12 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Writing A Trilogy or Series by @rogersonsm

Today I’m delighted to host Suzanne Rogerson, Suzanne and I met through this blog and we’ve shared many a tweet and comment since. Today Suzanne launches the first book in a series called The Lost Sentinel: Silent Sea Chronicles. To celebrate, she’s here talking us through 12 key questions we should ask ourselves before launching into a book series.
The first book I published was a standalone fantasy, Visions of Zarua. There’s something very rewarding in bringing together all the threads of a story, concluding the conflict and having a satisfying ending for the characters in one novel. Hopefully, readers come away satisfied with the possibility of a happy-ever-after for characters they’ve seen live through so many trials and heartache.

Now that I’ve just published The Lost Sentinel, book one in the Silent Sea Chronicles, I considered the differences involved in writing a series against a standalone. I’ve come up with a list of questions new writers might want to consider before embarking on this long and difficult writing journey.

Questions

  1. Does the concept behind the story have the stamina to last for several books?

The last thing you want is to have to pad out your idea with unnecessary action and irrelevant subplots.

  1. Can you develop a deep enough world to sustain a long series?

This is especially important in fantasy. The world building needs to be compelling and real to the reader.

  1. Are the characters likeable/lovable enough for your readers to want to follow their story over several books?

This starts with loving the characters yourself. Spend time with them and get to know their past and their personalities. You need to let them evolve through the story and when they start to react in ways that surprise you, you know you’ve cracked it!

  1. Is the threat or menace of the enemy enough to drive a series?

There needs to be a credible threat to the characters and their world. This means getting the motivations of the enemy clear and developing them as much as you do the main characters.

  1. Can you show the characters growth with each book?

Everyone learns from experience and your characters are no different. They will make mistakes and wrong choices, and they must learn from these moments and evolve.

  1. Can each book stand by itself with a complete and satisfying ending?

Certain plot points will need to reach a conclusion, but there must be other mysteries to unravel so the reader wants to pick up the next book.

I was lucky with The Lost Sentinel in that I had a natural stopping point between book 1 and 2.

  1. Can you ensure your books don’t suffer from second book flop?

I hear people say all the time how book two is just a setup for the last book. This can really irritate a reader and you don’t want them to be so annoyed they won’t pick up your next installment.

Ensuring the story momentum continues through book 2 and new problems arise whilst revealing more of the world can help keep the story fresh and involving. The character’s growth is also a big part of keeping that momentum going.

  1. Can you make the last book worthy of the time the reader has invested in you?

They have read all your books and they want the payoff to have been worth their time. So many books are let down by a rushed or incomplete ending. Don’t forget everything that has happened has been for this moment. Make it memorable. Make the reader feel. I always judge a book on whether it makes me cry. If I care enough to cry, I know the writer has done their job well.

  1. Can you handle writing about these particular characters and their world for three or more books?

It’s a long process from the birth of an idea, to holding the finished product in your hand. You need to love what you are doing, otherwise, you’ll burn out and your writing will lack heart. The best way to do this is to ask yourself questions and make lots of notes about your world. It’s these notes and brainstorming sessions that help the whole story come together for you as a writer, which in turns helps you craft a more rounded and developed story for the reader.

  1. Can you dedicate years of your life to this one series?

For years. I flitted between ideas, never knowing what direction to take. Tei, Rike and Garrick first showed up in my life about fifteen years ago. Back then, I had the odd scene idea, but the story grew over time in brainstorming sessions and is still developing now. I’ve grown to love the characters and their world, and I hope that comes across in the writing.

  1. Can you weave subtle threads throughout your story that will not come to fruition for a book or more to come?

It’s adding the little details like this that make the world more real for your reader.

G R R Martin is a master at this one.

  1. Do you have the help of beta readers who are invested in your world and your characters?

It’s important to have a critical perspective to keep you grounded and true to your characters. Your beta readers will tell you what is and isn’t working and will remind you of any story threads you’ve left unresolved. Also, writing a series is hard work and it’s great to have their support and encouragement to remind you why you committed yourself to this madness in the first place.

