TT: Series, Con’t, Con’t

JANE: Welcome to Part 3 of the Jane and Alan Tangent Trilogy about series…

ALAN: In the first two volumes of this trilogy we highlighted several problems that writers of series have to come to grips with in order to keep the readers interested. You’ve been guilty of committing two fairly long and complex series (“The Firekeeper Saga” and “Breaking the Wall”).

Three of  Jane's Series

Three of Jane’s Series

How did you make sure that a reader who picked up a later volume in the series without having read the earlier volumes (or who had forgotten what happened in the earlier volumes) did not feel too lost?

JANE: Before I answer, would you mind if I explain why I write series in the first place?

ALAN: Please do. I’ve often wondered why writers choose to live in a fictional world for more than one book.

JANE:  Both series and stand-alone novels have creative advantages.  Once the setting is established, the author can concentrate on refinements and expansions without having to reinvent the wheel every time.  This is particularly crucial in “imaginary world” fiction – whether science fiction or fantasy – where the setting (and the background history) differs greatly from the “real” world.

In a series, the author has more options for developing characters, both from the pressure cooker of events within the novels and from the passage of time.  The same is true of situations, since everything doesn’t need to be wrapped up in one book.

A question for you… Do you prefer series or stand-alone novels?

ALAN: I much prefer stand-alone novels. I seldom buy any books that are part of a series. If I am already familiar with a writer’s work, I might make an exception. But I almost never buy series novels by writers I’ve never read before. Though having said that, I’ve just recently contradicted myself by buying the first volume of something that will probably turn into a series, written by an author I’ve never heard of! In my defense, I must say that the premise was so intriguing, I simply couldn’t resist it, and it turns out that the book is nicely stand-alone, so if the series never eventuates, I won’t feel any sense of loss.

JANE: You’re definitely in the minority – at least based on my fan mail and from comments I’ve heard from other writers, publishers, and, maybe especially, from readers.  For every stand-alone novel I’ve published, I’ve had requests for sequels.  I’ve even had requests for sequels to short stories!

Oddly, though, you’re right on the mark with reviewers, which you also are.  Most reviewers seem far more excited by stand-alone novels.

ALAN: I completely fail to understand the enthusiasm for sequels. Clearly, therefore, I’m perfectly qualified to be a reviewer.

JANE:  So, going back to your original question, my favored approach in writing books in a series has always been to try and make each book stand alone as much as possible. Please note the “as much as possible.”

Therefore, each book has a couple of issues I promise myself will be answered by the end of the book.  For Through Wolf’s Eyes (“Firekeeper Saga, book one) the issues were twofold: exploring Firekeeper’s first contact with those weird aliens called “humans,” and who would be chosen as King Tedric’s heir apparent.

ALAN: So were you deliberately trying to avoid cliffhangers?

JANE: Absolutely!

For Thirteen Orphans (the first “Breaking the Wall” novel) the issue to be resolved took the form of a problem: “Who is stealing the memories of a select handful of people and why?”  Since many of the Orphans didn’t even know of their peculiar heritage, investigating the problem provided a nifty way to explore the complex heritage of the Thirteen Orphans.

ALAN: So are you saying that each new volume expanded on and clarified things that previous volumes introduced? If so, doesn’t the reader need to have a good understanding of the background before reading new volume?

JANE:  Yes.  And that’s why it was harder to maintain the “stand-alone” feel for the Breaking the Wall series than it was for the early stages of the Firekeeper Saga.  However, even with the Firekeeper Saga, the time came where I had to accept that I could not keep the books stand-alones.

The complete change of venue in Wolf Captured did, however, enable me to focus on new events.  What background I did need to supply came gracefully in the form of Firekeeper and Derian thinking about those they had left behind.

ALAN: You’ve also written some quite short series. There are only two athanor books  and (so far) only two Artemis books. Does this make any practical difference to keeping the continuity comprehensible?

JANE: These series weren’t planned to be short, so, no, there was no practical difference on the level of planning.

In the case of the athanor books, I didn’t initially plan for there to be a sequel to Changer.  I thought writing one might be nice, but the series was not sold as a series, if you get my drift.  Changer, however, did well enough that the publisher expressed an interest in a sequel.   Changer’s Daughter (original published as Legends Walking) was my first attempt at writing a sequel.

ALAN: That’s interesting. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an accidental series.

JANE: Yep!  It happens more than you might imagine.  I can think of several such circumstances I know about for certain, as well as a couple where I strongly suspect this was the case.

My favorite is the author who wrote a tough and gritty combat-oriented SF novel, at the end of which most of the main characters – including the title character – were killed.  The book was an unexpected hit.  When the publisher hinted that a sequel would be welcome, the author had to do a lot of fancy tap-dancing.

ALAN: Ha, ha! Serves him right. At least it kept him on his toes… (You can groan now, if you want to.)

JANE: Groaning…  In fact, your pun has hit me so hard I don’t think I can keep going.  How about I finish telling you about series from the writer’s point of view next time?

ALAN: Sounds like a good idea.

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5 Responses to “TT: Series, Con’t, Con’t”

  1. Barbara Says:

    As a reader, not a writer or reviewer, I read series for two reasons when I like either the characters and am eager to follow their adventures, in much the same way as I like to keep track on the adventures of my real life friends or if the particular subject matter of the original book catches my interest and I want to learn more about a particular time period.

    For example, right now I’m finishing the third book in a series about the time period of Edward Plantangent of England and his attempts to make Scotland a part of England. When I first started the series I knew very little about Scottish history. Now I know a little more

  2. chadmerkley Says:

    You guys just gave way too many teasers without actually mentioning titles and authors.

    I thought that the Breaking the Wall and the Artemis books left so many questions open after the first volume. The answers came (or hopefully are coming in Artemis), which is what makes the series work.

  3. henrietta abeyta Says:

    I jasmine Olson let it depend more on what messages I discover from the book or book series. On the other hand I let my book purchases depend a little bit on the book’s core.

    Blind Seer’s a character who helps me visualize both independent moments and moments in a crowd. The 16th chapter of the 6th book of Firekeeper’s Saga when he’s telling Firekeeper about his dream of him talking with a sheep, Blind Seer absolutely made it clear that self-acceptance helps you not be too self-conscious, and it also helps with real relaxation.

    shame, despair, frustration, feeling overwhelmed, not knowing what you’re able to do, his private talk with Firekeeper about this dream helped me see these few other negative emotion are worse than regular confusion.

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