I have been working on worldbuilding, plotting out, and writing characters for a science-fantasy series for over 4 years now, and I feel the time has come to take another stab at writing the actual thing after my first draft. The problem is I have expanded the world, plot, and character cast so much since that first draft that I had brought the planned book count over twenty! As there is no way I am realistically writing that many books, I decided to combine as many books as possible, and the number I was left with after fully compressing the planned book count for my series was seven.

However, although I am reducing the book count, I still want to keep my original plans as intact as possible by simply lengthening the 7 books to compensate. I have no problem with just the idea of having to write longer books, but the issue I have come here about is about the narrative structure.

Since my Book 1 is an amalgamation of the plans for my previous first four books, my plans for it don't really follow the thee-act structure, as each of these four books was conceived to be able to follow the three act structure and stand on its own, especially the first of the four.

NOTE: My books will be narrated as journal entries, written by the main protagonist and supporting protagonists. To avoid POV confusion, each journal entry is its own chapter, with the character authoring it clearly named in the chapter title (I got this idea from Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus Series). The main protagonist and supporting protagonists get the vast majority of these chapters, but every now and again, a side protagonist or even an antagonist will get a chapter.

How would I go about making my first book more of a single, coherent novel instead of reading like four different books joined at the seams?

  • I would suggest looking at Animorphs, which had a similar narrative voice set up and, when it was releasing books, had a monthly release date. It ran for 64 books including 54 in the main line, 5 in the Mega Morphs Line, and 4 in the Chronicles line, and a single novel "Visser" which was closely similar to content in the Chronicles line. All the books existed in the same fictional universe, with the main line and Megamorphs dedicated to the main storyline, while the Chronicles and Visser explored important back story to the verse.
    – hszmv
    Jan 25, 2021 at 12:48
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    @hszmv IIRC the write did an AMA a while back and may have used ghost writers, or at least their husband or something, so the monthly release schedule is a little misleading Jan 26, 2021 at 5:50
  • True. K.A. Applegate's husband was an uncredited co-author and series of similar sizes are Ghost Written (Applegate herself Ghostwrite babysitter's club). Speaking from personal experience, it's easy to write a 50,000 word+ novel in 30 days, and if you factor in editing. Especially in long running series, Ghostwriting is not uncommon (the Hardey Boys and Nancy Drew were entirely Ghost Written).
    – hszmv
    Jan 26, 2021 at 12:44

8 Answers 8


First in, Last out

A good rule of thumb is to resolve your major conflicts in reverse order that they are introduced. For example, if your story starts with a dragon attack, and while dealing with that you protagonist has a fight with their partner, then you should resolve the relationship issue before slaying the dragon.

Your ongoing conflicts provide a through-line that will tie your novel into a cohesive whole.

This is one of the main uses of prologues. In some stories, especially epic fantasy following the Hero's Journey, it is difficult to introduce the main conflict to the main character immediately. So instead a prologue is used to introduce the conflict to the readers, and therefore the readers can hold that conflict as the primary conflict until the character catches up with them.

Note that you will have many conflicts that are only supposed to exist for a single scene or so. These are fine! They exist to hold scenes together as a complete whole, and don't need to be stretched out to encompass every conflict that will come after them.

Stagger your conflict creation and resolution

Typically, the climax of your story will see the rapid resolution of all your overarching plot threads. Maybe not all at once, but over the course of a few scenes they generally all come to a close. If the reader sees all, or most, of the conflicts resolved in a few chapters, and then a group of new conflicts introduced in the next chapters, it will feel like a break in the story.

Instead, introduce one or two of the new conflicts before the old ones resolve. Or save one for a little bit and add it later after the other new conflicts have been under way for a while. By staggering when conflicts appear and disappear you will obscure what used to be the break points of your story.

