Wordy Wednesday: Writing with “Series Potential”

So, obviously the Paper Towns premiere yesterday was a highlight of this week. However, I got to do some other fun stuff too since last Wednesday. Thursday I explored the High Line park for the first time, which was as gorgeous and cool as everyone says it is. Then Friday Camryn (yes, that Camryn), Ariel (yes, that Ariel), Ariel’s best friend, and I went on a pizza tour of New York, then to the Hunger Games exhibition in Times Square. (Yes. That exhibition.) And it was all amazing.

We learned so much about the making of the Hunger Games film adaptations, saw so many costumes and props, and nerded out in general over the series.

  
I also spent a few hours this afternoon in the Museum of Natural History, then read in Central Park, and I hope I never fall out of love with this city (not that that’s probably even possible).

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. (Thanks to Ariel for suggesting the topic!)

If you’ve ever queried a novel you hoped would become the first in a series, you’ve probably heard about the myth of “series potential.”

Basically, while you can hope someone will pick up your novel as a series, you can’t pitch it as that, because it sounds cocky. (Also, you know, it’s just easier in general to sell a single book than a series when you’re a debut author.) So instead you have to pitch your novel as being a standalone that you could expand into a series, if someone really wanted you to.

This is easier said than done, though. A book that stands alone that could also naturally flow into a longer series is like a cat that could also be a dog. (They’re things that look similar on the surface, but are very, very different at their cores. So now try smashing those into one thing. You get a whole new species.)

Of the five novels I’ve completed, I wrote three with the hope that they’d parts of series. These are some of the ways that I’ve gone about writing with “series potential.”

Make the Novel Stand on Its Own

This is the most obvious thing, and also one of the most important things for series in general. The novel needs to be able to stand on its own, with a plot that resolves and completed character arcs. It should follow dramatic structure. It shouldn’t read like the prologue to another book. It really does need to work as a standalone.

Every novel you write should read like it is the story you mean to tell. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get to make that story one element in a larger picture. But when you zoom in so the first novel is all you see, it shouldn’t feel like you’re missing something or looking at the wrong place.

Leave Loose Ends

On the other hand, you also need to make the reader want more. So, leave loose ends–just not in any way central to the story you’re telling. Maybe you leave a very minor subplot unresolved and touch on it again right towards the end, to remind the reader it’s there. Or maybe your protagonist’s character arc is complete at the end, but it’s clear s/he still could do a lot more growing in the future.

You don’t want a big cliffhanger ending. But you do want the cliff to be right there waiting, should the agent/editor choose to push the series over the edge.

Hint Towards More

This corresponds with leaving loose ends, but is slightly different. Whereas loose ends hint towards something specific, it also helps to hint towards the potential of more books in general.

I know this is a movie (and at this point kind of a dated reference; goodness, I’m getting old), but let’s look at The Incredibles. It’s a really solid example of a standalone with series potential.

At the end, the Incredibles meet the Mole and we get that shot of the heroes going off to work. It gives us an idea of the direction their lives are going and the fact that they could potentially have more stories to share in the future. However, it doesn’t give us anything specific; we know a future movie wouldn’t be about them facing the Mole, because:

a) we’re already seeing him at the end AND (and the “and” is the important part here)

b) it’s not some big “aha!” plot twist that we are

This tells us that the Mole doesn’t matter. He’s a stand-in for super villains in general, letting us know that facing many more people like him will be the fate of our heroes.

This kind of ending is the epitome of “series potential,” because it promises your protagonists have future stories to share without making the promise of sharing them.

Aaand yeah. That’s all I’ve got for tonight.

What are your tips for writing a standalone with series potential? Is there anything I missed?

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

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