Be it via novel, movie or TV, I am a big fan of series. Words like book one or episode one make my heart beat faster. I love the way the series format allows character arcs to develop over time. I gain emotional satisfaction from the breadth and depth and incredible scope. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Consider the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. And few will fault the creators of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies. Well, at least not in my hearing!
As a novelist writing a series with multiple view-points and a large and vibrant cast, I sometimes face censor for the dearth of characters (all with their own unique stories) for the reader to keep track of. But when I look out into the world of serialized storytelling across delivery mode, I see a great hunger for the detail rich, character heavy saga type of story that I’m writing.
To illustrate this view, a reader emailed me the other day to tell me how much she loved Disappearing in Plain Sight. These are her words:
Your character development is excellent and your storyline complex but completely believable! You are quite the writer in keeping the climax climbing a very long time but you sure tie things up in quiet a bow!
Many thanks! That is exactly what I am trying to do.
I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series. Though he may play loose with historical time lines and break the head-hopping point-of-view rule, his books are amazing. Just darn good storytelling. Kudos as well to Phillipa Gregory’s books written from the viewpoint of the female characters who lived during the War of Roses and the Tudor era. I’ve read and loved them all.
I’m not a slave to genre. I’m in for any book, movie or TV series that demonstrates good character development. As the characters gain awareness, so do I.
I’ve read all the Jack Reacher novels and am in awe of Child’s ability to keep me coming back for more. He doles out the details of Reacher’s life at just the right titrated levels. I felt the same about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. I’ve sat in rapt attention watching Game of Thrones as I did with Firefly or Stranger Things or CBC’s Heartland.
Even a character like Groot in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies has room for growth and thus something important to teach.
How do you feel about serialized fiction? Are you up for investing hours in either reading or viewing instalment after instalment, following characters new and old through the breadth and depth of their life experience? Let me know and tell me about your favourites.
I struggle to enjoy modern serialised fiction, because so often writers use it as a money-spinner. I think: did this story need to be turned into 2,3,4,5, etc. novels? Probably not, and in some writers it definitely shows.
I’d much rather read stand-alone novels by the same writer who create new stories each time – some writers even create unrelated stories within the same literary world, which is another great idea. That way, I can enjoy each book individually, as opposed to the “buy my next book to find out what happens” approach.
But maybe I’m a cynic 😉
I wouldn’t call you a cynic – just a realist 🙂 I’ve thought the same about certain series. I don’t always expect every book or every episode to hit the highest bar – it’s the overall effect I’m after. I love the idea of the same literary world with unrelated or even very loosely related stories. I’m thinking of Margret Laurence’s fictional land of Manawaka. Or William Gibson’s fictional world of the future. Great comment, thanks.
I used to love serialized fiction but I haven’t read any for a long time. This was the last series I read (didn’t actually get to read them all) but I loved them…..https://www.elizabethwein.com/lion-hunters-series
The Lion Hunters – great title. I’ll have to check that one out. Many thanks for providing the link. Committing to reading a series is time consuming, for sure. I try many, many more than I finish. The bar is set high in terms of keeping readers engaged.
Well, now, I write it, and not for the money! My first novel spawned a second so a third is on its way, as the characters and their sidekicks develop and grow! Yes, i have enjoyed TV serials BUT i am now disappointed by the series we have as after series 1, the writers simply idle along making ridiculous plots where characters don’t behave true to the original and descend into simply finding excuses to have sex with each other … bor-ing! The art, and the fun, of writing/reading/watching a series is to watch the characters grow and develop – n’est pas folks?
About other author’s books- well, I adore Francis Guenette’s Crater Lake series, and I can recommend Fiona Veitch Smith’s Poppy Denby series – mystery crime fiction set in the UK world of newspapers in the 1920s, full of authentic detail (and flights of fancy…) Read The Jazz Files first … I have just begun no 3, The Death Beat – where Poppy goes to New York and works on the Times …
So true that much depends on the writers as a TV series progresses. They don’t always get it right. I remember through one season of Downton Abbey (which I loved) that I was off my seat groaning at what struck me as unbelievable plot twists inserted to take the story down a certain road and spin things out endlessly. Then the next season was fabulous. Who knows?
I definitely agree that the joy of a series is watching the characters grow. Thanks so much for the suggestion of Poppy Denby’s series. I love crime fiction set in the UK.
Oh, by the way, MY series is Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, following a couple of medics through meeting, discovering their 2 very different backgrounds (which should not mix but do) solving a medical mystery (or trying to) and then on to the whole family and career thing, where he’s a family doctor and she’s a research scientist … lots of twists and turns and surprises but in keeping with the characters … Hope this doesn’t break blog commenting rules …
Not at all. You can definitely plug your great series on this blog any time, Mari. I look forward to the next installment of the Mullin’s family saga. I’ll go you one step forward and provide the Amazon.com link: https://www.amazon.com/Baby-Mullins-Family-Saga-Book-ebook/dp/B00FNT4VPS
Love series. Love writing them too! The character arcs are longer, more complex. I’m one of those who can’t wait for the next instalment. The story lines take second place to character development…
The longer time in which to enjoy the character arc is what attracts me to serialized fiction. I just want to see the character develop 🙂
For sure. Lee Child was a contemporary of mine, growing up in Birmingham (not that I knew him). Tess Gerritson, Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad), Patricia Cornwell, Damien Boyd. All crime or crime-related stuff. No TV so at least I’m never going to be drawn in to all that 🙂
I’ll have to check out the Dublin Murder Squad. The title grabs me. Picking quality on TV is a big challenge. You might be on the right track to avoid it totally.
As you may have guessed from my enthusiastic reviews for your own Crater Lake books, I do love a good series, both as a reader and a writer – and I think what makes the best series is when characters grow and develop not only within each book but in the whole arc of the series.
I don’t know whether you know, but i’m currently writing a series of cosy mystery novels myself, (the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries), and my intention from the start has been to grow not only the central character, the eponymous Sophie, but many of the other characters in the book, so that by the time the series ends (which is planned after book 8 – together the books will run the course of a village year), she will be a much different person, and her relationships with and understanding of others about her will have changed too. My current intention is then to stop there, so as to avoid diluting the impact of the series by stretching it further – although if enough readers demand it, I may have to reconsider!
One thing to consider when writing a series, that I hadn’t really thought about before starting this one, is whether each book should be readable as a standalone novel, and whether it’ll still work if the reader approaches them in a different order to which they’ve been written. I’ve decided that the answer should be yes to both of those – so have had to remove some points which would have been a kind of reverse plot spoiler, so that readers of book 3, for example, won’t know who the murderer was in book 1! All good fun, though!
Great post and great discussion thread here, thank you!
Hey Debbie – sorry I lost this great comment in the shuffle of things. I do know of your Sophie Sayer Village Mysteries – I’ve read the first and reviewed here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1FUA8FXOCB8F9/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B06XK6BNWW – as I write in the review – a charming romp through village life. I loved it! I like the way you are following a seasonal cycle with the subsequent books. Great point about stand alone versus linked to the point that they must be read in order to be enjoyed and understood. The further I go in my series the harder stand alone becomes. Many considerations. What of the reader who waits until all the books are written and then binge reads the whole set in a row? That reader is far different from the reader who lives a busy life and reads each book as released – sometimes more than a year in between. The details I include for the second reader to remind them of what has come before run the risk of irritating the first reader. In most cases, I think stand alone is best with touch points and small reminders that make sense within the context of the new story. After all, it is quite normal for people to speak of and reflect on the past. Glad you enjoyed this post and I agree – the discussion thread is great.
The last series I got into was the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris – mainly because of how fun they were. It made me so happy that it wasn’t over when I finished a book. Of course I also fell in Love with the Crater Lake series and its amazing cast of characters and the compelling storylines that weave together so well.
Hi Angela – that glee when one book is done but the knowledge that more are to come is what really hooks me with a series. I’m so glad that you fell in love with Crater Lake and were able to come and visit the inspiration place for my stories. Take care.
I LOVE serial fiction. When I fall for characters I want to know everything about them. I want to see follow them all the way through life and mourn their passing. 🙂
You sound like my kind of a reader, Adrienne. Thanks so much for stopping by, reading this post and following my blog. A series does give a reader or viewer the opportunity to really bond with characters. We are currently watching Justified – Raylan Givens is a character with a lot of potential. Can’t wait to see how things go for him over 6 seasons!
Don’t you love when you discover a series that you know goes on for a while? Nice to meet you, Francis!
Yes, indeed. I’m happy to meet you, too, Adrienne 🙂