Yes, I realize that this advice is slightly contradictory

In my first section I advised resolving newer conflicts before resolving earlier conflicts. In my second section I suggested introducing new conflicts that will carry on past the resolution of earlier conflicts. Ultimately, these are just guidelines, and none of them should be taken as inviolate rules to follow. You have to figure out the best way to handle each of your conflicts for yourself.

(For what it's worth, though, the 'First in, Last out' advice was meant to mostly apply to overarching conflicts that get resolved at or near the climax, and not ones that get resolved mid-book.)

For further reading, I recommend the Writing Excuses episode on the MICE quotient


Write the First one, then see if it's really a problem:

Before you start to panic, I'd actually sit down and start writing. As you do, figure out what the central theme of the story is, then ruthlessly eliminate everything that doesn't support that. If it's not completely critical to the plot, cut it. That's just good focus.

Now see if the material REALLY ends up getting to that huge of a length. You may find that it's a lot less than you think. As you write, you may realize that a lot of the stuff you imagined going in now seems irrelevant. Or you might realize how much work writing can be and naturally trim out a LOT of stuff.

Also consider if there are good ways to wrap up loose ends periodically in your story. If you have some good natural end-points where the plot can wrap up to a sense of completion, those make logical end-points for novels. In a series of novels, it's not a terrible thing to leave some loose ends, if you can wrap stuff up neatly. The reader gets some satisfaction, but if they love the series they can see a sequel coming.

The good news in the science fantasy field is that there is a broader range of pages that are considered acceptable - I'm told readers in the field feel a longer book has more value. So even if it gets a bit long, it may still be okay. Look at L Ron Hubbard if you want an extreme example, and fantasy follows suit (think Robert Jordan).

  • As an additional note, if you are successful, then see if all that extra material can be spun into short stories or even a parallel novel series. For example, the wildly successful Honorverse novels began to fork and branch, with new characters and stories that paralleled the primary chronology. And all those short stories, if able to function on their own, could be published independently or woven into a collection. Plot elements can be salvaged and new story lines entirely created from existing ones. Nothing ever needs to go to waste.
  • Wasn't L. Ron Hubbard the guy who took his science-fantasy worldbuilding a bit too far and started a religious cult based on it?
    – Philipp
    Jan 26, 2021 at 8:57
  • @Philipp Oh, good. You know the one. Battlefield Earth, his "breakout" novel, was 1,050 pages. Most of the rest of his novels were I think 8-900 range.
    – DWKraus
    Jan 26, 2021 at 11:24

Frame challenge: Why do you think it will be (better/easier/shorter/faster?) to write 7 volumes containing more than 20 books worth of content compared to just writing 20+ books?

For sake of discussion, let's say you originally had 21 books of an average length of 350 pages, which is a pretty reasonable paperback size. Now you plan to have 7 books of 800 pages each, which is an approximation of a chunky novel like something in the Game of Thrones (ASoIaF) series. So your total page count went from 7,350 pages to 5,600 pages...a savings of 1,750 pages or 5 of the original books.

But you're still planning to write the equivalent of 16 reasonable paperback sized novels (already a tall ask) and now you have the overhead of combining multiple stories into one volume, which isn't really that easy (as you're discovering). Plus editing, proofreading, and even just normally reading these behemoths will be much harder, it's much harder to keep track of something that happened 400 pages ago than it is to keep track of something that happened 175 pages ago.

Instead of trying to merge your books, just focus on actually telling an interesting story for your readers: including the bits that contribute to the story at hand, removing anything that doesn't contribute to the story at hand, and keeping reasonable length narrative arcs across multiple volumes so that your readers aren't stuck with too many cliffhangers. Accept that you don't know what tomorrow will bring--the earth could be hit by a meteor, or there could be a sudden advancement of medical technology extending your lifespan indefinitely. However many of your books that you finish, it is what it is.

