The Series

Something that writers have to consider when an idea comes into his or her head is how many installments that story is going to take to write.  Is it an idea that is relatively straightforward and can be told in one shot? Or is it complex, with multiple parts and interdependent plots that is going to take several volumes to right?

There are differing opinions on what constitutes a series: is it just more than 1 book or is there a minimum? Is a trilogy automatically a series?  I think there is a difference between a trilogy and a 3 book series. A trilogy, like the Lord Of the Rings, is a single story broke up across 3 books.  And I know this is probably heresy, but I would consider the original Star Wars “trilogy” to be more of a series. Yes, there is the same base story the ties all 3 movies together, but each of them are different parts of that story, it’s not necessarily the same contiguous story.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to writing and reading a series.

As a writer, a series affords you room to build your world and show your readers that world. You have the opportunity to expand on smaller story lines and bring characters into the plot that would have to be cut in smaller spaces. You have the flexibility to build more volumes into your story if you find them necessary. This happened to me with my current series. I had originally planned on 5 novels, but then I realized that I needed a 6th. And now, a 7th! But that should be it. I think.

As a reader, you reap the benefits of the author’s careful worldbuilding and plotting. You get the enjoyment of reading about the characters at a depth that you wouldn’t get in a standalone book.

A disadvantage as a writer is that things can get out of hand very quickly. I think a prime example of this is George RR Martin. A Song of Ice and Fire was supposed to be 3 books; it’s supposed to be up 7 total now (5 are out already). You can start to wander down lesser plot paths that aren’t essential to the core story.

As a reader, unless you pick up a series that’s already completed, you end up having to wait for each next installment in the series. Sometimes, unfortunately, an author passes away before a series can be completed. You also run into the authors who go into the smaller plots and stories more than they need to.

So, as readers and writers, what do you think of series? Do you like reading them? Do you like writing them? Why?


4 comments on “The Series

  1. I think a differentiation should be made between a series and what is more appropriately designated a serial. To me, a series is a number of books focusing in the same character(s), but that each book is essentially a stand alone novel. In these cases (think The Dresden Files, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series, Terry Goodkind’s Richard and Kahlan books, or the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew) you may miss a little backstory by reading out of order, but each book is a complete story.
    On the other hand, we traditionally think of serials as being shorter pieces of a longer story (the old movie cliffhangers being the most obvious example). In fantasy, this has been taken to the extreme, where each ‘shorter’ piece can run 800+ pages. Can you imagine reading ‘The Two Towers’ first and thinking you’d have any clue what was going on in The Lord of the Rings (which was originally published as 6 books, by the way)? How about picking up A Clash of Kings and even knowing what characters belonged to which houses? A trilogy is merely a longer work serialized into three parts and, wile this was once the convention in fantasy, recent trends have made these uber-serials stretch on longer and longer ( see Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, the 14th and final book written and published after his death).
    While serials are probably more common in fantasy, and give a great opportunity for character development and complex story lines, they can certainly be frustrating to the reader. Who wants to wait years for the next part? Does anyone really know when George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire will end?

  2. I had never thought of the difference between a series and a serial. Thanks for the lesson, Joshua and Bruce!

    As a reader, I love a serial or series. I enjoy getting to know a world and characters well. Waiting for the next book is really frustrating – something I try to keep in mind as an author!

    The down side of writing a series/serial is not only the pressure to get the next book written, but also the aspect of letting go of a world you’ve spent years creating! Sure, I can always revisit the characters and world again, but unless it is a new series…it just isn’t the same. Do all author’s feel a mix of happy/sad wrapping up the final book in a trilogy?

  3. I didn’t know there was a difference… 🙂

    I automatically called my three books in my fantasy series and series. I suppose it is a trilogy because if you don’t read the first one, you’re not going to fully appreciate the second.

    I enjoy writing trilogies, but as mentioned, they take a lot of time and there’s pressure to get the next book out. The next time I do a trilogy, I’m going to write them all first and publish them together.

    I like writing series too because I get to return to favour characters.

    I enjoy both, series and trilogies. As long as the story is good, it doesn’t matter which format (series, trilogy, stand alone) the book(s) are in.

  4. I much prefer series or serials (and I agree with Bruce’s breakdown), largely because it means you get to keep hanging out with characters you’ve come to know and love. The only drawback about a series is that (hypothetically) it will have to come to an end. The only drawback about serials is that eventually they wear out their welcome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s