Last October, THE 731 LEGACY, the last installment in our Cotten Stone thriller series was published. It ended the 4-book series. My co-author Lynn Sholes and I are about to finish writing a new standalone that could develop into a series if the literary gods smile down on us. But in taking on the task of a new set of main characters—something we haven’t done in many years—it got me to thinking about the pros and cons of writing a series as opposed to a standalone.
I think the biggest advantage is that we know our main characters really well having lived with them through four books. We’ve watched them act, react, and grow. Dealing with a character that we're familiar with presents less challenges that starting from scratch with a new main protagonist. And with that knowledge, we can concentrate more on plot. In keeping our series heroine fresh in each book, we always begin by asking, “What does she still need to learn?” The answer to that question is our challenge for new character development in the next book in the series.
Of course, with a new series main character, we have to learn all the idiosyncrasies and motivational forces as we go through the development process. Rather than springing off the starting line, we must first crawl, then learn to walk all over again.
There are a number of things to remember when writing a series. Don’t assume that your reader has read the first book in your series when he picks up number two or three. Add a few reminders with enough details so if the reader didn’t read the first book, he can still understand what’s going on. Make sure that each book in the series has a solid resolution. Include themes that thread through the series. Document your characters and their reoccurring haunts such as where they live, their jobs, their families, births and deaths, habits, settings. You never want to show a lack of historical knowledge about your characters in a later book.
One of the biggest challenges of a series is backstory—how much do we have to retell with each new book? Where do we draw the line between bringing the new reader up to speed that may have started reading in mid-series and boring the established fan who has already read the previous books and just wants us to get on with the new story?
For the series authors out there, are you happy to keep the story going through multiple books. How do you keep your characters fresh and interesting. Do you ever get the urge to cleanse your creative palate and take a chance now and then by writing a standalone?
Join us on Sunday, July 19, when Julie Kramer, thriller author of MISSING MARK and STALKING SUSAN will be our guest blogger.