I told you last time around that I would address how to plan a series or a trilogy. I should probably confess, I don’t know. Or rather, I do it one way and I think there must be better ways. Which is why I’m hoping some of my compatriots here will chime in. How is Faith handling the Jane Yellowrock series in terms of planning? Will David’s Thieftaker books be a trilogy or longer? How do you decide? How do you know how many books will be available?
The first thing is this: It isn’t always about what you want. Publishers sometimes buy 2 books or 3 books, and then play the “we’ll see what the numbers do” card. Well, that means if you’re planning on five books or six, then you may not get to finish out the series because your numbers aren’t good enough for the publisher to want to keep going. Or you may get told to wrap it up in four rather than in six books because they aren’t going to want more (cue writerly panic). The nice thing is that in this new world of publishing, you CAN actually finish a series through self publishing and sometimes small publishing. It allows you to come through for your readers and complete your vision.
On the other hand, what if your books are planned for three, but then take off and suddenly your editor wants three more. And then later, three more. So there is no plannable end in sight. You can say no. You can say this is the whole story and that’s all I’ve got. But let’s face it, if the publisher wants more, a writer wants to give it. For one, it means money in the bank and food on the table. For two, you get to keep writing characters you love and what could be better than that? How do you plan those books with any kind of arc?
The easy answer is that you don’t. You plan smaller arcs you know you can fulfill (which is to say, you think the editor may want more books in the series, but you aren’t sure, so if you wrap the books under contract reasonably well, then readers will be satisfied if no more books are forthcoming). So for instance, Yasmine Galenorn just sold more books in a long series, same for Ilona Andrews. Each of their books has a story arc for the book, but reaches out to a larger arc that reaches over several books, but tends to somewhat wrap up the major plot lines after several books, while introducing more possible arcs that do dovetail into what’s come before. It’s a delicate task, but doable.
But let’s take a moment and just suppose you can write all the books you want and the editor will take everything. And that you can say no when more are asked for. Which is to say, suppose you can plan your series exactly. How do you do it?
The awful answer is that you have to plot them out. At least the big movements. You know every book has a beginning, middle, and end. You know your characters and you have an idea of what the major conflicts will be. You know what a story needs to give it enough heft to be a novel. You just have to sketch it out for each book. Sure, it might not all fall out that way. Most of the time in won’t. But you can get a sense of how much room it will take to tell the full scope of the story you want to tell. Even if, like me, you hate to plot such things out. Even if sometimes you write in something like, “here’s there will be a big blowup and there will be total disaster, causing death, mayhem, and my hero will be forced to run for his life.” Or maybe you’ll say, “here is where the ultimate evil is finally completely loosed on the world.” Or, “Here is where I resolve everything that’s come so far.” The more detail you have the better off you are.
When you think about what sort of structure a book needs, it helps to block things out. So in a little more detail: beginning/character introductions/worldbuilding/initial conflicts; then you need a middle/increasing conflicts/dangers/making everything look terribly bleak; and the end: make everything as bad as they can get/solve it all/denoument. That’s a fairly standard sense of a novel. So plug in your actions and pieces and see how many books you’ll need to tell the story that you want to tell.
Unless of course you do it differently. Let’s hear it. Other ideas for plotting multiple books (presuming the best of all possible worlds where you can write and sell all you want)?
Oh, and I wanted to mention here that on my blog we’ve been doing an online book club. Our next meeting is April 13th on my blog, and we’re reading Julie Czerneda’s A Turn of Light. Please come and join us if you’ve a mind to. www.dianapfrancis.com