Seriously Thinking About Series

News Flash: Contest Announcement

Artemis Invaded will be released at the end of June.  To celebrate, I’m giving out three ARCs of the novel via Goodreads.  Check out the contest details here.

A Selection of Series

A Selection of Series

Wish you could have learned about the contest sooner?  Sign up for my mailing list for notifications of contests, author events, and new releases.

News Flash: Interviews

Last week, I was asked to do a couple of interviews.

In the first, Alyx Dellmonica asks a few questions about how early literary heroines shaped my characters. It should go up sometime today here.

The second interview comes from the folks at the Goodreads space opera community.  Treecat Wars is one of their featured titles this month, but they wanted to know about a lot more than just the treecats.  You can check out their questions here.

News Flash: Change of Venue for The Change

Last week, I mentioned that I’ll be part of a launch even for S.M. Stirling’s anthology The Change on June 15th at 7:00 p.m.  The location for this has been changed to the Violet Crown Cinema, 1606 Alcadesa Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And now to our regularly scheduled Wander…

A couple weeks ago, in “Avoid or Anticipate?: The Problem of Series,” (WW 5-27-15), I talked a bit about the mixed reactions that series books (and the writers who write them) receive.  At the end, I encourage readers to ask any questions they had about the complexities involved in writing a series.   I had quite a few questions, both on the site and from my shy “ghosts.”  To avoid repetition, I’ve condensed and rephrased where necessary.

The questions were split between creative considerations and business considerations.  I’m going to start with the creative aspects, then move on from there.

The first question addresses, very rightly, the point when a series becomes a series –  when you start writing the second or third book.

Q: How do you treat a series book? Do you write a treatise at the beginning of each book saying what happened in the preceding book?

A: No treatises, please!  A series novel is still a novel and an “info-dump” is still an info-dump.

Sure, in current television or old movie serials, it’s not uncommon for a new episode to begin with a short clip from the previous one, but the key here is short.  Moreover, these mostly happen in circumstances where the previous episode ended on a cliffhanger, especially an action cliffhanger.  Therefore, rather than dulling the viewer’s interest, these recaps get the blood pumping again: “Oh,yeah.  That’s right.  Last week we left Dark Ranger fighting with Evil Elf, unaware that Blood Armadillo was about to stab him in the back.”

But a novel is not a television show.  Moreover, the purpose of a short recap and a treatise is different.  Those clips are meant to re-familiarize a viewer with the prior chapter.  They are not meant to re-introduce characters, setting, past action, and all the rest.

Q: Can you start out with reminders of the important characters by doing several short scenes as to “what they’re doing now”?

Yes, you can, but this is still an info-dump and info-dumps can be deadly dull.  Readers who already know the characters are frustrated  because after the initial “Oh, yeah, right. Smitty!  I remember Smitty,” they’re going to feel, well, dumped on.

New readers are not going to be hooked by a bunch of scenes showing characters going about their day-to-day business.  And narrative hooks are no less important in series novels than in stand-alone novels.

My tendency is to go right into the story I’m currently telling and find a way to re-introduce background material in context.  How you find that context will depend on the story you’re telling.  It might be conversation: “I can’t believe it’s only six months since we first met, after we’d both been swallowed by the Utterly Enormous Sea Monster.”  “Yeah, and don’t forget, if I hadn’t been there, you’d have been nothing but sugar in a monster’s bloodstream, not the High Priestess of Deep Oceans.”

 Or it can be in a character’s thought.  “As she hung onto Cargo’s increasingly slippery fingers, Angel Momma thought, ‘Was it only six months ago that Cargo nearly broke my hand as he tried to keep me from sliding into the Sea Monster’s colon?’”

Or, if you’re a fan of omniscient narrative voice (not one of my favorites, but some people are good at it), the backstory might take the form of something like: “No one looking down at the slime-covered pair desperately struggling against the tentacles of Mega-Squid would have guessed they’d known each other a mere six months, so intensely did their bond to each other show.”

