Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 25, 2012

Creating a Chapter Book Series

This June Illustration was sent in by Joanne Friar. You may recognize her work, since she was featured in March on Illustrator Saturday.   She says, “As a child I spent summer vacations hiking with my family and that tradition continued with our own children. Nothing says summer to me like the cool shade of a mountain forest and the smell of pine trees!

The Books Go On and On: Creating a Chapter Book Series – Workshop given by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Written by: Tiffany Alexander

Sudipta gave us a great inside view of chapter book series creation. She narrowed down the topic of chapter book series to writing commercial/genre stories. The overriding principle is that, throughout the books in a series, a couple of elements stay the same, with some differences included in each book.

Sudipta stressed that series books (or any book) must start with character. The main character of a series will have to support the creation of many stories, so character is important.

1.)  The character has to be both charismatic (in that you can draw from him/her repeatedly for new stories) and ordinary (so that readers will be able to relate to the character).

2.)  The character should have one or two unique characteristics, weaknesses, or quirks to give them depth and make them interesting/sympathetic.

3.)   A character can be ordinary, but not boring or flat – give your character specific traits.

Sudipta advised us to “give the ordinary a bit of a kick.” She also showed how developing character can create the series hook. For example, for her series, Sudipta formed a character described as someone who is self-conscious about wearing glasses and feels it is a weakness. As Sudipta developed the character, she realized that the glasses (the character’s apparent weakness) would also hold special powers, and further, would be a source of conflict and strength. At first they were just glasses, but in the process of writing they became an object from which the story/plot emanated.

A well-formed series must also have a good cast of supporting characters. They will help maintain the series and make it rich in story possibilities. Sudipta named five different stock character types:

1.) The sidekick – stays with the main character through thick and thin; if there is more than one sidekick, each should bring something different to the table.

2.) The nemesis – a character who either intentionally or unintentionally gets in the main character’s way and foils his/her plans, and it could be someone who always seems more skilled or “better” than the main character in some way.

3.) The secret-sharer – a peer who knows the main character’s secrets or feelings, and  who might also impart wisdom or help keep the main character on track, without making decisions for the main character.

4.) The positive authority figure – possibly another source of wisdom or reason, or someone who offers comfort to the main character, and often someone the main character wishes to emulate or does not want to disappoint.

5.) The negative authority figure – someone who has power over and creates difficulty for the main character, not necessarily the person who creates the big problem, but who is still problematic in some way, think “mean school principal” or the like.

Interactions between characters are definitely key.

Setting is important as well and also ties in to character. Another way to make your books richer is to include a family and/or school component. Let your main character interact with different casts of characters in different settings. These different casts of characters could stay separate or could interact (in a way that’s logical to the story).

In terms of conflict, Sudipta instructed that the major conflict must be different in each book of a series, but minor conflicts can reappear throughout the series. The major conflict or problem is what your main character is mainly concerned about and should be resolved by the end of the book. It’s fine for such elements as minor conflicts, quirks, favorite phrases, etc. to carry through from book to book.

Sudipta’s workshop provided us with an organized look at the structure of a chapter book series, and it also helped us think about the many possibilities and room for creativity.

Thanks Tiffany and thank you Sudipta for always doing a bang-up job with your workshops.  Hope everyone is enjoying their summer.  Maybe talking a nature walk will help spark new ideas for your writing and illustrating.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great info…I was in Sudipta’s workshop at SCBWI NJ and it was so informative.


  2. Great article. I am always trying to write a chapter book series.


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