Reading and Writing a Series

As a reader, I avoid starting a series of novels. Multiple adventures with the same set of characters that each exist as a stand alone novel? Fine. I can handle that. Yet I have rarely touched a series of novels that must be in sequence, wherein you’ll not have the “grand” resolution until you read all of them. Harry Potter is a notable exception to this, and I am not as wild about those books as most people are. They are easy (though usually too long) reads, that I got started on because a girlfriend at the time insisted. My reading of the series lasted far longer than the relationship, but I was too stubborn to not eventually read all seven novels.

Like I said, I enjoyed the Potter series. Moderately. Once was enough though.

At least I knew they were a series when I went into them. (Or I should say allowed my arm to be twisted to begin them in the first place.) Many novels, particularly of the fantasy/adventure genre are part of a series. The stand alone fantasy/adventure novel is rare. Not only is a stand alone rare, a mere trilogy is rare, from what I have gathered. Five to ten novels seems to be the average number of series installments, and there are plenty that go beyond that range.

If it came highly recommended from a trusted source who understood my tastes, as well as being very readable and/or engrossing I could perhaps be coaxed into a trilogy again at some point. A series larger than that would have to be one of the greatest things I’d ever read in order for me to finish as well as begin.

Yet for the most part when I finish reading a novel, I want to feel satisfied, and I don’t if I know the end of the book means that it only represents a tiny scratch in the narrative surface.

Plus, I get the sense I’d get weary of the same characters for that many books. It happened with the Potter books for me, i in fact. After about book four, I started to think, “Okay, Hermione’s smart and arrogant, Ron’s a goof, Harry continuously finds out he knows nothing about the wizarding world in which he was born, I get it.” Yes, there were some arcs to them, but not seven long novel’s worth of arc, in my opinion. I can’t image how an author keeps characters fresh for ten books plus. (At least George R.R. Martin kills people at a regular enough clip to shake things up, from what I hear. I’ve not read that series either.)

But, would I ever write a series of novels?

Strictly speaking, most people would probably say I should not. After all, we are supposed to read a great deal of what we plan to write, and as I just said, I don’t read a series very often. I have never totally bought into that, though. A bit of research, and some honest reading of a genre is to me enough for an author to “earn” the right to create something in that genre. So my lack of reading a series isn’t a stand alone reason to not write one.

Yet I still don’t see it happening, even though series writing is the true money maker of writing fiction, so they say. Never say never of course, but I think many of the same things that turn me off to reading a series of novels would turn me off from writing one. I wouldn’t like stretching a character’s arc out into infinity. (Or fifteen volumes, which would certainly have the illusion of infinity from my perspective.) I can’t say I’m a genius when it comes to arcs, but I do feel what i can accomplish should be accomplished within the course of a single novel. I have an idea, draw it out, rough draft it, revise it a few times, and, for the moment, I publish it. Even if I didn’t, I would shop it to an agent, maybe, some day. But knowing me, I’d want that process to feel complete for its own sake, as opposed to a stepping stone to something I may have already half written.

I’ve played around with the series idea for short stories, wherein there is an overall narrative linking them together, even as the individual story unfolds within a given story. I haven’t mastered an idea for that yet, but I can see myself continuing the experiment as time goes on, because in a short story, there is always a greater amount left out of the narrative than is so in the novel. “What happens next?” is a question I’m a bit more willing to invest in answering than I would be for a novel, which in general I want to be a journey, not a stop, for the reader.

Boredom is poison to the reading experience. But if you think being a bored reader is bad, try being a bored writer. Writing may not always be effortless, and in fact rarely is for me. It takes some discipline. Yet so does playing football, and that would hardly be a boring thing to do. Yet if I become bored with my own material, I am likely to never offer readers what they deserve, especially when there are many other ideas out there waiting to be explored. A series of novels, I feel, would bore me as a writer way too early in the process. I marvel at the epic scale of some author’s vision for their series of a dozen books, but I just don’t think I can ever embrace something so far reaching as that, either as a reader or author.

So far with writing novels, I like to dance with someone for a number, as opposed to rave until dawn.

It takes all kinds of authors, and as usual, I am not declaring my approach the best one. But the question often comes up as to whether I am working on a series, and this post is a current answer to that FAQ of the author community.

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