Monday’s post opened the discussion of the multi-book series. Readers of fantasy and sci-fi enjoy reading multiple-book series. They don’t want to let go of the story when they are invested in a character.
Thus, it makes sense to consider whether your story is complex enough to hold up well across a series.
Today, we’re going deeper into planning. A series takes two forms.
- The infinite series of standalone stories. Some feature a particular group of characters, but others might feature a different protagonist. They are all set in a particular world, whether they follow one protagonist or several. The installments may feature different characters and often jump around in that universe’s historical timeline. Think Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series or L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Recluce
- The finite series – a multi-volume series of books covering one group’s efforts to achieve a single epic goal. Think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time
I ended up with my current multi-book series when I was at the 60,000-word point of my first draft. That is the point where I realized the story wouldn’t fit into one 90,000-word book. In fact, it will likely top out at 250,000 words after editing.
Because I am an indie, I need to keep my production costs in mind. The pandemic will end someday and purchasing stock for a book that runs 250,000 words will be excruciating once I begin going to book fairs or signings again. Not only that, the cost of formatting a book that size and having a cover made will break the bank here at Casa del Jasperson.
How do I know this? Experience.
A book that is 135,000 words long costs me $6.80 in its paper form. Purchasing stock for book fairs or signings becomes a worry. Not only that, in its paper form, it must sell through Amazon for not less than $17.99. They set the minimum price based on the options you choose at the time of publication.
So, I panic. It’s tough enough to squeeze all the costs of publishing a book of 90,000 words in length, when you are working with a normal family budget. This is an expensive business.
The best option for me is to write the whole thing and then break the book in half or thirds, creating a series that I will publish a month apart. The costs are the same in the long run, but the size of each book is far more manageable for a reader and spreads production costs over a longer period.
When I arrive at the 50,000-word mark, I go to my outline and see where I am in the projected story arc and timeline. Can I tell this tale in one book? If not, will it work in two?
Then, once I know how many books it will take, I decide what event will be the first finale, a satisfying stopping point for a reader. Even though several threads are left dangling at the end of each installment, the final event of each book must be a real, satisfying finish, or the reader will feel cheated.
If you are done with your first draft and are just now realizing your novel could be the beginning of a saga, you should consider making notes as to what the future holds for your crew beyond the end. Otherwise, you may find yourself writing a continuation of book one, but with no goal, no purpose.
I follow several fantasy and sci-fi authors who write sagas, where the story of that world is told from multiple characters’ points of view. Each protagonist lives at different points in time, and each one is unique, detailing watershed events in the history of that world.
I also follow several mystery series featuring the cases solved by one detective. The Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes encompasses 25 books, each one different. Recurring characters in the series include his neighbors in his Islington flat, personnel at his New Scotland Yard office, and friends of his sidekick, Melrose Plant, in the Northamptonshire village of (fictional) Long Piddleton.
If you decide more than one book will be set in that universe, you should consider creating a page in your storyboard that notes the timeline and events for each book. Specifically, note what order each novel takes place in the history of that world. You don’t have to go nuts. Just write a brief description for your use.
So, for a saga you might want to draw up an overall story arc for the entire series. For a standalone book featuring a recurring character, you likely won’t need to have an all-encompassing projected arc.
However, you would be wise to storyboard each book and note the dates of certain events, so you don’t contradict yourself, and so that a protagonist born in 1981 in book one doesn’t accidentally get younger as time goes on.
Next week we will look at creating a calendar for stories set a fictional world. We will look at some of my failures and see why simpler usually is better.