Genre Talk

The fat lady’s warming up: the importance (?) of series

opera-singerLately it seems readers have insatiable appetites for series. Especially in contemporary, where we’re seeing loads of related titles, featuring brothers, cousins, townsfolk, platoons, secret societies, stamp collecting clubs – whatever connection the author can find.

Because series sell. Genre publishers knew this ages ago. For years, it’s been next to impossible to sell anything into paranormal or fantasy lines if it doesn’t have series potential. If readers love a fantasy world, they want to stay there. If they love the characters, they want more stories about them.

Romance readers, in particular, have this peculiar ability to invest deeply in fictional characters that I don’t think I’ve witnessed in any other genre, except maybe comic books. A common question for authors is: ‘Oh, I *adored* Boris the Bad-Ass Bastard in your latest novel! When will you write Boris’s book, and who will be his mate?’ Or: ‘Wow, the hero’s ninja superhero brother posing as a gay vampire pirate was so sexy! When will he get his story?’

Head. Desk.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a lovely question, and we are pathetically desperate for you to keep asking it. Nothing authors crave more than readers who love their characters. Bring it. Really. Any time 🙂

With my readers, for some reason, it’s Kane, the immensely powerful and bad-ass yet endearingly naïve demon lord from my Shadowfae series. He’s a minor character, really, who sashays on like an over-sexed choir boy to make people’s lives a misery, while angsting about how pathetic and lonely his life is, and then wanders off to get laid or eat someone or throw his enemies in the dungeon for a thousand years or whatever. That’s just the way Kane rolls, and frankly, the little bastard needs an attitude adjustment. But I get more questions about Kane and his ‘book’ than any other character.

Cherry Kisses CoverI’ve also had the sequel question from readers about my novella Cherry Kisses. When will we see more of Lena and Ethan’s story? I’m flattered and grateful and excited that people liked the story enough to care! And to be fair, though I won’t spoil it here (hint: you can download it for FREE!!) the ending of Cherry Kisses is left open relationship-wise.

Thing is: when I wrote that story, that was supposed to be The End. Story told. I never envisaged writing on. Maybe Lena and Ethan eventually get their white picket fence and baby carriage. Maybe they ride off into the sunset and slaughter demons together until the end of time. But that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.

News flash, folks – preparing to duck tomato-throwers here – sometimes, a story’s just a story. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and once you reach the end, there’s nothing more to say. Not everyone in romance can have a ‘book’. Not everyone finds their ‘mate’, if you even believe in that sort of thing.

This may be a fantasy world, kiddies, but it’s not frickin’ Disneyland. Some characters are destined to die bruised and alone. Bwahaha. Bah humbug.

Scary, I know. But does everything need to be a series? Must every world be Wish-Fulfilment Land? Isn’t it reasonable – or at least possible – that not everyone gets their ‘happy ever after’?

butch-cassidy-et-le-kid-1969-13-g

Sometimes, things just end badly…

Because, y’know. Authors have plans, and they don’t always involve true love. Maybe we don’t want to write in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. Maybe the gay ninja pirate vampire was just supposed to be a walk-on. And let’s face it, Boris the Bad-Ass Bastard doesn’t deserve love. He’s a blister-brained maniac with bad breath who couldn’t romance his way out of a wet paper bag, and he’s probably lousy in bed. Even if he’s Studly McBigBoy with the soul of Lord Byron and the sex drive of Don Juan on GHB – sometimes shit just happens. Bad things happen to hot people. This is the real world, goddammit… oh, wait.

It isn’t.

It’s the world of Story. Where Miss Marple or the Midsomer detectives can solve eighty-five murders a year in a town with a population of a couple hundred, and where it’s always sunny at Downton Abbey (seriously? Have they ever been to Yorkshire?) Where every billionaire is young and gorgeous and wants to whip his interns, every vampire can get prodigious hard-ons without a heartbeat and has magical wound-healing pain killers in his spit, and no rakehell Regency duke ever had syphilis or crabs. Unless he’s ugly. Or French.

And where it’s perfectly reasonable that a family of ten super-sexy and unaccountably single brothers (or Navy SEALS, werewolf warriors, whatever) will all find their one twue wuv. Romance authors must write for romance readers, and romance readers want romance. In the world of Story – especially the world of paranormal – ‘it’s not realistic’ is no excuse, right?

Or wrong?

As a storyteller: what do you do when the tale you want to tell is over? How far should we twist our story world to create series potential when there really isn’t any, or we didn’t want any? Given that offering our readers what they love is kind of what we’re here for: do we have a responsibility to at least try to give popular characters a ‘book’, or at least a satisfying subplot? And if we do that – if we drift away from the story we wanted to tell, and fill in gaps we never envisaged filling – aren’t we just writing fanfic in our own world? When does catering to readers’ desires cross the line into (gasp!) selling out?

And as a reader, how far are you prepared to stretch credibility to stay in a world you love? Do you even read standalones? If a secondary character you adore doesn’t get their HEA – maybe they even die, or get their heart broken for good – does that spoil it for you?

P.S. Boris the Bad-Ass Bastard and the gay superhero vampire pirate are mine. Perhaps we can make arrangements. Let’s talk.

