5 Tips for Creating a Must-Read Fiction Series

by Guest Blogger | 30 comments

This guest post is by Patricia Gilliam. Patricia is the author of the Hannaria series, a five book science-fiction series. You can check out all of Patricia's books on her Amazon page, and follow her on Twitter (@PatriciaGilliam).

Creating a novel series—such as the Harry Potter, DuneWheel of Time, or even Border Trilogy series—is one of the best ways to build continuous momentum with your book marketing efforts. It's also a unique experience and can open up life opportunities you may never have had otherwise.


Photo by John O'Nolan

However, creating a novel series can also take years if not decades of effort. How do you even get started?

The following are my top five tips for creating a must-read fiction series.

1. The better you plan in your early stages, the easier the following steps will be.

I found this out when I first attempted writing novels. Because of poor planning, I would get stuck at around 12,000 words where the plot would dead-end.

After I got stuck several times, I took a step back and decided to focus on background development before I wrote another book. Development took about six months, but the novel that followed and each sequel took me about six to nine months each to draft.

Having an initial burst of momentum because of my long planning helped carry the rest of the writing process.

2. Characters are the key to your story's success.

You can get everything else right from a technical standpoint, but if your characters are flat your reader will lose interest and not care what happens to them.

As an author, you need to get characters to the point where you can direct them as if they were actual people. This means sitting down and figuring out their personalities, their behavior, and any detail that's going to add to their believability and realism. You may not reveal everything about your character to readers, but the information is there for you if you need it.

3. Treat your setting like another character.

As with characters, it's good to plan out your setting before you write your novel. Keep in mind, your setting will vary based on your genre and the importance of setting to your story. Characters and their environment have a relationship, and you can reveal things about both without bogging the story down.

Try to keep description short but specific, and incorporate details into action whenever possible. Again, you want the environment to be realistic to you as the author so you can draw upon details as needed.

4. Have a plan for your plot.

This sometimes varies with an author's personality, but for me, “winging it” without a plan kept getting me stuck. I'm also not a big fan of having every single detail outlined to the point the story has no spontaneity. The middle ground I found for myself was using what I call “key points”—important points of the story including the ending.

I work backwards in the planning process, deciding on the ending first and then the events that lead up to it. During the writing process, I go from key point to key point–giving me the room to explore but still keeping me on track.

5. Go into this with the understanding that editing and revision will be a regular part of the process.

With each book you write, you'll learn new skills you didn't have when you first started. Depending on your publishing process, you can also edit on a series level—improving your earlier books with what you've learned from recent ones and seeding details for foreshadowing.

Approach editing from a creative angle as opposed to treating it like a chore. It also helps to have friends and beta readers give you feedback during the process.

Have you ever written a novel series? What tips do you have?


For today's practice, write a novel series… just kidding. That would be a bit too much for a short practice. Instead, take some time to plan out a three or four-part series. You could create a plan for your current work in progress or something new.

Work on your plan for fifteen minutes. When you're time is up, pitch your plan to us in the comments section. Then, give feedback on a few pitches by other writers.

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  1. themagicviolinist

    This is great, because I absolutely love series. 🙂 I’ve only written one (MAYBE two) books that haven’t had a sequel or sequels. I find it hard to let my characters go after just one adventure, so I decide to be selfish so I can spend more time with them. 😉

    • Giulia Esposito

      That’s okay, lots of authors do that. They write series.

    • Patricia Gilliam

      Once everything is set up, having a series is a blast. It’s still work, but the characters make the process fun.

    • James Hall

      For some others, most of their books follow a small cast of characters.

  2. Giulia Esposito

    I’ve never been a planner of my stories. I get stuck in the middle of planning! I eventually gave up planning and just started writing, and I think now I plan in my head as the story progresses. I’ll get to a part, and I’ll say to myself, now what? And sometimes I feel stuck but after a while some tiny idea starts to shine through and then I take that and build on it when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

    I do however like the idea of planning backwards. I might try that next time.

    • Patricia Gilliam

      I think it comes down to experimenting until you find what works for you. No two writers are the same.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Yep! Thanks for the tips, it’s always interesting to see how writers write 🙂

    • James Hall

      I guess it won’t be any fun if there was one book that could tell you everything you needed to become a writer.

      There are only a ton of general tips and guidelines, but they have all been broken before.

    • James Hall

      I agree. Sometimes I feel like I have absolutely no good ideas, nothing is coming to mind. Then, I sit down and pants it, and I ended up with some really good stuff. 9000 words later, a week later, I love where that sit down phase had led me. I’d never give that up for any amount of planning.

  3. catmorrell

    This is a great article and I pinned it so I would not forget, but the link in the e-mail leads to a different article. I had to hunt to find this well thought out blog so I could respond. Someone might want to fix the link..

    Regarding my story, I pantsed most of my story with NaNo. Now I am planning. Need a real story arc and to make my characters more interesting. Baby steps here.

    • Patricia Gilliam

      NaNoWriMo is a great way to explore different writing styles. Even though I’m more of a planner, I found a way to write fast by writing scenes out of order (after plotting).

    • catmorrell

      Love it. I have the general story arc in mind, but also write the scenes that appeal to me at the moment. Love the computer for keeping it all organized in order.

    • Patricia Gilliam

      Thanks so much! I appreciate you and hope you like it. 🙂

    • catmorrell

      Ummm……I read on it till 3am. I am sure I will finish it this evening and then I am going to have to request Kindle gift cards for Christmas so I can read more of the series. Wonder if the library would order it?

    • Patricia Gilliam

      🙂 Part of it depends on the library system, but most people are able to get the paperbacks if they request them. I’ve been researching companies that do ebook loaning for libraries, but I haven’t found one yet that’s clear on how the licensing works, etc.

    • Patricia Gilliam

      Thanks! I’ll look into it and contact them. Have a great day!

  4. Patricia Gilliam

    Thanks so much, everyone. If you have any questions, feel free to post them here. I’ll check back and try to help. Have a wonderful day!

  5. Jyl Korroch Milner

    Thanks for this article – I have it securely pinned to my “Writing Resources” board! I’m about 2/3 of the way through the first draft of what I hope is the first in a series of contemporary novels involving women who ride bikes in a particular metro area and the crimefighters they meet along the way. I’m having a blast with it. Thanks again!

    • Patricia Gilliam

      You’re welcome! Sounds like an interesting series idea!

  6. James Hall

    When I started writing my novel series, I had only a fuzzy idea of where I wanted to with it. The hardest part was probably finding a place to start. I put off starting for a couple of months simply because of not knowing where to start. The easiest way I found to start was to pants it. Pick some place and start writing. I think it was a good decision.

    I feel there are scales for writers:

    Pantser vs outliner
    Editing vs no Editing
    Probably a bunch more…

    I’m neither completely a pantser or completely an outliner. I only outline major plot points, and I’ve only gotten there because I winged it. Yet, at the same time, I’ve got several other books in the series that I have a general idea of a beginning and an end.

    As for editing vs no editing, I tend more towards editing. I can’t move on leaving something behind unrefined. One prompt on this site compares writing with sculpting. Well, if I was a sculptor, or a man who makes potions, I would sculpt out a general shape of, say, a hand. Then from there, I would refine that hand until it looked nearly perfect, then I would move on.

    I feel the advantage to this approach is that when I do look back, I don’t hate what I see. If I were to attempt to push all the way to the end without edits, I would probably run out of motivation to do so because I felt the work stunk.

    So, when I write new stuff, I do the best and most work when I take a journal and write with a blatant disregard for sentence structure, spelling, grammar, other people, and even hand-writing. I have to immediately type it up because I can’t even read but half the chicken scratch I generate.

    So, I write without edit until the end of a chapter, then I refine the whole chapter.

    • Patricia Gilliam

      We have some similarities in our approaches. My series began as short stories before I transitioned it into novels, and I tend to treat each chapter as a small project within the greater whole. Every chapter has a purpose, and I edit it within reason before moving on to the next. There are still several rounds of overall editing at the end, but to me it seems smoother compared to keeping everything in a rough stage at the beginning.

    • James Hall

      Yes. I’ve planned on overall edits coming at the end. But in that, unless I cut plot elements, I doubt the story itself changes too much. Sentences, structure, clarity, and such stuff. Add elaboration, symbolism, or other literature devices I’ve only got a couple of chapters that aren’t so tightly knit into the story line, and those ones are the only ones I have doubts about. The rest is just how it is told.

  7. Kiki Yushima

    I’ve definitely learned all of these lessons over the past few years in my endeavor to write a rather large-scale fanfic series. I know fanfics are generally looked down on, but they’ve taught me basically everything I know about writing. Working on this series has shown me just how much work goes into the pre-writing stages of a long series. I’ll be writing at least five stories in it with a cast of about eighty characters. It spans three different games but will end up in five or more stories, depending on how I break it down.

    The first one focuses around a girl that runs away from her abusive family situation in order to pursue her dream job. She’s spent the previous two years training in secret so she could become a Pokemon Ranger. After her father finds out, she fears for her life and runs. After she arrives in Fiore, she ends up getting swept up in a struggle for the region’s independence. During all of this, she must learn to stand on her own while trying to rescue the children of the villain who grew up in a situation not too different for her own.

