Friday, June 06, 2008

Series

Sorry I'm late in posting this today. I had to run five miles in the training schedule for my half marathon (race is next Saturday!) and with the end of school looming (Tuesday) my kids were just completely wild this morning. Getting up early to post this blog just didn't work. Summer on deadline is going to seriously kill me...

So let's talk series. Specifically...when does a series out stay its welcome?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and we're going to be discussing plotting a series at our next meeting. Basically, in romantic fiction there are three kinds of series:

1. Books connected by an overarching plot which starts in book one but isn't resolved until the end of X number of books - a war, a hidden secret, the search for a serial killer. Generally, to understand what's happening with the overarching plot, you need to read these books in order. Each book has its own unique plot under the umbrella, which is resolved at the end of that book, and generally the romance between the H/h is resolved as well. But that overarching plot is what draws the reader from one book to the next. There are a lot of these series out there - JR Ward's BDB series, Any of Nora Roberts' trilogies (newest is the Sign of Seven trilogy), Lara Adrian's vampire series.

2. Books connected by characters. No overarching plot. Each book is stand alone. Can be read in any order and still understood. There are also lots of these as well - Cindy Gerard's bodyguard series, any of Allison Brennan's trilogies, Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Stars football books.

And finally, the third option which is really a combination of the first two:

3. Books connected by characters that hint at an overarching plot which may or may not be completely obvious. Books can generally be read in any order, though readers can get lost sometimes with multiple connections, esp. to books they haven't read. Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series is like this. There is something bigger going on that the reader feels is going to happen down the road, but it's not entirely clear. Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dream Hunter series is like this as well.

Like I said, this whole series concept has been on my mind a lot lately, especially because this past week my agent and I were discussing my option book in my contract. I have several choices before me:

1. Write another book that could be linked to the first three. This is entirely possible. I have at least two characters/plots that could work here. Benefits: I love these characters, love this series. Writing this/these book(s) would be fun. Drawbacks: Keeping it fresh would be a challenge. I'm already finding I have to be careful with what I do in book three so it isn't too much like the first two.

2. Start a single book that's completely different, keeping it within the adventure brand my first three books put me in.

3. Start a new series, again, keeping it within the adventure brand.

While I like the idea of going forward and writing more connected books, I fear the whole, when is enough, enough? question. I've read several series - in all three series styles above - that seemed to lose steam after about 4-5 books. My enthusiasm as a reader definitely dropped off then. I think for writers, it's very difficult to keep the series fresh after that many books. In an interview I read with Susan Elizabeth Phillips, she was asked if she was going to write any other football books. She said no, because she'd pretty much done everything she could think to do with a group of football players. This was an aha! moment for me relating to series. I've loved all her football books (connected by characters, not an overarching plot), and to me they've all been fresh. But this goes to show how difficult it is to come up with those unique ideas once you've been writing a series for so long.

I'm sort of leaning toward starting something new. I originally intended these books to be a connected trilogy, not more than that. And while I know I could write one or two more, there is something invigorating about starting something new.

But I'm curious...how do you feel about series books? What authors can continually pump out fresh material in series that run longer than five books? Do you buy series that run that long? And do you have plans to write a series yourself? If so (or if you're doing so at the moment), how many books do you envision writing? How will you keep each book fresh and unique to keep your readers chomping for more?

9 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Ahhh, the series question... As you know I've finished book three of a five book series. This series is connected by characters- the five brothers. Book one was a lark with a thought I could write a book for each brother. Book two was written to tie up loose ends in book one. Book three was written to tell the oldest brother's story. Book four... is a follow up to the last book, but it is still peroclating in my head. I know the hero (obviously) who the heroine will be, but haven't really flushed her out yet, however, the whole premise is elluding me. So I have moved on to something else while I figure it out. And to give myself space between the books so it does come across as fresh when I write it.

The other series I've been working on, is kind of a combination of characters and an arching plot. I have know idea how many books I could milk out of it. 5-10 possibly. It would depend on how old it started to become while trying to write it.

As for reading series- all I've read are some of NR's trilogies, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich,Suzanne Enoch, and Linda Lael Miller. I quit reading Sue about J. The stories were starting to feel forced. I quit Janet about Nine, but I listened to book twelve on cd my last trip over the mountain and found her enjoyable. I haven't tired of Suzanne's series yet, b ut I've only read three of the books.
The three book series are just about right, though I've read NR's MacGregor family books (at least the ones I have ) several times because I like the family dynamics.

So if you can make heads or tails of my rambling- good luck! LOL I like series as long as they don't start reading like the same book over and over again.

Karen Duvall said...

This is a great topic, Eli! I love series books above all others. In fact, it's safe to say that's all I read now. And that's mostly because of my genre, urban fantasy, which is 100% series books.

KC is the first in a series. The world I created is immense and there's enough material to fuel stories for a minimum of five books. But when it comes to paranormal and fantasy, the imaginative elements are so diverse that you could take a series anywhere, and it would always stay fresh. I'm sure my main character is strong enough, and she has enough growth still ahead of her, that she could last the long haul.

Each of my books will stand alone, but I plan for there to be a loose end in each one that needs to be tied up in the next book. I have too many in the first one, and my agent wants me to wrap many of them up, which won't be hard. The books will definitely be linked, as there's a pretty big cliffhangar at the end of the first book that begs for resolution even though the main story question does get resolved.

