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Writing a series...not so easy! (1 Viewer)

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'm trying to start the sequel to my last novel. I had the goal of a three-book series. Here's my struggle:

The first book was based on a true crime. I researched the crime extensively and then built a fictional world that enabled me to reconstruct the crime, extracting only pertinent concepts that created the backbone of the story. I would liken my process to weaving. I set up the weft using facts and then wove in the weft with my fictional characters in a comedic romantic drama. Every character had a purpose, even if only that have conversations with the protagonist. So far, the early readers say, they love the characters.

Now, I'm trying to write the next in the series. But here's my dilemma. True to my voice, I will use a real-life crime as the basis for the plot. I have chosen one of the MCs from Book One to be the protagonist. Some of the characters fit in perfectly. But some, it's a bit of a stretch. Plus, in order to tell the story mostly in dialogue, I have had to develop a few more characters. So, now when I try to bring in the not-perfect-fit cast, I feel like it's a bit fake. Yes, I can make these characters fit...but there are others who would fit better.

Sooo, what are my options?
  1. Change my voice and not use the underlying criminal case, but instead write the continuation of the last story.
  2. Use only a handful of characters from the previous book, not worry about those that don't fit in, and come up with more lovable characters.
  3. Stay with the same voice, using the real-life crime and force-fit the characters that are already loved by readers and not worry too much about the realism of the story.
Any ideas, advice, or shared experiences would be welcome.
 

Just_Phil

Senior Member
Honestly, as a reader I get attached to the characters in a series. So much so I will often skim chapters from another character's pov just to get back to the character I care about. If your first book had good characters, your readers probably fell in love with them and that's a big selling point for the following books in the series. So I guess I vote for option 3
 
Hi Taylor,
I feel like you should do what you want. You mentioned your readers loving the characters but I think you should only keep the characters if you love them too.
I think if you write the story you want to write, it will end up being better in the end anyways.
So I vote for whatever option you would vote for.
 

Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
I can't remember who said the quote, but I find it true: "Reader's will forget even a great plot with time, but they won't forget good characters."
So if you're making it a series, the glue that makes it a series and will keep readers coming back will be the characters. So Phil's right, definitely keep the best characters and bring them back.

As for the rest, I'm with Lawless, it's a bit hard to give good advice without having read the first book. So the best I can suggest is - go with your gut, trust your judgement, because that's what you did with the first one.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Media Manager
Sequels are tough.
True fact; each successive sequel gets harder to write.

I'd suggest staying with option 3. Same crew, same voice, new crime. Take a few red-shirts.
Starting over with a new crew can be disconcerting for the reader. (Not saying that it cannot be done, but it is jarring for the reader.)

How were sales for the first book?
Sequels suffer from half-life.
Each sequel sells only half as many books as the previous book.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Honestly, as a reader I get attached to the characters in a series. So much so I will often skim chapters from another character's pov just to get back to the character I care about. If your first book had good characters, your readers probably fell in love with them and that's a big selling point for the following books in the series. So I guess I vote for option 3
That's so funny Phil! What sequels and characters have you loved?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Hi Taylor,
I feel like you should do what you want. You mentioned your readers loving the characters but I think you should only keep the characters if you love them too.
I think if you write the story you want to write, it will end up being better in the end anyways.
So I vote for whatever option you would vote for.
Yeah...I agree... just figuring out what I want is the hard part...lol! I'm of two minds. But if I'm honest, it's my ego pulling me towards a series. I see the three books in a row on Amazona and imagine them being sold in a box set...I already have already done mockups of the covers and they all complement each other, one black one red, and one white. On the other hand, I worked really hard on my plot for the first one and was very pleased with how it came out in alignment with the historical references, but it was not easy. I am just finding this added complication of trying to work in characters just for the sake of a series may take some of the realism out of it. Perhaps I am just copping out... I'm sure it can be done effectively.
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
If I had to make a choice now, I'd go with 2. But the question is much too abstract for me to answer without having read the first book.
Yes, I'm leaning to option 2 right now, only because it works best with the new plotline. The first one is not published yet, otherwise, I'd offer a link. But I have to get on to the next because I feel myself slipping into a dark place without a WIP...lol!

