Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Serious Series Staying Power

There are different ways to do series. Some suspense and mystery writers have central characters, detectives or investigators, who solve the crime of the particular novel. Some romance novelists base a series on a particular town and focus each novel on a different couple within the unique and attractive setting. When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, usually the series is bound together by a created world or universe. Sometimes the same characters appear in each novel though not always.

It's up to the writer to find the right technique to bring readers back for more. I read a lot of suspense and mystery. Jonathan Kellerman brings me back for more and more in his Alex Delaware series because the protagonists are so interesting and each novel has complex psychological mysteries. I can seldom figure out the twists when they come. Science fiction writer Alex J. Cavanaugh used a complex, interesting character as a continuing thread in his Casa... Series and drew readers back because they wanted to know the rest of the story about that central character.

Sometimes romance novelists introduce a secondary character in the first book of a series, making the character interesting enough for the reader to care about them. But then the writer sets the secondary's story aside, hoping the reader will want to know what happened to him or her and thus buy the next book. I used this technique in my most recent romance series. In The Marine's Queen, Vin, a secondary character suffers a tragic loss and goes off on his own. The book ends with his fate unknown. Much to my delight, a few readers of The Marine's Queen emailed me and asked me if I intended to write Vin's story.

In fantasy series and other suspense novels, though there might be a pause in the action at the end of each novel, the writer needs to leave unanswered questions or unresolved dangers. With each book, the stakes have to grow in importance and the road to solve the problems or the mystery has to grow steeper. The world can't be saved or the evil completely defeated until the last book in the series.

In my most recent fantasy series, The Morbunda Saga, the war is just getting started in First Dragon, the kickoff novel. Disasters and losses pile up as I introduce the reader to the Morbunda fantasy world. The complexities of the characters are revealed over the course of the novel. Hopefully readers will want to know what happens next.

What techniques work best for keeping you involved in a series? What tantalizing hooks do you use to keep a series successful? What series of books have you really enjoyed as a reader?


  1. Aloha Susan,

    My current WIP is planned as a series, but I'm not sure yet which character will carry the drama to a book two and beyond...

    (We live in interesting times, right :)

    PS: A-Cav is going to be stoked to hear you mentioned in the same sentence as Jonathan Kellerman :)

  2. I've always enjoyed the Shannara series, by Terry Brooks. I like the idea of mini-series - 2 to 4 books - within the larger framework of the sweeping history of the fantasy world. I've liked some of the mini-arcs more than others, but together they all combine to make a magnificent tapestry.

    My novel Magic Most Deadly is the planned first in a series based around the main protagonists, Maia and Len. Rather than carrying out one plotline throughout many books, it will follow their adventures as they work for the magical Intelligence Agency in the 1920s. It's a premise with so much richness to mine from!

  3. What Louise said about the Shannara series!
    I do like returning characters lot, such as Agent Pendergast in Lincoln and Child's series. Probably why I decided to stick with Byron for my own series.

  4. I'm working on a sequel to my first book, but wouldn't call it a series, mostly because it's very much different than the first. But it does have some of the same characters and is derived from the first. I don't know if I'll ever get to the point of writing a series.... I usually have too many characters and stories that want to come out, and I'm too slow of a writer to do them all! Writer’s Mark

  5. Like how things grow and change as the series continues, lets you go back to the world and live there a bit more. Always a way.

  6. I'm amazed by how many genres you write in. It's a real skill and takes quite a bit of knowledge and expertise.

    I write mostly regular old literary fiction, but I READ a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and other genres that encourage series. For me, I'll keep reading - and chomp at the bit til I get my hands on the next book - if the author has created main characters I really care about. That's the most important thing. But I get even more hooked when he or she has left them hanging in dangerous situations at the end of each book.

  7. I love all kinds of series, so it's not hard to get me invested as a reader! I must admit, though, it is fun when a world is so fleshed-out that a writer is able to follow more than one character, whether it's through companion books or spin-offs. Makes the characters' world feel more real that way!

  8. The WIP I am working on now is intended to be a series. Given that it is a Paranormal Mystery/Romance, there needs to be an investment in the MC (and important secondary characters). A mystery will be solved each novel with The Big Mystery arcing out over the entire series.

    I think of the TV show Veronica Mars strictly in terms of pacing. (Of course, this show did this very well in the first two seasons and it completely fell apart in the third.) Each episode a mystery was solved with clues contributing to The Big Mystery that wasn't solved until the last episode of the season.

  9. i really enjoy it when an author writes another book about a secondary character--i am always drawn to the lesser characters :)

  10. Consistency draws me back--the character grows, yes, but the core elements are consistent.

  11. I thought Alex's approach to a series was really unique.

    I think rich world building, fantastic characters, and a great plot draw me back to a series. One of my favorites is Cinda Williams' Chima The Demon King 7 book series. Have already read it twice.

  12. I still absolutely love your new cover, Sue.

    I enjoyed the Kresley Cole, Immortals After Dark series.