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As a very visual person, I have always considered plotting a story to be somewhat like knitting or macrame. How do series authors handle multi novel story arcs? Do they just keep throwing out lines and pick them up when they feel the need to pull together a connection, or is it all planned out well in advance? Is there a technique for keeping track of the loose threads or plotting out a series that is better than notecards/stickies/or a huge whiteboard?

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The problem with finding one answer to this question is that you're going to get "it depends." Some series are not started as series, but simply as a great novel with potential. Others are grandiose epic-like creations that are carefully plotted to a single culmination. It just depends. –  justkt Nov 19 '10 at 13:11
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

After short brainstorming and small talk with myself, here is what I got:

1) You are inventing the next part of arc while working on current.

While writing I frequently experienced a feeling that told me: "Yes, I'm going to use this in the further scene\book". If you feel so, you already should have a next-things list, and put all resembling feelings there. If you haven't got that list, then acquire one.

That is the simplest "technique" available and I think you should use it instead of anything else.

2) One big arc for all novels.

That's it, you've got to invent a one big arc. And you are not going to write a word in any of your novels, belonging to this arc, until you've finished it. I think this plan should be used only for "project-of-my-life" type of things. If you're not going to make something as epic as "The Lord of The Rings", don't bother.

I think the comparison with the World War II will be appropriate:

  • WWII was the one whole world massacre, that changed people mind-basis. (One big integral thing, your arc);
  • Campaigns of WWII are your novels (or even series of novels, if you will look to Eastern Front);
  • Belligerents and neutral countries are your characters;
  • Battles are your plot, and key battles are your culminating points;
  • Local conflicts and controversies are your fillers (and you should not give them much attention).

The problem here, you have to look through the eyes of all your participants to see the big picture. And yet you are not going to fully discern it.

I hope you got me.

3) Hooking

The sweet part of series-writing and desired talent of every bad TV-show script writer is the scheduling talent. But their scheduling is different from standard project-manager scheduling. I guess that subject I'm going to talk about is one of TV-showers community dirty little secrets.

What do we know about TV-shows and series? Well, the Dumas "Three Musketeers" was a series one day, wasn't it? Series have many peculiarities, and one of them is that scripters should give some hooks to future cases in the universe they creating.

But you should consider that hooking may quickly turn into a big disaster, if you will try to bind something to every of your previous hooks. If you have many related events, your bond would be looking awful, unnatural and made up out of whole cloth. "Lost" TV-show looked bad in the end because of too many ties. So did "Prison Break" script. I think 80/20 rule is appropriate here: with 20% of hooks you bind to something and 80% of hooks you leave unused.

That's all I've came to in my little inmind research. I hope others also will have something to add, because the subject is interesting.

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Not to mention Heroes. Now that series had more loose ties than a men's formal wear factory after a grenade attack. –  erikric Nov 22 '10 at 13:21
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Disclaimer: I've never actually written a series before.

I just had a project I was working on kind of explode. It was originally intended to be a short story -- just a pre-NaNoWriMo writing exercise. Then all of a sudden, I realized that I had too many notes for a short story -- this would be a novella if not a full-fledged novel.

I started laying out plot points in WritersCafe, but I'm too easily distracted for an app with so much going on. I ended up writing out bits on index cards and sitting in my son's playroom one day, laying them out on the carpet until I had what seemed like a coherent timeline. Then I transferred it all to Freemind, where most of my notes end up living.

I've been tempted on and off to write a stand-alone timeline app that I can use outside my favorite minimalist editing environment, but as my free time is currently microscopic, not much non-paying work is making it on to my plate these days.

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If you're on a Mac, try Scrivener. literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php Best dang writing program I have ever found. You can put all those index cards onto, well, virtual index cards, and rearrange them however you need. It can be as clean as PyRoom appears to be but with a few more useful tools. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 26 '11 at 14:59
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