Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tune in next week...

By Lisabet Sarai

This week at the Grip, our topic, proposed by Jamie, is “Series or Stand Alone?” What do I have to say about that? I wondered as I sat down to write my post. It wasn't a question that I'd ever really considered.

As a reader, I often enjoy sequences of books set in the same world and perhaps featuring the same characters. One of my favorites is Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches saga. If you enjoy paranormal fiction, but you haven't read this, I recommend it highly. I think that it's far more original and engaging than the her Vampire Chronicles (although there are some characters from the Chronicles that also show up here, most notably the psychic researchers from the ancient order of the Talamasca). Over the course of the three delightfully fat volumes (The Witching Hour, Lasher, Taltos), Ms. Rice gradually reveals more about the source of Mayfair clan's powers and the nature of the mysterious Taltos race whose destiny is entwined with theirs. Meanwhile, she creates some fabulous female characters (the Vampire Chronicles is heavily male-oriented) and includes a not-insignificant amount of supernaturally-influenced sex.

Another series that I've enjoyed recently is Louisa Burton's Tales of the Hidden Grotto. Little by little, the (so far) three books in this series deepen the reader's understanding of the four immortal creatures that shelter in the enchanted French valley with its ancient oak groves, Roman baths, and medieval chateau, as well the mortals who are sworn to protect them.

The great thing about reading a series is that when you finish one book, you know that it's not really the end. If you're caught up with the characters, you can look forward to encountering them again. You get the satisfaction of closure, along with the anticipation of future conflicts and complexities.

Series in the world of erotica/erotic romance sell well. Clearly other readers feel the same way I do. Jamie and Jude have both penned multiple series, and I believe that Kim has just released the first story in a planned series of twelve, called "Perfect Timing". So why haven't I tried my hand at a series?

I think the primary reason is that I am easily bored. With each book I write, I want to try something different. My first novel was M/f BDSM, set in Thailand. My second was heavily historical, set in Boston's Beacon Hill. My third novel is mostly F/m and F/f BDSM, set in London and Los Angeles. My fourth, Exposure, is an erotic thriller with little BDSM content, set in Pittsburgh. Finally, my most recent book, Serpent's Kiss (which will be released tomorrow! Whee!) is a paranormal shape shifter erotic romance set in Guatemala, with not a whiff of BDSM in sight. My current major work in progress is a M/M paranormal involving various psychic powers.

I particularly enjoy writing BDSM – as I've mentioned before, that's what pushes my personal buttons – but if I write too much of it, I feel as though I'm getting into a rut. I like to try new genres and genre mixes to keep my work fresh. The thing about a series is that if it's popular, your readers are going to want more of the same. An author with a successful series risks her readers' ire if she makes radical changes in the tone or perspective from one book to the next.

To write a successful series, I think that an author needs a vision that spans more than one book. She (sorry Garce! Just trying to avoid clumsiness) needs to have a sense of where the series will lead her, a whole sequence of conflict/resolution arcs rather than just one. So far, that sort of vision has eluded me. At the end of most of my books, I feel as though I know where my characters are. They've made their choices. They've reaped the consequences. For the moment, I'm content to let them be. I am, perhaps surprisingly, not all that curious about what will happen to them next.

I've considered, off and on, writing a sequel to Raw Silk. I've got a chapter or two sitting on my hard drive. I just haven't been able to motivate myself to continue. I'm tempted to write another book featuring Stella Xanathakeos, the protagonist of Exposure. She's such a kick ass gal, a real mix of strength and vulnerability. But I have so many new ideas, new characters clamoring for my attention – far more than I can address in my limited writing time.

When I got to the end of Serpent's Kiss, though, I had a sudden inspiration that fairly screamed “sequel!”. Elena, the main character, realizes that she is carrying a child, a girl child who may have been fathered by a supernatural creature. Elena herself has gained some power over the course of the book, and she senses that the girl, Estrella, will be special. Now Estrella has joined the ranks of characters screaming “Me! Write about me!” I even went out and bought some more books on ancient Mayan civilization – just in case she forces me to listen to her!

Probably I do need to think about trying my hand at a series – if only for the exercise. Trying to come up with something new every time is a writing challenge. Maintaining a fictional world over several books is a challenge of a different sort, and would very likely teach me a great deal.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Lisabet,

    I sort of write series, and I sort of don't, lol.

    Perfect Timing, Collared and G-A-Y, aren't actually series as such. They're collections around a theme - which I found to be a great middle ground as a writer.

