The Fantasy Series and the Middle-grade Reader

In a previous post, I discussed how fantasy fiction holds a strong draw for the middle-grade (MG) reader. As a school librarian, I always try to find the right book for every student, but sometimes finding the perfect book is easier said than done – especially when dealing with ambivalent readers or those that have read “everything”.

Enthusiastic MG readers – firmly entrenched in Appleyard’s “Hero and Heroine” role – have a tendency to devour books at a ferocious speed. If they find a book they like, they will read everything the author has written and then hunt for a book in the same genre and with similar content. 

Here’s where the fantasy series comes in handy!

The draw of a series for the MG reader lies in the continuation of a story with familiar characters in a familiar setting and with a certain level of predictability when it comes to the outcome. Following your favourite characters on another adventure, already knowing you’re going to enjoy the ride, makes for one appealing book!

Not every story can become a series. Those that have the most series potential, are stories with a complex world, a wide cast of characters and an endless variety of plot lines. The larger arc of the story spans multiple books, with each book being one part of the whole and at the same time a self-contained story with its own conflict and resolution.

Writing a series takes plotting, perseverance and plenty of imagination. You’ll need to rely on meticulous world-building, great character development and come up with an abundance of high stakes action and conflicts your characters need to solve.

In plotting my own series, I first began by imagining the entire story as a whole – not in great and exhaustive detail, but enough that I now know where the story is headed and many of the bigger events it will encounter along the way. I felt this was the right choice for me because I needed to see the big picture – the endgame – in order to figure out the steps I should take to get there.

When I felt I had a good enough grasp on the overall story design, I had to settle on how many pieces I should chop it into – to do the story justice. Within the fantasy genre, as a rule, you will find that the trilogy and the 6-7 volume series are fairly common. I decided to divide my story into 7 parts from the outset and there hasn’t been a day since when I haven’t second guessed that decision. Just writing one book can feel daunting, so I’m sure you can imagine how overwhelming the thought of doing seven has been at times. But I haven’t changed my mind yet! 

The next step in my process was plotting out book one in more detail. I had a rough idea of what part of the overall story arc should take place in book one, but I needed more than a rough idea of the plot, a couple of basic character sketches and a stack of post-it notes. I also knew I had to do quite a bit of research and world-building to bring this story to life. 

I’ll be honest and tell you that this step was probably the hardest for me. I spent weeks working everything out, staring out of my window with my brain racing a million miles a minute. It was incredibly draining, and yet, creatively speaking, it was an amazing experience. I was on fire!

Eventually, I reached a point where I was happy to move on. Everything I needed to begin writing was planned and plotted and I felt confident in a way I don’t think I would have been, without all the effort I put in up front.

And this is where I am now… still writing and still endlessly grateful that I took the time to plan out my series, build my world and develop my characters. It has made the act of writing less fraught and more enjoyable than I would have imagined. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard work and some days the words just don’t seem to come out right no matter what I do. But I’m still going, and just acknowledging that makes me feel good!

Here’s hoping it continues and that some day, book one of my fantasy series will be the book a school librarian recommends for an enthusiastic MG reader!

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