What to read?
I’m at the library, looking for something to check out and I see a row of similar-looking spines, books all by the same author, some with numbers on them. It’s a little army of series fiction! (And almost always one of those numbers is missing!)
I have an irrational insecurity around serial fiction as a reader.
I feel like I have to start at book one if I’m going to start at all, and then, I wonder, will I feel compelled to read all the books in the series? What will I miss out on in the literary world if I get to the end of Adam Dalgliesh’s career? I skip over the series and go to a stand alone instead. As a reader, I think I want the whole story wrapped up in one tidy package. And I want my literary diet to be broad. If I pick up the first Harry Potter, for example, I feel, and I’m sure that’s just me and my neurosis, that there’s an expectation that I have to read all of them. I don’t want that kind of pressure. Maybe I’m not a series type of reader? Not all of us are. But, if I’m going to be a successful novelist, then there’s some good reason why writing a series is a great idea.
Series novels are good fits for plotters who love details.
Every successful series writer must plan their little hearts out. They aren’t planning the events for 300 or so pages, they are planning for 3-8 times that amount. All that planning allows for the plot bunnies to come around to book five. This planning allows for the backstory to weave its way in and out across many plotlines. This is a complicated process and there are some authors who love the freedom that comes with many books in a series.
Series books don’t wrap things up neatly.
This is also a good thing for novelists who like to meander. Most novels have restrictions to them: that every little tangent needs to serve a purpose. But not a series. What is left undone in book 1 can be explained in book 2. If this is done well, then the reader is interested and wants to find out more.
Series books can provide rich character arcs.
If the main character is a teenager in book one, and a father of six in the very last book, then you can assume some changes happened in their life. This long arc creates a beautiful canvas on which the author can create some interesting art. The character development itself becomes as important as the plot. And it’s this character that the reader may fall in love with and want to know more with subsequent books.
Series books can show off all the characters, not just the big stars.
Sometimes those secondary or tertiary characters are appealing in their own right. A series allows a writer to delve into their secrets and experiences. Complicated characters that intertwine together can make for some great stories. These background characters are perfect for creating new plot lines, falling in love with and making framing for a murder. What is your protagonist’s ally in the first book could be their betrayer by book seven.
Series books do require a great deal of commitment.
Series books are challenging for the author! But the best reason of all to stick with it create a series is that once the first book is successful, the subsequent books have built-in readers. These are the fans you can reward with consistent references and hints of the past. Multi-book ideas can be a rich experience for the writer and the reader. Maybe I’ll get over my literary neurosis and commit to writing (and maybe even reading) a series.
And that one reason? I’m afraid to be tied down to one genre.
I’ve hopped around the genre spectrum to know that there’s fun in creating a fantasy world, developing a romance and crafting a mystery. It’s all the fear of missing out, see, and maybe that’s what makes me a neurotic human.
So, if you’re a reader or writer, consider series fiction.
You may find it well worth the hard work.
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Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.