Sunday, October 12, 2014

Writing a Series -- Plotting the Big Picture

Today we will discuss plotting a series. Now, I'm not going to tell you how to plot -- we all know how to play the "what if" game. However, to have a successful series, you might want to think about where it all leads.

Basic Plots

As I said a few weeks ago, there are really only 12 plot lines. (That theory has been discussed ad nauseum and some scholars generally believe there are only 7.) There's a whole construct about the hero's journey that I won't bore you with, but for the sake of argument, let's just go with 12.

In my series, I have used some of these basic plots. (Remember I write romance.)

Wicked stepmother. (sister/father/family member)
Forced/arranged marriage.
Mistaken identity.
Jealous ex.
Lowly servant attracted to an aristocrat. (or vice versa)
Love at first sight.

If you think about it, all romance plots can be utilized by watching any of the Disney Princess movies. It's what you do with them that makes them different. What if...?

Let's take last week's characters and give them plots, shall we?

Susie and Bob -- Wicked stepmother.
Abby and Joe -- Arranged marriage
Carol and Gary -- Mistaken identity
Larry and Amy -- Jealous ex
Linda and Steve -- Love at first sight

As you know, we have already written Susie and Bob's story. Susie has a wicked stepmother who won't let her marry Bob. For whatever reason. But they triumph because love always conquers all.

And because we have all these other characters and plots, we've already decided that we're going to write the next books in the series.

However, just because they're all friends, is that enough to tie them together?

Here is where I feel plotting a series gets interesting and helps fuel your readership.

There needs to be a larger, underlying issue, to tie all these books together. Let's play the what if game.

What if Bob, Joe, and Gary are firefighters? What if Larry and Steve are cops? What if Susie and Amy are nurses at the hospital? What if in the first book, there is a huge fire and Bob and Larry get hurt and have to go to the hospital, which is where they meet Susie and Amy? What if at the end of the first book we find out the fire was started by an arsonist? What if in the second book, there is another fire? What if in the second book, Steve gets promoted to detective and starts working the arsonist case? What if in the third book, Joe gets caught in another fire started by the arsonist?

Okay, so we get the drift. The underlying plot throughout this series of books is the arsonist and how we're going to catch him. This is the angle we'll work and by the end of the series we'll either have caught the arsonist, or spun it off to another series.

In another example, in my series The Reluctant Grooms, Lady Olivia is keeping a secret. She is present in ALL of my books and this secret appears as well. It may only be one or two lines, but it's present throughout, until the end, when I blow the lid off it.

Lady Olivia's secret is the underlying plot-line that holds the series together. The same as the arsonist above. Only at the end do we have the final resolution. Otherwise, I'd just have a bunch of romance novels with Lady Olivia in them.


Now, in my series, I wrap each of the novels around another one. While Penny is getting to know William in THE LADY'S MASQUERADE, William's brother Ellis has just hired Violet to be his nanny (THE LADY'S FATE), and Richard (William's good friend) has just met Amanda (THE CAPTAIN'S COINCIDENCE).

I progress through time, yet simultaneously, stop time. If that makes any sense. Put it this way... I just did a load of laundry and will hang it on the line right now. You are sitting at work doing inventory. Your best friend is teaching underprivileged kids in the inner city. My life doesn't stop because yours has started. We are all doing "something" at the same time even though we don't know what that is.

That is what I call a "wrap-around" timeline.

Then there is the "progressive" timeline. I did my load of laundry. After that I will clean the kitchen, after that, I will take out the garbage. After I have taken out the garbage, you will finish your inventory, then you will sit in on a meeting, then you will go to lunch. Once you've finished your lunch, your BFF is going to finish teaching math, then move on to social studies, and then science. Time progresses.

I know you know what I'm talking about so I'll stop the explanation.

However, whichever kind of series you want to write, you need to figure out all the plots before hand, and how they will all tie in together. I used a huge poster board and wrote Lady Olivia in the middle of it. And like a clock, I have all my novels positioned around her (2,4,6,8,10,12) with the basic plot of each book, and where her secret comes out little by little.

At 2, we have the first hint of her secret. By 8 we pretty much know what it is, and there's danger of it getting out. At 12 Olivia is exposed and the series is over. (Also, because I also have novellas attached to this series, at 3,5,7,9, and 11, we also get to glimpse a little more of the secret.)

If we use the example from Susie and Bob, I'll put the arsonist in the middle of the poster board and the 5 books surrounding him at 1,4,7,9, and 11. In book one we meet Susie and Bob. We also meet the arsonist. In each of the next books, we have our love stories, but we also have more of the arsonist. We need to figure out where and when the arsonist gets caught.


Let's say for the sake of argument, that you've written all 5 of your books. In the end, we have 5 happy couples, but the arsonist gets away. In the third book, we meet another secondary character called Christopher who transfers to the fire department from out of state. At some point he meets Amy's sister, Jenny. And that's it.

We have one of two choices here -- we can either write Chris and Jen's story, or not. We could also write Chris and Jen's story and include the arsonist who got away leading to another series, or perhaps a sideline of novellas as we meet more firemen and cops and nurses.

It depends on how much you love your characters.

In my series, when Lady Olivia's secret comes out, there's also another piece of backstory that is revealed about Olivia's past. She was in love with another man before she married her husband. In the last book, we think Olivia is going to marry this man and finally get her happily ever after.

This man (Dunbury) was the impetus for me to think about writing another series and how it all ties in to this one. (And in actuality, the Dunbury series runs parallel to The Reluctant Grooms. When Penny is meeting William, Dunbury is meeting Catherine. *spoiler alert*  By the end of Reluctant Grooms, Dunbury is married to Catherine.)

So, to sum it all up, think about what you want to write, how you're going to write it, and where it will all end up. Think about the kinds of books (novels, novellas, novellettes) you want to write. Think about how long it might take you to actually write each story. Do you have that kind of time to invest?

With the advent of e-publishing, readers, if they like your first book, want the next one right away, and the next and the next. E-publishing isn't like old school traditional publishing when they only publish one title a year. (I'm still waiting for Sue Grafton to finish her Alphabet series. Has it really been 26 years?)

We'll discuss how to publish a series in a couple of weeks.

For more information about writing a series, Alexandra Sokoloff is also doing a blog series you might want to check out as well.

Any Questions?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014


  1. Absorbing information and I like organizing all the details, so a series would appeal to me. Thanks Anne for presenting how you use this information. I have to organize before I write too, being a planner, not a pantser.

    I like the idea of secrets and as I read your post, I considered my scifi novel which does rotate around my main character with his sidekick, also his romantic interest. I'm writing book 2 now and I can see many other extensions I could write afterwards.

    Thanks for jogging the memory cells and reminding me how much fun the actual writing is.

  2. I think if you can see the future novels/stories with clarity, writing a series is a lot easier than if you have to work at it to get it to come to fruition.

    Thanks for stopping by.


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