Saturday, April 26, 2014

Writing a Series

by June Shaw

If you're writing a series, how do you know when to continue with it or conclude it?

Much of the answer lies with sales. If you write books that readers keep buying and wanting to read, the response is normally to write more of them. You'll probably also write more books in a series if your publisher wants more and will pay you a decent advance.

Another decision in writing more books in a series is the genre in which you write. Some mystery authors continue to pour out stories through numbers or all the way through the alphabet. Their readers love them, and series authors find knowing their main characters well gives them a boost. The only need to plot (okay, none of writing fiction is really easy) and create additional new characters.

Romance readers LOVE series. They snag one book, and if they enjoy it, will grab all of the rest, anxiously waiting for the next one to be written. These readers often want stories that bind the characters. Notice all those that share the name of a place. The (whatever) Brothers is also a popular hook.

Do you like to read a series of books? If so, in what genres? If you write series, have you known when it's time to step back and change directions? I'd love to hear from readers, including authors.

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28 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

An interesting question, June. As a reader, when I come across characters I like, who are intriguing or (especially) who make me laugh, I want the author to keep on telling me what they get up to - so I want a long series.
As a writer of crime, however, I've found that, over 5 books so far, my central character has become progressively disillusioned by having to deal with constant examples of 'man's inhumanity to man' (and especially to women) and the bureaucratic approach of his superiors. He's evolved during the books and I know that the next one I write about him will be the last. Interesting how fictional characters lead lives like the rest of us.

June Shaw said...

The characters sure do lead lives just like us, Bill. Your central character certainly has evolved during your books.

I also enjoy characters who make me laugh. I loved writing my humorous mystery series, mainly to see what Cealie Gunther would get herself into next -- and how in the world she'd get out of it.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

The initial Kim Reynolds mystery THE INFERNO COLLECTION received excellent reviews and sold well. I wanted to continue the series and have the main characters develop just the way real people do. The 4th novel in the series THE BAD WIFE has just been published by Perfect Crime Books. I think it's the best one yet. Will the series continue? That depends on sales. We writers need readers.

June Shaw said...

Jacqueline, I love your series. So glad to know THE BAD WIFE is out. I need to check it out!

Robert Walker said...

I have from day one of my writing life begun with series writing as in high school I wrote a sequel to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn titles, having fallen in love with Twain and feeling embittered and just brash enough to do a sequel to a master - actually just naive enough. I have some 8 or is it 9 separate series if you count my trilogies. My longest running one is 12 books of my Instinct Series. The beauty of series work is simple. You do not have to reinvent the heart and soul of your main character(s)or rebuild the bedrock of their character; you only have to find a new challenge to those bedrock characteristics that define them. So all that needs reinventing is the plot, the obstacles, the villainous villain(s)which is the major obstacle. I enjoy series work too as I grew up on serial TV drama, science fiction, and Twilight Zone - serial themes as well as characters. I do stand alones but even then I wish I had time to go revisit characters that I have bonded with and love.

June Shaw said...

And Rob, you really write works of art. What tremendous characters you create, and their situations--well...

I had no idea you improved on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but am not surprised. Love your books and sharing of ideas!

Susan Oleksiw said...

I write two series and as along as I and readers enjoy them I plan to continue. The series characters remain fresh and interesting for me, and I think that's the key.

Polly Iyer said...

I'm writing the third book of my only series, and I'm not having as good a time as I do with my preferred stand-alones. This will probably be the last of the books unless something miraculous happens. I agree with Bill. If I find a character I love or a writer whose style I love, I'll continue to read that writer. I have to admit, however, that my series sells better than my stand-alones, and when you sell one book, you sell the others.

redonald.com said...

I can't help but think of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes and was forced to bring him back to life.

I do enjoy reading a mystery series with strong recurring characters. The ones that come to mind are Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, Elizabeth George's Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, and John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy.

That's why I chose to write a series myself, and the characters in my novels seem so real to me, I can envision future complications in their personal lives.

June Shaw said...

Susan, are you writing both series at the same time? I think that would be difficult.

June Shaw said...

Polly, I agree that you do have to enjoy staying with your characters when you write series.

June Shaw said...

