On the complexities of writing a series

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I'm astounded, and a bit dismayed, by the plethora of series out there. I'm working on my own, and in many ways it's not unlike writing a novel. There's a series arc, development of characters, and so on.

The difference is, once I have published a book in the series, that's now Official. This is causing me to be more careful than even in character development. Because these stories are all set in Altearth, I have perhaps less to worry about in terms of keeping setting and other worldbuilding elements consistent, since those are well established. But smaller details, such as how the company of characters move through that world, is still malleable. I keep worrying that I'm going to have to live in Book 4 with casual decisions I made in Book 1.

How people can crank these out every three months is quite beyond me.
 
People who crank out a book in a series every three months aren't individuals, they're teams of writers under one pseudonym, and they're always given a formula for the plot, they just have to fill in the details. It's the paint by number of writing.

The most an individual author who's genuinely making up their own series can do is one book every year or two.
 

pmmg

Istar
I am taking the every 10 years route....

I would guess they either do as Rosemary has said, or are just somewhere near crazy.

If you read the conversation in AI, you will see the AI made up a story on the spot. Maybe a computer can spit out a series in only a second or two.

In writing a series, I find I am often coming up with details as I write that would be nice if I had not already moved past in an earlier book. I just cannot know if I will need something in book 10 that would have been neatly setup in book one for maximum reward. I think my solution to this will be second and third editions if I chooses to go that far with it.
 
People who crank out a book in a series every three months aren't individuals, they're teams of writers under one pseudonym, and they're always given a formula for the plot, they just have to fill in the details. It's the paint by number of writing.

The most an individual author who's genuinely making up their own series can do is one book every year or two.
I'm going to disagree here. I'm a fairly casual writer, writing slowly (daily word-count is 600 words a day), and even I can get 2 books in a year published. 2000 new words a day would take me around 2.5 hours, which is easily manageable if I would be writing full-time. And that leaves another 5 hours in the day for editing and marketing and plotting the next novel. It would get me a 80.000 word novel every two months, and that's giving myself weekends off. And that novel would be no more formulaic or paint by numbers writing than any other novel.

It's just not true that writing fast = writing poorly or formulaic. Yes, once you get below a novel a month you're probably straying into shorter, more formulaic novels. But that's not always the case. If anything, someone who writes more is more likely to come up with better, more original stories. More practice and all that. All it takes is consitency and time behind a keyboard.

There's 2 types of series and they take a slightly different approach I think. There's the single story spread over multiple novels type serie, like Star Wars. It's a single group of characters trying to achieve a single goal. The other type is there are multiple stories with some overlapping characters set in a single universe. Discworld or the Riftwar saga are examples of this.

I think in the first type the character arcs need to make sense, since you're following a single group of characters go through a complete story. In the second type the world becomes more important. Though, it should be noted that consistency is only as important as you feel it needs to be. Just look at Harry Potter. Internally the books are pretty consistent, but there is little continuity or consistency between books. They keep forgetting in one book what they were able to do in a previous one or will be able to do in a next one.

Of course, if you're silly enough to try to set a single story type series in a multi-story universe, say setting a troupe of entertainers loose in Alt-earth, then you're screwed...
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
I keep worrying that I'm going to have to live in Book 4 with casual decisions I made in Book 1.
Yes, be careful of casual decisions. I'm slowly going off writing in series. I wrote a trilogy and am now finishing a duology. I don't want to go near another series after I've finished this one. Perhaps some short stories and standalones. What I didn't realise when I started was that I could be stuck in the same story arc for years while my ideas for possible stories were moving much faster.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
As for speed, I distinguish between the pro who works either with a single character, or who churns out both novels and short stories. The latter is rare nowadays, with the demise of paying magazines, but for a few generations there, you could sell just about as fast as you could write, and pulp writers could write very fast. For the former I would point to authors like Georges Simenon, who wrote a couple of books a year, but took only six weeks in the actual writing.

But that's a universe away from every three months like I see, especially in our field and a couple of others. Even if I pretend the authors don't care and there's minimal editing and it's all just forgettable anyway, I'm still struck by the logistics of the thing. Getting covers, promos, and actual writing to fall into step with each other, not to mention avoiding enough errors as to keep readership, is no small feat.

I, however, am more interested in the difficulties and mysteries of writing a series at a more sane and careful pace. There's all the challenges I just mentioned plus many, more writerly, challenges.
 

