Write A Series: 3 Fiction Writing Tips To Get Inspired

Recently, a writing student asked me for tips on how to write a series. “How do I create a character who’ll be popular with readers?” She asked.

That’s an excellent question. You want to create a character readers will enjoy, but you need to enjoy him too. Otherwise you could end up like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who got tired of Sherlock Holmes and killed him off. (Readers complained; so he had to bring Holmes back to life.)

Write a series: start anywhere you like

If you intend writing a series which follows the exploits of a single character, you don’t need to start at the character’s beginning, so to speak.

If you’re at all like me, you’ll find it a challenge create a series character cold. I’ll do it when I’m ghostwriting, but I prefer to let characters grow organically, from works in progress, or from novels I’ve already published (as C.S. Forester did, see below.) A couple of my series’ characters have developed from short stories.

Let’s look at some tips on how to get inspired to write a series.

1. Write a series: perhaps you’ve already started

You may already have written the first novel (or short story) in your series.

Many bestselling series which are focused on a single character “grow” as the the character grows. However, you don’t need to write chronologically.

For example, bestselling author C.S. Forester published the novel The Happy Return, in which his naval hero Horatio Hornblower is already in command of a ship, in 1937. Forester didn’t publish the start of Hornblower’s naval career until 1950, with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.

The success of The Happy Return no doubt inspired Forester to write more about Horatio Hornblower. Enthusiastic readers whine that Forester didn’t revise his “older” three novels when he backfilled the series. But I digress, revised or not, they’re nevertheless wonderful novels.

It’s your choice. Write your series chronologically, or in any order you choose. Watch for ideas for a series in your current writing, and in your previous work. It took Forester 13 years to write the next book in his Hornblower series.

2. Choose: standalone books, or an over-arching plot?

When you write a series, decide whether you’ll write books which are standalones, or which are more episodic—that is, they have an overarching plot which isn’t resolved until the final book.

My own preference is for standalone novels when I write my own series.

In my ghostwriting practice on the other hand, I prefer an overarching plot. I’ve found that writing each novel as an episode keeps my interest high, because I’m writing one book after the other. There’s less chance I’ll get bored. And if I’m honest… It’s less work with an overarching plot. Characters and situations carry on from one novel to the next.

Balancing my own self-interest is this simple fact: it’s easier to sell more novels if you have an overarching plot. Readers want to know what happens next, so they’ll buy the next novel in the series.

Which brings us to… Write series, because series sell.

3. Write a series, because series sell

Traditional publishers know that series sell. Indeed, many years ago my first publisher, Macdonald Futura, signed me to write a series, rather than one novel. Although I was thrilled at the thought I’d become a published author, I was also terrified… Write a series? Me?

I wish I’d known then what I know now: you write a series the same way you write a novel. One word, one paragraph, and one scene after the other.

Most importantly however, if you want to write and sell, you need to write a series.


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