Monday, September 1, 2008

Never-Ending Series

Some people love to read series books. Others hate them. And a few--eh, they can take them or leave them. Writers are much the same. Some writers make a deliberate decision to write stand alone books because they revel in developing new characters, settings, and conflict. Others become enamored of their cast and enjoy getting to knew them better from book to book.

I, myself, follow both lines. I enjoy the details of setting up a new book--the characters, setting, the world building--and I also enjoy exploring the peripheral characters in succeeding books. There are advantages and disadvantages to series writing. There are readers--like me--who are relatively rigid about reading series books in order, even if they are, in essence, stand alone books. If the number of books in the series grows too large, new readers who may discover the series after a number of books are released feel like there are too many to purchase in order to "catch up." That is a valid concern. I have two series currently with several books in each. The books in both series could be read as stand alone stories. I worked very hard to make that so. But I freely admit that the readers enjoyment of the stories will be enhanced if they read them in order.

On the other hand, the advantage to a series is the immediate familiarity with the cast of characters. For a reader who has read Nora Roberts' In Death series, the varied interesting cast is comforting and familiar. Because the reader knows the characters' backstory, there are some things that don't have to be explained. For the reader who has limited time to read, series offer them the enjoyment of reading, while allowing for a certain shortcut in figuring out characters' motivations. I think that might be the attraction of reading a series.

Now writing them is an entirely different horse of another color. While it might initially be more work to invent a new world with characters and background, it is a lot of work to maintain that world through book after book. The devil really is in the details. Lots and lots of details that seem to increase exponentially with each new book. Tons of details that depend on how elaborate the world building was to begin with. My series do not take place in the contemporary world so even the smallest details must be cataloged... plants, animals, buildings, laws.

My current work in progress is a stand alone time travel. There are days when it seems to me that there are more details for this one story than all of my series books together. Yet, I know that isn't true. Already, one beta reader has commented, this will be a great series. Excuse me? No. Stand alone. One book with a beginning, a middle, an end. Finished. Because unlike a stand alone, series never seem to be finished. There's always one more character that beckons. One character that begs you to tell his or her story.

Series can be never ending.



  1. Tell me about it:) I started with five...expanded to eight...and then twelve...and it's now 14! And I've loosley incorporated two characters into some non-series stories! Ack! I've created a monster!

    Not really...I enjoy the world I've created, and hope others do too:)

    I also love the new cover! Forgot to tell you that the other day...

  2. One of my favorite authors (Stephen Brust--fantasy; not romance in the slightest, but an excellent writer) has two series set in the same world. One of them, following one specific character, he is actually *writing* out of order. I just bought the newest one, and it's set long before the last several installments. So if you read them as they come out, you're not reading the story in order. It's a little disorienting, but also fun, because you get these new adventures that fill in periods referred to in book you've already read.
    How's that for mind-bending?

  3. Mercedes Lackey (also a fantasy writer) does that all the time with her Valdemar series. She partially solves the problem by writing in trilogies within the series.

  4. I like the idea of trilogies. Beginning something that never ends makes me tired even thinking about it. For some it's fine but I know myself very well. I worry I'd get bored living with the same characters. It's something I'm dealing with right now in the first book of a planned series. Do I end it at two books or three? Will I burn out if I continue? I don't know. Still trying to decide.

  5. As a fantasy reader, I am dead tired of trilogies. They have become so much the standard that it seems like authors are stretching stories just to fill three books. Recently, I've been reading more duologies, and won't even take a book off the shelf if it says "first book in the ___ trilogy."

    I am more forgiving of series whose books are more self-contained. Sharon Shinn's books are like this. Each one is set in the same larger context, but focuses on a different character's personal story.

    But show me a trilogy where the core group of heroes have to defeat the great evil in three books (or more), and it's an instant turn off.

    If it's a romance, then the main couple of the story has to hit their HEA by the end of a single book.

  6. I hesitate to say to much without giving away my blog for tomorrow. Nicely said though. And since you do series so well, with all its world building, there's no expectation from your readers that you'd ever go Non-series.

  7. Excellent points. And with trilogies---a yes. They've become kind of a cliche. Which is why I lOVED it when Douglas Adams wrote book 4 in the Hitchiker's Guide trilogy.

  8. Sometimes I like series books, but I'm not in love with them merely for the sake that they're a series. I enjoyed the Left Behind series and looked forward to the next story. However, a good friend got tired of it being a series and stopped after 5 out of 13, maybe more, books.

    I've written a couple of books with sequels but they're always work as stand alone books, too. In fact, I am working on a sequel right now that will work as a stand alone book. From an authors pov, I would think it would generate more interest in the author's previous books. At least I hope so.

  9. Australian author John Marsden wrote a trilogy Tomorrow When the War Began - but then he wrote book four, book 5 etc Got to book 7 (and it was still called a trilogy - just book 7 in the trilogy) gave up and called the next few books the Ellie Chronicles - dunno how many he ended up with though - or maybe he is still writing them....

  10. I have a feeling that's how the Mystic Valley set would end up...

  11. Great post, Anny and a timely one too. Everything I've completed so far has been stand alone, but I'm giving serious consideration to taking the characters from one of them and turning it into a series. So, this has deinately given me food for thought.


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