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I saw these, which were partly helpful:

I have an idea for a fantasy book with a lot of content. So far I don't have much written, more formulating the rough outline of what could go into it. There is so much to write about, I am not sure it would fit into one single book. Not only am I am starting to wonder if I should break it into a multi-part series, where each subsequent book follows in a linear timeline of events. I am wondering too if I can have offshoots of books (smaller books or even regular sized books) which delve into particular topics at a deeper level.

I haven't read much fiction in my life, I am mainly a software engineer who likes to read research papers and math stuff, but would now like to write a fantasy book for the mainstream, so hoping to learn what the best of the best do in their multi-part series so to speak.

So for example, the Goosebumps series all seem to be from the same author, but are various unrelated stories, so that's not quite what I'm going for (sorry, Goosebumps are probably the last books I actually chose to read, when I was a kid). Lord of the rings, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter all seems to be series with a linear temporal progression, which is partly what I want to do. But I'd like to find something of inspiration which not only has the multipart temporally linear series of several books, but has offshoot stories like if you were in a video game and go on side quests.

Star Trek or Star Wars might be a good example, where each story is separate but they overall have the same underlying theme. I don't know for sure though, not a die-hard fan necessarily.

What I'm wondering is, how do writers of things such as these successful series decide to break their concept/world into a set of books? Do they decide that in advance / up front, or do they figure it out as they go, writing the first complete book, then figuring out a new thing to evolve it into, write the next book, etc..? Or does it vary by author? If every author has their own approach, what are the key things you should figure out if you are in a similar boat to me?

Each book (after starting to watch Dan Brown's Writing Thrillers Masterclass) should have a clear question the reader tries to answer, which the story answers at the end. But if I just go about writing a single book at first, how can I make sure it can evolve into a series potentially? That is what I'm unsure about, how to know if what you would make would be good as a set of books or a single book basically.

If I had to narrow this question down further, how did JRR Tolkien do it, what was his process? I point out him because he was into making his own conlangs, which I have also done for this book.

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    The Lord of the Rings isn't a series, but a complete story, divided for convenience into six 'books' and published in three volumes. The Harry Potter books were also conceived as a single long story. Conversely, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series began with a single novel based on real events in 1800. The author found himself writing more and more sequels, eventually having to play tricks with the timeline in order to fit all the action into the period of the Napoleonic Wars. Mar 13, 2023 at 9:36
  • I don't know if there is a "correct" way to do it. Or how Tolkien did it. But I'm guessing the typical author who writes a series of books does it by taking the original book and smacking it on the pile of money his publisher offered until the book splits into multiple parts.
    – Boba Fit
    Mar 15, 2023 at 13:22
  • @KateBunting The case of Harry Potter is different from that of Lord of the Rings. Although there is an overarching story, it was clearly split into 7 separate stories, each spanning one schoolyear, and each with their own plot and main enemy (Quirrell and the quest for the philosopher's stone in the first, the Slitherin heir and a murder mystery in the second, Sirius Black/Peter Pettigrew in the third, Moody/Barty Crouch and the Triwizard tournament in the fourth, etc). In that sense, it really is a series, as opposed to the Lord of the Rings.
    – Stef
    Mar 20, 2023 at 15:59

1 Answer 1

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There are two sides to this question,

How established authors do it?

What I'm wondering is, how do writers of things such as these successful series decide to break their concept/world into a set of books? Do they decide that in advance / up front, or do they figure it out as they go, writing the first complete book, then figuring out a new thing to evolve it into, write the next book, etc..?

How can I do it? How can I make sure it can evolve into a series potentially?

Or does it vary by author? If every author has their own approach, what are the key things you should figure out if you are in a similar boat to me?

We should also keep in mind the distinction between loosely coupled works set into the same environment (Goosebumps, DiscWorld, 'The Culture' series, Shining-Doctor Sleep) and single narratives spanning multiple books (LOTR, HP, the Black Tower) Sorry for being nitpicky but I think those distinctions will help when tackling the problem.

How established authors do it?

Straight ahead, if we look at successful series we find a lot of variety in the materials and in the reported "methods". I say reported because writers tend to be a bit jealous of their tricks, and ultimately when they disclose their process we can only take them at their word.

Let's take Tolkien for an example - in LOTR's case, language, worldbuilding and lore are deeply intertwined and almost inextricable from each other, and we have it on accurate sources that the planning for the book spanned years of work. Even if we all had the same level of proficiency Tolkien had, you can see how this 'method' might present some drawbacks - e.g. time.

My suggestion is to disregard this side of the issue wholesale. You can totally refer to author interviews and writing manuals if you wish, but the truth is that what worked for some is not guaranteed to work for you. Even if we were to extrapolate some guiding principles behind writing a series, we would need to take them with a pinch of salt.

So,

How can I do it? How can I make sure it can evolve into a series potentially?

The answer is: first of all, you write a pretty strong first book. If you cannot write one good book, it makes absolutely no sense to worry yourself with the idea of a series. The definition of 'good' is pretty loose here; you might switch in 'marketable', which is dramatically a different concept. But for the sake of the answer let's assume a good book has a set of qualities, as:

  • engaging characters
  • good prose
  • interesting themes
  • a functioning plot line
  • ...

Honestly a lot of novice writers (me included) struggle to finish a book. Writing your first start to end is already quite the achievement. If you can do it, you already have "series potential". This said, I think there are a couple of points you can keep in mind:

  • You don't need to resolve everything in one book. While it's good to have complete character arcs, your main character could reach the end of the books with still some flaw he wasn't able to overcome, or baggage, or skeletons in her closet.
  • You ABSOLUTELY do not need to show all the worldbuilding in one book. Indeed, look up the iceberg theory - most of the worldbuilding is better left under the surface. It's there, but it does need to feature explicitly in one book. Which in turn means that you will always have areas to expand in later, as needed.
  • Care for escalating the conflict. If you want to write a close-knitted series, you need to be careful of what your conflict is (or who the antagonists are). If you prevent the apocalypse in the first book, you will have a serious trouble setting the stakes for the second one. Most of those who liked your first will expect the conflict to escalate (or at least, to be of comparable size). No absolutes, but going from an apocalyptic event to a minor city-wide issue would be hard to deal with.

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