The definition of a series is probably quite fluid. It could be over a short period of time with a beginning and end – like Broadchurch – or over a longer term with the same characters – like Midsomer Murders. Whichever way you choose to do it, it takes some long term planning.
When I was a very green writer, scribbling away desperately on my first novel, I envisaged vaguely that it could be a series. I had no firm plans about how to accomplish this (crazy, isn’t it?) apart from that I’d go about it slightly differently. Instead of the series being led by the main character, they would change for each book. The police officers remain the same, because the series is set in the same town, but I wanted a different protagonist to keep things fresh. One of the police officers has his own novella, but in theory that sits outside the series.
However, when I had Book One structurally edited, it was suggested that the protagonists would make good series characters. This wasn’t something I’d considered before so it really made me pull up short. I began to think about how I could make them series characters, but what would happen to the second book I’d already finished and the third that I’d begun writing? The main character in the first book makes a cameo appearance in Book Two, but I couldn’t see how I could rewrite him into the lead role. He is nowhere to be seen in the third book and if I’d tried to shoehorn him in, kicking and screaming, it would be really obvious.
So it’s clear that if you’re hoping to turn your book into a series, think about a few key things first:
- Are your main characters strong enough to carry a series? If not, then you need to beef them up, or come up with some new ones.
- In the case of a murder mystery, is it realistic that they could come across so many murders without people asking questions? I read somewhere that you shouldn’t have a journalist as a main character because their motivation, as reporting on the story, wouldn’t be strong enough. This is another piece of advice that I ignored and gave him a damn good reason to investigate.
- Do you have enough legitimate plot ideas to turn into a series? You need to make sure every book is believable or you’ll lose the readers. I’d say you need to think up at least four ideas before you start working on a series, and have a skeleton plan for each of them to make sure they’re sustainable.
In the end, I’ve stuck with my original plan. Book Two will stay as is, but the third book I’d started has been shelved (no pun intended) for now. Its link to the town in which the other two books are set was a bit tenuous, so I’ll need to have more of a think about how I use that one. Instead the third book in the series will return to one of the protagonists from the first book, bringing her to the fore. She’s a journalist too, but also has a reason to investigate that is wider than it just being her job.
I also now have an idea for the fourth book and the ghost of an idea for another novella involving that same police officer, so I’m cracking on.
But I still wish I’d known more about creating a series before I’d set out. Hopefully the readers will like what I’ve done with this series, but only time will tell.