Many genres lend themselves well to series. In fact, literary agents love nothing more than finding a writer who not only has book one in the can, but is well into book two, and with an outline for the third.
Series just sell well. One reason of course is that an author builds an audience as he goes, readers from the first book champing at the bit for the second, and on and on.
Audience, in publishing, of course is everything.
But in fiction editing, you know what I so often see? It takes all three books in a series to fully flesh out the protagonist. And as you can guess, that’s an issue.
Funny thing about a series—in order to capture that audience, and bring them back again and again for more, the characters, especially the hero, has to engage readers or they’ll never return. In other words, they won’t buy that next book. They probably didn’t finish the first one either.
I talk a lot about fashioning fabulous characters. Whether you’re writing a literary novel, a memoir, or a dystopian series, characters lead the way.
Even in this day of The Plot as King, if you don’t have characters driving that plot, no one will remember it anyway.
So how do you create a character that readers return to with great anticipation?
֎ First off, every book in the series has to stand alone.
As if it were the only one. Which means, each plot has a beginning, middle, and end. And the characters need to come alive as they wend their way through it.
All the elements of great fiction need to shine from the pages. If you don’t grab your reader here, you’ve lost him for subsequent books.
Remember: Your reader needs a great character to journey through the course of each book in the series.
֎ Second, the main character, and a handful of others, have to be fully fleshed out—in this book, in addition to the rest of the series.
What does that mean, exactly? It means your protagonist has to grow and change, by each book’s end. He goes through trials and tribulations, which change him. Force him to learn new things. Identify allies and villains. Master tasks. Exactly as if this were the only book with these folks in it.
It means you have to know and effectively portray his hopes and dreams, his fears and worries, his strengths, and his Achilles’ heel.
It means you cannot rely on book two or three to bring him to his biggest nemesis. He has to face it in book one.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t leave a piece of that nemesis to bite him on the butt again in the next book.
Remember: He has to be created as if this were his only book.
֎ Third, in books two and three, that hero has to be fully fleshed out as well—as if you had never created him in book one.
Funny thing, readers may start with book two or three, then go back to book one (your publisher is counting on it!). So, the hero has to have all the elements of great characterization for your reader to find.
Otherwise, readers will drift off . . .
What does change in subsequent books in the series, is the Story Question, which begins the book, and by the end, the main character has to have answered. That takes a bit of creativity, because we have to question whether he can successfully answer it. Again. Since he mastered so much in book one, suspending your reader’s disbelief here can be a challenge.
But hey, life continues to bring us challenges, no? We all continue to grow. So does your hero, through however many books.
Remember: As your plotline develops through the series, so does your hero.
֎ Finally, your hero has to save the day.
Even if we know darker ones are yet to come.
Now, if this is an apocalyptic tale, he can’t exactly save the world and turn it back to Utopia. But, he can and must save a piece of it. Turn something around so that the world is brighter, if just for now.
And then return to save a bigger piece of it in book two.
Remember: In every book, your hero has to find the Holy Grail.
֎ What’s the main takeaway?
The goal is to create each book as if no one will ever read another in the series. Fashion it to stand alone. Write that satisfying read, which includes all the things a great character is and does, all between the covers of one book.
And you can always go back in revision, while doing your own fiction editing, and add depth, layers, and nuance. Even if your hero isn’t all that to begin, you can fix him before the end.
Pretty broad shoulders this main character needs. Because yep, he carries the weight of the entire world you’ve created.
But if you can do it for one book, you can do it for a series.
Do that and both you and your hero will live happily ever after!