In previous posts I have covered some thoughts on plotting a trilogy and a series.
As I was re-reading those posts, I thought it might be helpful to list the steps by book to give you all (and myself) a quick reference guide. (I will be using the Hunger Games as an example of many of the points I plan to make so this is your official "Spoiler Alert".)
Note: The outline I will be following is the Three Act Outline. But I will be explaining how to expand these thoughts into a longer series at the bottom of the post. So stay tuned. :)
Book One (The Set Up Book):
1.) Covers the world as it was. The hero's old world, yes, (which won't return until the series wraps up and is often far different than when they left it) but it also covers the world as a whole.
(Katniss' world in district twelve is introduced in the first few chapters but after that the rest of the book focuses on the expanded world of, the Capital and how it relates to the districts, what the Hunger Games are and why they exist, and other elements that will come into play later on in the series.)
As you can see, much of the world is explained in this first book. And while it is true that the other three books in the series have areas where new information is introduced, the major points of this world are all covered in book on. Just as the first third of a novel is set up to do.
2.) Contains the "Major inciting incident" (each novel will have it's own Inciting Incident but Book One covers the Main one, the one that puts the hero/ine on the enemies radar),
(Book one of the Hunger Games has an inciting incident of Prim getting selected for the Games forcing Katniss to take her place, however, the Main incident of the series is actually Katniss and Peeta both winning the Game and eliciting Snow's wrath)
If Snow had left well enough alone, Katniss would have had no reason to continue fighting. Theoretically meaning there would not have been any other books. That is why I consider this instance to be the "Major Inciting Incident". As you can see form this example, the Major Inciting Incident doesn't have to happen at the beginning of the book.
3.) Foreshadows elements of the next books (and sometimes the ending of the series) this often is a part of the "world that was" element,
(Katniss explains about mocking jays and other Mutts foreshadowing not only how book one ends but also how it will play into the rebellion)
In the set up of stand alone novels the writer often adds elements of foreshadowing so that later on when things get rolling it doesn't seem to come out of nowhere. The Hunger Games (book one) does this as well as we learn about District Thirteen which later becomes a major plot point.
4.) Has several open ended questions (leaving room for conflict in later books).
5.) And wraps up with the Hero/ine in a semi safe place or state.(At the very least, they aren't dead.)
(We know at the ending of Book One that the Hunger Games are not finished. We have no idea what will come next but we know for sure Katniss is not out of the woods yet. Though for the time being she and Peeta are alive.)
Book Two (The First Hurdle Book):
1.) Covers the protagonists first real hurdle. Where Book One had the protagonist surviving the inciting incident and it's fall out, book two will cover the villain's first attempt to go after the protagonist. (In the first book the villain most often isn't even aware that the protagonist is a threat.)
(A good example of this is found in the Hunger Games trilogy which covers the way Pres. Snow attempts to kill Katniss by forcing her back into the arena.)
In book two Pres. Snow holds a special event Hunger Games where past tributes are forced to re-enter the arena. It is implied that he does this specifically to kill off Katniss in a "legal" way. (Or at least in a way that the people would be okay with.)
2.) This attempt at the protagonists life will end in a win for the protagonist. However, some loses are inevitable and will cause readers to sympathize with your Protagonist.
(Katniss makes new connection with former survivors of the Hunger Games only to be forced to fight and kill them later on. Most noticeably, however, is her lose of Peeta by the end of the book.)
3.) Some of the open ended questions from Book One will be answered, but others will not and most importantly new questions will be asked. (This is very important as it keeps the reader engaged.)
(At the end of Book Two Katniss is rescued by a mysterious fighting force, Peeta is left behind and it turns out there are people in the capital who are working against Snow.)
In act two of a stand alone novel, you will find that the first hurdle is designed to lead to the climax of the story and that's what book two does as well. Yes it tells it's own interesting story, but ultimately it has to end with the climax and last act on the Horizon.
Book Three or Final Book in the Series (The Final Climax and Resolution):
1.) This Book covers the final battle, obstacle or trial. The climax.
This trial will be bigger and more deadly than any other the hero/ine has faced before and losses will also be worse than anything before.
(The Hunger Games final Climax was the fight to take the Capital. Several main characters die during this battle, including Katniss' sister Primrose.)
Whether the protagonist wins or loses this battle depends on the story you want to write, but the last book is where it will happen.
2.) In this book all of those open ended questions are finally answered.
(We learn all about District Thirteen and the war they fought a lost to the capital, where Peeta was and see them get him back, and find out what it is going to take to finally get rid of the Hunger Games for good.)
3.) And the Protagonist can finally return to their world. (though in an altered state)
(Katniss returns to District Twelve and lives her life growing old with Peeta. She has lost Primrose and suffers from PTSD which the two deal with together.)
As you can see I mainly stuck with the "trilogy model" as found in the Hunger Games, however this can easily be expanded to fit a longer series.
What you would do is, simply take Book Two and repeat it, but with a different enemy attack or obstacle for you protagonist to overcome. (Or perhaps end book two on a cliffhanger and resolve book two's conflict in book three.) This simply puts off the Final Climax but does so in an interesting way, so the reader sticks around.
Think Harry Potter and the way new challenges are introduced and overcome in every book. Interestingly these obstacles are actually represented in the title of each book.
Just make sure to keep adding new questions for your reader to wonder about, (Again a very important element meant to keep the reader engaged.) and keep the main obstacle that your protagonist has to overcome ever on the horizon.
Such as the way Pres. Snow is still alive and in charge throughout The Hunger Games, or the way defeating Voldemort is always in the shadows of the Harry Potter series.
Thanks for joining me today.
If you have any questions or thoughts let me know in the comments. :)
You can check out my other posts regarding this topic by clicking the links below. :)