Monday, January 21, 2013

How Not To Plot a Series

I read over a dozen fantasy series.

I’m currently reading the fourth book in an urban fantasy series I’ve enjoyed so far, but this book just hasn’t grabbed me as a reader, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  Some of my answers will help you as a writer, whatever kind of genre fiction you write.


This bad guy is the super villain of a series or part of a series.  Whenever the main character kills him or stops him, he comes back in the next book.  

Sometimes, this works as in the case of Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.  One of the reasons Voldemort works is because in the first part of the series he’s not really there.  Instead, bits of him are there in the person of one of his loyal followers who is trying to bring him back from the dead or as avatar from a diary.  Harry and friends succeed in stopping him and his followers each time.  By the time Voldemort finally comes back, the reader is invested in the good characters and their goals.  Voldemort’s power keeps increasing in the following books and the good characters have goals to reach to stop him.

Sometimes, the super bad guy doesn’t work.  In the book series I’m reading now, the bad guy has died several times, yet he keeps hopping back as the same powerful bad guy in each book.  He just died again, and I’m not a quarter of the way through the fourth book, and his means of hopping back has already been stated.  This bad guy who will not die makes me less invested emotionally in him than if he were a whack-a-mole in the arcade game.  Same-old same-old doesn’t cut it for a bad guy.


You can’t have some form of apocalypse looming at the end of each novel.  The end of the world is so big that it carries very little emotional investment in the reader who knows that the world won’t end in this novel because the series will end.  Instead, make stopping the apocalypse the final goal of the series and let each book work toward that major goal, one minor but important goal at a time.  

Make the goal personal or specific for the main character.  A loved one or an innocent child to be saved carries much more emotion for both the main character and the reader than some vague object as part of a treasure hunt of apocalypse-ending talismans.  


If there is a desperate situation and one choice to save the day is mind-numbingly stupid or suicidal, don’t let the hero choose that choice immediately.  Instead, let him try some of the obvious safer solutions first until he either runs out of time and must try the suicidal solution.  Most of us don’t want our main character suicidal, stupid, or a stick puppet for author plot laziness.

For more information on this subject, I suggest you look at my articles on character goals, plot, and book series problems.

No comments: