Category Archives: Series

Author Toolbox #1: Plotting, Sub-Plotting, and Series Threads

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


Hi I’m new to the toolbox meme, and I wanted to thank Erika. I read one of her posts and before I knew it I was signing up too. I regularly post about my latest discoveries. When I’ve spent hours root them out, I figure the least I can do is share.

You’ll note I’ve included some links to previous posts. Not because I’m all knowing—we all know I’m not. It’s more of a just-in-case-you’re-interested kind of thing. Enjoy.

This month I’ve being reviewing plotting, sub-plotting and how to drag the threads through a series. Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far.


Plotting seems straight forward to most. A person telling a story around the campfire knows the tension is increasing, and the twist is a surprise from the listener’s reaction.

Not so true when the work is happening in front of a computer. There may be no one but the writer tapping away, throwing in one great idea after another, and topping it all off with a twist or two.  Eventually ending it by blowing the reader away.

Well that’s the plan. Okay that’s usually my plan. Turned out if I don’t do a bit more planning I land up with something else.

So now I come up with a core idea (usually a mystery) that I plot along a three-act structure, striving for one thing—increasing tension and at least one surprise. Without feedback, I have to use my instincts; later, when the time is right, I’ll pick on a few beta readers.

How do I know I’m succeeding?

Once I get all my bright ideas and twists down I write an outline. Please don’t judge me. I do this as a substitute for people around my campfire. Without an audience, I have to be quite critical to get it right. The final copy looks very similar to a synopsis and I’ll use it when I’m querying.

Since this rarely lets me reach my word count, I need to find ways to enhance the storyline. Adding some depth to my supporting cast works by giving them plots of their own.


I guess the biggest question is where does all the tension come from? The protagonist needs to get something done and one person is out to stop them.

Not always.

Personally, if the antagonist showed up on page one in my work and the two of them battled it out, the story is over before it started. As I’m sure you know, mysteries tend to hide the villain until the end.

The supporting cast can fill in for the antagonist and get in the way of achieving the goal… But they need reasons to do so.

One word that always pops into my head is mother. I’m a perfect mother and never annoy my twenty-something son. He never feels I’m interfering or meddling in any way.

But don’t ask him about it, he may tell you the truth. hehehe

So my protagonist always has mother issues. Sometimes best-friend issues and boss issues as well. Keep the list growing and the sub-plots will be plentiful. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that life can get in the way: broken limbs, engine trouble, lenders, borrowers, unexpected ninjas visitors, unemployment, pregnancy, love, hate, and boredom.

Some links:

Series Threads (and the bible):

I write mysteries and very often mysteries lead to a series. With that in mind I try to keep track of people, places and events. The collection of series’ details is called a bible.

Consistency is paramount when writing something over several books. Be kind to yourself and keep track of it all. Unless the mother figure in the book is constantly dying her hair, losing/gaining weight, and shrinking and/or growing. Plan on some kind of reference material.

It can be as simple as bookmarking a special copy of your work to cutting and pasting a special file for each person, place, or event. No one wants to be the person who has to go all their work looking for their mother’s neighbor’s dog’s name because it is suddenly the crux of the next book.

What have I learned?

That only I know the direction my story is going and how exactly I want to get there. Although I seek out feedback, I don’t always take it. I do, however, give each piece of advice serious consideration, knowing the bones of the story really helps me stay on track.

I work hard at being a good storyteller because only a few have been kind enough to read my work. The ones that do deserve my very best effort and I try to put it out there by doing quite a bit of preparation.

What about you? I know you know something I don’t, so share some of your wisdom that gets you through plotting, sub-potting, and series-fact tracking.

What Goes Into A Story Bible

Facts and nothing but the facts

A story bible has one purpose to record the facts you’ll need to be consistent. It is a reference book and nothing more.

There are as many ways as there are writers. Some methods are: Binders (virtual and hardcopy), using color codes, tabs, and table of contents. Either a grid or mind map with (color coded) links. It doesn’t matter how the information is collected or stored. What does matter is the data is organized in such a way you can find it when you want it.

Here’s a worksheet from Writer’s Digest for a series to get you started.

Bellow you will find four sections that are recommended for all story bibles: They include World Building, Characters, Objects, + Research.

World Building

The genre determines what will be included within your bible. globe-48104_1280Fantasy/SciFi have very different worlds from the contemporary and these elements should be noted at some point.

Here are some examples:

  • The world rules
  • Planets, continents, countries, cities, setting locations
  • Weather or Climate
  • Ruling governments, monarchy, or church
  • Rebels/outlaws/terrorist groups/most wanted
  • Treaties/trade information
  • Magic systems
  • Creature information
  • Religion, spiritualism
  • Legend and lore
  • Science and technology
  • Common transportation
  • Common communication
  • Clothing
  • Possible Fads


There is more than just what they look like. To keep it simple a grid can track the cast of characters and is a quick reference—think multiplication table.

Grids can also track:

  • Relationships between characters (not all feelings are reciprocated)
  • Profession
  • Family
  • Skills and flaws
  • Pets
  • Belief System and culture

Some things are better noted as a summary:

  • Character’s bio
  • Memories/baggage/backstory that strongly influence your character
  • Deep reactions to a place, object, or person
  • Possible character arcs
  • Relationships (not captured in one word) between all characters that drives the story to the inevitable end


There are some objects that will be tracked within the work. It can be as simple purse-948414_1280as the main character’s necklace, a fantasy’s magical weapon, or a clue in a mystery. Whatever it might be needs a quick note.

In my case, it was a purse that suddenly disappeared. Not too good because all her clues were inside.


Anything you’ve collected and need to cite to bring your story to life

Every story varies and because I’m basically lazy, I always take the easiest path. I only make notes as the story happens with a quick copy paste to my virtual binder. I’m sure there are some other methods that keep a person just as organized.

What do you think? Is there anything else I should add?

Gleaned from:

Writing a Series: Consistency

If any of you have written a book and left it open-ended, there is room for a series. Writing a series can be complicated. The biggest challenge is being consistent.

A large percentage of mysteries are serials. So when I wrote White Light, I went the extra mile and made notes—started a bible—on the people, places, things, and events. Most of us do this as a reference anyway. Before giving this a go, I snooped around for more…

Variations by Genrebookshelf-32811_1280

Romances tend to be linked through a theme—firefighters, siblings, etc. As one book ends a subplot of another romance may be just beginning, moving a supporting cast member to the forefront. As the new romance blossoms, different cast members slide into the background.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi series may be linked by the setting. Here the rules of the world must be established early, tracked and honored. My examples are: Harry Potter Series, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, or The Saga of Seven Suns. Some characters change and the timeline can be quite lengthy.

Mysteries don’t just keep the supporting cast but also a certain tone or atmosphere. They range from hard-boiled to cozy and these elements must remain constant throughout. The supporting cast and subplots carry the series forward. However, the settings, and mysteries may change with every book.

Musts of a Series

  • Make the rule; keep the rule.
  • Backstory is a must to keep the reader in the know.
  • Track everyone, every place and every event, using a bible.
  • Choose a time period, and time span.
  • Conflict and tension must escalate over the series
  • Fill every plot hole, keep logic in the forefront.


  • Lampshades, gimmicks, and shortcuts.
  • Changing rules from one book to the next.
  • Not answering all story questions.
  • Resolutions that are illogical, a quick fix or deus ex machina.

Standalone or Not

I’m not sure if it’s me, but I’m seeing a pattern of standalone books within a series. I prefer them to anything else. I’m not forced to read them in order, although I probably will. I feel writers have a responsibility to do their best for the readers that stick with a series.

What do you think?

Gleaned from: