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Tips for Writing A YA Series, a guest post by Rena Barron

I love epic stories. Give me expansive worlds, big stakes, journeys to distant places, far-reaching consequences, and life-changing ramifications. Sign me up. I didn’t set out to write a trilogy with Kingdom of Souls, but it turned out that the story demanded it. I’ll go on the record and say that not every story needs multiple books. Depending on your vision, a story might end up a standalone, duology, trilogy, or more. It was only when I started to tell Arrah’s story and dove into the background of the world that I realized that I had only scratched the surface. 

Backstory is the bread and butter of epic fantasies. You don’t necessarily need to cram it in the pages, but it should be influencing the world, the people, the culture, the tradition, and even the very shape of the landscape. In Arrah’s world, magic is king, but most people don’t have it. The orishas—the gods of the Almighty Kingdom—have long ago defeated the Demon King, whose insatiable thirst for souls almost destroyed mortal and immortal kind alike. But what happens when there’s more to the story? Some bits and pieces the bards and holy scripts left out. When I started exploring the untold story, I lucked on a treasure trove of ways to expand Arrah’s world.

Once I realized that I was officially writing a series, I asked myself some probing questions. How can I sustain tension and engage readers across multiple books? Do I have enough here to make sure that each book has its own arc? How do I weave the world, plot, and characters together in a way that will drive the story forward? Is there enough room for the story to grow across the series? Every book in the series should add something new, expand the story or universe, and complicate matters for our protagonists. Ultimately, they need a reason to exist.

While there is no single approach to writing a series, let’s jump into some things you might want to consider. Let’s call it exploring the three Ps.

Planning

Planning is ongoing and ever-changing in a series. I do my initial research and jot down interesting bits of information and resources that might come in handy. I might write up character sketches, a political or social hierarchy, important historical facts, or map out the land. Once you’ve finished the first book, you have the chance to brainstorm with your agent and/or editor on the potential directions the series will take. Everyone works differently, so some authors might want to do this part with critique partners or alone. It depends on your creative style.

Kingdom of Souls map. Artist: Maxime Plasse

Most people know that I completed my first draft of Kingdom of Souls nearly ten years ago. I ended up shelving the manuscript after receiving a whole bunch of rejections, but I never let go of the story. In 2017, I decided to rewrite it from scratch. I spent time making sure I knew the world in and out before I put a single word on the page. I wrote the mythology, history, culture, magic system, geography, climate, and political structure. Not all of these elements ended up directly in the book, but they each informed the makeup of the world. 

Plotting

Each book needs to have a through-line, goals, motivation, and plot that ideally will tie into the overarching story. It can be difficult to keep up with all the threads, so I find it helpful to have outlines. For those who detest multiple files or extensive outlines, rejoin. An outlinecan brief or as long as you like.

I like to do a chapter by chapter outline using the three-act structure to ensure each of my chapters has a beginning, middle, and end. It helps to see the progression of the plot and the protagonist’s forward motion. This allows me to end each chapter on a hook to entice readers to hopefully keep turning the pages. I write about 5-10 lines for each chapter.

If that sounds too labor-intensive, try a synopsis. Sometimes a high-level summary of your story beats will suffice. With a shorter synopsis, you don’t have to get fussy about the details. Focus on the turning points that drive the story forward. More detailed synopses help with directing the story without going into the chapter by chapter details.

If you’re a visual person, one trick to track the overarching through-line of a series is plotting it on a graph or a timeline. One option is to create a timeline, add key turning points for each book, and compare them across the planned series to see if they work together. For example, if you follow the seven-point story structure, your graph might include a “Hook, Midpoint, Plot Turn 1, Plot Turn 2, Pinch Point 1, Pinch Point 2, and Resolution.”

Ultimately, some people feel that outlining is constraining or counterintuitive to their creative process. In that case, skip it. Again, there is no one right way to approach writing a series or a single book.

Planting

There’s nothing more satisfying than writing a major reveal after leaving breadcrumbs along the way. Together these little seeds tie the individual book’s plot points to the overarching story. They also give an author room to expand into new territory as the series continues.

Something to Consider

When publishing traditionally, you’ll likely end up revising your manuscript with your agent and most definitely with your editor. The changes you make in book one could have a big impact on the story’s trajectory, the world, and the characterization. For that reason, I don’t personally recommend writing the whole series before you seek representation. Again though, everyone will have a different approach here. While I’m a big fan of writing a synopsis early for book two and beyond, I don’t personally draft the next book until I’m done with the significant edits from the previous book.

Writing a series is a daunting task, but with a little planning, plotting, and planting, it can be fun to let your imagination run wild. Alternatively, there is joy in the freedom of writing by the seat of your pants.

Meet the author

Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school. Rena loves all things science fiction and fantasy, ghosts, and superheroes. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French. Rena is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Kingdom of Souls, the first in a trilogy and a 2019 Junior Library Guild Selection. Film rights sold to Warner Bros. with Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”) producing and Misan Sagay (“Belle”) writing the screenplay. Maya and the Rising Dark is the first book in Rena’s middle grade contemporary fantasy trilogy set in Chicago. Visit her online at www.renabarron.com.

About Reaper of Souls

A prince repelled by magic. A king bent on revenge. A witchdoctor who does not walk alone.

Brimming with dark magic, high stakes, and serpentine twists, the second book in Rena Barron’s thrilling YA fantasy saga is perfect for fans of Laini Taylor, Sabaa Tahir, and Tomi Adeyemi.

After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—but it came at too steep a price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom plunged into chaos, and a love that can never be.

While Arrah returns to the tribal lands to search for survivors of the demons’ attack, her beloved Rudjek hunts down the remnants of the demon army—and uncovers a plot that would destroy what’s left of their world.

The Demon King wants Arrah, and if she and Rudjek can’t unravel his schemes, he will destroy everything, and everyone, standing in his way.

Set in a richly imagined world inspired by whispered tales of voodoo and folk magic, the Kingdom of Souls trilogy has been optioned for film by Michael B. Jordan and his Warner Bros. production company, Outlier Society.

ISBN-13: 9780062870988
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/16/2021
Series: Kingdom of Souls Series #2
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

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