Mad Swede

Inkling
I guess it depends what you mean by a series. I think that I write interlinked short and long stories, with the same setting and with overlapping characters. In doing so I aim for stories which can be read on their own without having read any of the others. I said that I think I write stories like that, but quite a few of my readers regard my stories as a series which has to be read in a certain order.

With that said, I have tried very hard to keep the stories internally consistent with one another. In my case thats a bit easier (I think) because I'm so badly dyslexic. I don't write fast, and I have to keep things in my head because I can't do outlines, character notes or anything else like that. What I found was that even though I wasn't setting out to write a series I had to think about what the other stories might be about, so that I could ensure consistency and where necessary (and in the right places) add those little details which were to link the stories. In short, I had to plan ahead a bit, I couldn't shoot from the hip and hope it all worked out. Because if you shoot from the hip and make casual decisions you will be living with the consequences later.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
When I first conceived of the 'Empire' series - which I envisioned as four novellas - 30-40,000 words, I made the conscious decision to not publish the first story until I had at least a rough draft of the last story precisely because I'd read multiple major series where the author wrote themselves into a bind in the first few books that made continuing the tale a convoluted process.

I started on the first draft of the first book in 'Empire' almost ten years ago. That book finally got published a few weeks ago - and despite everything, I still screwed up to the point where I had to re-release the eBook version. That, in turn made me go over the next three books in the series with a critical eye - adding a sentence or a short paragraph here or there to better define this aspect of magic or explain why this noble family is so highly (or poorly) regarded.

I did a great deal of this sort of thing writing the story as well: a situation arose in book 6 that dictated I needed a nasty nobleman to take a fall. Problem was, he needed to be at least mentioned beforehand. So, I went back to book 2 and shoehorned him in. He only gets a brief appearance - but it's a serious appearance. In book 4, football (more like soccer) became important. But the game wasn't even mentioned in the first three books - so I went back and inserted references and short scenes.
 
A linear series I've, so far, had few problems with; my brain tends to work through giant stories as part of its nature, but things got more complicated with two linear stories side by side with overlap. The biggest issue for me isn't plot points or whatnot, but TIME. Both stories start at about the same time, and the overlap doesn't happen for a few years. Finding time transitions and melding them into events in a way that satisfies my persnickety self has been an ongoing trial. It's a problem I hadn't quite anticipated.

Otherwise, I think I would churn out series books faster than standalone or at least at the same speed. With a series I know the direction and have momentum, jumping off to something brand new may or may not slow me down, depending on the story.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
A linear series I've, so far, had few problems with; my brain tends to work through giant stories as part of its nature, but things got more complicated with two linear stories side by side with overlap. The biggest issue for me isn't plot points or whatnot, but TIME. Both stories start at about the same time, and the overlap doesn't happen for a few years. Finding time transitions and melding them into events in a way that satisfies my persnickety self has been an ongoing trial. It's a problem I hadn't quite anticipated.

Otherwise, I think I would churn out series books faster than standalone or at least at the same speed. With a series I know the direction and have momentum, jumping off to something brand new may or may not slow me down, depending on the story.

I ran into a similar 'time' issue with book 5 of the 'Empire' series, 'Empire: Spiral.' I have one group of characters in one part of the world with a pressing problem that *must* be dealt with in mere days, another pair of characters grappling with related issues on the literal other side of the world (but fortunately only tangentially aware of the first group,) and a third group that is literally on another planet, in a story arc that will take months to resolve - but also ties into the actions of the other two groups. Confused yet?

Thing was, despite going over 'Spiral' like three times in the past few years, I didn't spot this timing issue until last month. Fixing it means dropping two interesting secondary characters, rearranging a dozen chapters, and tacking in several new chapters and scenes. Right now, I'm hoping to get that taken care of by September...and it's a good thing 'Spiral' won't be up for sale for at least six months. These changes carry over into book 7, but not nearly as much.

The 'time' issue also carries over with 'Empire's' relation to 'Labyrinth,' - a second series set in the same world. Secondary characters from both series do a crossover thing, and keeping track of who can plausibly be where is a pain at times.
 

Devora

Sage
Personally I'm kind of tired of the oversaturation of book series in fantasy fiction. It's like every book I find is either book three or seven of whatever series it's part of and I'm just looking for standalone novels.
 

pmmg

Istar
Well... I think there is good reason for that. Fantasy series's tend to require a lot of world building, and it takes space to lay it all out. And once all the effort has been placed, seems a waste not to use it further.

