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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - Taking Advantage of a Series

One of my favorite things about reading is finding a series to become deeply invested in. Standalone novels are great, but with a series, you go places with characters you never could with just one book. With a series, there's so much room for growth; stories can progress at a more organic pace. Currently, I'm mired in the Outlander series, having come way late to the game only to be ensnared. When I finish Angels, I'm treating myself with some cozy fireside nights with Voyager.

So since I love them, and since I write them, let's talk series, and how best to take advantage of them as writers.

With any novel, you want to write strong character development. You want your characters to learn from their trials, and apply this new knowledge to the betterment of themselves and loved ones. But all stories have to have ending points, and you can only take a character so far in one story. With a series, you can follow a character through more than one life stage; over a span of several books, you can dig deeper, find new areas of their identity and morality to explore; they will be tested in different ways. And by the end of the series, the readers will know far more about the characters than they would after just one book. For instance, a couple might fall in love in one book, have children in the next, struggle against middle age in a third. A series allows us to stay with characters we love, and watch them grown and learn and evolve.

A strong series supports a larger cast than a standalone novel. I am a tremendous fan of ensembles, because I think that variety appeals to a wider range of readers. There's a greater chance readers will find a favorite character amidst the large cast, or several favorites, hopefully. With a series, we can stay within the same "world," and with each book, explore the life of a different background character, the central figures of the previous books now serving as secondary, supporting cast. This is why it's so important to create three-dimensional, believable and likeable supporting players. You want the audience to want to know more about them; you don't want them to be yes-men for the main character, or simply filler to bulk out a group scene.

A series allows for more complex plots. Action should always reach a crescendo and find a denouement in each novel, but in a series, plot points can be stretched from one book to the next. Every issue doesn't have to be resolved; you can build upon conflicts, take them to higher stakes, more dramatic planes. You can have immediate villains, and long-term antagonists, who keep showing up when the audience most wants to hear from their favorite baddie.

Currently, my favorite part about series-writing is the flexibility afforded by indie publishing. Where once storylines would have been tweaked and forced into strict genre boxes, there's now the creative freedom to write a series that is true to the people populating its pages, rather than one that adheres to convention. My series isn't strictly romance, isn't strictly literary fiction, isn't strictly anything, and I can write it as it ought to be written.

I love series. I love the way they crush me. I love the way I wait years for the next installment (NOT. Looking at you, George R.R. Martin). But as a writer, I love that they give me a chance to interact with my readers. They have been so encouraging, and that makes my job fun.

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