But as a writer, I feel I have an underlying motive to educate; the themes are all based on factual events that have changed the course of society. So I don't want to compromise that. I can easily see three to four coming forward without compromising the plot. Also, the theme would be of a similar nature. Does that seem enough to call it a series?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I can't remember who said the quote, but I find it true: "Reader's will forget even a great plot with time, but they won't forget good characters."
So if you're making it a series, the glue that makes it a series and will keep readers coming back will be the characters. So Phil's right, definitely keep the best characters and bring them back.

As for the rest, I'm with Lawless, it's a bit hard to give good advice without having read the first book. So the best I can suggest is - go with your gut, trust your judgement, because that's what you did with the first one.
That's good advice! But right now my gut, ego, and head are all duking it out! Gut says, "New story, new characters...be true to your voice." Ego says, "Go big...make it a series, imagine how impressive that will be." And head says, "temper it and go with option 2."

I just dragged out the old tack board that I used for the Book one outline. I think I'll write all the names of the old characters, and place them at the top of the board...then if I feel the urge to pull them into a plotline they will be there ready to go. Let's see how loudly they speak and who gets to go forward!
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Sequels are tough.
True fact; each successive sequel gets harder to write.

I'd suggest staying with option 3. Same crew, same voice, new crime. Take a few red-shirts.
Starting over with a new crew can be disconcerting for the reader. (Not saying that it cannot be done, but it is jarring for the reader.)

How were sales for the first book?
Sequels suffer from half-life.
Each sequel sells only half as many books as the previous book.
Haven't published the first one yet, but so far the response has been very favorable....and they love the characters. I need to start the next one because I am lost without having a WIP.

Very interesting point about the sequel not doing as well as the first book. Sort of emphasizes my point in the thread title.

I have been ruminating on this some more. Allow me to think out loud. Considering myself as a reader, I typically have not been drawn to sequels. I did not read, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or Twilight Saga. I did read DaVinci Code and Fifty Shades of Grey but did not have any interest in the sequels.

Thinking of my greatest influences, Ayn Rand, James Michener are on the top and neither wrote in series. But in both cases, their next book was similar in nature and theme. For example, Rand wrote about business competition with educated characters and sophisticated themes. Michener was the master at fictional family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales. Most Micheners fans I know read all the sagas, but it would be ridiculous if he would have tried to use the same characters.

Also, interesting to note most famous novels are not part of a series, i.e. The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird. Also, Danielle Steele, the best-selling author alive and fourth-best of all time, does not write in series. I'm not comparing myself to these authors or suggesting my works would get recognized to this degree of course, but just interesting to note that these authors were satisfied with a free-standing work. And it didn't hurt their sales.

Still ruminating about this. Would love to hear more comments and arguments for a series!
 
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Just_Phil

Senior Member
That's so funny Phil! What sequels and characters have you loved?
I kind of have a type i guess you would say, funny and deadly. Basically, the bards and thieves in any story: Jarlaxle, Jimmy the Hand, Jaskier etc. Something about the joy of living or killing (not in a psycho way) makes me love a character. Unfortunately they are usually side characters at first introduction, but later get their own tales so it's okay lol
 

Megan Pearson

Senior Member
...Very interesting point about the sequel not doing as well as the first book. Sort of emphasizes my point in the thread title.
I thought it was a good point, too.

...Considering myself as a reader, I typically have not been drawn to sequels.
Then what I'm hearing is that what you're really asking is, should you write something you're not typically interested in. My opinion, without knowing much else than this, is to not go with the sequel then.

Thinking of my greatest influences ... neither wrote in series. But in both cases, their next book was similar in nature and theme.
I think that's extremely important for you. For your next beeok to be similar to prior books in nature in theme would be consistent with your own interests and from that you might find theme to be a very organic springboard rather than resurrecting old story structures/characters/etc. that might do best staying with the first book(s).