    The second fic focuses around Kate and her friends. It starts by following their first two years in the Ranger Academy then, again, stopping the villain team of the day (it’s Pokemon; I’m doing my best to work with what’s given). However, they’re pushed to their limits and beyond as the region buckles under the pressure and the people they’re meant to protect slowly turn against them. They struggle to reclaim the light that the shadows the villains cast while potentially discovering some dark parts of their region’s past that may have been better left forgotten…

    The final is a series unto itself that focuses around Summer as she’s the thread that weaves the entire tapestry together. It follows her from her Academy days as she starts out a bit shy but determined to live up to her mother’s memory as a great Ranger. Over the course of years, she goes through many cycles and grows a lot…whether she likes it or not. She becomes haughty and egotistical during her Academy days, but the leader of the Base she’s assigned to slowly breaks down that haughtiness and transforms her into an incredibly humble individual. However, one thing she cannot break is Summer’s anger which remains a major point of contention for several years. She has major roles in the previous two conflicts, but she gets her own turn to shine during the Annaled Covenant which are the events of the third game.
    During that period, she’s forced to face and get over her anger as well as face her past which she’s avoided up to this point. She takes on one of the worst threats the Pokemon world has faced in the present while also doing double-duty in the past. Celebi ends up ferrying her between the current predicament and the past which only creates far more stress for the poor girl. She has to operate within a society she knows nothing about and save the people who think her even lower than dirt as well as go against everything the society has established. Due to the stress, she actually buckles and cracks to the point she becomes a liability to the Rangers, so her boss puts her on indefinite stationing in that region until she’s mentally capable of handling the stresses of being a Ranger again.
    The following stories then focus around Summer as she comes to terms with the fact she’s been separated from her best friend for the first time ever on top of memories of a past life. Through it all, she has the support of some of the other major characters from previous story and they adopt her since she lost her family in a fire when she was about six. Over the next year and a half, she struggles through all of this but comes out on top…just in time to face another crisis.
    Her and Solana have become good friends by this point and Solana receives the devastating news she can no longer be a Ranger.

    This is going to be my favorite portion to write because it shows just how far Summer has come. She chooses to leave Oblivia despite her new family being there (granted she can see them pretty easily so the sacrifice isn’t as deep as it could be but I digress). During all of her struggles, she’s depended on Ben, her best friend, and she now has the strength to become that to Solana. Using everything she’s learned since she entered the Academy, she finally feels truly confident in herself and that she’s lived up to her mother’s memory even though she’s already FAR exceeded it by this point.

    …Anyway I’m done with my extremely long ramble now. The logistics for this project are pretty hefty, but I’m slowly getting through them and I will write them someday.

  8. Debra johnson

    I had a blast doing nano this year. What started out as three separate stories turned into one large novel. But as I saw or am seeing after the story was complete was that this story is going to separate again into three different stories. As each characters begin to tell their own stories. My issue is now that my brain is regaining some normalcy after nano do I use this story I just finished as the starting off point and use the three separate stories I have already written which were not apart of the nano story as their individual stories.

    Yes I am sure you are shaking your heads wondering what I’m trying to ask. I’m not sure either, other than I have three separate stories I was merging into one, but as I wrote it I am seeing 4 stories ( books) Book 1 introducing the three characters then 2-4 telling the stories of each one.

    (I am trying to get this edited and out to publishers as soon as I can because my wonderful ex has cancer and I would like him to see the stories out there for others to enjoy- when he was my husband he was and still is my biggest support and fan)

    • anna

      That sounds like it would be cool, if you could hook us on the characters in book one and give a good reason that they separate! 🙂

    • Debra johnson

      Anna I now don’t remember the name of the book I mentioned above… lol

  9. Vic

    Has anyone commenting here had their work published? Many Thanks

  10. g

    I have always wanted to write a series of books.I have just finished school.I decided to write a book about a girl’s boarding school

  11. william taylor

    Id like to know peoples opinions on this idea.

    I want to write a series of books that provide the readers with the understanding of how we got to where we are today. Meaning I’ll be covering a wide range of areas such as Architecture, Religion, History so real life events and people, Planning and so on.

    However id like to do this in a style of fiction as well. So that this story is enjoyable but also by the final book provide the readers would have a brief understanding of how we achieved the life we have today. Each book would be basted on a different timeline and civilization to provide this adventure though time.

    The books will make the reader feel as this there on this journey, so for this to work the readers will only find out the name of the main character/s by the final book. However there will be a personality to the character/s keep the interest there.

    As to the over all plot to the series as in how this person/s ended up in these timelines will be a constant mystery allowing the reader to create there idea of what happened. I will be providing clues though out the books in to how it happened but never stating it. Making a story that will never end even if I was to stop writing.


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