Lately the publishing (and movie) world has been overtaken by what seems to be a plague of series. It seems that I can’t go to the bookstore without finding the “tenth book of the claw of honor” series. The Fifth book of the Immensely Overblown Epic Fantasy series. And in theaters, well…
I’m glad I went to see Avengers. I liked it. I’m glad we decided to buy all the prequels. But – mama, don’t let your daughters grow up to marry mathematicians – must we watch them all in order? Even The Incredible Hulk. (Okay, miles better than The Hulk, but can’t they tweak that story to give the poor critter a happy ending, or at least a semi-happy-ending? And if they can’t, then why do the movie at all. he’s okay as a secondary character, but… main? The emotional arc is all wrong.)
Actually the Avengers is a good example of what I’m talking about with series. I was a super-hero movie virgin when I went to see it. At least, I hadn’t seen any since the Amazing Spider man what… eight? Years ago?
The closest thing I watched to a superhero movie before the avengers was The Incredibles. Oh, and I haven’t read comics since Portugal in the sixties, except for Disney comics, which are different. (Very, very different at times.)
But I walked into that theater and sat down, and GOT everything. The story worked. There was no need for my husband to lean over – as he’s done with other movie series – and whisper, “he and she had this thing. That’s why she’s upset.” No, there was full context right there on he screen for me to get the emotional and plot impact of everything. Yes, even the Hulk, who IS a very powerful secondary character. You get the feeling of a man watching himself ALL the time, and afraid of what’s within him. That’s one of my favorite things to write, read and watch. (For reasons I’ll figure out, should I ever be able to afford a psychiatrist. Meanwhile, deal.)
Look, I love Dave Weber. But I came to Honor Harrington late. And I find I have to read the series in small increments because otherwise I tire out. (This is true with all series, for me.) The problem is that six months later, when I resume on book eight, I can’t remember the details that went before, and keep getting the feeling I’m missing something. He’s not alone. There are more series I’ve abandoned mid-read than those I’ve followed to the bitter end. No, I can’t tell you why. I just get to the point I feel I’m missing too much info to stay with it. Heck, I have that problem with my own writing, too. After a while I need a “bible” just to figure out if this character likes black or yellow.
Part of this is the story that follows one character throughout. In the old days when you got out a book a year, tops, this meant that you were requiring readers to remember to buy that book. Miss it, and, two years later, get it out of order, and the reader is screwed. Or more likely, you are, as they toss the book aside and go in search of something else. If you EVER get to the point people need a glossary, list of characters AND past history in the middle… you’re really screwed.
There is an escape from this – the episodic series. What I call “bring your characters to their upright and locked position” series. In the end of each book, we’re back to the beginning, sort of. The world and the characters change but very slowly, and you can enjoy each book on its own without a reference on how things work in this world and what she did to him in the second book.
Most mystery series are like that, thereby skimming the best of the series – people come back for the group of characters and the feel for the world – but avoiding the worst: the necessity to know what happened in every other book, which becomes onerous as the series goes on.
I figured out early on that I can’t write series that aren’t mystery series. Once I’ve solved the character’s main emotional arc, I’m done, and I want to go and play with someone else. The Shakespeare trilogy suffers from this. The exception, I’d say is the Shifters series, and that’s because in some ways it IS a mystery series.
So faced with the need to make Heart of Light into a trilogy (no, it wasn’t, long story) I thought I invented something completely new: I did the series by moving the “main” character to a new head every time. This made the series flow better, for me. I thought I was a genius… It took me years to figure out this is how romance series are done. (Because you don’t want to undo the happy ever after, but you still want to stay with that group of characters.)
Of course, Pratchett does the same. His characters are different every book, and he might come back to one, but it’s a whole new problem/relationship, yet in each book we get to see the same group of characters. And you can start at any point.
So… Darkship Thieves, now has a second book, Darkship Renegades. This was semi-difficult since the series is not only one character, but it is restricted to Thena’s head. I think I can keep it going – and keep it interesting – by treating it more like a mystery series. Yet it is – in structure – closer to romance. So, not having sketched the third one yet, I make no promises. It might very well move to her kids’ heads. (In fact, I know it will eventually.) And I suspect the next one of the Darkships will be in the head of a character you have never seen before. (Evil grin.) There might be ONE MORE from Thena’s perspective. You can go three books without a map and a guidebook. After that… well… things get complex.
Meanwhile, and because I needed to do the revolution on Earth and couldn’t do it from Thena’s perspective – she’s moved on. Her “home” is now Eden – I started the Earth Revolution series. You get to see some old friends – all the broomers – but each book has a new main character whose problems (well, the main ones) get more or less resolved at the end of his or her book. And who come back as secondary characters in other books. This also allows me a wide-angle perspective that covers the entire Earth and dips into the places of trouble with a fresh perspective.
The first of these is A Few Good Men, coming out this spring, and your returning character is Nat from the broomers in DST – though he’s not the main or voice character. (Though Fuse is also there. He didn’t die at the end of DST. Thena just thought so.) The next book either involves Jan Rainer or Simon. (Not sure which, yet.) I know by book four or five (Blood of Heroes) we’ll be well into the second generation. Unfortunately that’s the missy who is VERY loud in my head right now. No, you don’t want to know.
And meanwhile I have a whole future history sketched to around 3500 and space colonization, and I reserve the right to dip and swoop wherever I feel like.
I hope thus to harness the best of series. You get to see all your old friends. You’ll just never believe the twists life takes on them!
Tighten your seatbelts and trust me. It’s gonna be a wild ride.