Heroes for More than One Season

Heroes Mask, Cåsbr/Flickr, under CC BY 2.0

Ben Wilson · · Writing · Technique

The age of writing solo novels has passed. Authors should write novel series.

Think about your favorite fiction hero. Why do you admire that character? Would you have admired him as much if he only showed up in one book? In Scintilla, I admire Klocards more than I do Mondennio, the latter being the main character. Klocards, in fact, is David Bophendze, a character central to the entire Postal Marine series. It’s unfortunate that book four was the first of the five-book series to be published. When you read the earlier ones, you’ll understand why. Bophendze is committed to duty, to family and the Imperial Postal Marines.

Rather than say a lot about Scintilla or Bophendze, I wanted to talk to my fellow newbie authors about writing. Short stories are sprints. Novels are marathons. Series novels are triathlons. In the novel-writing world, writing a series is the normal thing—one-off novels are less common. So, let me offer a few suggestions as you plan your novel, series and writing career.

I’ve had more than one writing acquaintance be told by an agent ``great story, could you make it into a trilogy?” Many popular TV series have an overall season story arc, despite the episodic successes (some have multi-season arcs). A novel has the typical structure with a climax. Expanding one story into three means you now not only need one overall climactic ending, but you need one for each of the novels—and maybe a cliff hanger to boot.

I like the Snowflake Method for preliminary novel organization. You write a one-sentence summary of the novel, then expand it to a paragraph, then lightly sketch your characters. It works great for a novel. It also works well for a series.

One 18-word sentence tells the whole series. Try it with the Lord of the Rings: “Hobbits prove to be the unexpected heros in the defeat of Sauron.” You could then expand the sentence to a paragraph. Each sentence of that paragraph is the one-sentence summary of a novel. Then, think of the two or three characters that the stories have in common. For my series, it’s Bophendze and Litovio. You see more of Jonaldy and Mondennio in other books, but Boph and Lit are in all novels (maybe). In the venerable Star Wars series, it’s R2D2, C3PO and Anakin.

After the characters are sketched, you can go back and write their one-sentence storyline for each novel. You get bonus points if you include what they learned or how they grew in that novel.

That should be enough to start the entire series. If you want to have a deeper picture in to the series, consider using the Snowflake Method to flesh out each of the novels before you start. One word of warning if you consider this, however—one recommended practice in Snowflake is to go back and repeat previous steps when your story development discovers a need to make adjustments. If you try to plot out all novels at the start, you may find yourself in iteration-hell.

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