Q: That’s stuff’s great for smaller things like the passage of time, but how about the deeper, more complicated elements, like that Angel Momma feels a lot of guilt about how Shorts (Cargo’s twin brother) died saving her life?

A: Once again, work it into the story.  If this is really such a key event in Angel Mama’s life, she’s going to think about or talk to someone about it.  If you need to struggle to bring it up, then you’re not sufficiently in touch with your characters.

Q: Any thoughts on what to do when the story requires a regular or semi-regular be phased out of the main focus? They had their role, and readers are attached to them, but now they must take a lesser role, which may become almost or completely nothing. Something like that could irk quite a few readers.

A: Many a good novel (or TV series, for that matter) has been destroyed by been burdened by characters who should have been retired to the sidelines.  It’s the writer’s job to make the story move along.  Does that mean you can never mention those other characters?  Not at all!

If they really were important to your protagonist, your protagonist is going to try to stay in touch.  A short passage with a letter from Absent Friend wouldn’t be out of line.  However, you can handle the matter more gracefully by incorporating news about Absent Friend into the action.  Here’s an example:

“As he drank the mug of thin, weak, yet still astonishing bitter coffee Crab Crocheter had handed him, Cargo wistfully recalled Angel Mama’s deft hand with a fireside percolator.  But Angel Mama wouldn’t be joining him on the road ever again.  Together they had won the proofs that she was indeed the High Priestess of Deep Oceans.  The last time he’d seen her, she was handing out prayers as if she’d been doing it all her life, although all that sitting in a temple had put a bit of weight on her once slender form.”

That said, there comes a point in a series where the author needs to decide who the audience for the next book is.  When talking about decisions that had to be made before he could complete Robert Jordan’s monumental  “Wheel of Time” series, Brandon Sandersen said (and I paraphrase):  There comes a point where it’s impossible to write a book that will make both the long-time readers of the series happy and provide a point of entry for new readers.  With the “Wheel of Time” the decision was made to write for the fans of the series.  Even so, especially with a very long, complex series, it’s impossible to bring everyone’s favorite character back, even for a cameo, without turning the books into nothing but a sentimental journey.

This provides a nice transition to the more business-oriented questions.

Q: When selling a series to a publisher, do you have to know how it’s going to end? And if you tell the publisher “5 books with ending A” and you need to change to 4 books … or 7 books … or ending B, can you?

A: No.  You don’t need to know.  If you’ve contracted for five books and try to get away with only four, then you’d better be ready to pay the publisher back part of the advance.

You can expand the series.  However, whether the publisher will encourage you to do so will have a lot to do with sales figures.  It’s easier for a “Wheel of Time” or “Game of Thrones” to expand beyond the originally projected number of volumes because they’re making everyone a lot of money.

Q: When writing a series, how do you deal with a new editor who might not have read all of the previous books, and who doesn’t understand why character A can’t fall in love with (or kill) character B?

A: You explain the situation politely.

Q: Is there even a major publisher who WANTS to publish a stand-alone novel these days? Or are they all looking for novels with “series potential,” even if they haven’t bought it as a series?

A: Of course there are publishers who want stand-alone novels!  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, stand-alone novels still get most of the award nods and critical acclaim, so they have appeal for publishers.

“Series potential” might be attractive, but it’s not as easy as some make it sound.  If you’re going to try this game, make sure you really could open up a can of worms you’ve tightly sealed at the end of Book One.

That’s the last question.  I hope these answers were of some help.  If they raised other questions, feel free to bring them on!

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3 Responses to “Seriously Thinking About Series”

  1. Sean Says:

    Please lets have more of the story about “Dark Ranger fighting with Evil Elf, unaware that Blood Armadillo was about to stab him in the back.” I hope this is in the next series you write.

  2. Paul Dellinger Says:

    As an occasional writer, I really enjoy these author Q&As.

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