Tuesday, July 29, 2008

To series or not to series?

By Joe Moore

731 On October 1, THE 731 LEGACY, the fourth (and possibly last) installment in our Cotten Stone series hits the selves. My co-author Lynn Sholes and I have started working on a new standalone that could develop into a series if the literary gods smile down on us. But in taking on the task of a new set of main characters—something we haven’t done in almost 10 years—it got me to thinking about the pros and cons of writing a series as opposed to a standalone.

I think the biggest advantage is that we know our main characters really well having lived with them through four books. We’ve watched them act, react, and grow. Dealing with a character that we're familiar with presents less challenges that starting from scratch with a new main protagonist. So we can concentrate more on plot. In keeping our series protag fresh in each book, we always ask, “What does she need to learn that she doesn’t already know?” The answer to that question is our challenge for new character development in the next book in the series.

Of course, with a new series main character, we have to learn all the idiosyncrasies and motivational forces as we go through the development process. Rather than springing off the starting line, we must first crawl, then learn to walk all over again.

Another downside to a series is backstory. How much do we have to retell with each new book? Where do we draw the line between bringing the new reader up to speed that may have started reading in mid-series and boring the established fan who has already read the previous books and just wants us to get on with the new story?

There are many other advantages and disadvantages. So for the series authors out there, are you happy to keep the story going through multiple books or would your like to cleanse your creative palate and take a chance now and then by writing a standalone?


Mark Terry said...

I've been thinking a lot about this, after having read some standalones that were wonderful--by Peter Abrahams or some science fiction that takes place in the same universe but involves different characters (John Scalzi).

It may also be that so many of my favorite series have seemed stale. I don't know that they are, just that to me, having read 10 or 15 or 20 or 30! (Robert B. Parker) the whole thing is starting to taste the same.

Coming back to a series character can be like visiting with an old friend, but a standalone can allow real change to happen to the character--and real peril, too.

6 of one, half a dozen of the other?

G.M. Malliet said...

Joe - typically, my answer is that I want...everything. I have only just begun with my series detective and I want to stay with him awhile. At the same time, there is another series I started working on some years ago and I'd like to return to it. AND I want to do a standalone.

I think this is reasonable, don't you? ;-)

Mark Combes said...

I'm with Mark #1 on this. It's a good story with a strong character that I'm after. And I've started series that I never took to fruition because I couldn't get into the series character....

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm with G.M. on this - I want it all! I love writing my Odelia Grey series, but have really enjoyed stretching my writing wings with my new series. I also have a stand alone novel almost completed, with plans for at least 2 more.

With a long-running series, the challenge is to keep it fresh, for both you the writer and the reader. I find working on other things does "cleanse my palate" so that when I return to my old and dear friends in the Odelia books, I'm alert and ready to go.

Good luck, Joe and Lynn, on your new project!

Joe Moore said...

Mark1, I too have been disappointed in some of my favorite series writers who repeated the same story one too many times.

Gin, nothing wrong with wanting it all. Finding the time is usually the biggest obstacle.

Mark2, we’ve tried to force characters to do things that were against their will and failed. Most of the time, our characters make the major decision for us.

Sue Ann, thanks for the well-wishes. It’s a risk, but I believe that he who risks, wins.

jbstanley said...

I'm ready to start fresh, but with another series. MY readers tend to buy series and cozy mysteries don't sell well as standalones. If I could write something thrilling like you and Lynn can, I'd definitely try a standalone.

I think you'll sell whatever you two write. Too much talent there for someone to pass your new attempt over.

Good luck!

Joe Moore said...

Thanks, Jess. Now if you were just our publisher!!!