Outlining a Series With the Snowflake Method: Step 1–1/2

Ryan S Kinsgrove
Aug 28, 2018 · 8 min read

Step 1: One Sentence Storyline

I sat down to work on step 2 earlier today, and while I was working on it I realized something rather important. When you’re working on outlining a series you can’t immediately jump into step two once you finish step one; there needs to be a half step between the two. What is this half step composed of? Logistics. This is the point where we decide how many books our series is going to have. (Side note: this half step can also be completed before step one.)

The first major choice is what type of series you want to have.

But, Ryan, isn’t there only one type of series?

The short answer is no. There are a plethora of series types to choose from. As I see it there are five basic types of series. They are single narrative series; multiple story arc series, interconnected trilogies, minorly interconnected single entry series, and single entry series.

A single narrative series is a series of stories that follows a single narrative thread. These series often have books that are somewhat standalone, but become more and more interconnected as the later books in the series build on the former books. A good example of a single narrative series is the Harry Potter series. Probably the first three or four books in Harry Potter can be read as standalone books (the first book I read in the series was The Prisoner of Azkaban, and I didn’t have a problem catching onto what was going on, had I started at book five or six I would have been completely lost). The same could be said for Stephen King’s Dark Tower cycle, or Andy Peloquin’s Hero of Darkness series. The first couple of books are easy to slip into, but past that you really need to know what happened in the books before to understand the primary line of the story’s narrative. (I also believe this is nowhere more apparent than Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time series, though I’ve not read through the whole series yet so I can’t be one hundred percent.) I would also consider George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire a single narrative series, but not one that can be easily picked up past the first novel. (Of course the first novel can’t be picked up easily either, at least for me it couldn’t.) As an example from my own stories, I’ll be using the story I’m outlining for this project, The Dragon God’s Canticles will be a singular narrative series, as well as a series I’ve been poking at for a while: The Elementalist’s Apprentice.

A multiple story arc series is a series of books where a certain number of books tell an almost self contained story arcs. They’re interconnected, and tell just enough of an overarching story not to be included in one of the other categories. I’m also defining a self contained story arc as a story arc that spans across a number of books, but not over the totality of the series. Most often, examples of this type of series would be a series of novels that are serialized. Each complete book of the serial might be part of a single entry series (think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his series of novels focused on the character of Sherlock Holmes), but I would still consider them falling under this category because they share elements with the prior stories and do build on one another to a small extent. A more modern example of this sort of series would be Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mystery series. I find these books are broken into story arcs mainly due to the relationships the primary character has throughout X number of books. Like Sookie’s relationship with the vampire Bill Compton is the focus of the first three (maybe four, can’t remember) books, and after that her relationship with Eric Northman picks up, and so on and so fourth. The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas is a similar example with the first two books focused on the relationship arc between the main character, Celaena Sardothian, and one of the male love interests, Chaol Westfall, while books three through five focus on the relationship between Celaena and Rowan, a fey character introduced in the third book. (If you haven’t noticed, most of these arc related series are closely related to the romance genre.) An excellent example of this, in a fantasy context, is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m sure you’re all confused at this point, but yes, this is a series of novels that is broken into two separate story arcs. What are the story arcs? (If you’ve read the books you know what I’m talking about.) The story arcs are Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor and Mount Doom, and the story of Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, et al., as they battle against the forces of Sarumon and Sauron. The books themselves are broken down into two book sections, with one book dealing with Sam and Frodo, and the other book dealing with the rest of the fellowship of the ring. One of the series I’ve been working on is going to fit this format, as it will basically be four novels serialized across several smaller volumes. The series is going to be titled The Raven Stone series (sign up for my mailing list[link to upscribe form] if you want to keep track of all my little bits of insanity) and will focus on a small group of misfits as they travel across an alternate history version of our earth.

The third category is interconnected trilogies. These are series that are based primarily on the trilogy structure. That means the characters and settings are basically the same between each trilogy, but the stories are contained wholly in that trilogy with only tiny elements of it following along into the other stories. This is the way ninety percent of the Star Wars Legends stories are structured. It’s a perfect example, with only minor elements (a character here, a setting there, that sort of thing) following from one trilogy into the next. Another factor that relates to this is that all of these stories are considered canon (in the case of Star Wars Legends they were considered canon at the time they were written) and therefore are an important part when other stories are being written about this world. Another example of interconnected trilogies are shared world series (these pretty much function the same way Star Wars Legends did). (A short definition of a “shared world series” is a fantasy or science fiction setting that multiple authors contribute too.)

The next type of series is the minorly interconnected single entry series. This is a sort of series where some elements of the story (characters, locations, and such) are held over from story to story, but the main characters and the primary story are almost entirely separate from the other entries in the series. A narrative arc might be constructed, but if it is this arc will come from the interaction of secondary and tertiary characters. It won’t be a quick to resolve story arc, and there might be multiple entries in the series where the story arc isn’t mentioned at all. The series will build on itself, after a fashion, by taking the main characters from the earlier entries and turning them into secondary and tertiary characters in the later additions to the series. And the aforementioned narrative arc will almost always culminate in an entry where some of the primary secondary or tertiary characters are finally getting their time as the main characters of the story. This is the way I’ve seen a couple of paranormal romance series structured, and the first example that jumps to mind is Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series. This series could almost cross classify as a multiple story arc series, as the way Mrs. Kenyon has structured her series is that the secondary and tertiary characters will slowly build a story arc over five to ten books, before the “main” character among the secondary and tertiary characters will get their story told, thus ending that story arc. This book will also serve as the starting point for the next slow to build story arc. (I think this type of series is almost completely unique to the romance genre as one of the most important tropes in the romance genre is the Happily Ever After moment, and in a traditional series it is hard to get that Happily Ever After moment, and the bastard cousin of the Happily Ever After moment, the Happy For Now moment, only works so many times before the fans become very disgruntled with the author of the work and start to lose interest in the series.)

Now, the final series type is the single entry series. This type of series is almost singularly unique in the fact that the books DO NOT form a cohesive story. They don’t build on themselves, and the main character (who is typically the same character from entry to entry) always feels like the reset button on their character development got hit when the new story starts. The mystery and thriller genres are the most frequent perpetrators of this series type. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes falls under this category (being cross classified from the entry above), as does Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot character and the mysteries he solves. James Bond, by Ian Fleming, is another culprit. Along with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, and Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery series all fall under this classification. If I tried I’m sure I could find about a hundred more examples (honestly it probably numbers in the thousands). These books may occasionally touch on story elements from other entries in the series, but it is far from typical for that to happen.

And, where does that leave us at the end of this half step. I’m pretty sure I answered that question when discussing the first type of series. I’ll be aiming for writing a single narrative series when it comes to The Dragon God’s Canticles. This is also the type of series outline I’ll be using for The Elementalist’s Apprentice series when I finally find my way around to working on the rest of the first draft of the first book, all before I completely invalidate what I wrote by writing out the outline after I wrote the first book. And, I’ve got two other examples I can point at too, while we’re discussing the other ways to work the Snowflake Method for this outline. That would be The Adventures of Gallan Lancaster series, which is going to be outlined with the interconnected trilogy model, and The Raven Stone series, which will be using the multiple story arc model. As of right now, I don’t have anything planned for the other two series types. Give me some time though, and I’m sure I can come up with something.

Anywho, see you tomorrow with the official Step Two post.

Ryan S. Kinsgrove

Check out my Medium Premium Post! Multiplicity: Where Do The Others Come From

Ryan S Kinsgrove

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A writer with a delightful case of Adult Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder. Follow the Madness: https://upscri.be/5a20f7/

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