Writing a Series

I’ve been told that, for marketing, it’s smart to write a series instead of stand-alone novels.  If people like the characters in your first novel, they’ll want more stories about them.  They’ll want to see them grow and change.  Adding a romance helps.  The protagonist and his/her romantic interest can butt heads for a book or two, get together in the third or fourth, and become a team after that, with the usual complications that come with coupledom.  I have to admit, my favorite mysteries are almost all series.  I loved Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain, even though the author finally moved on to someone else.  Elizabeth George has shamed Thomas Lynley, married him, killed his wife, and emotionally beaten him up.  Once in a while, I wonder if she still likes him.  Same with Martha Grimes and Richard Jury.  It must be hard to come up with book after book with the same characters. Maybe sometimes, you’re just irritated with them.  But look at J.D. Robb or Sue Grafton.  Series characters are done all the time, and as readers, we like going into a world we know with characters we like.

My favorite urban fantasy authors write series.  A few of them write more than one.  Maybe that’s a good thing–when you’ve had it up to here with one protagonist, you can switch to a different one.  For urban fantasy, not only do the characters grow in each successive book, with more intense relationships in more complex arrangements, but the world they inhabit becomes more detailed and real too.  With each book, I learn more about Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock and how she and her puma share the same body, but I also learn about vampires and their society, the politics of “others” who dwell in the same city, and the origins of how vampires started.  The paranormal becomes more real the more books the author writes.

When I decided to write my novellas, I kept those things in mind.  I wanted to write at least four stories for each series.  But I wanted to use more than just settings to distinguish them from one another.  I wanted a different focus for each series too.  So, I put a strong detective slant to the Babet/Prosper stories and gave them Agatha Christie-type plots.  For One Less Warlock, I wrote a locked room mystery–with witches. For A Different Undead, I wanted to write about a person who’d died and suddenly appeared on the streets again–but instead of faking his/her death, I wanted to put a magic twist on the tale.  For Magrat’s Dagger, I wanted a stolen, prized relic, like the Maltese Falcon.

I won’t bore you–I hope–with too many details for each series, but I wanted the Loralei and Death series to have more of a poignant feel, while I tried to focus more on light and quirky romance, with a smidgeon of magic, in the Emerald Hills series.  For Dante and Ally, I made an effort to incorporate more mythology into the plots, but I let the medieval castles set the tone for the Christian and Brina stories.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you sit down to write, it doesn’t hurt to have a series in mind.  And settings help define a series, yes, but most have the same tone of voice too.  Is it humorous?  Dark?  Melancholy?  Or adventurous?  And they not only have the same character or characters, they often have a similar, underlying theme or feel.  Minor characters can grow into bigger parts.  So leave yourself some wiggle room.  At the end of your book, which is a big enough feat to accomplish in and of itself, what else could happen to those same characters in that same world?  Because you might have to live with them for a while.

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8 thoughts on “Writing a Series

  1. Interesting take on an important subject- I love series. I won’t, in fact, choose to read an author who’s only published one book. I guess it’s because it takes so much for me to get involved with a set of characters that I want to know there’s more when I’m finished. But…. yeah, you knew someone would say that… when I met with an agent this summer and pitched my epic Irish fantasy, she told me it had to stand alone and not leave off on a cliffhanger – that she couldn’t sell me as a new author with a multiple-book deal (ie a series). So, when an editor scoped my work from an online pitch session this summer and asked for the whole manuscript I told her it was a “stand alone with potential for a series.” Any thoughts?

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  2. I think that’s a perfect reply. For me, each book in a series should be able to be picked up and read as a stand alone. I hate cliffhangers on the final page of a novel. I was thinking of a series more like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series or Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson. The characters get richer and the world more developed with each novel. My agent sent out my novels as stand alones, but would tell me to leave a feeling in each novel that it could be developed into a series, that it had the potential for more, so I think you’re right on the mark with your answer. And good luck with the editor!

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  3. I think it’s a very smart idea, considering how receptive is the audience to series. I am still struggling to make one novel happen , so I cannot plan for more…but who knows :)? Happy writing, Judith!

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