The Series grid

The series grid

Make sure all subplots resolve, that all clues are present before the last quarter of the book. Using a Series grid may help to keep track of this and more.

The main thing that I dislike about this is its name. Series grid. This outline is not a way to plot a book-series with a story spanning multiple books, but rather a series inside a single book. It can be used for series-across-books too, but its primary purpose is for series-inside-one-book. So what is a series inside a book?

Series inside a book

Series in this context means something that repeats inside the same book. It is about how often you return and remind the reader about a specific thing. It can be almost anything – a secret group, romantic relationship, the antagonist, specific power, or a simple word that is reoccurring; the themes can go on and on.

A series is the repetition of a narrative element (such as a person, an object, a phrase, or a place) in such a way that it undergoes a clear evolution.

Blueprint Your Bestseller by Stuart Horwitz.

I’m adding what I’m interpreting as a Series grid made by J. K. Rowling! She might or might not have made it with the idea of Series grid in mind, but what’s she put on here matches with that idea!

A grid-outline over chapter 13-24 for J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Example of a story grid (by hand) made by J. K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

You can read some of her “series” in the attached image, but I’ll list them here too for easier reading, with a small comment by me.

  • Prophecy [Finding out the prophecy]
  • Cho/Ginny [Harry’s romance]
  • D.A. [Meetings and members interactions]
  • OotP [Meetings and members interactions]
  • Snape vs Harry+James [The connection between Snape and the Potters]
  • Hagrid & Grawp [The relationship between the half brothers]

This list is to give you an idea of what a series might be in your own story. You do not have to include secret groups, romantic relations, or magical things. It all depends on what your story is about, looking for things that repeat—character interactions that play a large part in bringing the story forward, plot twists, or maybe you have a catchphrase for some character?

How will a Series grid help?

A Series grid will help with a wide range of things while both planning your story, but also during writing. Worth noticing is that this is an outline technique more suited to the architects (if using George R. R. Martin’s term, my preference) and plotters (more widely used term) out there. The Series grid will help give an overview of the whole story at once but leaves little freedom and flexibility for changes.

It is, of course, possible to make changes after starting to write, but it isn’t optimal. There is much information in this grid making the grid hard to keep it updated with changes. If you tend to make many changes and discoveries while writing, other outline techniques work better.

So what can it help you with, if you are more of an architect than a gardener? Let’s continue using Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as an example, since (I assume) everyone knows the story, and we have a Series grid for parts of that book. Just remember this is my interpretation of Ms Rowling’s and in no way her thoughts of it.

Foreshadowing

An example of keeping track of foreshadowing from Ms Rowling’s grid would be the Prophecy column. It’s something that places a significant part over the whole book, but we as a reader will not learn of it until a bit into the story. A seed is planted right from the start and occurs again and again—first with seeing a door, which we learn leads to a room at the ministry, in the Department of Mysteries, containing prophecies, something Voldemort is after. And so it goes on.

It can help build it piece by piece, spread out throughout the book.

Subplots

A familiar subplot for Young Adult (if not the main plot) is romance. In Harry Potter, the love-story is indicated in the column Cho/Ginny, and maybe to some extent all of the columns. Looking in a column can help to notice if the subplot in question doesn’t show up frequently, and drops for large sections without reminders or change.

It can also be interesting to see how subplots interact. Maybe some will never appear in the same scene, while some will often appear together.

Character arcs

Another thing that is fitting for the Series grid to help with is Character arcs, in other words, how a specific character changes throughout the story. Either how they change internally, or how their relationship to the protagonist changes. The column for Snape/Harry + father could indicate this of a sort. It follows the relationship between Professor Snape and the two Potters, when they interact and how.

Set pacing

By looking at how many, and which, Series are interacting in a specific scene or chapter, you can set the pace accordingly. With many Series interaction, the tension and conflict might be high, while fewer indicates a slower section. You should probably aim to have a good mixture of action and relaxing since constant activity will tier out not only your characters but also your readers. You need to slow down the pace to let them catch their breath before running ahead again.

The difference is the ending, which should have more action than the other parts since we are approaching the resolution.

Setup a Series grid

If you have a list of scenes or chapters already, settings up the Series grid is simple. If you don’t have that, the first step would be to create it. Once that is in place, add a number and a title (or concise sentence) for each scene. Add what time it takes place in, and a more extended summary for that specific part.

Next is to print all Series you have identified, or to come up with them now so you can add them to your grid. Each series goes to their column, and then write for each scene what happens related to that specific thing, event, or person. Looking at that column alone would give you how that person or thing evolves through the story, or how it emerges slowly for the reader step by step, as we’ve talked about previously.

Important to remember that change can not happen with only one occurrence, at least two scenes must contain the Series you have picked. If there is only one cell filled, the Series should either be removed, or expanded and included more in the story.

I like to add a footer-row to my grid adding up how many times the series appear. I do this mostly so that I can see that things show in some scenes, and not have all of them just twice or thrice. Another thing I like to add is a header-column with the number of series that appears in any given scene. This column is to show that even if focus might be on one thing, the others are there in the background somehow, not forgotten.

Resources

For more specific information about the Series grid, I’d recommend reading the Book Architecture by Stuart Horwitz, or the shorter Finish Your Book in Three Drafts by Stuart Horwitz. Or even his third book on the subject, Blueprint Your Bestseller by Stuart Horwitz. I’ve read all three, and the Blueprint last, meaning I already had a good grasp of the concept and found that book not as good as the previous. But any of these three books will work to get another look at the Story grid!