S is for Series


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I wanted to write about Series because I know little about the subject. This exercise in blogging is as much a learning experience for me as it is for you. After reading many articles on writing a series and taking copious notes, I ran across a blog by Kaye Dacus which she titled “Writing the Series.” It is dated June 16, 2008, but the message is as relevant today as it was in 2008. What impressed me the most was her simple explanations of the three types of series. I didn’t know there were three types until she pointed it out. I had to hit myself on the head and say “Duh, how obvious.” Everything written below is entirely by Kaye Dacus. I cannot take a word of credit. I hope you find it as educational as I did. The actual link to her site is HTTP://kayedacus.com/2008/06/16/writing-the-series-novel-introduction The first book of her Great Expectation Series, Follow the Heart is scheduled to be released in May 2013. 

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Writing the Series by Kaye Dacus – June 16, 2008

When it comes to fiction, what is a series? Well, to put it simply, a fiction series is a number of books written around a particular continuity theme. It can be a duet, a trilogy, or an open-ended number of books, but they are a series only if there is some thread that ties them all together.
What kind of thread? Well, that depends. In Jan Karon’s Mitford series, the continuity thread is the main character, Father Timothy. Dee Henderson’s O’Malley novels are tied together because the main characters in each of them are adopted siblings. But they’re also tied together because each of the main characters is in some kind of “heroic” profession—like a police detective, a U.S. Marshal, a firefighter, a grief counselor, or an EMT. In Susan May Warren’s Deep Haven series, it is the setting that ties the books together, though the characters from the previous books do make “cameo” appearances in subsequent books.
With some series, there is a little bit of a difference, because it’s a continuing story throughout the series—which is seen most commonly in trilogies such as the Lord of the Rings series—in which the first two books may give a somewhat satisfying ending, but more than likely just leave the story hanging so that you have to continue reading to get any closure. This is true in some longer series, such as J.M. Hochstetler’s American Patriot series—which will extend to seven or eight volumes before the storyline comes to a conclusion.
The many ways of tying books together to create a series can pretty much be broken down into the three different kinds of series: spinoffs, serials, and sequels.

Spinoffs: A series of novels that take an existing minor character, setting, or concept from the first stand-alone story and create a new plot/situation for additional stand-alone stories. Examples: Dee Henderson’s “Uncommon Heroes” series or Christine Schaub’s “Music of the Heart” series that had as its continuing thread the novelization of the stories behind some of the greatest hymns of all time. Spinoffs are very common in the Romance genre—or in TV, though sometimes without as much success as in novels (e.g., Joni loves Chachi, Joey, or Frasier or the “Avonlea” series that was a spinoff of the Anne of Green Gables setting).

Serials: A series of novels that follow one particular character throughout many different, mostly unconnected episodes. Each novel is self-contained and could be read as a stand-alone title, though each successive title reveals more about the continuing character(s). Examples: Tony Hillerman’s novels featuring Navajo tribal police officers Leaphorn and Chee; Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels; Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels; Sherlock Holmes; Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys… are you sensing a genre pattern? Serials are seen most often in Mystery/Suspense and Action/Adventure. This is also what makes up the bulk of TV programming: the CSI and Law & Order franchises are prime examples. If you’re addicted to them, you watch every week and pick up on all of the tiny hints about the continuing-characters’ lives outside of the cases they’re working. However, the driving force of each week’s episode is the self-contained crime they must solve. Non-addicts can come in at any time and watch an episode and understand 95% of what’s going on (the other 5% being information about the characters that have been built throughout the series, such as Bobby Goren’s mother’s schizophrenia and cancer, or Horatio Cane’s relationship and short-lived marriage to Eric’s sister).

Sequels: A series of novels that contain one continuing story in a finite number of volumes. While each volume has a beginning, middle, climax, and denouement, the main plot/conflict of the series continues throughout the series and finally comes to a climax and resolution in the final volume. This main plot/conflict must be introduced early in the beginning of the first book. It cannot suddenly appear three chapters from the ending. While, if well-written, sequel-series books could be read separately, it is usually necessary to start with the first volume and read them in sequence to truly understand the entire storyline. Examples: Star Wars (whether taken as the original trilogy or the full set-of-six films), Tracie Peterson’s “Ribbons West” series, the Harry Potter series. Sequel series are most common in Science Fiction, Fantasy (just do a search for “trilogy” in the books section of amazon.com!), and Historical Fiction/Romance. In television, these are shows such as LOST or Alias where each show builds the story upon what happened in the show before, and it’s really difficult to come into the middle of it and really know what’s going on without going back to the beginning to catch up.

Kaye Dacus (KAY DAY-cuss) is an author and educator who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. A former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kaye enjoys being an active ACFW member and the fellowship and community of hundreds of other writers from across the country and around the world that she finds there. She currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, which she co-founded in 2003 with three other writers. Each month, she teaches a two-hour workshop on an aspect of the craft of writing at the MTCW monthly meeting. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is an academic advisor and English Composition instructor for Bethel University.
Note from me: Thank You Kaye for your invaluable information.
Are you currently writing a series? Is it is Spin off, a Serial or a Sequel?

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