Most Micheners fans I know read all the sagas, but it would be ridiculous if he would have tried to use the same characters.
I love Louis L'Amour's books. They follow the same four families as a historical saga through the colonization and westward expansion of America. While he rarely uses the same characters continuously, he will bring this or that one on for a cameo appearance. I, at least, like the interconnectivity doing that lends to his books without the feeling that now I have to read the books in order.

Also, interesting to note most famous novels are not part of a series, i.e. ...
I did not know that. Thanks!

Still ruminating about this. Would love to hear more comments and arguments for a series!
I write in a series. I didn't mean to, but I had written so much that when I realized I wanted to publish, breaking up what I had written into separate books made the best sense to retell the story I had written in a publishable form. So although they will be separate books, sometimes even having a change of cast & MC (a concern you mentioned), they are telling a unified storyline. I find treating each book as its own entity helps resolve the problem of the saggy middle. Plus, I want new readers to be able to step in and feel welcome.

Pros to writing a series: I enjoy hinting at things in the earlier story lines that develop in the later books. So I might have a walk-on character that is seemingly of little importance but, in a later book, its his earlier contribution that makes all the difference. You can't do that in stand alone books. Also, because you do spend more time with the same characters & overall plot, my hope is that I will have a more deeply interconnected and perhaps more believable storyline throughout. We'll have to see.

Cons to writing a series: generally speaking, you don't want to do what I'm doing, by writing everything before publishing book 1. If you write the entire series ahead of time and the first book bombs, well, need I say more? Also, I've read that series writers get reputations for being the writer of such-n-such series. What happens when you want to move on, but your publisher wants to keep publishing the series? I'm not too concerned about this. I have some stand alone stuff and nonfiction to publish first, so by the time it does get published, hopefully having written a series will not be my defining accomplishment.

Hope this heps!
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
That's good advice! But right now my gut, ego, and head are all duking it out! Gut says, "New story, new characters...be true to your voice." Ego says, "Go big...make it a series, imagine how impressive that will be." And head says, "temper it and go with option 2."

I just dragged out the old tack board that I used for the Book one outline. I think I'll write all the names of the old characters, and place them at the top of the board...then if I feel the urge to pull them into a plotline they will be there ready to go. Let's see how loudly they speak and who gets to go forward!
I've got the same sort of questions right now. This is maybe why I haven't gone forward with my series. I have been working on something else to get some distance and think. There is often 1 MC tying a series together, like Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter. Those kinds of examples would be good to think of. In a lot of detective stories the only thing tying them together is the MC and different crime each time (Perry Mason, etc). With Sherlock Holmes you get the house on Baker Street with friend Watson and a few characters that stay throughout. With Harry Potter you get most of the same characters, usually Harry's POV with a few omnipotent peeks into what Voldamort was doing. Oh, and the omniscient beginning Dursley chapters which I always disliked. A few new faces each time, but the world-build was another consistency. With The Wheel of Time you get the same characters and each chapter switches POV and those characters keep rotating/switching through-out all the books. Same world. I'm trying to think of a series where side-characters took the MC position in a subsequent book. Are there any? Eek!
 

Lawless

Senior Member
I'm trying to think of a series where side-characters took the MC position in a subsequent book. Are there any? Eek!
Do you mean like in book 1, A is the main character and B and C are secondary characters; in book 2, B is the main character and A and C are secondary characters; and in book 3, C is the main character and A and B are secondary characters?
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I can't remember who said the quote, but I find it true: "Reader's will forget even a great plot with time, but they won't forget good characters."
Here's my wife's comment about Nora Robert's "In Death" series.

"The plots are fairly formula, but I keep reading because I want to know what happens to the characters" ... which evidently is a continuing arc.

Personally, I kept reading Alan Dean Foster's "Pip and Flinx series" (no connection to our own dear @PiP btw), even though Fosters writing got lazier and more insulting to the reader through the last half of the series. I became literally angry at the way he took advantage of fans of the series, but I read it all because I wanted to know the resolution of the Pip story arc.

