Resources for Plotting and Outlining a Series

As I get closer to the end of The Island Experiment, Book 3 in The Kepos Chronicles, I’ve been thinking more about the next series I want to write, so I figured I should start improving my outlining process. I want to avoid some of the issues that I’ve faced with this series as a result of going off script a little bit. I’ve still got one more book after I finish this one (a total of four Kepos books), and probably won’t start writing my next series in earnest until 2020, but I’ve decided to start thinking about how I want to change my process now instead of waiting until I’m ready to start writing it.

I searched Amazon for books on how to plot a series, but came up empty. So I’ve resorted to blog posts and youtube videos, and though it might be useful to put together. I’m describing the resources I found below in case any of them strike your fancy. No one is paying me, and no one has sent me these resources. I looked at the top search results to see what would be useful. One caveat before you dive in: Most of these resources address a series that works toward one big finale (i.e. you should read them in order), like Harry Potter or Hunger Games, as opposed to an episodic type series, like Nancy Drew, where you can read them in any order.

I found the blog posts more comprehensive and easier to follow, but included a few video resources for those who prefer them.

Blog Posts

“Ultimate Guide: How to Write a Series” (by Claire Bradshaw)

This is brief, but covers a lot of ground for what it is. There’s a bit about asking yourself if you should write a series before she goes into how to plan one. My link (should) skip ahead to the planning part. She addresses plot, structure, character, and setting in different sections, often including some questions to ask yourself to get you started. I won’t repeat it all here, but it’s a great article.

Near the end, she mentions using pinterest as a planning tool, which I think is a great idea. I’ve done this a little bit, and I hope to utilize it even more in the future. It’s a great tool for visualizing characters, settings, etc, and can remind you of what people and places look like at a glance.

“How to Plot a Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 1)” (by Rachel Aaron)

You may be familiar with Rachel Aaron because of her 2K to 10K blog post/book, but here’s a great article she wrote on series plotting. There’s a Part 2 and Part 3 which go into more depth on certain aspects, but I’m just going to talk about Part 1. Though she follows the same “backward design” principle Ive found most other places (i.e. start with the big goal), she’s broken the process down into her own easy-to-follow steps.

I personally enjoy her writing posts because she’s got a great conversational tone and solid tips. She advocates finding your series ending, then figuring out how to get there. Then you break it into books, and instead of plotting these books, she recommends summarizing them first, which is an idea that appeals to me and my process. Finally, she addresses character arcs. Parts 2 & 3 go into more detail about certain aspects of series writing, so if you find Part 1 helpful, I recommend Parts 2 & 3, too.

Videos

“How to Write Character Arcs in a Series” (By Ellen Brock)

This addressed one of the biggest questions I’ve been facing, since character development is an area that I want to focus on for my next series, since I’m naturally more plot-oriented in my thinking. She also references Harry Potter as well as other generic examples that I found helpful.

She talks about finding a balance between having your character develop over the books while still being recognizable. She discusses two options. One is an arc that lasts the whole series, which requires a lot of planning. The other option is treating the books as standalone, where the character reacts to what has happened in the previous book.

“How to Outline a Book Series” (by Author Journey)

This one was on topic, but it didn’t go into a lot of depth. Everything she said seemed pretty intuitive, and I definitely needed more information after watching it. She references Harry Potter, which I found to be an appropriate and helpful example of a series plot arc.

This approach has you start with your overall series goal/obstacle, then look for 3-5 major obstacles on the way to achieving the overarching goal. These 3-5 sub-obstacles are the goals for each book in your series. Then you go one step further and figure out what the obstacles/plot points are for each sub-obstacle, i.e. plot each book in the series (in broad strokes). You could turn this structure into a diagram pretty easily, if you like things to be visual, with the big goal at the center, surrounded by your sub-goals, each of which is surrounded by its obstacles/plot points.

The danger of this approach seems to be that you can create a series that’s too contrived, where you’re manufacturing problems and plotting an unnecessary filler book because you need to come up with another sub-obstacle. Still, I think this could be a great approach for initial brainstorming if you’re willing to ask tough questions about what you come up with, like, “Is this really a goal my character would work toward? Does this obstacle arise organically from the characters, setting, and their problems?”

“Creating a Series Bible for a Novel + Free Templates” (by Author Brittany Wang)

This one was a tour through a bunch of templates used for plotting, organized neatly in a binder. If you’re looking for templates for characters, or plot development, this video might be useful. She uses a physical binder, which is cool, but you could easily use her templates digitally. There was nothing here that was mind blowing, but templates can remind you to ask and answer questions that you would otherwise not think to. This video was a good starting point for me since I have no experience with creating a series bible, but I imagine there are a lot of resources out there to help. I almost didn’t leave this video on my list, since I don’t think it’s the best example out there, but I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of series bible resources, since it feels like its own topic.

I did not create a series bible for The Kepos Chronicles, but I wish I had. I keep having to go back and look things up. I’ll probably end up using Scrivener instead of a binder, but if you’re fancy, you can always create a word document with a table of contents that links to the different sections of your bible. Having a series bible to add to as you get into outlining seems like a smart plan. In the future, once I have some experience creating a series bible, I’ll write an in-depth post about the process and structure I end up using, but for now, this video has some good templates.

 

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t read the Harry Potter series (hopefully a small number of you), it really is a great example to follow. Almost every resource I found, whether I linked it here or not, referenced Harry Potter. Each HP book is a complete story. Harry grows and develops as he learns about his new world and faces new challenges. Each book works toward the final goal of the series. When you read the first few books, you don’t even realize that all of the books are working toward this goal until much later. It’s really well done, and it’s what makes the series so re-readable.

Hopefully something here resonates with you and your process, and if it doesn’t, write your own post explaining how you do it, because plotting a series is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

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