Redonald, I had forgotten about Sherlock Holmes being killed off and then brought back to life. It often seems like soap operas started doing that, but I guess not.

It surely helps when you can envision future complications for your people.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Loyal as I am to many series characters (Reacher, Lynley, Elvis Cole, Charlie Parker, etc.) I am not as loyal to my own characters. Some of my series are only two books long - which probably doesn't count as a series. I am writing a third in the Hemlock Lake series and envision a fourth in my substitute teacher series, because those characters are still invading my dreams and coming up with ideas. The others seem to feel they've done all they need to do.

Robert Walker said...

June Shaw - thank you for the kind kind words. I slapped your blog up on my FB wall by the way.

rob

Claire said...

I have been reading series for as long as I can remember. I feel a connection to the characters and always want to see what other trouble they'll get into and out of, or what amusing things they'll have to say next (if they're funny).

When I started writing, I had no intention of writing a series. But my main character said differently! So I'm working on the 2nd in the series, and doing some rewrites of the 1st because of that.

It's interesting how the characters become real in your mind and end up telling you what to do.

Susan said...

I know I'm a minority - if not a lone wolf - but I do not like series in any genre. I want something new! Reading about the same characters and the same location and the same voice book after book after book is boring. I have a community and friends in my real life. In my fiction I like change and new people and new places and new experiences. Reading about the 15th murder this person has stumbled across or the original heroine's brother's cousin's ex-stepsister finding love in the same small town is positively stultifying. (Please know that I am saying nothing derogatory about the writers of such fiction - being able to make such scenarios believable is a testament to their skill as writers, and for that skill I admire them.) I just don't like series. Give me new everytime.

Susan, aka Janis

Carole Price said...

I read and write a mystery series. Each can be read as a stand alone. I like series when I am hooked on the main character and his/hers latest problem to solve. I look forward to the next in the series.

Sally Carpenter said...

A book series vs. a standalone is like a TV series vs. a movie. On TV you meet the characters in your home every week and grow to love them. In a movie, you spend two hours on a story and that's it. I like a good series where I can spend more time with favorite characters rather than give them up after one book. I'm only on book three of my cozy series about a former TV idol/TV star. I have ideas for many more books and hope to continue the series for a long time.

June Shaw said...

Carol, it's great that you know when to end each of your series. Yes, you do need to feel attached to your characters to continue with them.

June Shaw said...

Oops, sorry, my last comments should have been addressed to Carolyn:)

June Shaw said...

Rob, how sweet of you to post our blog on your Facebook page!

June Shaw said...

Claire, you are so right about your characters telling you whether to continue with them in stories or not. Glad yours told you to keep her!

June Shaw said...

Susan, it's great that you stand up for your convictions. Surely not everyone likes to read series. Actually, I didn't for years. Now I enjoy both standalones and series, depending on whether a main character grabs me.

June Shaw said...

Carole, I believe you are doing a good thing in creating books in a series that can also stand alone.

June Shaw said...

Sally, I hadn't thought of comparing a series of books to a recurring TV program. There are a few on TV that I love to return to. Many others I've seen only once and didn't care for the characters and wouldn't watch them again.

Carola Dunn said...

I'm working on the 22nd Daisy Dalrymple mystery. My editor wants more, my readers want more, who am I to say them nay? It does get harder to come up with fresh plots and characters, even though they're not all set in the same place with the "original heroine's brother's cousin's ex-stepsister finding love in the same small town." I have certain characters (besides Daisy and Alec) who appear in many of the books--or a few of them. My difficulty is not with them--I know them so well their reactions to circumstances are easily written. But coming up with something different for the new characters, the motive, means etc. is becoming more and more difficult. Still, when people (including my editor) say of a new character: "I hope we'll see more of X,"--well, it's encouraging, to say the least.

Carola Dunn said...

Having just got as far as Carole's comment, I should add that I expect all my books to stand alone. I don't want someone picking up the tenth and wondering what the hell is going on. I know some readers obsess about starting at the beginning and reading in order, and Daisy and Co. do develop over the series, but each can be read on its own or in any order.

June Shaw said...

Carola,it's fantastic that your readers and editor still want more of your series! Congratulations! And yes, I also agree that each book should be able to stand alone.