So in this case, readers were willing to FORGIVE shit plots to follow great characters.

Steve, you hit the nail on the head.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Yeah...I agree... just figuring out what I want is the hard part...lol! I'm of two minds. But if I'm honest, it's my ego pulling me towards a series. I see the three books in a row on Amazona and imagine them being sold in a box set...I already have already done mockups of the covers and they all complement each other, one black one red, and one white. On the other hand, I worked really hard on my plot for the first one and was very pleased with how it came out in alignment with the historical references, but it was not easy. I am just finding this added complication of trying to work in characters just for the sake of a series may take some of the realism out of it. Perhaps I am just copping out... I'm sure it can be done effectively.
I've only written one sequel ... so far. I'm giving @PiP the choice of our next project, but I suspect she'll chose the sequel to Poet Lariat. In the sequel to my first novel, everyone from the first novel gets a role, but one of the two MCs from the first novel takes the spotlight, along with a partner who didn't rise until the 4th act of the first novel (but--shhhhhh--is now my favorite character). Of course, I'm not a bestselling author with a tidal wave of fans, but I very much enjoyed writing the sequel in that way, and that's important ... because the only GUARANTEED satisfaction we get from writing is enjoying what we write. :)

When PiP and I write a sequel to Poet Lariat, the two MCs from that novel will play a prominent role, but the focus may be on two other characters introduced in PL. From what I read and hear, this isn't an unusual circumstance in series. They very often pass the spotlight amongst the cast, or have the original MCs present in a supporting role leading to a new story.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Do you mean like in book 1, A is the main character and B and C are secondary characters; in book 2, B is the main character and A and C are secondary characters; and in book 3, C is the main character and A and B are secondary characters?
Yes, this is (I believe) what @Taylor is talking about too… but “kind of” because the POV does change a bit inside of Taylor’s book. Actually, I’m thinking instead od a series for mine, to make mine just a bigger book…. I was going to expand what I have from a novella to a book, then add other books, but now I think Iight keep what I’ve got short and add the other POVs in the same book… I’m not sure.

I did think of a series as an example before I went to bed and it was very popular, it’s the romances “Something Borrowed” with all the series “Something Blue” “Something New”.

I thought it was really the most interesting thing about the series, because you saw the impact of the person’s decisions in the other people and then you saw how they saw things themselves when you got to that character’s book. That was interesting!

I’m sure there are others, got any ideas on it @Lawless ?
 

Lawless

Senior Member
I’m sure there are others, got any ideas
Yes. I can bring two examples of the protagonist changing in a series.

1. There is a series of novels by the Estonian writer Oskar Luts. In the first novel "The Spring", A.T. is the main character and J.T. and H.K. are frequently-occurring secondary characters. In the second book "The Summer", J.T. is the protagonist and H.K. is a very important secondary character whereas A.T. turns up only in a few scenes. The novel is followed by two short stories. In the third novel "The Autumn", the protagonist is H.K.

The series is legendary in Estonia. Every Estonian knows it and the first two novels might well be the all-time most-read books in Estonia. (The third novel is less known because is was quasi-prohibited during the communist regime.) This proves that switching protagonists from book to book inside a series is nothing to be afraid of.

Unfortunately, only the first novel has been translated into English. The movies may be available with English subtitles, though.

2. The books 8 and 9 of the Battletech series, both written by Robert N. Charrette, although technically standalone novels, cover largely the same events, but from the perspective of different people. Among other things, book 9 provides some background to Book 8's events from the "enemy's" side.

(FYI, books 1–3 are a trilogy, written by one author, book 4 is a standalone novel by another author and books 5–7 are another trilogy by yet another author.)

In fact, if I'm going to split my WIP "The Incomprehensibles" into 3 or 4 novels (which I'll probably have to do because of length), I'll probably make the novels partially overlap time- and event-wise like Mr. Charrette has done, and focus on different characters like Mr. Luts has done.
 
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