Plain Talk for Writers: Series
|3 Current Series: Upper left, Loser Mysteries. Upper right, Simon & Elizabeth Historical Mysteries. Lower left: Dead Detective Mysteries. Somebody Doesn't Like Sarah Leigh is a stand-along mystery.|
Readers love series. It's nice to know that characters we love are going to come back and visit us again, telling us about their latest scrapes.
Writers love series--to a point. It's comfortable to slip into the minds of characters we've already created. We know how they think, what they'll do. (Even if we don't, we can look back at the books that came before and refresh our memories.)
The problem with series-writing is keeping it fresh. Writers don't want their characters to "jump the shark," but it's obvious to me from reading some series that authors find it difficult to tell when they've reached that point. If you've ever stopped reading a series because things got too weird, too over-the-top emotional, or too unbelievable, you've seen it happen.
On the other hand, a series shouldn't be the same story over and over. We like familiar characters in new situations, and that makes it tough for a writer. Readers want the same thing, only different.
Publishers push their writers to keep a series going, often despite the writer's feelings. We know that Conan Doyle wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, as did Martha Grimes with her Inspector Jury. Steve Hamilton admits that though he likes Alex McKnight, he wants to write other things. I admire these writers for wanting to stretch themselves and not depend on a single successful character to make their whole career. Still, you'll notice that in each case, someone in the publishing industry has decreed differently: the public wants more of the same, and Sue Grafton will be required/encouraged to finish the alphabet, no matter how tired she might be or Kinsey Milhone. (Hey, it's all downhill from X, right?)
I've ended one series (Loser Mysteries) and am at working ending two more (Dead Detectives right now and Simon & Elizabeth next year), because I don't want to get tired of my characters. I did cheat a little and leave possibilities for continuing them at a later date, but right now, they're telling me they've traveled the arc that kept me and my readers interested. After three books, Loser's in a good place in her life. Seamus is about to come to terms with his demons in Book #4. Simon & Elizabeth are getting old as the fifth book circles in my head. I can't see forcing them to have more adventures--not when there are new characters talking from the back of my brain, whispering that they're waiting for their turn.