Written by JJ Barnes
A series of books is a good way to bring in an audience, and then keep them around. If they get hooked on book one, your return readers are ready and waiting. You don’t have to build up interest from fresh.
Making sure your first installment ends in a way that makes them want to keep exploring your world and your characters is key.
Your characters are likely to be the biggest draw for your story. Your world can be as fascinating and your adventures can be thrilling, but if the people living in that world and having those adventures are flat, your audience will lose interest.
The most interesting characters have layers. Your characters should have facets to their personality, pain that makes them behave irrationally sometimes, things they are passionate about. Human beings are all complex and layered with hopes, dreams and fears, so make sure your characters are dynamic as real people. They need to make mistakes, take risks, learn, grow and change through the course of your story.
However, you can’t let them be fully formed in your first installment. Make sure your audience can tell that however much of their personality and history you’ve explored in this first installment, there is still more to go. If your readers feel like they already know everything there is to know about that person, there’s no reason to come back. That person is who they are, and there’s nothing left to explore.
The First In A Series Needs A Completed Conflict
If your audience is going to come back, they have to know you’re capable of resolving a conflict. Whatever your main storyline is, it needs to be resolved at the end of your story.
The temptation will be to leave your story unresolved to lure your audience back so they can find out what happens. But readers want a story, they don’t want half a story. If you haven’t proven that you can complete a story in a satisfying way, they have no reason to trust you. It takes time and money to invest in somebody’s writing so make it worth their time.
Your antagonist vs protagonist conflict needs to be resolved in the climax of your story. In Harry Potter And The Philospher’s Stone, the conflict of Harry vs Voldermort for the Philosopher’s Stone is resolved. That is what you go into the story to watch, and that question is answered. If JK Rowling had never written another installment of that series, then you’d still have had a satisfying end to the story you read.
When later books come out, you can play with cliffhanger endings because you’ve built up audience trust. They will feel safe in your hands, knowing that you will complete the story they have invested in. But when you’re launching a series and trying to lure an audience in. Don’t expect them to come with faith in you. This is your chance to prove yourself worthy of their time.
Leave Teasers At The End Of The First In A Series
Whilst completing your story conflict is important, you also need the possibility of further adventure open. If everything is resolved, and every thread is wrapped up neatly, then the story will be over. If the story is over, there’s no reason to come back.
In Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, the story conflict is Lilly Prospero seeking to find her place in the world. She has to learn to get control of a powerful magic. Around her, people compete for her attention. She has to work out who is loyal to her, and who wants to use her for her magic.
The end of the story sees Lilly having concluded who she trusts and why, and left behind those she doesn’t. She has completed her story, severed ties with her enemies, and chosen her place in the world.
However, the power in her still exists. She’s still learning to control it, and the world is still filled with people who know about her magic and want access to it. Her relationship with Saffron is both cemented together, and rife with challenges.
If the story is completely resolved and all questions are answered, all possibilities are closed off, there’s no more stories. In Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, it’s clear that Lilly, now in control of her magic, has further adventures ahead of her.
Make The World Rich With Possibilities
If you’re writing urban fantasy or fantasy, let your audience know that the longer they stick with you, the more they get to explore. The world should be big and growing.
Each book needs to explore something new. If you don’t make it clear that there is more to see and more to experience, then the world will feel small. The world you’re taking your readers through should be full of possibilities. Even if you don’t explore all of it, the option is always there for new experiences.
If you are successful with your series launch, you can take an audience on an epic journey with you. It can be story with a definite ending, such as Harry Potter. Or it can be an ongoing tale that follows your chosen characters for as many adventures as you need, such as Harlen Coben’s Myron Bolitar series.
Take care to make your first book as captivating and satisfying as you can. If you manage that, they’ll want to find out what happens next to your characters and explore the world you’ve created more. And a returning audience is a huge opportunity.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose