The book series is a popular thing these days. For good reason, really, as many readers love to get invested into a fictional world and its inhabitants, so invested that they don’t want the stories to end at just one book. You can see this same investment in other forms of media and it’s something television especially has made use of for decades now. While we’ve talked about series writing in the past to some degree, today I’d like to talk specifically about the plot and pacing of a series as a whole.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the first hurdle is to decide just how serialized your series is. If the project is lightly serialized or not serialized at all, there’s little need for long-term planning. With each series book being so compartmentalized with no over-arching goal, you only need to worry about the plot of each book as you begin to write them, simply incorporating what changes in canon and characterization are needed from the previous volume. In essence, each book is plotted and paced as their own entity with no need to worry about the overall ‘series’.
The more serialized your series is, the more you need to focus on the planning of the overall plot. As our previous article talked about the story arc plotting of the individual ‘chapters’ of the serial, we are going to focus today on the health of the overall story of the serial. Just as you can’t forsake individual books in the serial, you can also not let the plot or pace of any one book ruin the overall storyline. It’s a symbiotic relationship, really, and you have to balance the needs of the book versus the needs of the serial.
The hardest part of the balance might be in the pacing of events. Just as every book should follow a dramatic curve of events, the serial overall should follow that same curve, which can lead to interesting balancing acts. How do you balance, for instance, a book’s rising action when that book lies squarely in the series as an area of falling action after the initial hook? What about the ending of the first book of a serial where the denouement of it might fall into a section of the overall plot that should still be part of the rising action?
I’ve found the best way to resolve these inconsistencies is to think of the dramatic curve in terms of relative action. If the dramatic arc of the entire serial is a much larger, grander curve than those of the books, any out-of-place dips or rises of individual volumes have proportionally less impact. Think of them as small deviances on the larger plot curve instead of the more dramatic dips they would be on the curve of an individual book. So, yes, a book set in the falling action region after the initial dramatic hook can still have its own rising action, just so long as it is relatively at a lower level of dramatic tension then what came before.
The real thing to watch for is to ensure that the overall dramatic tension, the ‘stakes’ if you will, never falls too far. Remember, on your standard dramatic curve, you never dip below your starting point, even in a state of falling action. The plot must continue to build, it just slows down and relaxes some from time to time to allow the reader to process and recover, as well as allow you, the author, to properly pace things. What you want your plot dramatic curve to be, with that in mind, is the arcs of each of each book as one continual line, each with their own builds and drops and denouement, using the falling action and denouement of some volumes to bring the curve down enough to let the series overall have its ‘breathing space’, but never bringing the entire curve down lower than the last dip.
Now I wish I had any skill at art or the like, because I could really use a visual aid here! I hope, though, that my overall point is clear. The plotting and pacing of a serialized series is just the same as for a book, but on a much larger scale. There is a strong relationship between the plotting of your books and your series, and you must work to balance both. One cannot survive without the other!
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Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!