work on my new series in October 2017. With my commitment to full time writing I expect to be working on the first three books in this series for 9 months.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll share with you my thoughts, notes and tips for each step. You can easily follow along by joining my mailing list. In return I’ll send you a copy of my Successful Series Writer Manifesto and a weekly digest of posts.