It’s been a while since I received any death threats, so I thought I’d go ahead and stir the pot today with a rant on the ever-increasing popularity of publishing a series of books. Everybody excited? Fantastic!
First, I’d like to say that there is nothing generally wrong with a three, five, or even eleven book series. Many have been done over the years by many a talented author. Hell, I’m passionately involved in an ongoing pentalogy (possibly made up word for a five book series) right now. HOWEVER…not every story deserves multiple installments.
Excellent case in point: the Jessica Darling series by Megan McAfferty (not a SPA). The first book was great. Ended in a cliffhanger, which I forgave because I could immediately get my hands on the second. That one was good, too. I got my happy ending (and a lot of crap I didn’t see the need for), but I couldn’t help thinking the two books could have been condensed into one stand-alone. Still, I read the third…and the fourth…and the fifth. By the end of the series, I wondered if there was truth to the accusation that writing a series is just a way for authors to make more money.
If we’re being honest, most of us will accept that this is at least sometimes the case. Not always, of course, but sometimes. Take a look at the Goodreads forums. Far, far too many books being advertised are the first, or the second, part of a series. Can they all be worthy of epic saga length? I don’t think so.
After my experience with McAfferty’s work, I was left with a somewhat cynical outlook. The constant arrival of new series from every unknown in the free world doesn’t help. I saw one advertised the other day in which there was absolutely no conflict in the blurb for the first book. You read that right. No conflict. How in the hell do you write one hundred thousand words without some kind of conflict? How do you write five or six hundred thousand words without conflict? I don’t know. I don’t even want to know.
If you’re writing a series, or planning to write a series, please ask yourself the following questions:
1. Can your character’s struggle be overcome by a single solution? A single act? Are the obstacles you’ve put in place necessary or merely convenient?
2. Is there enough small conflict (tied to the main conflict) for multiple books?
3. While writing, are you searching for “filler” scenes?
4. Are you relying on big misunderstandings to heighten the tension or lengthen a book?
5. Would your story work without any of your scenes? (This is important. If the work could stand without them, they shouldn’t be there.)
6. Does each book further the plot in a significant, necessary way?
7. Why do you WANT to write a series? Because there is absolutely no way to condense it into a single novel, or because you CAN fill enough pages for several books?
Think about your answers. Not everyone has an epic inside them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Stretching a simple story into a seven hundred thousand word series, however, is a terrible thing.