Sunday, July 13, 2014

How a Pantser Plans a Series

This week at the Bordello we'll be comparing notes on Making a Series: Plotting and planning a series of books.

It's an interesting topic, especially for the girl who doesn't preplot or plan much at all. Over time, though, I've come to understand that I do have more of a plan than I think I do.

You pretty much have to, to write a trilogy or other series. I've finished writing two trilogies now - A Covenant of Thorns (CoT) and The Twelve Kingdoms (12K) - both with very strong overall arcs that required all three books to tell. In both cases, I did NOT know what the overall story would be when I started the first book. In both cases, I did have a sense that the story I had in mind would take much longer than a single book.

I'm not saying you should try this at home, but this is how I did it, for each.

Core Scene

For each series, I started with the first book - Rogue's Pawn (RP) and The Mark of the Tala (MotT), respectively - and wrote each towards a core scene. In Rogue's Pawn it was the initial dream of The Black Dog and I wrote towards the scene of SPOILER *Gwynn kissing Liam between the tents* END SPOILER. In The Mark of the Tala, I knew the scene of SPOILER *Andi hiding in the castle from the evil lurking outside, her sister swearing to protect her while people died and she knew she had to give herself to the monster to end it* END SPOILER.

And that's seriously all I knew about either story or series when I started laying words down.

Discovering Other Key Characters

Alert readers familiar with the series will note that in neither case did I have a clear idea of the heroes. In fact, Rogue took me entirely by surprise when he walked into the room and threw everything upside-down. (Which is entirely like him, I see now in retrospect.) In 12K, I knew there would be the one sister, but not so much that there would be three and that the overall story would be as much about them and their relationship as anything else.

In both cases, discovering these other characters - who took shape and came to life as I wrote - was what determined the overall series arc.

For CoT, the relationship between Rogue and Gwynn drove the series arc. Though there are other considerations for her - gaining mastery as a sorceress, finding her own agency, and fighting Titania's plans - it's really Gwynn's bargain with Rogue to bear his firstborn child, and their tangled emotions around this, that forms the spine of the series.

For 12K, once Andi's sisters, Amelia and Ursula, took shape, it became clear that the trilogy would be formed of each sister's story, in that order. The way MotT ended pretty much dictates that the main story thread falls to Amelia next, in The Tears of the Rose, and that the final conflict belongs to Ursula in The Talon of the Hawk.

The First Act Dictates the Conclusion

I write using the three-act structure, as such: Act 1 Climax: 25%, Midpoint: 50%, Act 2 Climax: 75%, Act 3 Climax: 90%. What this means is that all the stakes in the story are set up by the end of Act 1. The remaining 3/4 of the story are all resolving the problems set up in the first act.

In a series, this overall structure still applies. If you apply the metric to the entire series, it should become clear that there is an Act 1 Climax that occurs somewhere in book 1 that sets up the stakes for the series as a whole. In CoT, the bargain between Rogue and Gwynn and her subsequent suffering drives the conclusion finally reached in book 3, Rogue's Paradise. In 12K, the political events set off by what happens to Andi - and how they change her sister's lives - are what lead directly to the final conflict in The Talon of the Hawk.

Filling in the Detail

Thus, as far as plotting and planning, I do have a general sense of what the major beats and climactic events will be. More or less. I probably have a better sense of the impact on the characters than the details of the events themselves. Those things I discover as I go along.

It's definitely true for me, however, that setting up that first 25%, both within a book and for the series overall, is what gives me a solid trajectory to see the story through.

Plus a bit of black magic.


  1. There are those numbers you love so dearly. :) You may not be able to pre-plot but you sure can pull numbers and make charts!