Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To Write a Series or Not To Write A Series ~ That is the Question

Have you ever thought of writing a series of books? Of following in the footsteps of such writers as Orson Scott Card (Ender Series) J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings)?

By comparison, a single novel may seem like a sprint when compared to the marathon of a series. But the lure is there both creatively and financially. What could be better than one successful novel? How about a whole set of them?

There are some great benefits to readers who can return to their favorite world you created again and again, satisfying that curiosity I’ve mentioned in previous posts. They can follow characters they feel they’ve come to know, follow new adventures in a familiar setting. Writers get a break as well. The writer of a series doesn’t have to start from ground zero and work his or her way through. The second in a series may also be easier to sell since publishers are even more happy to publish a book that will no doubt have an audience waiting for it.

But, and it is a very large but, despite how worthwhile a successful series can be for everyone involved, readers, writers and publishers, it’s still a huge undertaking and there are pitfalls. And despite the pluses, the series is more difficult than stand-alone books.

I’m going to mention just a couple of things here that need to be taken into consideration when contemplating a series.

For one thing, a story that spans a number of books takes a long time. Reality is life has a way of shifting. Years can pass between installments in the series. Even decades. Readers waiting for the next book can get irritated, disgruntled, even throw up their hands and abandon you, the writer. Publishers can bet pushy, demanding, determined to get that next book out of the writer. The writer has to ask himself if the project is of such interest that it creates in him the stamina to keep going, to complete the journey. You won’t win friends by simply dropping a project in the middle.

Another thought.  Each book should, if at all possible, stand on its own. Not always possible. In fact frequently impossible. But if you think about the series you’ve read, many of them manage to by giving some closures on some issues and leaving others unresolved. In that manner the reader feels completion and yet anticipation for the next installment. It’s a tricky high-wire act. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is a good example of that as is Orson Scott Card’s Ender Series.

In both it’s plainly best, in fact necessary to read them in order, and yet the reader does have a feeling of ends being tied up and moving on in anticipation of the next book.

Another challenge for the writer of a series is keeping the readers’ interest from one book to the next. That means the writer needs to keep those books coming and not allow  a long span of time to flow between them. Additionally, the reader expects the new book to be the same but different. What I mean by that is if the writer sticks too close to the formula he used in the first book he’ll have readers complain book two is just book one all over again. On the other hand if the writers goes too far off course the reader will complain it’s not the same world at all and be frustrated with the series. No way to please everyone, you have to write what you feel.

The hero in a series must move forward, cope with trials, learn from them, and yet can’t master every challenge or task or what would be left for the next installment? The same applies to movies – it is storytelling after all. Series like the Bond films go on and on. Other series, again, like Harry Potter, have a good long run and then conclude.

Quite the challenge. Tell me your thoughts and if you think you’re up to the challenge.


  1. Series can be great for the writer. Depending on how they're originally conceived, they can have a finite life or a longer one.

    But each story must be true to itself. So if a sequel isn't in the cards, then it isn't.

  2. Excellent, M Pax - author of Backworlds Series - glad to have your input.

  3. Wow. You got me thinking. I'm gong to start a series - my hero is in diapers. The Case of the Missing Baby Bottle. Young mothers can relate. ;-]

  4. "TO BE OR NOT TO BE"..I think certainly a talented writer can write a series with ease & it is very interesting able to pull in more readers..Peggy Bechko Smiles:))GOD<3U

  5. Thanks for the comments Peter and Adhi - just got back from out of town. Peter, great idea!

    Adhi, it's all in what the writer wants to do: series can be great fun or a whole lot of stressful work.


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