I couldn't get enough of Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series until book nine when it turned into porn. Not erotica. Porn. But she had me completely hooked up to that point. If she'd stuck to her original style of story telling, I'd still be reading her books.

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files got a bit stale after about the 5th book, and Evanovitch got kind of old after nine, though I still enjoy listening to the audio versions. Those are a kick in the pants.

The other series I'm reading are still real knew so they haven't gotten old for me yet. They're all only at book 3 or 4, so there's still room to keep me interested.

I'm starting to write another series while KC makes the rounds. I love this one, too. It will be interesting to see if I can keep up with 2 series if both sell. Ha! Dreaming! But it's fun to dream. *happy sigh*

Alice Sharpe said...

I read a lot of series book but they're almost exclusively mysteries featuring one main character that exists in each book like good old Stephanie Plum, a series type you didn't mention. Probably hard to do that in a romance as the reader wants a happy ever after and one character carrying several books can't provide that.

As for writing a series, I've done two two book series up until now and they fit the criteria you spelled out. This current project is three books as I'm sure the world knows by now as I have talked enough about it, and the umbrella story connecting them and the brothers interaction with one another is more than in the previous efforts. I haven't actually written them yet. The fact the men are identical triplets should be a challenge as they look alike but will need to also have differences. They all also live in the same area of the country -- originally I had them spread from San Diego to Seattle -- but the second brother travels to Colorado, so that will be a nice change of scenery. Btw, that was the editor's suggestion to get them living closer together and as I revised the books and discovered the fun of interaction between them, I could see how clever she was to point it out.

It sounds to me like your gut is saying do something new. I, personally, would love to come up with a really unique character and let him or her have as many books as he/she wanted, but as long as I write within romance, I think three is enough. I think Karen made an excellent point about paranormal and I suppose if you came up with a romantic suspense plot that linked six people in six different places around the world (Or something) then that could work, too

I don't know if any of that made sense.

Great blog, much on my mind at present, too.

Kendra said...

I would put Stephanie Plum in a slightly different category where the main character is always the same person. Robert Crais' Elvis Cole novels and Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels do this with great skill. Jason Pinter is off to a good start with his first two novels about a reporter. To me, that is the most difficult type of series to write and keep fresh.

I'm not wild about the type of series where the huge conflict isn't solved until the end of book three. I love stand alones with related characters. I don't want to feel lost when I pick up a book.

I agree with Alice. It sounds like your gut is telling you to try something new. And if your readers start asking "When are you going to write so-and-so's story?" You'll know you didn't beat a series to death.

You can always go back to the first trilogy and write more. After writing a different series you might be dying to go back because so many new ideas popped into your brain about those people you already know.

Karen, I saw a debut listed on Publishers Marketplace today for steampunk. I thought of you and I felt smug that I knew what it was.

Alice Sharpe said...

Kendra, you're right, Robert Crais did it very well with his Elvis Cole character. And Joe Pike. Was that his name? Remember the book where he switched not only POV but time? It's fuzzy in my head, I just remember being very impressed by it.
I loved those books. Haven't read one in awhile...

Kendra said...

Mmmm. Love Joe Pike. Crais gave him his own book with THE WATCHMAN last year. It was terrific, up there in my top 20. Or 50. I love too many books.

I haven't read all the Elvis books. The one you described isn't familiar. But in one (I think THE LAST DETECTIVE) there is the ultimate, intense black moment where he jumps from POV to POV that blew me away. It was like a four-way Mexican stand-off.

Jack Reacher could be Joe Pike's rebellious, antisocial twin brother.

Genene Valleau said...

Series books is a subject much on my mind also. As Alice said, I'm sure "the world knows" by now that I'm plotting a nine-book series.

I very much appreciate the discussion of things to watch for so the books don't get stale or start sounding the same.

My series will have a different hero/heroine in each book. They will have varied careers and because they are all adopted, different backgrounds and loads of possibilities to find or not find their birth families. Also, most of them will live in the same general area so there will be family interaction to play off of, but not in the same town. That could get very cumbersome and annoying to keep up with each person's daily activities.

My first three books were connected characters, but with very different personalities, so I didn't worry about the books sounding the same.

I too really enjoyed Janet Evanovich's series with Stephanie Plum until they all started to sound alike. But I started at about #5 and read them out of order -- so I was kinda lost for awhile -- and I read a bunch of them in a short space of time. So the similarities were really obvious. That might not have been the case if there was more time between reading them. I think it would be tough to keep the stories fresh with one or two main characters. Maybe that's why I'm not planning to write a series like that. And I like all the loose ends tied up at the end of each book. I find cliffhangers annoying. Sorry, Karen! Prove me wrong with your series. :)

I'm looking forward to our discussion at the June meeting. Should be fun and lively!

And, Eli, good luck with your half marathon!

Karen Duvall said...

Genene, I'm adopted and I did a search for my birthparents. And I found them. Well, my birthmother anyway, coz my birthfather had already passed away. I belonged to an organization called Adoptees in Search and was even interviewed on the television news -- 3 different stations! Woo hoo! My 15 seconds of fame, lol. AIS was an intense and emotional group, let me tell you. I volunteered to answer the hotline for a month. Oh. My. God. Some of these people were obsessed. If you'd like to know more, just holler. 8^)

Genene Valleau said...

Karen, I would love to hear about your experiences! When working for what used to be CSD, I heard a lot about children being adopted, but very little about the searches when kids became adults. I will contact you privately to talk more. :)

Thank you!