Writing the first book in a series is potentially far more difficult than writing the sequels because it needs more up-front development. As well as telling a great story, you have to:
- introduce an immersive story world (ie, do all the world building)
- set up the sequels without being obvious about it.
Turning to successful examples is a great way of seeing complex introductions done simply.
Take Dune for example – it’s epic, contained, stands alone and sets up an entire story universe, all within the first book of the series.
Star Wars and The Matrix do the same things, with the added complication of having to tell their stories visually and in an extremely short timeframe.
The first story in any epic series needs to do similar things in most circumstances, and the more epic the conclusion, the better.
In short, your protagonist needs to discover their worth and use it to defeat a stand-alone story threat which would otherwise have a ‘very big and bad’ impact on the bigger story world.
The more epic the threat and the more spectacular the response in defeating it, and the greater the impact your story is likely to have on your readers.
To put it into a simple template:
- [XYZ Character]
- is forced to grow into [their Special Power/Knowledge/Skill] and
- use it to defeat [An Obvious and Well-demonstrated Threat].
While it appears simple, the simple concepts are often the hardest to pull off.
There are formulas for all kinds of stories, but if you’re going epic, imitate the best. The best keep it simple.
So let’s apply this simple template to our dryad story.
[Rose Thorn] is forced to accept [she’s changing into a dryad] in order to defeat Christian Godson who [intends to kill all dryads and thereby wipe out a secret society of long-lived people].
The threat isn’t world-shaking unless you’re a dryad or part of the secret society, but it fits the template well enough
To make it world-shaking, we need to apply world-shaking consequences to the possible demise of the dryads. For example, if the dryads are wiped out, all plant-life on Earth will be wiped out too. Now that’s got possibilities and far-reaching consequences.
Let’s consider other genres. For a romance, the basic formula is:
- boy meets girl (or any such combination of lovers you like)
- boy romances girl
- boy loses girl
- boy gets girl.
As a template sentence, it would go something like: [XYZ character] must fight for [the love of their life] or [lose them forever].
Like the template for epic stories, it’s very simple.
For a murder mystery, the basic formula goes:
- someone commits a murder
- the protagonist investigates
- the protagonist has setbacks (red herrings, false victories, etc)
- the protagonist solves the crime.
Why don’t you take a crack at writing this formula into a story template? Keep it simple and don’t fall into the trap of over-complicating the storyline. Too many moves kill a good story.
How would the template for your story look like if you applied the same concepts?