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I'm working on a fantasy book series of around 8 books, (might grow, might shrink, I don't know) about a girl who grew up in our world but gets sent by her parents to the fantasy school that they went to (she knows she has powers btw). I know that I want to have a big, bad villain having something to do with the moon who is casting a different curse in each book which is fulfilling some sort of prophecy BUT every time I try and figure it out each book just feels like it's just the same plot over and over: everything's fine in the beginning, the curse gets casted, the characters have to figure out how to defeat the curse, the figure it out and defeat the curse and everything is fine in the end.

All of this is too repetitive and it seems like a serious problem because each book has to heighten the plot not repeat it. I'm not looking for plot ideas just a way to not make each book repeat each other. Any advice would be great, thanks:)

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There are two types of series: the open-ended series and the multi-volume work.

A multi-volume work like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings has a story arch that spans all the volumes. Basically it is like a novel (and Tolkien intended The Lord of the Rings to be a single novel), except that it is longer and doesn't fit into one printed book. In a multi-volume work there is no repetition (apart from the repeated attempts at overcoming the antagonist during the rising action), because the one story progresses from one volume to the next.

An open-ended series like Enid Blyton's Famous Five or Lee Child's Jack Reacher is by nature repetitive because that is their selling point: readers come back to see the same character(s) having the same kind of adventure over and over again. Some details of the story might change, but the overall type of story remains the same: In ever book Jack Reacher wanders into a random town, warns away some thug(s) from abusing a pretty woman, they don't listen, he beats them up, and thus gets drawn against his will into some criminal complot and brings down the crime ring behind it with extreme physical violence. During every summer holidays the five unaging children visit some mysterious place, observe adults doing something suspicious, and through cleverness convict the criminals.

You have to decide which kind of series you want to write. If it is an open-ended type series, embrace the repetitiveness. It will be your unique selling point. If you don't want repetitiveness, you need to come up with a plot that spans multiple volumes and has enough complexity to warrant that length.

The variation in an open-ended series comes from the changing antagonists, locations, side characters, antagonistic plots etc. Every case that Miss Marple solves is different, but she always solves a case under very similar circumstances. The repetitiveness is what attracts readers (or viewers, in an open ended tv series), and there is just enough variation to avoid boredom. Open-ended series are like coming home to a familiar place.

The variation during the rising action of a multi-volume work comes from the hero trying different approaches against the antagonist (or vice versa), changes in alliances, progress in character development, an increase in stakes etc. If all you do is pitting the same characters against each other repeatedly in the same "ring", then that will be boring to read. Think about Harry Potter: From book to book and from battle to battle Harry progresses through the school years, his relationships develop, he develops as a person and character, he discovers more and more information, different aspects of the fictional world become stages for the battles, the story turns more and more bleak, more and more central characters die (e.g. Dumbledore), Voldemort comes closer and closer to winning, and the stakes increase from just Harry getting killed to Hogwarts getting destroyed to the whole world falling under the rule of Voldemort. There is development, and the actual repetitiveness of one battle after another (or one attempt on Harry's life after another) is almost lost to the reader beneath that rich and complex story.

So what would I do?

You need to work out the development of your story over the multiple volumes more and make your world, your characters, and the plot more rich and varied and complex.

Or you cut the superfluous repetitions and write a shorter series with less volumes or a single novel.

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    Harry Potter has the particularity that it combines aspects from both types of series: every book is "one more year at Hogwarts", with the same repetitive structure: summer holidays at the Dursleys, meeting with Ron's family, starting the year at Hogwarts, discovering the new Defense against the dark arts teacher, October holidays and Halloween fiesta, midyear exams, Christmas holidays, etc., with some incarnation of Voldemort or some minion of Voldemort acting as this year's villain, and the trio very slowly investigating this year's mystery (usually by spending time in the library).
    – Stef
    Commented Jun 12 at 18:09
  • @Stef And yet Harry Potter does not feel repetitive at all because (a) most of the repetitive aspects that you listed are part of the story world (kids going to school) and thus happens completely natural and (b) the lives of the readers follow the same repetitive structure (or, if they are adults, once did), while repeated staged battles in a non-repetitive world feel unnaturally repetitive.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 12 at 18:40
  • Yes, I didn't mean to say that Harry Potter was boring in any way. The schoolyear structure is repeated but the story and the character development don't feel repetitive. In fact, the structure helps the story gain momentum in some ways. But it's interesting that Harry Potter uses elements both of a multi-volume and an open-ended series; it's different from the Lord of the Rings which is really one story and for which the division into three books is a bit more arbitrary.
    – Stef
    Commented Jun 12 at 21:24
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    This difference is very visible in TV shows of the past vs now. TV shows used to be open-ended. In Star Trek TNG, they encounter a new weird thing every episode, solve it, and continue on their way. Then viewers started to wonder: can't they use the thing they found 3 episodes ago to solve this new problem? But no, that belonged to a different story. But the show Picard is basically a 6 hour movie cut into 1 hour pieces. If you want open-ended, just write the single story first. If you want more after that, write more. As many as you like. Otherwise, plan where it's going.
    – mcv
    Commented Jun 13 at 16:35
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I know that I want to have a big, bad villain having something to do with the moon who is casting a different curse in each book which is fulfilling some sort of prophecy

This sounds much like Harry Potter. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

Your villain is fulfilling "some sort of prophecy". Maybe your kids know that, but like you, don't know exactly what this prophecy actually is. Where it came from. If it is true. What will happen when it is fulfilled.

