Writing Series

Writing Series, Guest post by Gabriel Valjan @GValjan @iReadBookTours

The key to writing a series is accepting the inherent contradiction between Flexibility and Structure. A writer must make critical decisions. Is each novel episodic, a stand-alone experience, or a narrative train that ends at some point? The late Sue Grafton, who had planned her series according to the letters of the alphabet, passed away before she could complete Z is for Zero. Each novel has rising and falling action, but does the series? What about time? Do the characters age? What about long-term character development?

Writing Series, Guest post by Gabriel Valjan @GValjan @iReadBookTours
Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone is eccentric and likes peanut-butter and pickle sandwiches. The series is set in the 80s. Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski’s caseload starts in 1988 and moves forward in real-time, and yet her two Golden retrievers, Peppy and Mitch, never age. “Vic” divorces, likes her hometown Chicago teams, Da Cubs and Da Bears. Both authors created compelling characters with distinctive quirks and whose lives readers can jump into without too much fuss. Backstory is inferred or incidental in the reader’s relationship with the author. Structure is leisurely, predictable, and familiar, like time with an old friend.

Breaking Bad, from cancer diagnosis to finale, spans exactly two years. Compression here lends itself to a different type of drama. While the medium of television is different from a novel, writing a series is still writing. Vince Gilligan had chosen to serialize each episode with a hyperawareness of the timeline. The comfort level of plugging into a character’s life has evaporated. The viewer must know exactly where Walter White and Jesse are on their journey. There is a premium placed on creating a worthwhile character, otherwise it’s Jack Bauer from the series 24 having yet another awful day. Therein lies the paradox.

When you write a series, conflict and pacing come to you, in an almost mystical way. Character and Conflict are the engine to the narrative train. You get to know the characters, how they tick, hear what they’ll say, and see how they’ll react. Structure builds itself through pacing, the knowing when to shine the spotlight of Conflict and when to pull back on the information you give to the reader. Control the reader’s attention (and interest) by distributing short-term and long-term conflicts. Anticipate and subvert their expectations. Short-term conflicts relate to the plot of the current novel, the long-term arc is a function of a character’s strengths or flaws over the course of several books. Do they become a better person or, like Walter White, a monster? The overall character arc must have an organic logic of its own for the installment, and in the greater arc of the series. The gamble in writing a series is not knowing whether the reader wants comfort food, or change. Or whether they will like what you decide for an ending.

The artistry of the writing in the Breaking Bad series that I admire is that you can watch and revisit the series from a different character’s point of view each time, and understand their motivations and behavior. I hated Skyler White, Walter’s wife, the first time around, but I empathized with her on my second viewing of the series. Like Walt, she wants to protect her family. In the online interviews I’ve read with Gilligan, he said that he remained flexible to logistics and open to input from his team. You as the writer should be flexible and receptive to where your characters take you. Most writers, however, don’t have the luxury of input from other creatives, so a good structural editor is a boon. 

Writing Series, Guest post by Gabriel Valjan @GValjan @iReadBookTours
Gabriel Valjan is the author of The Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

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  1. Hmm a beautiful exploration of series in an article. I read dozens of books that are either series or stand-alone narratives, and one thing I used to find is when characters don't age but time marches on. For example in sweet valley books, characters celebrate christmas not once but dozens of time while completely remaining sixteen...Anyone else find that annoying or just me?

  2. I think this is one of the most significant information for me. And i’m glad reading your article.


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