Writing a Book Series – Book One as Act One

I’ve wanted to write a series about writing a series 🙂 for a while now, partly because I’m stumbling along, learning as I go, and find that in posting and sharing, I’m learning from others and from the process. I’d love to hear what other writers have learned about writing a book series. Please share your insights, tips, and frustrations, if any. Or, as a reader, things you like or don’t like about book series.

The Necromancer’s Seduction is Book One in a three book Urban Fantasy series. It’s my first book. My first series. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I was thinking. But I guess I wasn’t thinking when the story came, just writing.

Disclaimer: I’m speaking from my experience of writing my series and what worked or didn’t work for me. Everyone has different writing styles and different stories, but that’s also why it’s very cool to hear about people’s different approaches.

There are also many different types of book series. Some are connected by the world and characters, but each book is a book unto itself. The next book in the series may take place in the same world, but may feature different characters facing a separate challenge. Or vice versa. Same characters, different world. And many variations in between.

My series is set in the same world throughout, with the same characters, and has a major story arc that will only get resolved in Book Three. So my Book One has a plot (or in reality a subplot) that gets resolved at the end of Book One, but it ties into and hints at the major story arc that builds and builds until it culminates in Book Three. Think Harry Potter. Each book deals with Harry discovering something about himself and his wizard skills, and resolving one specific threat, but the Voldemort story hangs and builds over everything that happens, influencing things in subtle ways, until the final battle at the end. For example, we don’t learn about Harry being a horcrux until the very end although we are given clues.

I wrote Necromancer Seduction-Book One-with maybe a smidgen of thought to the end of Book Three. And now, after writing the first draft of Book Two and starting Book Three, I’ve altered my mythology some as my characters reveal things to me, and as I develop the story. In hindsight, I wish I would have plotted out my entire series before starting Book One, but my brain is just not wired that way. The story for Book One came out as it came out.

However, despite the changes in my mythology, I’ve made very minor tweaks if any to Book One, and it hit me. I had written Book One almost like it was Act One of the Three Act structure, but for my major story arc. It’s an arc within an arc. Yikes. I do better with diagrams. (Here’s my high tech graphic 🙂


It’s helpful to review the purpose of the Act I or first chunk of a book. Usually, an author introduces the main characters, the basic plot, clears up any important action or events that occurred before the book began, maybe introduce a subplot or two, and some basic clues. And usually, the first chunk ends with a major action scene or complication that carries the story into the second chunk. (Sometimes sagging middles occur because too much was given away in the first chunk.)

What really made me realize that I had treated Book One of my series like the first chunk was that I hadn’t given too much away. I introduced the main characters and gave some insight into their background, but not everything. (For example, my hero Ewan has a major back story problem that impacts his life immensely and I’m not telling what it is until Book Three, although I provide some hints along the way.) I did slip in some basic clues about the world and past events that are important to the overall story arc in Book One, but I’m talking slivers because more wasn’t necessary. The rest comes in the subsequent books.

With Book Two, I reveal lots more, like an Act II. The purpose of Act II or the second chunk: add more complication, grow the seeds planted in the first chunk, provide new clues, expand and inform. The threads are still loose, but closing in. Usually, the second chunk ends with a bigger bang, but we don’t know how things will work out. And in the third and final chunk, pacing increases because we are solving problems and tying everything together. That’s basically how Book Three is panning out. A rush to the endgame, which was mostly revealed in Book Two. There are a few more surprises in Book Three, but it’s basically a race to the finish line.

Using the Three Act structure as a lens to view my three books helped me organize my series in my head, and how much to reveal in each book. Any thoughts and suggestions to share on how you organized/structured your series?

In my next post on writing a book series, I’m going to discuss character arcs and relationships throughout the series.

13 thoughts on “Writing a Book Series – Book One as Act One

  1. I love writing series because I love secondary characters who suddenly decide they deserve their own story. With each book, I like to think of it as “saving the day” with the overall story arc for the series as “saving the world.” I try to end each book with a “Whew! That was close!” for the readers, but leaving the worried about what will come next.

    • Hi Alexis, that is a fantastic point about secondary characters. You have space in a series to explore and provide depth to some of your secondary characters. I looove some of my secondary characters, even wrote a short story about one that I think I’m going to offer as a freebie on my site once I get organized. That is a great point: saving the day vs saving the world. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Morning Mimi, yes series writing can be fun and confusing at times. Muses are likely to hold back “secrets” long after you think you have covered everything in book one….. until book 2,3, or even four. What a joy. I too, thought I had enough backstory in book one of my series – What did I know? – They just keep coming up with “new stuff”. I have since quit trying to figure it all out and go with the flow. Makes for an exciting read and keeps your readers saying things like, “I didn’t know that…” So have fun. So looking forward to reading your series!

    • Hi Virginia! I don’t know how you’re going to keep your, eh?, ten plus books together??? You continue to amaze me. But yes, the muse keeps slipping in new things and it’s both exciting and frustrating. And it’s at the frustrating moments that I do throw my hands up and let them take me along for the ride. Thanks for visiting and please come back and share more of your knowledge.

  3. I have three series going, and each has a different method to it. The first one, I kind of stumbled into before I figured out that, for me, I needed an over-arching storyline that unfolded across multiple books. So the first book of the first series was kind of episodic and, in many ways, the second book acts as the first because, by then, I’d figured out where the whole thing was going. With the second series, I developed the overarching plot first, and then populated the books, each with a different hero/heroine. In the newest, which I’m releasing as a serial, the books will be more episodic in terms of their external story arc. I just go with the flow!

  4. Mimi, I also am writing a triology that is serial in nature. The same characters are featured in each book. I think the hardest part of writing a serial is that you can’t tie everything up at the end of each book. The challenge is to tie up a few things to satisfy the reader but leave enough clues and unresolved issues to entice that same reader into the next novel. And you are correct, it is really the three scene format spread over three books….thanks for sharing!


    • Hi K.J., thanks for the insights. I agree. That is one of the challenges, what to tie up in one book and what to leave hanging without frustrating the reader. I have read a series where one of the books ended on a ridiculous cliffhanger that was more frustrating than anything. In fact the book seemed pointless. The author dragged out the major story arc unnecessarily without moving the story forward. It was almost like a filler book.

  5. Series are definitely a challenge, developing the volume plots and the overall plot. Should they stand alone or be tied together? Which character you’ve fallen in love with do you have to kill to keep the story going? Then something I certainly didn’t know when I started the series, how deep into the story do you write?

    I have one series I’ve worked on on-and-off for a while. Actually it was my ‘trunk copy’, that first thing you ever did that gets put in the bottom drawer. Like most writers I figured it would never see the light of day again, but I loved the character too much to let her fade into oblivion. So I took out volume one, edited it, wrote out an overall synopsis and sent it to my agent. She made me dump the first half of Vol.1 and bring in part of Vol. 2, and now she’s presenting it to publishers.

    Since I had to hack up Vol. 2 for material, I needed to rewrite it too. Back to the question of how deep do you go… When I started this story I knew NOTHING about writing so I kept telling the story, going on to the next volume, then the next, until I had 6 of them. Fortunately I can say they are all first-drafts. Talking to other serial writers and my agent, I was told to ‘move on’ to other works, until she sells Vol. 1. No point obsessing until there’s something to obsess about.

    Boy, is that hard advice to follow. Fortunately my agent provided distraction, suggesting one of my elevator pitches sounded like serial potential… Hadn’t thought of it that way. Got a lot of new research to do.

    So, Series are Tough Nuts to Crack!

    • T.L., Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes. I think I’m struggling with how deep do I delve into the mythology. Maybe part of it is evaluating what actually needs an explanation and what doesn’t need an explanation? I posted a while back about the old Highlander movie, and how they never explained why the immortals were immortal, but it didn’t matter. You could still watch and enjoy the movie and didn’t need that explanation. So maybe part of it depends on how you structure your story. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Love this post. I’m struggling with developing the details of an overarching theme for a romantic suspense trilogy. The first draft of book one is finished (more or less!) and I’ve started the second. I like your iidea of viewing the three books as the three acts. Looking forward to your next post on this subject.

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