I am indifferent. I just want the story to be good, series or not.
 

Helen

Inkling
I'm astounded, and a bit dismayed, by the plethora of series out there. I'm working on my own, and in many ways it's not unlike writing a novel. There's a series arc, development of characters, and so on.

The difference is, once I have published a book in the series, that's now Official. This is causing me to be more careful than even in character development. Because these stories are all set in Altearth, I have perhaps less to worry about in terms of keeping setting and other worldbuilding elements consistent, since those are well established. But smaller details, such as how the company of characters move through that world, is still malleable. I keep worrying that I'm going to have to live in Book 4 with casual decisions I made in Book 1.

How people can crank these out every three months is quite beyond me.

Marvel solved the problem by allowing in multiverses.
 

pmmg

Istar
Hi Helen. You must have a setting that keeps your posts from showing in the feed. You may want to check you settings.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I guess it depends what you mean by a series.
Fair point. One type of series is where it's a single story stretched across multiple volumes. Another type is the one that follows a single character or group of characters but where each volume is its own story.

All my stories are set in Altearth, as yours are, Mad Swede. I don't consider them a series; they're just Altearth tales, in the same way that separate stories set in the real world aren't a series.

But the Trouvères adventures, while also set in Altearth, are indeed a series. The same characters (with some coming and going) and a unifying arc.

So I definitely agree with having to be careful. The same consistency issues that occur in a single story now have to be tended to across multiple volumes. This makes writing Volume One especially harrowing, as I shall have to live with the choices for the next five books. I'm already doing a bit of retcon on Volume One because as I plot out subsequent volumes I see seeds I want to sow.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>With a series I know the direction and have momentum, jumping off to something brand new may or may not slow me down, depending on the story.

I'm definitely hoping this will prove the case with me.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>Marvel solved the problem by allowing in multiverses.
Oof. I don't see how that solves anything; it creates even more storylines. That's fine if you have a stable of scores of writers, but I am just a single elderly human. I'll stick with just one verse.
 

Mad Swede

Inkling
A linear series I've, so far, had few problems with; my brain tends to work through giant stories as part of its nature, but things got more complicated with two linear stories side by side with overlap. The biggest issue for me isn't plot points or whatnot, but TIME. Both stories start at about the same time, and the overlap doesn't happen for a few years. Finding time transitions and melding them into events in a way that satisfies my persnickety self has been an ongoing trial. It's a problem I hadn't quite anticipated.

Otherwise, I think I would churn out series books faster than standalone or at least at the same speed. With a series I know the direction and have momentum, jumping off to something brand new may or may not slow me down, depending on the story.
Yes, time is an issue. I think that's true even in a linear story irrespective of whether it's a single book or a series. If you have protagonists or antagonists who do things whilst the story is following someone else then you have to ensure that the timelines fit. It becomes a bit like project (or in my case military) planning in that the action sequence which takes the longest sets the timeline for eveything else, it becomes the critical path through the plot even if you never describe it. I found that I had to think through what all the various characters were doing, to ensure that the timeslines would fit. That turned out to be true even in some of my short stories, although there it was a matter of hours and minutes rather than days or weeks.
 
Oh yeah, with 6 or so POVs spreading around the world, timing was always an issue. However! That hasn't come close to the harrowing hell of "there are 3+ years between the opening page and the overlap with characters from my other books! Friggin' fracking." Stares at the dog and points. "This is your fault!" it was inevitable, and I really didn't think it a big deal, but when writing the new book events just logically condensed in time span leaving me with a limbo.

Yes, time is an issue. I think that's true even in a linear story irrespective of whether it's a single book or a series. If you have protagonists or antagonists who do things whilst the story is following someone else then you have to ensure that the timelines fit. It becomes a bit like project (or in my case military) planning in that the action sequence which takes the longest sets the timeline for eveything else, it becomes the critical path through the plot even if you never describe it. I found that I had to think through what all the various characters were doing, to ensure that the timeslines would fit. That turned out to be true even in some of my short stories, although there it was a matter of hours and minutes rather than days or weeks.
 
Oddly enough, while laying in bed last night after a tornado warning woke me up, I had a thought, and after writing that thought today, I may have settled my time issues. But only time will tell! Bahahahahahaha! It was never a matter of it can't be done, but how to do it while making it feel natural and in the flow. I hope and pray it's nailed with a little stitching because everything after should buzz along.
 
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