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I am an aspiring author, and I have recently just begun developing my first novel. It is a series, but I have engineered the first novel to be a standalone in case the series falls through.

When I look at other successful series, I continue to see inter-connected plots across all the books. Scenes that we thought didn't have much meaning turn out to spawn chapters later on. The day is saved by a seemingly insignificant moment back in book one. And it's not just little things: the climax of book two may start the quest of book three, which launches the drive of book four and forms the antagonist of book five.

How can I create plots that are woven together so expertly, and inter-connect with each other in so many ways? Is there some special formula I've missed? Or is it purely writer genius?

Examples:

In the Fablehaven series, the climax of book two turns out to spawn the entire side story of book three (the shadow plague). In addition, it transforms the secondary protagonist, giving him abilities that are crucial to the plot of all later books. In a separate case, in book one the main protagonist receives a transformation, giving her abilities that at the time seem random. Every single one of her abilities is used multiple times in future novels, and the very fact of her transformation is a key plot element all the way to the end.

In the Harry Potter series, the protagonist does a seemingly random-though-spectacular action (catching his first snitch). The action never comes up again until the final book, where it turns out to have significant bearing on the climax of the entire series (sort of).

I'm sure there are many other examples. These are just a few off the top of my head.

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There isn't a one-fits-all answer here. Generally speaking, your personal talent/skills in seeing and imagining connections will allow you less effort (and "work"/"formula"/"method") in devising them. It doesn't make you a better or worse writer to have that gift, but it certainly makes your job easier.

If you want a couple of tips on how to be able to either recognize more easily or create for yourself such patterns, the best advice I can give you is to learn to recognize plot nodes (you might think of them as deviation points).

Example: a character in book 1 meets a stranger in the street. The stranger offers the character a gift which is rejected. The stranger disappears from the plot and we never hear from then again... (until, say, book 3, where he appears again or the gift is offered to another character)

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J K Rowling said that she imagined her entire story nearly all at once in one sitting. That means that while the readers were doled out a single book at a time, she basically had one giant story, broken up into seven parts. If you think about it that way, connecting all of the stories together is not much more complicated than connecting elements between chapters.

I didn't believe Rowling when she claimed it happened to her. I thought she was being dramatic. But this November I had a nearly identical experience (though I seriously doubt I'll experience identical success!) I'm writing one story at a time, but have have four complete interconnected stories all outlined and am researching and planning them as I work on the first draft of the first one.

I don't have to force a sense of interconnectedness. The stories all do this naturally because it's basically one giant story with four very large chapters. There's no scheming or difficult elements to work with. It's completely natural. Of course it all fits together.

I wouldn't attempt this if youre simply trying to do a neat literary trick. And I hope you're not offended, but your question seems to focus on devising and working with methods and formulas rather than wanting to tell one single story with multiple parts.

Don't attempt this unless you need to do it to make the story work. Don't do it unless you honestly believe that there is no other way to express everything you need to. It won't work otherwise. It will look like you tried a gimmick. It won't ring true.

  • I guess it's just that I see a lot of successful novels have links like that. It makes me wonder if they came naturally, and if I am therefore missing something in my writing because it does not come naturally to me. At least that I'm aware of. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Feb 1 '16 at 5:33
  • That's my point. It won't come naturally unless it has to. You don't need devices or techniques to have things that you mentioned in chapter 2 come up at the end of the book, right? When you do that over several books, it's because from the very beginning you were writing as if all the books were one single story. It's not a technique. There's no device to it. It just happens as normally as it happens when you're writing one single book, because in a way, you are! – Keobooks Feb 1 '16 at 5:39
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I'm currently working on a new project, what I doing is that I'm working with an outline and think of stuff that will happen in broad strokes and how it relates to other things. Personally, I found that it helps a lot if you plan backwards that way you'll have an easier time to weave different plots and helps you in foreshadowing as well, this is what works for me.

You should also try reading the original Mistborn trilogy, if you haven't.

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I'd suggest creating the connections as you go. I know it seems like it would make good sense to plot out the grand story first, but this approach can make the actual writing a soul-destroying experience, and tends to produce a predictable narrative. Inventing the big story on the fly is much more fun and not difficult. Just look at what's gone by and bring some of those details back into the story. Sketch out only as much structure as you absolutely must have.

A story involves a character trying to achieve some sort of goal, and trying to deal with various obstacles along the way. If you want to extend your story, just keep the trouble coming. You THOUGHT it was over, but there's more.

Say you're written your first story about Prince Beanbag, who defeats the Vile Sisterhood, aided by the lovely Wendy. If you decide to keep it going for a second book, you can reveal that the Vile Sisterhood were under the control of Zingar, Lord of Evil, and now Prince Beanbag has to defeat Zingar too. Which he does. Until you realize you wanted a third book, so it turns out that Zingar was not actually dead but has returned to his demonic form and has possessed the lovely Wendy, who now leads an army of undead goblin werewolves.

If you look at Tolkien, it's pretty obvious that the ring Bilbo discovers in The Hobbit wasn't intended to be the ultimate evil. It was elevated to that status later, when Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings. Many apparently tightly constructed stories are written on the fly. The TV series Breaking Bad holds together perfectly from beginning to end, but each season was written with a blank slate. Characters that worked well (eg, Gus) were given more prominence.

  • Unfortunately, this is a style designed for Pantsers, or people who write on the fly (by the seat of their pants - hence the name) and develop later. I am a Plotter, someone who plots meticulously first, and then writes. It is very difficult for Plotters to write in the Pantser style, and vice versa. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Feb 2 '16 at 6:57
  • This is a good ?, Tommy. I just saw it. However, I would like to nominate the words dreamer, envisioner, or bullshi--er in place of pantser for the way a "discovery" writer's brain works (that is so amusingly PC). – Stu W Feb 13 '16 at 22:34
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    I think the fun of the writing is in inventing surprising twists and turns. If you plan things out in detail, you will get a well structured story, but you've had your fun when you planned it out, and the actual writing becomes paint-by-numbers. I find the best approach is a middle ground—enough planning to maintain a structure, but leaving plenty of gaps, so you can have enjoy the writing. Of course, everyone is different. – Duncan McKenzie Feb 14 '16 at 5:04
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I would suggest working backwards following completion of book 1 after outlining book 2.

This of course requires you to finish book 1 and make alterations before going into query mode (or self publishing).

Essentially, you write book 1 as is. After plotting book 2, plant in talismans, characters, prophesies, whatever, into book 1 as naturally as possible, as early in your book as possible.

And repeat.

Now when you wind up with an eight-book series, you might have to extemporize a bit. Call it the hybrid phase to discovery (I just learned this term from K) writing, and perhaps the best of both worlds?

Two other things to think about:

1) After the first book you'll have a much better scope of what you're trying to accomplish. You may be able to outline the rest of the series at that point. The process I mentioned above wouldn't change, but you would have a much better idea of what to implant.

2) If you're like most writers, including myself, the improvement you'll show in the first (few) books you write is significant. If this is your first full-length novel, you may just kick butt by the end compared to the beginning as a writer. You may decide to rewrite much of the beginning anyway.

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