Play up the prophecy. In each book, the kids get older, they mature (emotionally and physically, perhaps romantically), and they learn something important about the prophecy and what it means.

Defeating the moon villain by understanding the prophecy and its origin is the 'Long Story', a mystery that they have to solve to save the world. Who made the prophecy? Why? Is there a motive here, or is it just a prophecy of natural disaster? Why does the villain want the prophecy fulfilled? What is their grievance?

Is the villain trying to save somebody they love, or is it just greed or hatefulness for having been wronged? Is the villain just seeking power (kind of boring), or are they trying to use magic to undo, say, the death of a loved one, no matter how many must die to accomplish that?

Figure out the long story. Then each novel is about two things: The immediate new threat of the villain (which is resolved in the novel), and in the process getting some more important clues to the long story -- What, exactly, is the villain trying to accomplish by these repeated plots? What is so important to the villain that they never give up, and keep on trying?

Because (twist) maybe the series is resolved when the kids figure out, not how to defeat the villain, but how to give the villain what they really want without destroying the world.

P.S. The Long Story should also follow the Three Act Structure; just over the course of the series. If you have 4 novels, then each is Act I, Act IIa, Act IIb, Act 3. If you have 8, two novels for each of those. So your team's understanding of the "prophecy" seems to be increasing for half the series, but then turns out to be badly wrong; a big setback in the middle of the series. i.e. the turning points of the Long Story are just spread out across the series.

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Character Arcs

The center piece of every book is the main character's arc. How are they affected by what they experience? How do they change?

You could tell a very interesting story where the global status quo effectively runs through the same arc, but the main character's status quo changes every time.

So the plot is always: People at a magic school have adventures to avoid catastrophe

But the character arc for the first book is:

Ray-of-sunshine MC learns that the world is dark and uncaring, becomes gloomy-pants

And the arc for the second book is:

Gloomy-pants MC decides to make the world a better place, becomes serious-go-getter

And the third book's arc runs like:

Serious-go-getter MC decides they can't fix the world, but they can control their own outlook, returns to being ray-of-sunshine

You don't have to come full circle for this to work, though it might be a fun way to wrap up a series.

The point is, if each book changes the character in a way that feels natural and true, then the repetitiveness of the plot doesn't really matter. At a high level, there's only like 5 plots out there anyway, and they're all recycled over and over again.

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Stop plotting and start writing! Having a framework and lots of possibilities is great but as you get to know your characters by actual writing you'll start to relate their experiences to real-world things you experience or read about in the news. How would your characters react to their pet dragon being arrested for arson or a best-friend going-off-the-rails? These are opportunities to show the depth of your character and turn your story from a 'this happened then that happened' saga into 'this morning she was so confident so why is she so cut-up now?' which will get your reader to empathise or sympathise and want to turn the page to find out more.

Vary who is threatened and their personal problems as a result. Blackmail. Hostage-taking. Mental attacks. Physical separation. False friends. Who keeps sticking pins into dolls? Try to vary the environment so you have Freda and the fjord of doom then Freda fights the chess master then Freda saves the King of Spain. Or something. Vary the pace so for example one book takes exactly a year and the next is a week on a cruise ship. Having an endpoint the reader knows about can be very powerful.

Part of your planning should be to work out how each book ends. Well, at least try. Presumably some satisfying success and some unknown, possibly worrying, or impossible future.

From experience: I started a novel by writing about how we got to the start of chapter one. My main character turned into a hero with seven books now. I never did get to chapter one!

For another book I wrote about 4,000 words then opened a bottle of wine and started sketching lots of ideas. What was it really going to be about? What would be interesting issues? (Note that's not what happens but ideas.) The characters and circumstances conspired to write the novel without needing to reference those sheets of notes but if they hadn't then I'd have been finding ways to bring those ideas to the surface with a bit of conflict. In your case what are the motives of your baddies? Do they know a lot or a little? Just bitter or jealous or greedy? Well-meaning but tripped-up by their own incompetence? What do they want?

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I know that I want to have a big, bad villain having something to do with the moon who is casting a different curse in each book which is fulfilling some sort of prophecy

Honestly, I think you're sabotaging yourself by setting the series up, conceptually, so that each book is that constrained before you've even started sketching the plot outline.

It's not that your statement is really that limiting or inflexible, there are certainly plenty of wildly different stories that could follow that basic framework.

The issue is more that, by approaching each book from that same starting point, you end up coming up with cookie-cutter implementations of the same basic framework. So, naturally each attempt at coloring inside those lines will end up coming out sort of "samey".

Now that you've got that outline, you should write the one story that implements it — that one you keep starting over and over again. What you've really been writing are different drafts of the first story in the series.

Once the first story is finished, then you can worry about the framework for the second story. The events of the first story can (should!) do most of the heavy lifting, in terms of building the framework for the next installment.

Your second big-bad may be a character you only started developing halfway through the first book. Or, some life-altering event that occurred to a character may dictate their next story arc. Heck, it may even set in motion the entire plot of the second book. If you end up leaving yourself a compelling enough unpulled thread at the end of the first book, you may find that the only story you want to write next is the one where you grab that thread and yank it hard. Voila, that's the plot for book two — if not three and later, too.

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