Saturday, July 24, 2010

Author, Eliza March on writing sequels or series

Sequel or Series . . . and does it matter?

Sequel: a continuation of a story - a movie, novel, or play that continues a story begun in a previous movie, novel, or play or something that happens after something else, especially as a consequence of it. [Encarta dictionary]

Series: a number of similar or related things coming one after another or as in broadcasting, a set of regularly broadcast programs, each of which is complete in itself or , as in publishing, a number of books, pamphlets, or periodicals brought out by one company or organization on the same or related topics or in the same format. [Encarta dictionary]

So here's my take on all this.

Many people look forward to the release of a follow up book to the story they’re reading. Have you ever been surprised when you finished a book to discover that the story would continue in another book? How did you feel? Surprised? Excited? Furious? Well, I, for one, don’t like that sort of surprise. I’ll read both, but I like to know what I’m in for when I start out. I’m the type of reader who will wait to read the first book until all the sequels are completed. I’m not good for “first” book ratings.

Trilogies in sequels, those stories you know when you start will all be released by the publisher within the year, are different. Usually, I’ll risk diving into the first book for one of my favorite authors, knowing I won’t have to wait long for satisfaction. (I always admit, I’m an the instant gratification type.) Trilogies are also sometimes written as series comprised of interrelated plots or characters or settings.

Once an author has a plan for a book, or if they’re “pantsers,” those writers who have little structured plans when they write a book (they just let the creativity flow), and they begin the writing process, certain plot lines split and certain characters take on a life of their own.

This is an ideal situation for a series. I’ve heard some authors discuss how their readers want a story about a particular character and the how and why the author chooses to make that decision. One, the character has to have a story strong enough to carry a whole book and two, the character must be three dimensional enough to carry the whole book. When the plot splits, that is also an ideal situation for a series. Some authors plan these series from the start, tying the setting or plot to new characters as they’re introduced as secondary characters in the current work. In each of these stories, the plot is completed: the murderer is brought to justice, the boy gets girl, the world is saved from destruction. You get the picture.

In sequels, the first book may conclude one plot leaving an over-arcing theme unresolved and the final resolution may take more than one or two books to complete. The subsequent books become sequels to the first book, each book a completed step to the final outcome. Ideal sequels end in a good place, leaving the reader somewhat satisfied, but aching for more.

I’m trying my hand at both types of books. I’m almost finished writing the next book in the Enchanted Mountain series - stories about a location in the Colorado mountains where paranormal beings of the Lore meet and gather their power for the first time. My first was a novella: THE LION, THE LEOPARD, AND THE WOLF. The next is a novel length, titled: THE MOON, THE MADNESS, AND THE MAGIC.

Now the challenge for me will be accomplishing the goal of creating a book in a sequel. My Gemini Prophecy stories each have a resolution, but they also have an over-arcing plot: a nemesis who isn’t caught and a conflict which isn’t resolved until many books later. The first book is complete, but the second is still in the "to be completed" stage.

I’m both a “pantser” and a “plotter” (more on that another time) so most of the sequels are outlined, but if I get into the story with too much detail before I start, it’s not as much fun to write. Hey, I like a surprise as much as you do.

