Exploring Three Ways to Structure Your Book Series
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I’ve always been drawn to book series, both as a reader and a writer.
Perhaps it’s the depth a series can achieve, allowing for rich and expansive storytelling, or simply because I long to spend more time with the characters I love. From a career standpoint, series also offer authors the opportunity to build upon their backlists with related works, encouraging book sales as readers return for more of what captivated them in book one.
Think you may like to write a book series of your own? It’s important to note that not all series are created equal. In fact, there are three distinct ways you can structure a book series, and understanding which structure is right for your stories and career goals is key to setting yourself up for series success. Today, let’s break down these structures together.
An overview of three popular series structures…
If you’re thinking about writing a book series, the first thing you’ll want to consider is which type of series you’d like to craft. Series are typically defined by the arcs or other ties that connect them, and it is these elements that also differentiate the three main types of book series you can write: dynamic, static, and anthology series. Let’s take a look at an overview of each now:
#1: Dynamic Series
Many modern book series follow a character or a core group of characters as they experience a series of troubles or adventures. Each book in this series structure typically features at least one distinct arc of its own, while a series-long arc often ties the series as a whole together.
Typically, series of this nature also see their characters develop as the series progresses, whether for better or worse. Because this type of character arc is frequently called a dynamic arc, I’ve chosen to dub this particular structure a dynamic series.
Examples: Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, Outlander, The Hunger Games, and The Millennium Series…
#2: Static Series
Like dynamic series, each book in a static series follow the same character or group of characters. In this case, however, these characters don’t develop in any major ways over time; they remain static. Instead, each installment follows a new adventure in their lives in which they must make use of their unique skills to overcome a problem.
Some static series do repeatedly feature a prominent antagonist, but most series of this nature don’t contain a series-long plot arc.
Examples: Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Nancy Drew, and Indiana Jones…
#3: Anthology Series
Unlike dynamic and static series, anthology series are a beast all their own. Rather than being defined by a common character or story arc, they are bound by some other defining element, such as their themes or the worlds in which they are set.
Some anthology series may make use of the same characters in multiple installments. However, most books in this structure can stand on their own, with little to no need for the books to be read in chronological order.
Examples: Goosebumps, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Graceling Realm, and a multitude of romance series…
Which type of book series piques your interest? If you’re looking to create an epic series full of action or adventure, a dynamic structure is likely your best choice. Static series are better suited to protagonists with strong personalities and singular story goals, while anthology series are great for connected ideas that don’t feature the same protagonist.
As for their power as a marketing tool, any type of series can prove effective in encouraging readers to return for more. The biggest concern lies with dynamic series featuring a series-long arc, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. If such a series doesn’t take off after the first book or two, it can become cost-prohibitive to continue publishing the series, thus leaving the story open-ended.
Think you know which type of series you’d like to explore? Let’s break down each series structure together in further depth.
Breaking down the dynamic series structure…
Dynamic series are often the trickiest of structures to plan and write because each consecutive installment builds upon the last. Series-long arcs typically demand that writers lay the foundations for their series’ final conflicts in the very first book, meaning the longer the planned series, the more complicated the writing process becomes.
When planning your own dynamic series, begin with the end. How do you envision your series resolving? Where will the events take your characters? Will each installment feature its own arc that builds upon the last, is their one arc that will stretch the length of the series, or will your series feature both individual plot arcs and a series-long arc?
Some dynamic series don’t have a series-long arc. Take Twilight by Stephenie Meyer for example. After Bella and Edward fall in love in book one, each consecutive book threatens their relationship in a bigger way, but there’s no major plot arc established in book one that is carried through to the last book in the series. It’s their relationship and their character arcs that develop through each trial they face.
Many dynamic series do feature a series-long plot arc, however. In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort continues to plague the school through all seven books; in A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros must at last confront the Others and the Long Night; and in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo spends all three books journeying to Mordor to destroy the One Ring.
If you’re not sure where your dynamic series will end, you’ll likely find it tough to write a cohesive series, so don’t be afraid to put the time and effort into planning your series up front. Once you’ve established how your series will end, defining each installment’s major events should be a bit less intimidating. With a destination in mind, you simply need to discover the best route to take you there.
Looking for more guidance as you plan your dynamic series? Check out these related articles:
Breaking down the static series structure…
Compared to its dynamic series counterpart, series that feature a static structure are often less complicated to plan and write. No book’s plot builds upon the last in any integral way, meaning each installment can stand on its own two feet. Though, in some cases, a villain from an earlier installment may return to torment the protagonist later in the series.
Series of this nature are often found on mystery, thriller, and adventure shelves, typically featuring a protagonist with a strong personality who returns time and again to put their unique skills to use in solving crimes, completing quests, or defeating bad guys. In most series of this nature, the protagonist does not undergo any major character development over time, following a flat or static arc instead.
Whereas a dynamic character arc highlights the protagonist's inner transformation over time, a flat arc reveals the protagonist's journey, focusing on their struggle to remain true to their morals and beliefs in the face of conflict and danger.
Though static series can certainly be complex in their own right, they are often less complicated than their dynamic counterparts and can be outlined one book at a time without any specific end goal for the series in mind. This allows the author to continue writing installments in the series until reader interest wanes or they grow tired of writing about the same character.
Looking for more guidance as you plan your static series? Check out these related articles:
Breaking down the anthology series structure…
Unlike dynamic and static series, anthology series aren’t defined by the type of character arcs at their core. In fact, each installment typically features a new set of characters altogether, though it’s not terribly uncommon for the main characters from one installment to appear as secondary characters in another.
Instead, anthology series are interrelated novels that share a common setting (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia), theme (e.g. rags-to-riches romance), or unique niche genre and age market pairing (e.g. Goosebumps being children’s horror). It’s this particular thread that, when pulled, should bind the installments in your series together rather than unraveling them as truly separate stories.
As for the details of each installment in an anthology series, that decision is up to you. The books can feature positive, negative, or static character arcs, rely upon plots of a similar or diverse nature, and even jump between eras or generations. Each installment can truly be plotted as its own book so long as you retain hold of its binding thread, giving you far and away the most freedom in writing a series.
Looking for more guidance as you plan your anthology series? Check out these related articles:
Which type of series should you write?
The answer to this question depends upon many factors. If the story idea you have in mind clearly aligns with one particular structure, that’s certainly the one you should choose. But if you’re looking to decide on the best structure for you and your career goals before developing a particular idea, take some time to ask the following questions:
Do I have the experience necessary to tackle a complex and highly-developed book series?
Would I be willing to leave a series open-ended if it’s lack of financial success meant I was unable to continue publishing?
Would I rather write a series that focuses on a particular character, a complex story world, or a defined themed?
Am I interested in writing within a niche genre or specific market?
Do I truly wish to write a series or am I interested solely in its benefits as a marketing tool?
If you’re interested in publishing your work as a career or side hustle, this last question is especially important to ask. Doubtless, book series can serve as fantastic marketing tools that draw readers back to your work for more of what they love, but don’t underestimate the power of a few fantastic standalone novels either.
At the end of the day, good work is good work — and if you’re writing it, readers will be back for more. So if writing a book series isn’t something you’re truly interested in beyond its commercial benefits, I’d encourage you to reconsider. Book series, in most cases, require long-term commitment. If your heart isn’t in the work, it’s unlikely to be in the quality of your series either.
No matter which path you choose, I hope you’ll do so with intention, making the very best decision for yourself, your stories, and your literary success. Here’s to writing sensational stories, writers, series or otherwise!