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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

To be Continued - Writing Series Fiction by Phillip S. Davies



Do you want to write what publishers love? Then writing series fiction may be for you. Publishers like series of novels, because if readers enjoy your first book, then they’re more likely to buy a sequel with familiar characters and setting than a new stand-alone novel. There’s a bonus for writers toosome of your work is done, with a setting and characters already to hand.
But beware the “law of diminishing returns”! Too many series go downhill, trotting out the same tired story, with a few tweaks, until we’re bored with it. Those with young children may know the Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic series, each with over a hundred titles, but with carbon-copy storylines.
Another challenge is: can you assume your reader has read the earlier book(s)? If you assume so (and they haven’t), your reader may lose interest with poorly introduced characters and unexplained backstory. If you assume not (and they have), you risk boring your loyal reader with repeating yourself.
The answer to walking this tightrope depends on your series. Is it one long story,broken up into different volumes, like The Lord of the RingsOr are they stand-alone novels, with separate storiesbut recurring main characters or setting?
I like the analogy of the flights of stairs in a house. Picture our readers starting with us on the ground floor, and our story takes them up one flight to the upstairs. [Is that why thefloors in a house are sometimes called storeys”?!]
A trilogy like The Lord of the Rings takes us, over three volumes, from the ground floor straight up to the third, in one long staircase, with hardly any pause for breath. Series like Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic start with a similar situation in each story, so it’s like climbing from the ground floor to the first, over and over again, on slightly differingstaircases.
With other series, are there any changes for the main characters or setting between one book and the next – a new ally, an enemy defeated, an injury, etc.? If our series includeschange, character development and story arcs, then the second book can launch off from the end of the first. The sequels are like climbing from the first floor to the second, and from the second to the third. Each book ends with reaching a landing, where we pause before ascending the next stor(e)y.


A story between storeys?



Can I make a plea to my fellow series fiction writers? Please don’t end a book with acliff-hanger or twist, to try to make us buy the next volume. You’re denying your reader a satisfying conclusion and resolution to your story in that book. I hate that. I assure my readers that I will never do that to you. My Destiny series follows on from each other in time, with similar main characters and setting, but resolves properly at the end of each novel. I hope that (like me) you pause for breath, satisfied and content, before embarking on the next flight of stairs.



Philip S Davies writes the Teenage/Young Adult fantasy adventure novels Destiny’s Rebeland Destiny’s Revenge (releasing on 10th June 2017).
Book link:

13 comments:

  1. Thank you, Phillip. There's a lot of good advice here. Years ago, I read the Almonds and Raisins trilogy by Maisie Mosco and, more recently, Phillipa Gregory's trilogy, Wideacre. I can see how they followed the guidelines that you've written about, and that's most likely why I enjoyed them so much.

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    1. Thanks, Agatha. It strikes me that there's a whole lot more written about how to structure a story within a book, than about building up a series. It's something I've had to ponder and wrestle with in my own writing.

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    2. I can see the attraction of writing a series. When you develop characters that you care about, you can stay with them for much longer. I like the thought of doing that. Yes, you're right, there's lots of advice on writing single novels ... writing a book about how to write a series is one that is begging to be written ... by you?

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    3. I think I'm too busy writing my series of novels to have the time to write a book about how to do it, if that makes sense! But thanks for the suggestion, Agatha. And you're right: I've lived with my imaginary world and cast of characters for long enough that they've become real to me.

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  2. I share your annoyance with books that end on cliffhangers, particularly if I haven't been warned. It seems like a trick, and even if I'd enjoyed the book, I probably wouldn't buy the next one on principle. Grrrr. Anyway, great blog, and if I ever get within a sniff of the possibility of writing a 'series' I will take your advice.

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    1. Yes, that "ending on a cliffhanger" trick seems a sure-fire way of alienating and losing readers rather than gaining them. But Fran, since you're working on a sequel to "Being Miss", isn't this the start of your series? ;-)

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    2. Well .. it used to be a sequel to 'Being Miss' but now it's not - it's its own Thing. So if it's going to be a series this would be Book One.

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    3. Oooh! It's going to be A New Thing. Very exciting, and so you'd better hurry up and finish it so that we can all read it. :-)

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  3. Thank you for this PHilip. I too hate series novels that end on a cliffhanger. My 2 1st novels are set in the same place but novel 2 takes 3 characters from novel 1 further forwards. Novel 3 takes one of the co-stars in novel 2, and makes her the main protagonist. do you think that counts as a series? Each can be read as a standalone novel. I loved Susan Howatch's Starbridge series, and in each volume she took different individuals from the previous novel and explored them from a different angle.

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    1. Yes, I'd say yours count as a series, because there's at least a little continuity between one book and the next. Your landings just take us off in different directions for the next flights of stairs. :-)

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  4. I agree with all your points, Philip. I am just putting the finishing touches to my fourth and last in the White Gates series (and feeling a sense of bereavement). When I first set out, I had thought there may be five books, but, like you said, I did not want to repeat any story lines. Each of the books has its own theme and story arc and puts the focus on a different character. No cliff-hangers, but I hope readers will want to know what the characters do next. The series as a whole has its own arc, too - but I'm keeping how it ends a secret. I can assure my readers, however, that there will be a proper end. The series will not just peter out; I wrote the final chapter fairly early on in the process. I'm hoping book four, "The Indestructible Spark" will be out before Christmas.
    Walking the tightrope of having a good story line within each book and also an overall series arc in which the characters develop is hard. You need to climb your 'flight of stairs' rather than just start at the bottom again (like a series using the same police inspector on a new case in which he is fairly detachable from the plot) but at the same time ensure each book has its own integrity. My wife is always telling new readers to start with book one, "The Kicking Tree" on the ground that book two has inevitable spoilers in it for the plot in book one. I guess she's right, although you could read just one on its own and it would make sense.
    I thought I might write a one-off next - but maybe you've just changed my mind.
    Thank you for this. Looking forward to "Destiny's Revenge".

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    1. Thanks, Trevor, you're further on than I am. I'm also conscious that my Books 2 and 3 contain plot spoilers for the earlier stories, but I don't think we can do anything about that. I agreed with my publisher that my Destiny series would be a trilogy, so of course I'm starting to think what will come next. While getting a series of novels right can be the hardest thing, it's also the most satisfying and rewarding of all fiction writing, I reckon. Well done and good luck.

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  5. Thanks. Being self-published, I didn't have to agree anything in advance. I could go on with my characters but I know that wouldn't be right. I'll miss them though. So, onward and upwards with the next bunch. You still have one more to go. Have fun. Rich blessings.

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