Ciao, amici. Last time, I gave you a rundown of what goes into a series bible. This time, we’re going to discuss the first item that goes in the bible—the series premise. A while ago, I posted six steps to plotting a series. That post is an excellent accompaniment to this one, should you want to review it. You can find it here.
Let me be clear… I’m primarily talking about the series that has an over-arching plot that’s too large to be contained in one book (like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter). There is another type of series, the kind that is comprised of standalone novels that can be read out of order (like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond) without confusing the reader. The series premise is a much bigger help in the first kind of series. The rest of the story bible applies to either kind of series, or even standalone novels.
Parts of a Series Premise
The series premise is the over-arching plot from first book to last. There are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your series.
- Story World
- Global Range
- Character Growth
When you think of story world, sci-fi and fantasy typically come to mind. These are the genres that require a lot of building. But every novel, every series, has a story world to consider.
When you create your story world for your series, you’ll need to be mindful of all kinds of things.
- What season is it? Record the month, the climate. The season (the southern hemisphere and northern hemisphere are opposite, so just because you say it’s January doesn’t mean it’s cold outside.)
- What’s technology like? You can’t have a Camaro in Victorian England, but you probably won’t have one in the year 2439, either. Consider things like transportation, communication devices, computing, entertainment, etc.
- What is fashion like? Do the students wear school uniforms? Do the police wear black or blue? Do women wear floor-length bell skirts or micro-minis? Are hats in style, and if so, what kinds?
- What is the governing system? What is the class structure? Is there a lot of mobility and interaction or deep divisions?
- Is this a religion-based or scientific-based society? And what are the ramifications of each?
- Did you create a language? Keep track of the words. Consider writing a glossary to include in the front of back of each book.
- Did you create a monetary system? Make sure you write down the name of each denomination and list them in order from cheapest to most expensive. Also describe them physically if it’s more than just paper notes with numbers on them.
- Did you create magic spells? List them so your spelling is consistent and you remember what each does.
When you plan a novel, you make sure there’s a character arc and a goal achieved. When you’re planning a series, those things are important, but you have to think bigger.
- If you’re planning three books but the character doesn’t change after the first one, you might not have a big enough arc for him or her.
- If the villain is defeated in the first book, is there a mastermind to defeat by the third? If not, this might not be big enough to be a series.
- If the main mystery is solved after the second book, it will be noticeable and undesirable if you add filler to complete the series. (Moving the second book to the third spot and writing a “bridge” book to extend the series.)
In the overview story bible post, I used Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings as examples. In those series, the main characters grew and changed in each book, and the biggest conflict wasn’t solved until the end of the last book. If you don’t have the global range in your characters and plot, you need to shorten the series or make the characters and plot grow.
I briefly mentioned character growth in the last section, but it bears repeating and reinforcing in its own section.
You can have the best plot in the world, but if readers don’t relate to your characters, your novels will fall flat. Each novel needs to show the hero hit a low point then rise to the challenge. He may or may not win at the end (the difference between a dramatic comedy or tragedy), but he has to face his demons and change because of it. With each subsequent novel in the series, the stakes have to increase and the challenges have to be more dire. If your hero defeats the Big Bad in book two, wiping out the remaining henchmen in book three will be anticlimactic, both from a plot and a character arc position. Your hero will always grow more against his biggest enemy than against smaller ones. And his most profound change has to happen at the end of the series, not the middle.
The final book of the series has to serve double duty. It is the end of both a book and a series. That means the climax should make the biggest impact possible. It should be orders of magnitude beyond the endings of the other books. If the first stories end with a whimper, the last should end with a bang. And if they all end with bangs, the last one should end with a supernova. All the series questions should be answered here. (If they were all answered before, you have a few issues to work out.)
How to Write a Series Premise
Your premise can be anything from a series of bullet points to a multi-page document. It doesn’t matter the format, as long as it works for you. Just make sure you’ve answered all the questions that might arise, address all the important parts of your world, and have an overarching plot progression from beginning to end.
Next time, we’ll look at character sheets.