Creating a New Series by G.N. Smith | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Plotting and Planning
GN Smith

G.N. Smith

I’ve recently embarked on a new series, and it’s going to be my fifth, so I’m going to pass on a few of the things I’ve learned about creating a new series in the hope you’ll find it useful.

These tips aren’t in any particular order as I feel they’re all equally relevant.

  • Be clear in your own mind your lead character is someone who you want to spend a lot of time with. Series characters are ones who could be with you for years, and if you give them traits you find annoying in book one, you’re either going to have to show that trait being overcome, or you’re going to have to live with it.
    The same applies to support characters who inhabit the same universe. Yes, of course they could be transferred, killed, or suffer any other manner of mishap at your hands, but that’s probably going to cause you unnecessary effort. If you’re planning a series, do the heavy lifting on book one so you never have to worry about it again.
  • If you’re planning a series, don’t focus on one book when choosing your characters, setting and motivations etc. Whatever you put into book one, you’ll be stuck with in the books after. Both I and an author friend made the mistake of giving our lead characters a pet dog. We each thought it rounded out the character, which it did, but when our leads were off doing what they had to, we had to make sure that someone was feeding or walking the dog because our readers cared about our canine characters. My advice is to think about the long term pitfalls of everything you add in book one and how they might come back to haunt you.
  • Never forget that you’re building a series, so like a builder constructing a house, have a plan that extends beyond the mere foundations.
  • Work hard to develop your lead. Give them the skills you want them to have for the series, not just the first novel. Like the pet example and the construction metaphor, use what you know about your plans for books two, three and beyond to set up your character with the necessary skills even if they don’t use those skills until a later story. For example, you could show them going to a karate class for the first time in book one, and then seed more class attendance into books two and three, before finally using those skills in book four.
  • On a similar theme, while each novel should have a character arc of some sort, I feel a series ought to have a series arc. The best example I can give of this is Peter James’ Roy Grace novels in which the lead character’s wife, Sandy, has gone missing in book one, and yet Peter manages to continue this thread throughout the series to such great effect, I now find myself caring more about the “Sandy” storyline more than the case the lead is trying to solve. Be careful, though, if you are planning a series arc, you have to make sure you don’t paint yourself into a corner.
  • Be cute when naming your characters. To avoid reader confusion it’s always best not to use similar sounding names or ones that begin with the same letters if they’re frequently in each other’s company. Personally I have a document which is basically a table with the alphabet down the centre column and the left column is for Christian names and the right for surnames. I also try and use the awkward letters like Z and Q for series characters, leaving me letters with more options for incidental characters.
  • When deciding on the location your characters will inhabit, spend plenty of time thinking about the plots you want to write and whether they’ll work in the setting. If you are planning a rural location, there will be a limit as to how many times it’s credible for there to be a serial killer running amok among a population of 2-3,000. Think Midsomer! The opposite applies to urban environments, because as cute as your idea about someone stealing garden ornaments from homes around the neighbourhood might be, there are far bigger stories to be told in a city. Also think about what obstacles and benefits the setting may have for you and your character. If you want a high speed car chase in each novel, you have to consider whether that is credible in a location everyone recognises as being gridlocked for the majority of the time.
  • Think long and hard where you want your lead character to be in their life when you start plotting book one. They could be a rookie cop starting out for the first time or a Chief Constable approaching retirement. The rookie has way more longevity in terms of future cases, career arcs etc. while the Chief Constable has a ticking clock with the looming retirement and to all intents and purposes, will be very hands off in terms of run-of-the-mill investigations, but they’d also have far more involvement in a major crime than the rookie would if you have a high-concept idea.

I hope these points all prove useful whether you’re embarking on a new series, or writing a debut that you’re dreaming will become a series. They’re all things I take into consideration and I hope they get you thinking on the right track.

(c) G.N. Smith

Graham can be found at:


About The Flood:

The FloodEntering the kitchen, Fiona let out a gasp. The body lay askew on the floor and a trickle of blood ran from the man’s nose and across his cheek. Fiona felt deep fear as she looked down at the man she never thought would meet this kind of end…

Still haunted by the historic murder of her parents, police officer Fiona MacLeish has been told by Police Scotland that she must take a break from the demands of a busy force. So she’s returned to her remote childhood home in the Borders, where she grew up with her aunt. A place where nobody even knows she’s in the police force.

But when a terrifying storm cuts the small farming community off, and the bloodied body of one of her aunt’s neighbours is found, she realises the very place she has gone to find peace may be far more dangerous than she could ever have imagined.

And, as the rain hammers down and the flood waters rise, the killer who is moving amongst them is getting braver…

If the killer finds out Fiona is really a police officer, she may be next. Has Fiona got what it takes to discover which of the trusted people in the tiny rural community is a murderer before they strike again?

The Flood is the first book in the Fiona MacLeish series. With an unforgettable setting, a strong female lead and packed with twists, this is the perfect read for fans of J.M. Dalgliesh, J.D. Kirk and Simon McCleave.

Order your copy online here.

About The Island:

The IslandHer hands bang desperately on the window of Fiona’s car door as the wind flaps her pink hair sideways. Through the glass the distraught mother shrieks, ‘Please, you have to find her! You have to find my little girl.’

When eight-year-old Cait Yorke goes missing on a remote island off the coast of the wild Scottish Highlands, police officer Fiona MacLeish is quickly sent to investigate. But a gale is gathering force, and Fiona becomes increasingly concerned for a little girl braving the strong winds alone. As Fiona questions the locals, she soon realises that they are hiding many secrets. What is this island, and who really lives here?

Then a boat violently crashes off the coast of the island. On board, Fiona discovers the body of a man who has clearly been murdered. But the killer is nowhere to be found. The only place they can be is on the island with no way out.

Realising a killer is trapped on their island, tensions amongst the locals and Fiona begin to rise. As the gale rages on and the body count continues to rise, will Fiona find the young girl and the killer before they strike again?

The Island is the second book in the Fiona MacLeish series, set against the remote Scottish Highlands. Fans of J.M. Dalgliesh, J.D. Kirk and Simon McCleave will love this character-driven police procedural with a dark twisty plot.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Graham Smith is a time served joiner who has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. Since Christmas 2000, he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland.

He is an internationally best-selling Kindle author and has six books featuring DI Harry Evans and the Cumbrian Major Crimes Team, and four novels, featuring Utah doorman, Jake Boulder. His ‘Lakes’ series which has three novels featuring DC Beth Young has received much critical acclaim.

Graham is the founder of Crime and Publishment, a weekend of crime-writing classes which includes the chance for attendees to pitch their novels to agents and publishers. Since the first weekend in 2013, sixteen attendees have gone on to sign publishing contracts.

Graham also writes as John Ryder and G.N. Smith.

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