Fantasy author Gwenda Bond points us to a fascinating discussion among novelists: How much planning do you put in before you start a novel? And raises a related question: what makes a great book series?
The discussion, over at Livejournal's Fangs, Fur & Fey community (for published urban fantasy authors), proves that there's no perfect approach. If you plan too much in advance, you risk getting trapped or bored - or your plans may have to change drastically as things turn out differently than you expected. But if you don't plan at all, you may wind up getting lost and wandering around for months or years. At the very least, it's a good idea to know how your book ends.
The general consensus is, it seems to vary from book to book. In one case, author Kelly Meding had an image stuck in her head of one of her characters trapped in a fire. Once she figured out that image and what it meant for the story, she had the idea, and some of the structure, of her novel's sequel. Another writer takes a big sheet of newsprint and draws boxes for each of the novel's chapters, sketching out what might happen in each chapter. Perhaps the best advice for thinking through what your novel will be about comes from Kristine Katherine Rusch: In a writing workshop, she told someone: "Tell yourself a story." And then it clicked.
Springboarding from this discussion thread, Bond tries to figure out what elements make a first novel a good candidate for a trilogy, or even an ongoing series. It comes down to compelling characters and vast world-building, of course. But she also thinks that the ending of each book in the series is crucial in building interest in the next installment. But most of all, the premise of the trilogy (or series) has to be a big enough idea, something people often overlook:
It has to be an idea that throws off lots of little ideas, giving lots of potential roads to travel down. One of the satisfying things I get out of the series I read is the sense of surprise at where the story goes, because the central idea is big enough to have more than one possible narrative in it. If that makes any sense whatsoever. I think this may also be one quality of stories that lend themselves to fan fiction—there are plenty of stories left in the world for fans to add.
In a separate blog post, Bond also asks the crucial question: will there really be chocolate, as we know it, in our spacefaring far future?