This week, we bring you Part 2 of Deborah's "miniseries" (see what we did there? :) on how (not) to write a series of books.
This post and its Part 1 originally appeared in Deborah's blog.
5) Not staying true to your premise: internal consistency. This is related to #4 (changing genres between books), but is more internal to books. It deals with proper and consistent characterization within your world and with consistent world-building. This one seems to come out particularly in relation to sex. Many authors, regardless of their settings and characters, write their characters with their, the author’s, sexual mores . . . when it makes zero sense. If your hero is a very proper, religious, Victorian gentleman faithfully devoted to his fiancée, he should not out of the blue meet a rather rough woman and immediately decide to have sex with her. Similarly, if your character is in a celibate profession in a world that Takes That Seriously, he should not just decide to get married because you, the author, want some romance. Write a different character, if that’s what you want.
Doing this right: Harry Potter is a good example. Rowling expands the universe with each book and lets the protagonists develop naturally.
6) Not staying true to your characters. I’ve also seen this take the form of either creating caricatures of or writing fanfiction* about your own characters. I read the sequel to one book, and found all the characters had turned into bizarre, exaggerated versions of themselves. Then there’s a rather famous book that develops an awesome and intense villain. But in book 2, this villain is suddenly the hero with a backstory that’s basically a watered-down version of the hero’s story in book 1. It’s an absolute waste. Based on the way it’s written, my theory is that the author fell in love with his/her own character and so decided to retroactively make him “awesome.” What this actually does is make him weak and pathetic. This doesn’t mean your characters can’t learn and grow—they should. But it should be natural growth.
*I love fanfiction, but there’s a time and a place for it. And it’s for your fans, not you. You shouldn’t be writing it about your own book.
Doing this right: It’s hard for a character to undergo a major shift while staying the same person, but it can be done. The trick is to push the character past the breaking point so that a major transition between books/movies makes sense. Darth Vader managed this between Star Wars III and IV. I’m having a hard time thinking of a book example, but I’d love to read one if anyone has a suggestion.
7) Letting your protagonist get boring. It’s hard to know what to do with a really long series. Some authors solve this by never letting their characters age—something that works well for detective stories. But many series want their protagonists to continue to age, and that’s fine. Just don’t let them get boring! I don’t mean that your character can’t meet a romantic interest and get married and have kids. But if your hero has previously been zipping around the galaxy performing heists, then don’t make him stay at home dealing with bureaucratic issues while waiting for the birth of his children. Give him a spouse who will help him be more exciting, not drag him down.
Doing this right: the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or Legends). These novels vary in quality, but Timothy Zahn starts us off very strong, and I’d also like to put in a good word for Matthew Stover’s Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. I haven’t read all the post-VI EU books, but the ones I’ve read keep all our heroes in character and interesting/awesome while letting them marry and have children and progress with their lives.
8) Undoing the ending. This usually comes about when the original material wasn't written to have a sequel but was then so successful that the maker decided to add a sequel . . . and so retroactively reset the universe (this fits into #2). Either that, or the sequel is written years later and the writer tries to be realistic by being pessimistic. So: you know that romance you were rooting for that finally came to pass? Yeah, it went down the chute after the last installment and you'll never see that person again. Or that happy ending? Nah, they died off screen / between books. How about everything we've been working for for the entire series? Disappeared when you weren't watching. I hate this. I will sometimes refuse to watch or read a sequel if it does this. If I care at all about the characters, this will absolutely ruin the entire series for me.
Doing this right: I'm not sure I can think of any example, because the story needs to move forward, not back. I have seen fanfiction that fixes problems with the source material by creating sequels (like, why did Loki have such a stupid plan in the first Avengers movie? Well, because he was building toward something else / his motivation wasn't what people assumed. I've seen multiple fan sequels that do this very well indeed). This is, in fact, one area in which fanfiction excels: recognizing and fixing problems.
Bottom line: Stay true to the premise and characters you’ve set up in book 1, and progress that story at a moderate rate without undoing your ending or progress.
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