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13 thoughts on “The fat lady’s warming up: the importance (?) of series

  1. What a great post Erica, thank you. I have to admit, almost everything I read is series related. And I love series, especially UF where you can find out what happens next to the beloved heroine in the next book, next year. Sometimes series get stale, and I tire of them (whispers Carpatians) and some never ever bore me and I hope for 50 more books (JD Robb, in Death).

    Perhaps Nora Roberts is a bad example as she is the author who writes the most books ever, but she does write a lot of stand alones in between her series, and I love them all.

    If I love an author’s writing style, I just want to read everything she writes, and it doesn’t matter if it is stand alone or the next book in a series, it is the new X-book.

    The worst thing there is for a reader, imo, is if the publisher ends a series, before the end is written and you have an incomplete story. In that case I hope as there is such a thing as self publishing nowadays, that the author still writes a last book and publishes it herself if she is allowed to.

    • That is definitely one beauty of self-publishing: series won’t have to die without an ending. And yeah, I’m kind of the same – if I love a world, I don’t mind which characters appear in the book.

  2. I went totally off topic there. Ehm, I don’t ask an author if X or Y will get his/her book, nor do I need to see the bad guy redeemed by love. I am always extremely surprised if an author pulls that of though (Kresley Cole – Lothaire). I am mostly just happy there will be a new book.

  3. Whether reading or writing, I like stories to have a definite end. It gives the story a focus. I don’t mind trilogies, or even heptalogies (if that’s a word) if they’re planned out, but series that just go on and on easily fall victim to soap opera mentality. It takes a very good author to create a genuinely good new novel to add to a series. Detective fiction is another area where series grow, and Sara Paretsky’s Warshawski series is truly excellent – perhaps because the focus is always on social issues and the basic detective work rather than on the detective’s personal life. In Sci-Fi, Iain Banks’s Culture series was clever because the stories were very separate despite the common universe.

    • That’s a good point you make, Frank – maybe crime and mystery are a bit better at having ‘real’ reasons for series books than romance. If the relationship isn’t the focus, something actually has to happen, apart from all that wish-fulfilment 🙂

  4. Fantastic post, Erica!

    Some series I love and some series I…don’t. The ones that fall flat for me are usually the ones where the romantic tension starts to feel manufactured, or the world stops feeling fresh. They mystery just goes out of the experience, and then I lose interest. When it’s done well, though, there’s nothing like a series that just builds on itself and keeps getting better, more complex, more nuanced. (Harry Potter, anyone?)

    As a writer, I tend to know the back stories of all of my characters, even the ones that only appear for a page or two. I have experienced readers asking for more from a character I’d intended to retire. Sometimes it makes me think, “yeah, maybe that story is worth writing.” Other times, I’m like, no, that one just ends too badly. I don’t think I could change an existing character to cram her into story of her own–I don’t think the story would work.

    • See, I have backstory for my characters, too, but it tends to be revealed in the novel. That’s what novels do – they explore character. If I were to write a story that covered all that again – what would be the point?

      And minor characters… well, they’re minor for a reason. Not everyone falls in lurve. It bothers me that Romancelandia is becoming a place where *everyone* gets their HEA. There are enough rules in romance already – do we have to add more by saying that even secondary characters have to be happy?

      Sigh. I dunno. Some authors appear to be able to do this endlessly. Sadly, I’m not one of them 🙂

  5. God, I kind of hate Wish Fulfilment Land. I prefer to read about characters with worse lives than mine – which means I DON’T want them to live happily ever after 😉

    • Well, yeah. It’s not such a problem in fantasy (as opposed to PR). And if we were just allowed to write novels, instead of being ‘storytellers’ (whatever that might mean) there’d be a whole lot fewer pointless books going around… in my humble opinion, naturally 🙂

  6. *giggling re sunny England aside for Yorkshire*, ahem, to the issue at hand (not the weather).

    My business head understands why it happens. The storyteller in me cringes. No matter how much I love a world or the characters, if the story is done, it should be left done.

    I enjoy a series as much as anyone, however I have read too many (especially in say the last two years) where I can see it’s beyond stretched and should have stopped. Or if the readers/writer want to play in the world, find a new story to tell within it.

    A couple of series I’ve really enjoyed all the way to the end and I think for all bar one, that I’m aware of, the writer had an end-goal/plan in mind (quite early on in the process too btw). The exception is the In Death series, but that one works because imho, I think it’s a mix of the type of story it is re the crime element (how the reader knows the crime/pov etc).

    You know me. I’m all for killing off the characters (and we know who to blame for my attitude lol).

    • I’m with you 🙂 I have a grudging envy for those authors who seems to be able to write endless stories about people in their worlds – but I also think it has the potential to be dull and unrealistic and formulaic. Sigh…

  7. Pingback: Happy new links! | Becky Black

  8. Holy wow, Erica, I love this post! 🙂 To answer your writer question… I’m writing an urban fantasy series with a definite end point and, when it’s done, it’s done. In paranormal romance land, I have a standalone novel that has spawned some babies by accident. I fell in love with a couple of the secondary characters and they demanded I write their stories.

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