Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Series

Writers sometimes create characters, settings, indeed entire “universes” which they revisit for several books. This technique is termed writing a series. There are many positives in this approach. Sales of series titles tend to be better, because a reader who enjoys one title will want to read the others in the same series. Also, a nifty character can be revisited, even if a main character in one tale becomes a minor one in another. However, a great character can succeed as a main character again and again. Here are three diverse examples—

One of my first experiences in reading a series began with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor. The first two books (now available in a single volume) focus on Cordelia Naismith, who marries Aral Vorkosigan. Their son, Miles, becomes the main character in the rest of the series, and what a marvelous character he is! Alternately humorous, cunning, and inspiring, Bujold’s Miles has enough problems and strength to carry him through many adventures. I’ve pictured one of the better late entries in the series, A Civil Campaign, which describes Miles’ matrimonial adventure, but my absolute favorite Miles adventure is a short story, The Mountains of Mourning. Regarding the writing of a series, “Bujold has also said that part of the challenge of writing a series is that many readers will encounter the stories in ‘utterly random order’, so she must provide sufficient background in each of them without being excessively repetitious. Most recent printings of her Vorkosigan tales do include an appendix at the end summarizing the internal chronology of the series.”

Another science fiction writer, but one with a different approach altogether, is David Weber. His Honor Harrington series is ongoing, but I have given it up. I found the last few entries stray farther and farther from focusing on his main character. The earlier books, especially the first eight, are among the best space opera I have read. Weber has a wonderful grasp of technical matters, and his books are sorta like the Tom Clancy of science fiction. Honor is not particularly successful as a female, but she is wonderful as a military heroine. My most favorite entry in the series, The Honor of the Queen, is pictured. Weber has stated that this series began as an 80K essay which he terms “Honorverse.”

Several years ago, a friend loaned me a mystery by a local author, Kathy Hogan Trocheck, and I enjoyed it enough to revisit the Callihan Garrity series, set in Atlanta. A former AJC reporter, Trocheck often bases her plots in crime stories in the Atlanta area. I was fortunate to hear her speak at a writer’s conference in Athens, and she let her audience in on some of the problems facing the series writer. Her main character is the owner of a cleaning service, which serves as a way to let her be a private detective and get into the homes of her clients and her suspects. This series is often humorous, but she admitted that it is hard to keep everything straight. An example she cited was using a beat up Chevy van in one book, but switching to a Ford in the next one. Her editor’s suggested solution was a writer’s guide, where she kept track of these details. In recent years, she has moved to the more popular “chick lit” perspective, writing as Mary Kay Andrews, but she is still writing a series.

My editor for Trinity on Tylos suggested that I make it a series. That is still a possibility, and I did use a guide when I was writing Trinity on Tylos, so that I could keep the characters and the physical layout of the Excalibur straight. If you want to see part of it, just flip to the back of that book; my editor suggested that the character list be a part of the book so that readers could keep them straight as well. If I ever revisit the “Trinity on Tylos” universe, I will certainly use that guide again.

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