I hope that you’ve learned something through the process or have developed your own thoughts on novel series. I know I did — in writing all my thoughts out and organizing them as I did, I’ve come to better understand what I do and don’t like about novel series. And, really, that far too many writers get into a series when a stand-alone novel would be better suited to their literary projects.
I think we often get caught up in the concept of a series because we think we’ll have great fun writing it, that our readers will love it, and we’ll be set as writers (we’ll have an unending supply of stories to write and a legion of fans to buy our books). We look at series like George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) and we think that we can do that too, that it’s just a matter of capturing the imagination of the reader.
The truth is that, yes, we can do that too. But… George RR Martin likely spent years, if not decades, developing this series. It’s not something that he wandered into and said, “Hmm… I’m gonna write an epic series!” and then fired up his computer to write the first book. JK Rowling probably didn’t do as much planning ahead as George RR Martin did, but its evident from her work that there was considerable planning nonetheless.
From my experience as a reader, I think the largest challenge a writer faces when writing a series is patience. I can recall a few books, though one in particular, that I’ve read over the past couple years that were meant to launch series. These books were often overloaded with characters, settings, major plots, minor plots, and more. The author, in trying to set up a series, decided that everything needed to be thrown in all at once so that readers will be enticed because they can see something’s coming.
But it comes across as sloppy.
A skilled author will exercise their patience. As they proceed through writing, storylines will develop and characters will be introduced (when appropriate). I’m currently reading the Gone series by Michael Grant — it’s a YA supernatural thriller series that is really awesome so far — and Grant exercises restraint and patience. He has a huge mystery that has shocked the community of kids and a massive cast of characters, but he doesn’t throw it all in the first book. In the first book, Gone, Grant includes what is necessary to enjoy that story. By the end of the novel, we have had a satisfying self-contained story that reached a conclusion.
So if it reached a conclusion, why continue?
Because Grant left some teaser mysteries open. The plot of the book has ended, but the world is not the same as it once was. The reader is sucked in to book 2 because they want to find out what happens next — and in that book, Grant introduces a handful of new characters that will be relevant to that entry… and there are new mysteries and crises that appear in that entry. Grant was patient. If he had thrown everything in book 1, like I’ve seen so many authors do, then Gone would have been bloated with unnecessary stuff and it would have lost a lot of its power as a narrative.
Planning and writing a series presents numerous challenges — the set up, the development, the conclusion, the first book, the final book (if there is one), the overarching storyline, the rising tension across the series, and the ongoing developments. These take skill, which can be easily learned. But they also take immense patience, something that is not so easily attained.
The art of putting together a series involves patience, secrets, plans, and teasers. A series is not put together by throwing everything in the pot and mashing it all together. One method creates a masterpiece, the other creates a mess.