    Not sure if readers will like the idea or not - will have to wait until the second stories in the various collections come out :)

    Kim Dare.

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  2. You bring out the fact that you like to read series, but aren't sure you want to write one.
    I wonder how many writers struggle
    with do I or don't I?

    I enjoy reading series, but eventurally tire causing me to ignore the author in the future. I have a favorite author who went from continuing themes to trilogies and stand alones. There is always some paranormal in each story along with romance and intrigue. I never get tired of her reading because even in her series there is enough difference that the story could stand alone.

    Ray

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  3. I started to write a novel and ended with a trilogy. Why? Five chapters into the first novel, I realized I had far too much story to fit into one book. I could have crammed it all into one, maybe, but it was a journey where each step counted and I don't think readers would have believed how the characters changed without taking each step along with them.

    The difference between a short story and a novel is the size of the idea, and to a lesser extent the time elapsed between beginning and end. I suppose the difference between a novel and a series is the span of character growth the story arc covers. Or a very wordy author ;)

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  4. Good points, Lisabet. A series is a different kind of a challenge, definitely with a bigger picture in mind. But Jude and I can tell you, even with a theme, we still write flying by the seat of our pants.

    It would be an awfully dull world if we all thought and wrote the same way!

    Take care,

    Jamie

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  5. Lisabet!

    I'm like you to that extent that I haven't yet been able to visualize a series. I think in my case its because my mind is too jumpy. I rarely finish a novel, I tend to be a short story reader because the odds are better I'll make it to the end. That's probably why I write them too.

    It seems to me, a novel is about creating a world and welcoming the reader into it, such as the world of Thailand's Patpong in "Raw Silk" or Guatemala in "Serpents Kiss". The reader has to want to be in that world long enough to see it through. And if he he/she is to return to it, he has to have a thing for the characters. In Anne Rice's case I liked her characters enough to read most of her vampire novels and was much influenced by them. I've read her Sleeping Beauty trilogy even though Beauty was something of a Barbie fuck-doll, because the world she created was very interesting to me. When I was a kid I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs "Pellucidar" series and John Carter of Mars series as well as Robert E Howard's Conan novels because I liked the adventure and larger than life heroes. It was a wonderful thing on a summer's day to sit high in a tree top with a cold bottle of pop and a Conan novel. I've often wished there was a way to write a book like those.

    Garce

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  6. I'm not sure I can add a lot to this conversation. I love writing stand alones if the story is finished. Often though, I'll be interested in one of the side characters who just needs his story told. In 'An Acquired Taste' there was a flaming gay fellow named Sammy who really did bug me until I wrote a story about just him. You couldn't call it a series though, each was a stand alone, in my opinion.

    Often, I have trouble ending a story. It's like I don't want to end the lives of the people I'm writing about. Yet, I find I want to go on to the next story, the next book.

    The books Jamie and I have written together are series's and great fun to write. We don't necessarily have all of the stories in mind when we start, but we do have the bones figured out. The flesh and muscle, we work on later, and there's always the chance we'll come up with 'just one more idea' which will change a trilogy into something more. LOL

    It's really difficult to say which I enjoy more. I do like reading series's if they're done well. I've read a few of the Gor books by Norman, the Pelucidar books were awesome and the People of the Wolf, People of the Earth books were amazing. I guess it's just a matter of dragging the readers in. If you can capture them with the first book you've got a chance of them wanting more. The big thing is, you've already written the next two or three by the time number 1 comes out. All you can do then is pray.

    Hugs

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  7. Thanks to all for your excellent comments. I particularly resonate with what you have to say, Jay - that to write a series you need to have a story too big to fit in one novel. So far that hasn't happened to me yet. And I suspect that is something that cannot be forced.

    Best,
    Lisabet

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  8. Lisabet,

    I never envisioned writing a series either. When I sold my first short story, and I did leave the door cracked open. I mulled over and over the various stories lying around in my head. Then I realized that the characters from the short story weren't done yet, so a series is born. Even to the point of one or two minor characters have enough in them to be a story. Also, agree with mixing it up, but for me is is the various elements of BDSM that can change up a story line.

    Good post!!

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  9. LOL! Don't you love it when you've got a ton of characters sitting in your head screaming "Write about ME! MEEEEEEEE!!" It's sort of funny and a little bit scary.

    I used to wonder if anyone ever envisions writing a series. Then I stumbled upon an idea that was easily broken into succinct parts, each large enough to fill a novel. I don't know why some stories do that and others don't. I wonder if anyone's done any research on it.

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