  • My reasons for this have less to do with page count and more to do with the publishing process. Jan 25, 2021 at 16:57
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    @TheWeaselSagas Can you elaborate on why you think it will be easier to publish 7 large books vs 20+ smaller ones? Are you hoping to use a traditional publishing model, or something else? Jan 25, 2021 at 19:30
  • I plan on eventually traditionally publishing these, but I have no idea when that time will come. The reason I would want to publish 7 large books instead of 20+ smaller ones is that there will simply be a lesser number of books to publish. That is less books to have to do a bunch of marketing for, less to be edited, less to be distributed, less drafts to write, etc. It would be a lot less work to publish 7 big books instead of 20+ smaller ones. Jan 25, 2021 at 19:55
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    @The Weasel Sagas I would worry about writing one story that can get published, if publishing is the issue. Once you get your foot in the door, people will either buy your stuff or they won't. Your Literary agent and publisher will, at that point, be more than happy to tell you what and how to write (if they want it a certain way). If it sells, 20+ books are amazing. If it doesn't sell, one is what you get. Most people don't even get one.
    – DWKraus
    Jan 26, 2021 at 0:53
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    @DWKraus "Most people don't even get one." This really can't be emphasized enough. Publishers not only don't care about the fact you've got an idea for a massive book series, it is likely to actively turn them off. Focus on writing a single story in a single, ordinary-sized book first.
    – nick012000
    Jan 26, 2021 at 12:41

Focus in on the book in front of you, and do whatever it takes to make that one the best book it can be. If that means you only get to a fraction of the plot, characters and settings you want to cover, that has to be okay. You can't write a good and successful book if your mind is fixated seven (or twenty) books ahead. Your best, and really only hope of anyone publishing, or even reading, more than one book by you is if you give the first book your all.

It took me two decades to realize every book is two books, the one you write for yourself, and the one you write for your readers. The book you write for the readers is the one you publish, and you must be ruthless in making sure that everything in that book is for the sake of the readers' best experience.

Massive worldbuilding definitely makes for a better book, but not if you force it all onto the page. It's the weight of what you don't say and don't include that makes the part that's in the book feel three-dimensional and real.


How much of that belongs in the same story?

If you've had a bunch of neat ideas, they don't necessarily all belong together. One of my favourite authors, Charles Stross, has had two major series running at the same time (one a take on the old "parallel worlds" thing, and another a grimdark Lovecraftian magic/spy series), plus a future-humans series of novellas in the vein of Last and First Men, plus one space opera setting where he wrote himself into a corner after two books, plus another space opera setting which is currently 2 books and a novella and still running, plus short stories... You get the idea! On his blog, he also regularly throws out elevator-pitches for stories which he thinks sound neat but he doesn't intend to write - they may or may not get lifted by his fans and turned into proper books, and that's all good as far as he's concerned.

How many of those characters are important for telling the story?

In Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams, the lead character calls on a number of minor characters to add their magical strength to his. Unfortunately the result is a bit like those characters only exist to be backup Duracell batteries, which is a shame.

This doesn't mean you should have "plot armour" though. Typically there will be some major characters who the reader can expect to survive to the end, but minor characters may die, sometimes unexpectedly. This may be in a way which gives the characters a satisfyingly epic arc (Boromir in LotR, Hendel in Sword of Shannara), or it may be "we're grimdark here and people just die" (Ygritte in Game of Thrones).

Do they result in a satisfying story arc?

Most of us have watched Game of Thrones - and most of us were disappointed by the last series. The existential threat to the world, centuries in the build-up and kicking off in the first book, is solved in seconds by one person with a knife. BORING! And a character who we've been watching develop her leadership skills from the first book does a heel turn for no real reason. BORING! All the complexity and intrigue we've been following for hours of storytelling, and it's ruined by a crappy sub-WWE conclusion. If you've got an epic plot to tell, do make sure the conclusion is appropriate.

Can you even sustain 7 books?

