I’m not known for being a plotter. Were I writing a stand alone novel I don’t think it would be something I would find all that necessary. Being however that I’m writing a series, I realize that there are a lot of things that you have to keep balanced in order to make it work. Timeline, characters living and dead, plots, subplots, locales, and the over all story arch that’s going to run in between the series. It’s a lot to try and keep in your head, so I’ve been working on trying to write it all down in a tangible form.
What’s it about? What makes this story worth dedicating more than one book to, or even more than four? This is probably the most important factor and will give you an idea of where the rest of the story goes. For me this also lead into…
Book By Book Summary:
This is an individual summary of each book. Like the overall series summary it doesn’t have to be long (it’s mostly for you) but it gives you an idea of what you want to happen in each book, if you happen to have ideas that far ahead.
This is where things can get tricky. Keeping track of characters, their importance in the story and where then they show up and where they go within the story is vital. You probably don’t want to introduce a character in chapter 3 of book 1, kill them off then bring them back in book 3. In the most recent draft of the first book I have at least 40 characters that we meet throughout the course of the novel, this is definitely a shorter list than most, but it’s a lot to contend with in one book, and it’s made me realize I need to have a timeline of where they are in the book, when they show up, when and if they exit and everything in between. You should also include history and future plans even if never explicitly stated in the book.
Plots and Subplots:
If you’ve ever seen J.K.Rowling’s notes from Order of the Phoenix (which have been making the rounds on Social Media and websites again lately), you’ll know how crazy plots and subplots can get. Particularly when you need to balance what character is in which part of the plot and their importance to that scene. The plot and subplot can make or break your story as much as characters can, so this is where specifics are key. You can’t mince words when it comes to plots and subplots, it needs to be clear where everything is going, and why it matters.
When did I set that scene? Where does the first book start, and where does the last book end? Timeline is one of the most crucial elements to the believability of you work and it dictates everything from how your characters talk and dress to possibly even what food they eat and how they act towards others. Also, it’s sort of difficult to start the book in the Fall, say six months had passed and have it only be Winter. People might be concerned at the weather pattern in your novel, so it’s important to know what’s happening and when. Because you’ll need to add to this, I recommend writing in pencil.
Location, Location Location:
More than just is it a city or is it a mystical land, you should probably know what building a scene is taking place in. What does it look like? What’s the median temperature in the winter? (Yes I did look that up once for clarity). It’s important you have an idea of where exactly everything is taking place, because if you don’t, it’s likely your readers wont either.
After you’ve written your first draft, you should check back on your over all story arch and make sure everything fits. I would also recommend writing a book by book version of this kind of mapping as well, that way you make sure you have an idea where everything is going for each book as well as the overall series. If something doesn’t look right in this map, it probably doesn’t in the book either so it might be something to check out in your next round of edits.