Strategies for Writing a Series
I’ve heard Tom Doherty speak about what he would like in a series, and he will tell you that he wants a “persistent world with persistent characters.” This means that the setting remains pretty much static—the same world that you created in the first book, in roughly the same time frame. It also means that you use the same characters that are introduced in book one. Usually, this means that you have a very strong and likable protagonist. Rowling used a persistent world with persistent characters for her Harry Potter series, just as Meyer has done for Twilight.
However, there are problems that arise for an author when you try to do that. The greatest risk of course is that people will get tired of your world and your characters. I remember a series I read as a teenager. In the first installment, I felt the book had a world that was bizarre and wonderful beyond description. But as I got into the series, by the second book I felt that the planet had sort of lost its luster. I kept hoping that the author would take me deeper into the mysteries of the setting or that I would get to visit some other planets. In short, I felt to a great degree that we were rehashing things we’d seen in book one. Others might like that, but I’m a bit more adventurous.
The second problem in that series arose with the hero. In book one, he grows so much and to such great heights, that by book two, there isn’t really a positive direction he can go. He had attained all his goals already.
So that’s the great problem that one faces when writing in a persistent world with persistent characters.
Thus, as authors, we have to figure out ways to keep the reader interested, keep them eager to come back to our world and visit our characters once again.
There are only a few approaches that one can take to counter this problem. So let’s go over them:
As an author, you can choose to set your story in various places. One way to do this of course is to have the world-changing and growing. You might create an epic that takes place over a lifetime. The story might begin, for example, in Germany in the 1920s and follow a character through a lifetime. A young German boy might start out as a street urchin, join Hitler’s youth, become an S.S. officer and move to Poland during the war, raking in a fortune from bribes from various people who want to escape. After the war, he might be imprisoned for his war crimes, and then get freed on the condition that he becomes a NAZI hunter. In his old age, he might move to South America, where he is still hunting for the Holy Grail of all NAZI hunters—Hitler himself, whom he believes is still alive. (After all, some conspiracy theorists claim that Hitler killed a double.)
So you can create a changing world, one that allows us to cross oceans and explore life at various times.
As a child, I used to love watching this television show called “Have Gun, Will Travel.” It’s the story of a gunslinger who goes from town to town in the Old West, helping young widows get their land back and otherwise righting all wrongs. I’ve often thought that the same concept could be used in science fiction—in which an intergalactic lawman visits strange new worlds, teaching the aliens about gunplay and justice.
In fact, I use this technique of visiting altering worlds in my Runelords series. The story begins in a little country called Heredon. In book two it moves to Mystarria and Indhopal. In book three we go to Inkarra, while in book four my characters travel into the Underworld. Book five is spent crossing an ocean to reach a whole new continent, Landesfallen, while in book six, through a magic spell, two worlds are suddenly combined. In book seven some characters go to a new alternate world, while I also explore the world of the “Wyrmling Hordes.” You get the idea. Since the books take place over a period of twenty years, the world also is altered temporally.
In short, there are a number of tactics that you can take to make your settings more interesting and varied. One way, for example, is to simply move about in your own world, much as you’ll see done in a James Bond movie—where we might have an adventure in Morocco, one in Beijing, and a third in Buenos Aires, all in the space of an hour!
Later I’ll talk about some ways that authors get around the static character problem.