GRRM shows no signs of ever finishing the books of Game of Thrones. Which is his right, of course - as Neil Gaiman rightly points out, no author owes their fans a book. But sticking with a series is an investment in time and emotions from the reader, and no author is owed money from their fans. A significant number of people aren't going to buy more books from GRRM, or Patrick Rothfuss, or Scott Lynch. If you're doing this for a living, be realistic in what you can manage.

  • Your description of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn fails to ring any bells whatsoever regarding the contents of that series. Jan 25, 2021 at 21:59

There is no good way to do that. Did you have a long arc on the series? It may still be too long to put it into one book. And if you did that would be a very very long book most publishers would not buy.

What you need to do is start over using all your ideas piled on the side so you can select some to use.

Write your premise then do a log line.

Write an elevator blurb then do a synopsis.
Also do a list of characters and key attributes that matches.

Define how it starts and ends then insert the key way points on the trip from start to end.

Next do a beat sheet. Connect start to finish going through the way points.

Check that the scenes flow in logical sequence with no holes nothing missing and no needless detours.

Throw the excess stuff you did not use into the trash and forget all about those things.

Write. Using the beat sheet as the prompt to write each scene.

  • I just did the math and for the first book, if I were to give equal attention to the "A Plot", the "B Plot" and the "C Plot" from each of the 4 books being compressed into it, then it would add up to around 1250 pages (which is obviously out of the question). However, when I put the focus on the "A Plot" and trimmed the fat from some of the "B Plot" and "C Plot", this added up to roughly 600 pages, so my guess is that this might actually be doable but I still have no idea how I'd structure the plot. Jan 25, 2021 at 1:27

There are a couple questions that need answer before considering the best approach for what you want; I don't know if you have answered them to yourself already, but mayne doing so will make the path to follow more clear.

1. How did you decide what each of the "new" 7 books will contain?

You say your fist book will be the amalagamation of the first four books. Why the first four? How did you decide that number? Was it based just in an approximate of the number of pages? Does something than happens in the fourth book is more important, more interesting, or has more weight that the other 3? If you have already decided the "grouping", then you need to focus on what happens at the begginning and end of each group. You can still have smaller stories or plot points to be solved in bewteen, but what happens at the end of the fourth book has to be a (satisfiying) wrap-up for important things that have happened in the previous three, or at least be a cliffhanger interesting enough to be considered an ending for a story while leaving enough open points for the next one.

2. Is it really one single, big story?

I mean, you say you have 20 books planned; is it really book 1 the begginning and book 20 the end of the same story? Is each book a different story that just happens to occur in the same universe and with the same characters as the others? Is every x books a self-contained story started and finished? With the first one, you need to identify the biggest plot points on the whole story, that will help you separate your huge story into smaller, self containted stories that still move into one simple direction; with the second one, well, the separation/condensation is already done; and with the third one, just write each book as it is.

3. Have you considered an expanded universe?

20 books sounds like a LOT of things to tell, maybe too much for a single story. Even condensating them doesn't guarantee that readers will be kept interested in your story. So, is everything important? Is everything related to the story and message you REALLY want to tell? You should probable extract the most important events of the main story, and write about those. You will still have a lot more to tell, but all those can be part of the lore that can go written in some sort of an encyclopedia; maybe you can write spin-offs to tell other parts of the story from other POVs while your main heroes go on their main quest. You can have some prequels, or even things written for other kind of media. Just because you have a huge, well-thought universe in your mind (and hearth) doesn't mean you HAVE to write all about it in one go. Focus on the important things, then expand them later.


Bottom up.

Don't try and write the whole world into one story. Write it as many stories.

Zoom in on a small part of the world. One or two conflicts and a dozen or so characters. Decide what that story is about. Only explore the world insofar as it benefits that story (Don't worry, not mentioning something doesn't stop it existing.)

Then zoom in on another part. Tell that story. Explore more of the world. Repeat.

As more stories finish you can then do crossovers.

  • So the MCU/Stephen Kingverse method? Jan 25, 2021 at 17:00

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