Stand-Alone Vs Series

There are so many decisions to make when planning a new novel. Sometimes you can let the story or the characters drive these decisions, but sometimes you’re faced with two (or more) paths you could follow that would severely alter the direction of your story. When this happens, it all comes down to you. As the head of your story’s world you have to be prepared to make some tough choices.

I was recently faced with one of these with the new urban fantasy I’m plotting. The more I uncovered about this story, and the more I understood its characters and their history, the more I realised just how big it was. Possibly too big for one novel. However I’d never intended it to be a series. I have planned two series in the past, and with both I always knew they would be and they naturally evolved that way. So my tough decision with this new story became:

  • Tackle it as one big book (can anyone say sprawling fantasy?) OR
  • Create a new series

Although I secretly knew it was too big for one book, I still wasn’t sure it could work as several. The story had always been a single story in my head – it didn’t feel episodic. As a reader I get a little frustrated by series where the books end with a massive cliffhanger, as if it was one book split into several, so I didn’t want to create one of those. I prefer a series where each book has a distinct feel, even if there is an overarching ‘quest’ linking them all. I turned to my agent and writing friends for advice, who all felt I could tackle it either way, but ultimately the decision came down to me. I thought I’d share with you how I tackled the problem:

First step: brainstorming. I put a timeline across the middle of a large sheet of butcher’s paper. At the beginning of the line I wrote a summary of the Inciting Incident, and at the end I detailed the Final Showdown. Then I filled the page with every big climax point from the story. I linked these all up to the timeline, working out how each revelation and point of action jigsawed together. Once I had the timeline complete, I could see whether there were clear sections of it that could split into individual stories. It turns out there were two perfect turning points that could serve as the end of story one and two, while the Final Showdown would be story 3’s climax.

I think it may just work. I hope it will work. I still have to more thoroughly plot out each book before I’ll know for sure (as you can see below I’ve already started for book one). This might all seem incredibly anal, but the story is complex, and I need to know where each story is going before I can start writing the first. I’m really keen to get writing, as the scenes are unrolling and the characters are all talking to each other and I’m already on the roller-coaster ride that is their triumphs and failures. So if you’ll excuse me – I’d better get back to plotting…


15 Responses to “Stand-Alone Vs Series”

  1. 1 Lynn Priestley April 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Kath

    Great post. The joys of fantasy writing! I can see why fantasy novels can serve as wheel chocks and door stops – there is so much in them. It’s difficult to divide a story yet still keep the reader interested over several instalments. Not to mention keeping track of the story-line as the author.I don’t think your process is anal at all. I think it’s essential to keep a tight rein on the overall story line. And I think you need to have a good sense of the end in order to plot the correct clues along the way. You almost have to start at the end and plot backward – in which case you need a good plan to save lots of adding and subtracting at the end of the process. It helps me immensely when I can visualise the story like you have done – makes it easier to see what needs to go where. Hope it all falls into place. Sounds like you are well on your way.

  2. 2 Joanna Gaudry April 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Love your plotting process, Katherine — especially your creative visualisation of it using colour coding and capsules along the time line. Excellent plotting maps. Thanks for sharing this with us. Joanna :))

  3. 3 Scott Chambers April 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Wow … such an organised mind. I need to get me one of those … amazing that with a bit of structure and logic you can make writing a 3 book series seem so easy! The colour-codoed maps sure seem more flexible and interesting than my boring dot-point lists. Very impressive progress =)

  4. 4 Kathleen Noud April 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Nice post! I’ll be coming back to it when I plot out my mermaid trilogy in a few weeks (at least, I think it’s a trilogy) :)

  5. 5 savingaussiebooks April 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Excellent post, Kath. I know exactly what you are on about here. I’m still trying to work my second (and possible third) in a series out on my big butcher’s paper before I write them, lol. have to have a clear idea about the ending first. I’m now thinking about Part 1 and Part 2, rather than a trilogy.

  6. 6 Sandy Fussell April 13, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    I think it takes an artist to draw a diagram like that! I particularly liked this post – I think I both learned something and made a decision – thanks for that. I’m now really looking forward to reading this one. I’ll be able to say: I was there when it was just a diagram! Plus I love urban fantasy.

  7. 7 Katherine Battersby April 14, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Lynn, you hit spot on my greatest challenge – keeping the tension high across three books when I had thought it would only be one. In ways I have to increase the stakes, and bring in new threats. A challenge, but I’m starting to get into it.

    Thanks Joanna! I think it must be the illustrator in me that loves colour coding. I have so many different coloured pens, highlighters and sticky notes – my office currently looks like a messy rainbow.

    Scott, didn’t mean to make it look easy! My brain has been twisted inside out trying to figure it all out. But it’s certainly enjoyable.

    Kathleen, go the mermaids! I can’t wait for you to start that project. So excited. And may I politely ask you to hurry up so I can read it? ;)

    Sheryl, writing a series is a lot of work, isn’t it? So far I’ve been lucky in that I always seem to know the ending (it’s often how the idea first arrives in my mind). It’s the saggy middle I struggle with…

    Sandy, so glad I could help. I’ve always enjoyed reading about how you created your Samurai Kids series on your blog.

  8. 8 Trudie Trewin April 14, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Thanks for sharing how you solved the problem, Kath. It looks so very organised! Very timely advice for me!

  9. 9 Angela Sunde April 14, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Great post, Kath. This may just help me sort out my time line for the urban fantasy that is shuffling along slowly at the moment.

  10. 10 Karen Tyrrell April 14, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Katherine, Absolutely love the way you brainstorm with all those thought clouds. Only wish the writing was in sharper focus so I can read your ideas … bet they’re wonderful!
    Cheers, Karen :))

  11. 11 Katherine Battersby April 14, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Trudie and Angela, lovely to think my rambling thoughts might help in some small way.

    Thanks Karen. The words may just be out of focus for a reason. I used to be very open about the plot lines of my WIPs, but I’m a little more guarded nowadays. Must be getting finicky in my old age :) (Not that my notes would make much sense to anyone else, but thanks for the vote of confidence!)

  12. 12 Kate Foryth April 20, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Oh Katherine, I love it! What wonderful plotting. I think you may have out-plotted ME! I especially love the colour coding :)

  13. 13 Katherine Battersby April 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Thanks Kate! You made me smile, as I actually credit you as the one who made me realise I could do more detailed plotting without ruining the thrill of discovery while writing. And I’m really enjoying it too – I’ll never go back…

  14. 14 Claire April 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Hello Katherine, Thank you for letting us in on your writing process. Fascinating. I am glad I am not the only one who does mind maps and spaghetti planning.

  15. 15 Katherine Battersby April 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Claire, I love the term spaghetti planning! I might just steal that …

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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