Serial Worries

When Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game it was a novelette complete in itself. First, he expanded it into a novel, introducing new characters. Then, he started a series based on the characters in this science fiction Hugo Award winner. The next in the series, Speaker for the Dead takes place in the future, 3000 years later. Ender’s Shadow, a parallel novel, retells Ender’s story from the viewpoint of his very different friend, Bean. The Shadow series continued with the story of Bean’s children. There are now sixteen novels to tell the saga of Ender, his siblings and friends. 

Series do not have to be started with the intention of creating one. A complete first novel, which would seem to be a stand-alone work, can be expanded. There are numerous ways to continue a series. Minor details of plots are often not completely wrapped up in the first book and can serve as a basis for the next. The books that follow can explore the life and times of lesser characters as these move into the limelight as the protagonist. In addition, the author can move back in time to prior adventures of the origin story, or forward to show character’s influence on the future of their “world.” 

It is not easy to create a fresh new story. Books in the series should grow the sphere of the original characters. So, you may want to secretly come up with a series of problems that make up one overarching challenge for the main character in case he or she becomes unexpectedly popular. This challenge that the protagonist faces must be difficult enough that it takes a few books to reach the solution. However, the key is creating enough new characters with a life and set of problems of their own in each new novel in the series.

During a lull at a holiday party for writers, three of us discussed our works in progress. One had finished the first book. He announced was planning a long series–over ninety more books. My gasp was obvious. I would be terrified of letting the world know that was my scheme. I have completed only a few books with no intention of creating sequels. When my labor is done, and my fiction is finished, I am usually finished with the main character. This is not due to boredom or lack of ideas for a sequel. Rather, I sense that I cannot write another book that will do them justice. 

I am tentative about announcing a series because I recall the thrill of reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson when I was much younger. In this historical fiction a teenager escape imprisonment on a ship and flees through the wild highlands of Scotland with the assistance of an actual historical accused murdered, Alan Breck Stewart. Stevenson wrote a sequel to this book named after the main character, David Balfour. The beginning section, in which David encounters Stewart again piqued my interest. (It was even included in the movie). However, the rest of this novel was pale in comparison to the first book. This is a fate I do not want for my characters.

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