Please leave a comment about what you think. Thanks and have a great week.

~~~ Eliza


  1. Some of what you call sequels, I call serial. When I write a serial novel (like Prophecy), I let people know up front that it's a two-book serial. No surprises. The first book literally ends at the turning point, and the second concludes the story. They were released 3 months or so apart. So, it probably wouldn't have bothered you too much to see that happen.

    A true sequel, to me, is not the same thing as a serial. Prophecy...keep coming back to that...was a complete arc over the two-book serial. Now, eight years later, I'm writing a true sequel to the book that picks up with a secondary charcter from the first book and brings all the main characters that are still alive and not in jail from the serial back again for a new adventure. It's not a continuation of the same story, and though it can stand alone, I harken back to the original often and is better read with knowledge of the original.

    Typically, I write series books. I had one complaint in my most popular series recently, because I left a cliffhanger for the next book. The series book concluded and tied up all loose ends for itself, but I gave a taste of what was to come in the next book in the epilogue...and I plan to do the same in the next few books, leading into the following book. I loved it. Most of my readers loved it. But one reader absolutely hated that little tease. Why? I don't know, but she did. Which is strange, because I did the same thing in the previous book, and no one complained about it.


  2. I cliffhanger is what makes the reader crave the next book. I love and hate them. Love that the sequels are continuing, hate that I have to wait for the next book. I agree with you, Eliza. I'm an instant gratification person, and I rarely read any series that aren't complete. Like the Twilight books - I only read the first one when the movie came out and i would have been utterly livid if I had to wait. Same with They Fae series by Karen Marie Moning - if I'd known how much I would enjoy the stories, I never would have started them until the last book came out. (BTW - we have an ETA of 1/18/11) I liked her Highlander series because they books were not really connected. So I enjoy continuing characters but I hate waiting. Same with shows on TV - I won't watch shows that continue the story - I stopped watching True Blood because I was so irritated with the weekly cliffhangers. But obviously there are millions who don't suffer from my degree of attention deficit issue.

  3. I don't like cliffhangers when I know I'll have to wait a year or more for the next installment. By the time a year has passed, my interest may have faded too! I just released a four book series - the first two books are in one volume, the second two books will come out in 6 weeks in another volume. Each two book volume is stand alone. I decided my readers would be happier that way and so would I!
    Really good question!

  4. Sometimes, a person can't help it. Sometimes, she she writes a book she intends to stand alone, but the characters aren't done, and keep nagging and nagging with material for their next adventure.

    At least, that's what happened to me.

  5. I always thought I had found a good conclusion - then my readers jumped at me and asked for more. What could I do? Take it to the next step, of course. And the Zoe Lionheart series is still growing!

  6. I'm with Anonymous. I have written a lot of books I THOUGHT were stand-alones and found they were series or had sequels, in the end. Shrug. It happens. Or...readers say they want more of a charcter, and you realize the character does have more to say.


  7. Perfect timing for this post, Eliza! I've been contemplating writing a 3-Book Series/Serial and wasnt sure what the proper title would be. It will be a continuation through all 3 does that make it a Serial/Sequel? I dont think I'll be leaving any cliffhangers --unless with an Epilogue, so Im not sure what Im going to Query it as: Series? Its one main story/plot, with 3 sets of h/h.

    Anyhoo....enjoyed this post!

    hugs, Kari Thomas

  8. I'm all about the series and the trilogy. Yeah, it kinda sucks to have to wait for the next book, but on the other hand, if it is one of those authors who grip me by the short and curleys and I can't breathe until I read THE END, then it is best that I have to wait months before the next book... Otherwise, my house would be a mess all the time.

  9. Here's how pantsers write a series: we finish the first book, realize we've got an idea for a book related to the first, then write that, and so on. Anything over 3 books (trilogy length) is a series. I'd finished the first draft of one book when inspiration hit for the next. Not much I can do except write it. It wasn't planned, it just happened.

    Ideally (in my opinion) a series should be like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books: they're interrelated and tell an overall story, but each book is complete in itself and they don't have to be read in any order. If you only ever read one, you're still okay. That also helps if earlier books in your series go out of print. You can still pick up readers with the later books, maybe enough to get the earlier books re-issued.

    If you're against cliffhangers, for God's sake stay away from Edgar Rice Burrough's Martian series. One book ends with Dejah Thoris being attacked by a knife-wielding foe -- then she vanishes behind a rock wall, presumably for a year. Yes, that's the ending. I think John Carter got her back. I don't remember how the next book started. So much for cliffhangers.

  10. Well, I write sequels for Not really sure, but in my vampire series, "Bound By Blood, The Legends, I have characters who have their love stories all tied up back sometimes as minor characters to move the next book alone. I also have secondary characters that could end up with their own story.

    Cliff hangers, in my opinion, should be at the end of a chapter, and not the next book. At least that is my preference. I like to have my romance tied up neatly. However, Michelle Rowan, although I would not call it cliff hangers always left me wanting more and that made me purchase her next book.

    As for my own fans, I try to have one character or, that stand out so readers will clamor for that character's story next.

    Thanks for the time and the interesting blog!!!!

    Faith V. Smith

  11. Thanks, ladies, for all the fantastic input. I guess we're all in agreement that leaving a reader panting for more is good for the author (as long as we don't leave her too long), and frustrating for the reader. The reader deserves at least some resolution at the end of a book before twiddling her thumbs waiting for the next. LOL
    I'm heading to the RWA convention this week and I just noticed there's a workshop that deals with this subject. Maybe we can revisit this topic when I get back. I'm going to ask some editors what they think, or what they're looking for (Ah - what sells best?) I'm betting they'll come back with something like JR Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood."

  12. Faith! Long time, no see!

    Does anyone else have this happen? You are writing a series, and suddenly stories start cropping up that are from the far past or far future of the world, so you have legendary/historical characters that are living characters or vice versa. I have subseries like Kegin Era of the Earth-Born Lords, Kegin Era of the Kegin-Born Lords, and Kegin Historical/Legendaries...or Night Warriors Warriors books, Night Warriors Beast books, and Night Warriors Historicals.

    Or you mention other worlds in a series and suddenly find yourself with a spin-off series from a universe you hadn't anticipated, with people from all the worlds interacting through books? Kegin spun off Wolkin and Kielan series under the Council of Worlds universe, and now they all interact.

    What about items from one series appearing in another? I've had a Warrior in Night Warriors Warrior books READING stories from Night Warriors Beast books. I've had a character from Renegades series wearing a Jorg for President t-shirt that spun off from the Night Warriors series.

    My characters and worlds just LOVE doing this to me.


  13. Great distinction. I like to know what it is when I start a book. :) I write series which include the same characters in different situations. Maybe I'll try the sequel/trilogy thing someday. I hope yours goes well. It's cool that you're using Colorado as a setting, my residence. Our Rockies are beautiful. -laura

  14. Good post, Eliza. You want to talk about the pain of waiting for a series? One author whose work I fell for, published the first two books in her series a few years apart...but part three? Here, ten years on *still* has not been written. I feel for her, I do, but yes, I've cut the strings on waiting for that resolving volume. *sigh* And book two ended on a cliffhanger. So in that respect, it's frustrating.

    As a writer, I'm a total pantser,and I don't tend to plan series writing, at least not when I begin the work. But things do tend to blossom. I have one now that's in the "what if the first never goes anywhere" stage of writing, waiting to see how the subs go on it first, before I really dive into the wordage of it. I do have an idea for it, though. ;) So, maybe I'm not such a pantser after all.

  15. I don't like to read book series. I'll take sequels, sure, but when the writer keeps doing spin-offs off their characters and gets a little confusing to keep up with.

    I like to read the first book when I already have all of the others. I'm the same way about TV series on DVD. I'm not going to buy the first season until all eight are in my hand. Consequently, I don't own a lot of TV on DVD...but I prefer it that way. I don't like waiting. I don't have the tolerance.