I’ve seen a lot of writers talk about the importance of writing book series to gain and keep readers, especially as an independent author. But what they don’t often discuss is how to write a great book series, one that will hold your readers’ interest not just for one book, but over multiple volumes.
In Part 2, I explored ways to create and maintain a coherent plot and character arcs over multiple books. In this last installment, we’ll look at how to create continuity in the smaller details that give your story life.
As a writer, you ignore the work of continuity creation at your peril. Detail-oriented readers will spot gaps in your continuity and bring this to your attention–sometimes directly, but just as often in reviews. However, creating continuity is more than simply filling in the gaps. You can also turn it to your advantage to create a more realistic-feeling, lived-in world. It sounds simple, but having strong continuity makes your books better by:
Building readers’ trust in your world building. The details, large and small, you include as part of the backdrop can organically suggest a larger world. Working these details in is a way to deliver information without info-dumping the pages’ worth of exposition in your notebook.
Making it feel like your world persists when the main characters aren’t in the frame. Stories can feel a bit thin when only your main characters seem to have jobs or a family, or when all the important backstory in the narrative somehow relates to them. Adding background detail like references to historical events or places we haven’t seen or witnessed strengthens the verisimilitude of your world.
Adding color and texture. For me, often equally as memorable as a series’ main ideas and characters are those little background details of the world around them. If these details are good enough, they can even steal the show to an extent: think of the visual interest of the cobbled-together Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, or the highly detailed maps in the Song of Ice and Fire series.
4 Ways to Create Continuity
1. Feature returning minor characters. These can (and probably should) be characters you found yourself interested in or who showed promise for growth. It’s even better if your minor characters have arcs and roles that change with time.
2. Make reference to future plot hooks. These can be settings the reader hasn’t visited yet, pieces of history, characters the reader hasn’t met yet, etc. This has the added benefit of making you look clever when these details become plot-relevant later.
3. Reference events from past books in current ones where appropriate. This seems really obvious, but it’s worth restating: Your characters will remember what happened to them in past books. Having them react to or recall these events in later books develops the character and shows how they grow and change in response to their experiences.
4. Mention details–places, species, cultural practices–that never become plot-relevant. For obvious reasons you don’t want to overdo this technique: mention something enough (at least twice), and readers will expect it to be sanguine to the main story, and may get angry when they find out it isn’t.
So why mention it at all? For the same reason you include minor characters, or places we only see once: to create a living, breathing world going about its business for whom the characters are not the center of the universe. How impoverished our stories would be if they didn’t have that kind of rich background stage against which the drama of the story could play out!
In a way, all storytelling is creating continuity. Narrative is a linear art form. By weaving in small details and recurring characters, places and themes, you can create a story with much more depth than the bare words on the page. And isn’t that your ultimate goal?
Other articles in this series: