Planning Your Novel Series, Part 1

Novels in a series are popular with both readers and writers.

Readers anticipate spending more time with people they’ve grown to love, while writers enjoy developing deeper story lines for their characters and turning an 80,000-word book into a fuller, meatier 250,000-plus-word story arc. But a series that satisfies publishers, readers, and writers takes forethought.

What ties series books together can vary, but here are three common approaches to writing a series:

One main character
Every title stars the same protagonist, each revealing something new about that character’s journey. Because of that, the reader grows close to, and cheers on, that main character. Take the time to craft this character well, because he/she will carry more than one book.

Example: Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton’s lead character in her alphabet series.

Cast of lead characters
Other series have the same cast, with each book focusing on a different point of view character. Readers often connect with the POV character in Book One. If each book focuses on a different lead character, you’ll need to effectively set them up when they first appear as secondary characters. Make them likeable and vulnerable as supporting cast members and hint at problems they need to overcome. This gives the reader something to look forward to in future books.

Example: Dee Henderson’s O’Malley Family series.

Connections by theme, setting, or period
Themes might focus on people getting through hard times. Settings could include a locale, like Hawaii, or a period, such as the Civil War. Sometimes themes focus on Scripture, for example, showing different people living out the concept, “to save your life you must lose it.”

Example: Abingdon Press’s upcoming Quilts of Love series. Each novel tells the story of one quilt, one family, and one unforgettable love.

Next Friday: Series related story questions.

Photo: Sandra ByrdAfter earning her first rejection at 13, bestselling author Sandra Byrd published more than three dozen books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist. Library Journal called her historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, one of the best books of 2011. Sandra’s YA fiction, Asking for Trouble, was a finalist for the ECPA Medallion of Excellence award. Sandra is passionate about helping new writers develop their talent and take hold of their dreams. Please visit her online.


  1. says

    I am excited for this series of blog posts, because I am in the middle of writing a four-novel series based around a cast of lead characters! Perfect timing.

  2. says

    I will enjoy reading this blog, because I am writing a series of novels for advanced students of English as a second language. I am well into my first novel, and some of the characters could easily go into the next novel about immigrants.

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