My conclusion

For a long time, I thought standalone’s were the best way to go and I rebelled at the idea of jumping on the trilogy bandwagon. But now that I’ve started this book series, I’m looking forward to seeing where it will lead me. I’ve loved developing the stories of Tei, Garrick, Rike, Brogan, Farrell and Callisa. I look forward to living each characters lives and seeing how they cope with the difficulties and heartbreak that gets thrown at them. Writing The Lost Sentinel has been a joy and I’m so happy that I get to continue the story in book 2 and beyond.

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More About Suzanne

Suzanne lives in Middlesex, England with her hugely encouraging husband and two children.

She wrote her first novel at the age of twelve. She discovered the fantasy genre in her late teens and has never looked back. Giving up work to raise a family gave her the impetus to take her attempts at novel writing beyond the first draft, and she is lucky enough to have a husband who supports her dream – even if he does occasionally hint that she might think about getting a proper job one day.

Suzanne loves gardening and has a Hebe (shrub) fetish. She enjoys cooking with ingredients from the garden, and regularly feeds unsuspecting guests vegetable-based cakes.

She collects books, loves going for walks and picnics with the children and sharing with them her love of nature and photography.

Suzanne is interested in history and enjoys wandering around castles. But most of she likes to escape with a great film, or soak in a hot bubble bath with an ice cream and a book.

You can find Suzanne on her: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsAmazon Author page, or Instagram

29 comments

  1. This was a very interesting post giving Suzanne’s insights into the elements that make for a compelling series, Harry Potter is of course the ultimate example re. keeping the motivation of the villain clear and the threat alive over several books! I too have had the dilemma of wondering whether I’m writing a number of standalones or a series. I don’t write YA fantasy, but adult psychological/paranormal thrillers so my situation is slighty different from Suzanne’s. What I like doing is leaving various questions in the air when I finish a book, and then taking forward one of the subsidiary characters from the previous book, and making her the main protagonist of the next. Then a couple of the other characters are drawn forward too, developing the situations we last saw them in. Susan Howatch does this with her Starbridge series, which I love. Thank you for a fascinating and very helpful guest post.

    1. That sounds like a really interesting way of continuing a series, scskillman.
      I have read a few books like that in the fantasy genre, and although sometimes it takes a while to really start caring for the new main protagonist, it’s a great way of exploring the world from a new perspective.

  2. Those are all good questions. Though I think that a good series is in equal parts strong plotting and serendipity. I don’t think a series can work without plotting. I mean you can’t just write and see where it goes. Though if that somethign clicks, that’s exactly what happens: the series lives on its own accord and you could write about it forever.

  3. Great questions. I think we can also make a distinction between series which feature the same character(s) but can be read as standalones and series where the story itself evolves, so they have to be read in order. Hope The Lost Sentinel sets you on the path for a series that gathers momentum towards a roaring success, Suzanne. Or at least saves you from having to get a proper job ☺

          1. Well I have been writing a sage, stream of consciousness wise, on Sue Vincent’s #writephoto and the story has just grown. No idea if I can do it but I want to try 😱💗

    1. I’ve managed to get the cake gluten and dairy free, it can also be low sugar. There are eggs in the recipe, so is there an egg substitute that vegans use?
      I shared the recipe last year on my blog. You can find it on the recipe page. I highly recommend it, it’s a delicious courgette cake!

  4. This is an awesome post with some great points. Fantasy lends itself for series, and yet without a strong plot and characters, it can be really disappointing for a reader. I’ve read a few where the story just couldn’t hold me for 1,000,000 words. Yes, a million or more words is what we’re asking the reader to plow through. It’s a daunting task, and when it hit it right, it’s worth the trouble. I’m favoriting this!

    1. Glad you enjoyed her post – totally agree. I’ve had series grip me for 13 books, and others where I can barely get through the first. a million words is a HUGE ask, so they better deliver!

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