Plot Fiction: Insider Tips For Hot-Selling Series

When I help new authors to plot fiction, I suggest that they consider writing a series, rather than a single novel. Series sell.

Moreover, a series of novels can be infinitely easier to write than the same number of standalone novels. With a series, once you’ve decided on the series’ parameters and choose the series’ voice, you’re good to go.

Big bonus: your series’ novels are easier to plot, too.

Plot fiction: you CAN plot a series even if you suffer from plotting anxiety

Few of my students believe me my assertion that it’s easier to plot fiction if you’re writing a series, rather than a bunch of standalones—until they discover this for themselves.

Let’s look at some tips which will help you to plot fiction easily, even if the thought of plotting a whole series makes you anxious.

1. Start with ONE character (that’s all you need, I promise)

Create a character. Any character.

Do it step by step. Choose:

  • A name;
  • The character’s age;
  • His occupation;
  • A character trait.

Try it. Here’s an example.

We have John Emile Kidder (BTW fictional name, fictional person, refers to NO actual person, living or dead, with that name.) He’s 26, recently resigned (fired) from an accounting job. Traits? Slightly paranoid; impulsive. Also vain: skates through life on his good looks.

Write down some stuff about John. (Always write things down.)

Perhaps he:

  • Shares a house in a beach suburb with two old friends from university.
  • Has parents who love him. He loves them too, so he shades the truth with them. For example, he’d never admit to them that he resigned/ was fired.
  • Struggles with a gambling habit.

In a very few minutes, starting from zero, without an idea in your head, you can improvise a character who has potential.

2. Wait for inspiration, then summarize your overarching plotline

One character leads to another character. Before you know it, you’re off and running, plotting (or pantsing) your novel.

At this stage you’re wondering: but what about my series?

Relax. An idea for a series will arrive in a sudden flash of inspiration, guaranteed. This inspiration may come while you’re creating your first character, or it may come while you’re writing the first novel.

It will come—and often sooner than you expect.

For example, in the early character-creation stage, you’re not yet thinking in terms of a series, but if an idea for a series jumps out at you, by all means go with it. Let’s say you create an older brother for John: Leo, who is ten years older and a police detective. They haven’t been close because of the age difference, then Leo arrives to investigate a murder in John’s street.

You like Leo. What if you made Leo the hero of the first novel (you’ve decided it’s a mystery) and of a new series too? Keep on creating characters. Write down all your insights and ideas.

As your story world becomes more real to you, your characters’ stories will generate spinoffs.

Plot fiction: plotting a series saves time

Many authors enjoy writing a series, because it saves time: create a world, use it over many books.

When you’re watching for it, you’ll often read standalone novels which are obviously the first in a series, even if there’s no word from the author that he’s contemplating a series.

Here’s an example. I’ve just finished reading Bernard Cornwell’s historical mystery, Gallows Thief. Cornwell develops the central character, Rider Sandman, as well as his sidekick, Berrigan. But he leaves numerous open threads, including the fate of Rider’s mother and sister and the highwayman Jack. I’m certain that Jack will be saved from the gallows in Cornwell’s next novel in the series, whenever he gets around to writing it.

Think in terms of a series with the novel you’re writing now; if you’re already writing a series, spin a new series from it.

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