Setting Up A Novel Series – Part II

Writing a novel series offers options. The first one is deciding the major connection between the three or four stories. Though some series run longer, from experience I’ve learned that too many books in a series can have negative results. Readers want the answer to the story question, secret or solution foreshadowed through each book. This element keeps the stories interesting and hen the reader waits through five or six novels, the wait can water down their anticipation.

Next, series demands an author decide the best way to keep good records of many details woven through the novels. This is important with a large cast of characters. I wrote a seven book series based on people who lived in a town. Some secondary characters became the focal characters in the next book. Seven is far too many. Trying to remember who worked where, who knew who, their careers, cars, and so many other details began to run amuck in my head. Things like birthdays and how old a child would be in book five when he was born in book two became a nightmare. Three or four in a series in complicated enough. Create a worksheet or spreadsheet that will help you store and easily find this information.

What connections are common in most series?

• a single character who is s major individual through all stories.

• a cast of characters with a realistic connection

• a location or setting

• the focal theme or message found in all the novels

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Single Character

Having a story revolve around a single character demands a strong or quirky personality. It should be someone who is interesting enough to keep the readers coming back. Provide enough information and a dramatic or comic opening scene that captures arouses readers interest. A detective works, because in each book he/she will introduce numerous characters and a different crime to resolve. In this case the cast could be secondary characters who work along side the detective or those involved in the crime or the victims.

A woman who runs a boarding house or bed and breakfast could be the link for a series where readers met those who stay in her residence. Stories could revolve around focal individuals who have problems or situations that the main characters helps through their difficulties.

Though many novels require the reader see growth and change in a main character, sometimes in novels such as a single main character needs to tread lightly. The readers have grown to love the individual, and they may be disappointed if the character changes too much. A very long series, such as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, could show slow growth as the stories unfold. This character is featured in eighteen or more books.

Cast of Characters

Many series novels, especially in romance, westerns, and some mysteries have a cast of characters. Usually in fiction, one of the characters becomes of the focal individual of a specific book and will be a secondary character in others. Save one of the most dynamic and unique characters for the last book in the series. This will help the series to hang onto readers. Family sagas also have multiple characters who appear and reappear in the various stories. A smart way to use a cast of characters is to make one of the primary characters significant in the book that proceeds it. This allows you to foreshadow events that will happen in the characters own story. Don’t give away too much information about this character though. Notice I said to foreshadow. If too much is said, you could ruin the surprises that will happen in the next book.

My last two series, Man’s Best Friend, characters were connected by being involved in a dog shelter, and the next series, Dreams Come True, connected three women who were part of an organization called Mothers of Special Kids. Each of the major characters had a child who suffered with a life-threatening illness and who were offered a trip or event from the local Dreams Come True organization, similar to Make A Wish Foundation.

Setting or Location

An excellent way to connect stories is by the setting. This could be a boarding house, a village or town, an apartment building, a fantasy kingdom, a business, or a planet in outer space. The setting provides a link but also can create conflicts and tension.

Think of an island with survivors from a shipwreck or plane crash, ala TV’s Lost or Gilligan’s Island, a mountain with survivors from an avalanche or explorers on an unknown planet or in the north pole. Other option is a kingdom from the past or one in a paranormal setting, such as found in Lord of the Rings. A common setting can enhance a plot built around a cast of characters as you find in Frodo’s journey. Setting can be an western estate or ranch such as in the TV series, Dallas or the Ponderosa. A family saga can be set in the family estate that hosts a cast of characters. One of my series was called Michigan Islands, and the four books were each set on a different Michigan island which was the only connection. This is not strong though, and I would recommend also connecting the story with one or two characters and your story will be more powerful.

Whether the setting is a focal connection, or if the series is a cast of characters living in a specific setting, use it to enhance the drama and conflicts of within the plots.


Though theme usually reflects the major message of the novel: forgiveness, finding love, or good vs. evil, it could also extend to an event or an object.

Many romances connect with characters but so does the theme as each character resolves issues and finds true happiness. An adventure might focus on a hidden treasure, and each story resolves a major story issue and also provides a new clue to lead the characters into another book. A theme can be an item—such as a painting or art piece with each story showing what happens in the life of the person who now owns the piece—something magical, wonderful or devastating. This item could be handed down by family or purchased in an antique or second-hand store. While each story can stand on its own, the theme (painting, diary, art piece, necklace, map) must be resolved in the final story of the series. This means destroying it if the item brings with it evil, using the map to find the answer to a question or secret, realizing the painting has something hidden in it that solves the problem, or discovering the necklace only makes the owner happy when it is sold and the money is used for good. This kind of connection opens doors to a variety of exciting plots.

Next: Techniques For A Series Part III

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