By William L. Hahn
We often think of writing as a life filled with the once-and-done. There’s this book, we must write it; Muse willing you finish, then jot “The End” and it’s on to a completely different story. Each tale is complete, the characters exist only so long as you were penning more words about them. Some of the greatest books ever written are one-offs: Moby Dick, A Christmas Carol, the Bible (OK, kind of cheating on that last one but you get the notion).
Going Series: So Much Yes
How is it, then, that we so often find ourselves thinking about series? And why on earth do we so often think that we won’t or can’t do them? First, the reasons why—oh, let me count the ways!
Status Quo Series: The Under-the-Sun Flavor
Examples- TV: Gilligan’s Island; Books: Hercule Poirot mysteries
Most people think of a series in this way, sometimes called an Episodic series. Your characters, their interactions and the situation they’re in remain the same. Inciting events and plot turns are chiefly threats to change this status quo. But by the end, the castaways are still on the island, the murderer did not get away with it. Nobody we know dies (not really): yes, Watson eventually marries and Sherlock dies at the end, until Doyle decided to bring him back. Then he quite simply reappears, and the game is still afoot. It was all a dream, remember that one?
The Sneaky Epic: A Character-Arc in Disguise Flavor
Examples- TV: The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time; Books: Game of Thrones
Sometimes you finish the book but you weren’t done! Many times our characters, like Athena, spring into the story full-grown adults (and not coincidentally, causing you a headache as they do). How did they get here? Where are they going after this story is over?
Only the Kitchen Sink: The Series with One Lasting Flavor
Examples- TV: Hallmark Christmas Movies; Books: Regency Romances
Every tale in some series completely changes everything: new characters, countries, settings, situations, eras. All is up for grabs, they look in every way not like a series. Yet there is an essential… something, a formula or rhythm there that abides. Sometimes the actors are the same, or even the names of main characters.
Series Writing for the Win
I’ve blogged a bit about these three levels of writing, and that might also help you set things in order as you plan your series. Remember that series flavors are lurking everywhere. In that novel you wrote years ago. In that scattered set of notes you never fleshed out but that have something in common. It could be a prequel or a sequel, a spin-off or a backwards-universe variant.