How to Outline a Series of Bestselling Books

20.04.2017 |

Episode #10 of the course How to outline your novel by K.M. Weiland


Welcome to the last lesson in our course on outlining a novel!

Congratulations! You have now learned how to brainstorm a cohesive and resonant story outline that will, in turn, allow you to write a powerful novel.

Now you’re ready to outline a whole series of books readers will love!


Should You Outline the Whole Series or One Book at Time?

It’s good to have an idea of at least the shape of each of the three acts in your planned follow-up books. Keep track of the big moments you discover early on, which may turn into major plot points in later books.

Beyond that, you only need to explore future books insofar as you have questions about them that affect your current book. Go ahead and finish the first book’s outline and first draft. After that, you’ll have a solid foundation for the books to follow, and you can dive into their individual outlines one by one.


How Should You Structure Your Series?

Outlining a series is where a solid understanding of structure becomes even more useful. Because you can no longer rely so heavily on the easy timing equations of a single-book structure, you must step beyond the facts and into the theory of structure, using your own story instincts to determine how best to control the emotional flow of the overall series.

For example, in a trilogy, you’re usually going to find the following:

Book 1 functions as set-up, an origins story of sorts—in which the protagonist first encounters the main conflict and probably experiences an early victory.

Book 2 is a descent into the darkness of the conflict—in which the protagonist is often temporarily overcome, facing a dark moment of defeat.

Book 3 then signals the climactic period—in which the character rises from his defeat into his final heroic pose.

Of course, the timing will depend entirely on how many books you’re featuring—which is yet another reason outlining your overall story idea in the beginning is incredibly helpful.

Figuring out how to outline a series is a tremendously exciting and fun challenge that takes the principles of storytelling up to a whole new level. As useful as outlining is when writing a standalone book, it becomes vastly more so in creating a cohesive and powerful series that grabs a reader from installment to installment and resonates deeply in its final resolution.


Wrapping It Up: The Most Important Takeaways

As you’ve discovered during the past ten days, a good outlining process is all about identifying a story’s big picture, then digging down to figure out how to best put the pieces together to achieve the desired effect.

It’s a process of discovery.

It’s also a no-pressure process.

You get to play around in your story with no worries about getting your prose right or making sure readers will like your protagonist.

Remember these three key takeaways:

1. Outlining is brainstorming.

Outlines should encourage creativity, not inhibit it. Use outlining to explore your story’s possibilities. Look at the big picture first, examining what you already know about the story, then zoom in on the details—the overall structure of plot and character arcs, then the chain of action and reaction within each scene.

2. Plot, character, and theme must be outlined together.

You need all these integral aspects to create a powerhouse novel. None of them live in isolation. Instead, they live in symbiosis. Whenever you work on your plot, consider its effects on character arcs and theme—and vice versa.

3. Don’t impose structure on your outline; use your outline to find structure.

Strong structure is what separates great novels from great ideas. But don’t approach structure as a formula you must impose upon your story. Nurture the story itself, identifying its major structural moments and strengthening their timing to create a rounded and emotionally powerful story.

Like all of writing, outlining is work. It requires discipline, focus, and clear goals. Pay attention to your creative needs—what works for you and what doesn’t. Concentrate on finding and refining a process that gives you the best shot at your best story. That’s the power of the outline!

Happy writing!

-K.M. Weiland


Join K.M.’s mailing list to receive her twice-monthly e-letter full of writing tips, answered questions, creativity jump-starters, inspirational quotes, and updates about new books and workshops. You’ll also get all three of her free e-books: Crafting Unforgettable Characters, 5 Secrets of Story Structure, and The Complete Outline Transcript of Storming.



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