Ever had to create a series outlines for kidlit books? That’s the subject of today’s post, and it’s what I’ve been busy working on since my last one.
I’ve been writing hard since the CYA Conference a month ago. When I say writing hard, I don’t mean in the word count sense. I’ve been strategising, plotting, and weaving!
Conference Follow Up
I had a ball at CYA this year.
- It was the first time I volunteered, which was a fun experience. Such a great team.
- I entered my WIP Winifred Weatherby Saves the Century in the Middle Grade competition and it won second place.
- The cash prize was nice, but what really excited me was the request for a full from the judge, an editor at a major AU publishing house. Looks like it’s time to move Winnie from the back burner to the hot plate …
As much as I love the writing and business sessions at CYA, what I appreciate most at this stage of my writing career is the opportunity to meet publishing professionals face-to-face. As always, I take advantage of CYA’s editor sessions. I pitched a couple of my manuscripts to four Australian editors and got lots of encouraging feedback and a few requests.
One editor who liked The Temple of Lost Time asked for a series outline. She rightly pointed out that taking on a series is a big commitment for a publisher. They need proof that the story can be sustained before they’ll think about taking it on.
I’ve never done a formal series outline before, and the Internet is curiously silent about how to do it for middle grade books. What I’ve learned over the past five weeks mostly through trial and error is this: outlining a series is hard work, but it’s valuable work.
Time to Rethink My System
As a plotting pantser (or pantsing plotter, not sure which. A plantser?), the scaffolding for my story is erected before I start writing the first draft, and I build as I go. I have a mud map in my head about what happens when. I keep an ever-expanding notebook of ideas and to-dos in OneNote. This system has worked brilliantly for stand-alone stories, but a series needs more cohesion.
A series outline forces the writer to build cohesion into the plan. The weft of plot is woven onto the warp of theme. Or maybe a better way of saying it is the outline lets your discover the warp of theme. Either way, it’s really helpful work, but it’s challenging.
After lots of research and tinkering, I decided to include the following elements in my series outline:
- A series premise (one to two sentences)
- A list of the titles in reading order
- World-building notes (I wrote about 600 words for a three-book Gaslamp fantasy series, ~60K each)
- Mini-synopses for each book (two to three short paragraphs)
- A table of Story Elements [External and internal goals, setting, MDQ (Major Dramatic Question), genre-specific elements]
- A table of Characters [I based my list loosely on the Hero’s Journey because it’s a quest book]
The tables display how the elements and characters develop across the series. This was really helpful for me. It also lets you see who might be superfluous or who’s getting too much airtime or if there’s a thread that hasn’t been tied up.
If the series outline is for your personal use, go ahead: flesh it out as much as you want. But if you’re sending it to an agent or editor, pare it back. It has to be inviting, and there’s no turn off bigger than a tome of unnecessary text.
I honed in on the main story and ignored all my tasty subplots. It’s tempting to over-explain, but don’t. You want editors to read the outline and get the gist of your story in a couple of pages. You’ll probably be sending a sample of the MS, so let it do the talking about your style and level of complexity in your story.
Over to You
What do you think about my series outline? Would you include anything else? Or omit anything I’ve suggested?
Here’s where I gleaned some ideas:
Here’s Ali’s Kidlit Series Outline Template (PDF) for you to use. Leave a comment or get in touch with the contact form on my About pages if you’d like a Word version .
All images are CC.0, Public Domain