It is true that chapter books are always in series. Therefore, when starting to write a chapter book it is super important to keep the long-game in mind. But how can you tell if your chapter book concept has the legs needed for multiple books? Good question.
Here are Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing a Chapter Book Series:
Will kids want to spend lots of time with the character(s)? Writing a series challenges you to create characters that can be plopped into many different scenarios. Think of some of your favorite chapter book characters. These characters are so well-developed that we can imagine them in pretty much any plot and they have the series to prove it! Sleep-away camp? Sure. Talent show at school? Definitely. Trouble with a best friend? No problem. Scour the titles of some popular series to see potential plots.
Now, test your own characters. Set an alarm for 30 minutes and during that time write down as many adventures or scenarios for your main character(s) that you can think of. Once time is up, choose the four strongest ideas and write jacket copy for these strongest ideas. If you don’t have four strong ideas that can be made into possible books, consider developing your character a little more, then try this exercise again.
Is this a world that kids can relate to? Once a kid starts school they begin to develop lives that are separate from home and family. Through school, their worlds expand. They know people their families don’t. They have unique experiences from their families. Often, chapter book series revolve around these new people and experiences. But this doesn’t mean that your series has to be contemporary realism. Just be aware of the size of a reader’s world, the issues most important to them, and how that translates to the world you are writing into existence. I can’t tell you how many times I pitch The Super Happy Party Bears to kids and they instantly relate. Who hasn’t felt like they are living in the Grumpy Woods at one time or another when all you want to do is dance and eat doughnuts?
Now, let’s look at the world you are writing. First, make a list of common experiences and relationships that kids ages 6-9 can relate to. Then, for each item on your list, try translating that same experience or relationship to your world. Be creative and stretch that imagination! This is a surefire way to create age-appropriate-centeredness in your chapter books regardless of how wacky your world might be.
Are there on-going conflicts, not just finite goals? This relies on knowing the difference between a book premise and the series premise. To help you better understand, let’s look at the television series Cheers. If someone asked you what Cheers is about, you wouldn’t say, “it’s about a bunch of friends who get together for Thanksgiving and through the course of everything going wrong, they end up in a giant food fight.” That isn’t what Cheers is about. That is what one episode in the very long series is about. Instead, you would say, “it’s about a bar in Boston and the regulars who drink and work there.” That is the series premise. And while the giant Thanksgiving food fight is a finite conflict that starts and gets solved in one episode, there is tension and conflicts that span the series, mostly in regard to how each character relates to the others and the bar setting.
Now, look at your series concept. How would you describe the series in a sentence or two, focusing on relationships and setting? Leave all of the finite conflicts and details (science fairs, first sleepover, food fights, etc.) to your book plots, not series premise.
Now that you’ve tested your concept to make sure it’s got what it takes for a long series, it’s time to write. I’d love to hear if this post resonated with you or if you have anything you want to share about testing the series potential of your own concept. Share below in the comments. And SUPER HAPPY writing!
Marcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned children’s book author. She’s the author of THE SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS chapter book series (Macmillan/Imprint), as well as several picture books. She is a frequent presenter at conferences for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She also teaches online classes on “Crafting the Chapter Book” for The Writing Barn. Go to thewritingbarn.com for further information about registration for the next session which starts June 2nd. Marcie lives in San Diego, California. You can find her at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or @MarcieColleen1 on Twitter.
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