Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One Book or Seven?

Am I writing a series, or am I writing one really long book? Don't panic, I know my answer, but it's an interesting question for those of us who have continuing characters. My detective will appear in at least three books (maybe more...) and all the books will follow one another chronologically. But it's not one big story, it's a series.

The argument could be made, for instance, with the Harry Potter series that the entire seven books is really one big story. J.K. Rowling had one enormous plot that took seven years to tell and every book is another step closer to the final denouement. Practically, however, no publisher would ever publish anything that big. And let us never forget the financial goodies that came along with seven different books and having the resultant rewards spread over many years.

Writing a series comes with its own issues. An author must pay heed to a continuing character's history. If he broke his leg in the last book, does he now have an ache in the leg when it rains? If she said she was going to Spain at the end of the last book, do you make mention of it at the beginning of the new one? Or does the new one occur in Spain? Habits have to continue, (or be broken) but the character must continue to evolve. If the new book takes place 5 years later than the last one, then did your character age 5 years as well? Do you explain what's happened in those years?

Continuing characters are wonderful gifts for both writers and readers. They give readers a chance to meet up again with familiar faces as well as getting introduced to new ones. Writers don't have to bid farewell to a character they love to write. I can only imagine the agony that Dame Agatha went through when she decided to kill off Hercule Poirot and I'm sure Ms. Rowling felt the same pain when she finished telling Harry's story. Continuing characters become the writer's familiar friend and letting them go must be a wrench to the heart.

If you have a continuing character in your writing, think about it for a minute. Are you writing a series, or could it be one big book? What is your attitude as a reader? Love continuing characters? Or do you want to hit them with a shovel?


  1. What an interesting question, Elspeth! Series or long story.. hm.... The Gears' Anasazi series (The Visitant, The Summoning God, Bone Walker) is a really good example of a series that I'd consider a long story. Really solid plot, fascinating use of two strands of time and great characters. Amazing Native American atmosphere and lore, too. Now in my own case, my Joel Williams books are a series. There are different characters in each book and although there are a few recurring people, the focus - the mystery - changes with each book.

  2. As a rule, I’m not much on series…there are exceptions. Potter for one. Liked that. Any time the characters are engaging and interesting, I get caught up and their lives and struggles and want to follow them around and watch what happens. If the author is smart enough to drag that out over several books…I’ll buy ‘em all.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  3. Both!

    I enjoy reading continuing characters up to a point. After a while, I reach burnout - on some sooner than others.

    On the writing side, I'm good for two or three stories with the same character. After that, I'm pretty sick of them. I can think of more messes for them to get into, but I'd rather move on to someone new.

    So I guess I like short series

  4. I can't tell you how I went back and forth on whether to combine Faking It and Ordinary World into one book, or make it two separate books. I'm glad I went the way I did -- the tone of each book is so different.

    Will Andi appear in a third book? I kind of feel like her story has been told. But ya never know.

  5. I'm with Carol.
    I like to know how everyone's doing "after", but if it's not the way I expected I'll stop.
    Fickle, I know :)

  6. My book quickly developed into a trilogy. I'll then have a couple books with new characters before returning to my main guy Chase Manhattan. Recurring characters are fun to read, but they need to be broken up by books with new characters.

    Stephen Tremp

  7. Margot; It IS an interesting question, isn't it? I agree with you; different plot = different book.

    Galen; I'm with you. If I don't care about the continuing character I don't care what further scrapes he/she gets up to.

    Carol; That's an interesting point. I wonder if many people suffer from character fatigue. Hmmmm.

    Elisa; Only YOU can answer that question...and I suspect you already know the answer.

    Carolyn; It can be disappointing to learn about a different future than what you imagined.

    Stephen; I agree. I would never propose a book comprised of only returning characters, that would be extremely dull and somewhat pointless.

  8. In mysteries, series are popular and a central cast usually returns with added characters who are connected to a new crime. I started reading series with the Ed McBain 87th Precinct gang and still enjoy reading series books and look forward to a new book with some of my favorite characters: Elvis Cole, Alex Delaware, Cork O'Conner, Lucas Davenport and others.

  9. What!? Hercule Poirot is dead? Thanks a lot, Elspeth. I guess I can stop reading that series now.

  10. I like a series, sequels, as long as each book is a "stand alone" novel with a complete story and plot that can deliver the full gamut of character development, plot development, conflic/tension and resolution without me having to read the books preceeding it in the series.
    Takes a special talent to pull that off.

    Marvin D Wilson

  11. I love series characters. As a busy reader, it helps me out tremendously that I already know some main characters going into the story. :) Call me a lazy reader...

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  12. There are so many series I have loved to read over the years! I love the comfy feeling of revisiting a world and characters I love.

    I haven't written a series yet, but one of the ideas competing for attention in my brain revolves around a recurring heroine. I'll be sure to keep your post in mind :)

  13. I LOVE a big long story told over several books, a la Potter. Series that are SEPARATE though, I get impatient with on about the third run, because re-describing the same quirks starts to annoy me.

    I will probably never write a series, either, for that reason. I have however, found myself in the midst of writing a trilogy, and like the distinct part of one story thing a LOT.

  14. Maryann; There are many mystery series out there; same detectives, new crimes.

    Alan; I hang my head in shame.

    Marv; It certainly does take a special talent.

    Elizabeth; That's one of the nice things, isn't it? I always feel as if I'm starting several steps ahead.

    Karen; Really?? You've never read Agatha Christie?

    Jemi; It is like meeting old friends, isn't it?

    Watery Tart; I think that one of the tricks of writing returning characters; to keep them fresh and not annoying! I admire you for writing a trilogy. Wow.

  15. I just finished the fifth book of the 44, Scotland Street series, and am eagerly waiting for the next one.
    If the characters are engaging, I love a long series (eagerly waited for each of the last three Potter books), otherwise, I don't return, even if the story was left unfinished at the end of the last book.

    Incidentally, one of my favourite characters in the 44, SS series shares your name!

  16. Larry McMurtry does this well. I was a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew as a kid.

  17. Rayna; I'm really hoping the "Elspeth" in the series isn't an old Scottish crone.

    Elizabeth; I was a fan of those series as well.


Please leave a comment as I love to hear from you!