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July 25, 2009

Some Thoughts On Writing A Series

Writing a series is a tricky thing. You want to write each book so that it can be picked up and read, in effect, as a stand alone. Yet you also want there to be continuity running from novel to novel to novel.

In a way it’s kind of like doing a television series. Back in pre-1990s television, not exclusively, but for the most part, if you watched a television series it would basically reset itself each week. What I mean by this is that each episode would seldom be affected by the episode that preceded it. One week, Richie Cunningham of HAPPY DAYS fame could break his arm, but the next week his arm is fine and there’s not even a reference to it. Or one of Charlie’s Angels could meet a great guy one week, and completely have forgotten about him the next.

So what was really happening was that the characters on those shows weren’t growing. They were static, unchanging. (Okay, some of them had some changes, but they were very controlled and mostly minor.)

That used to drive me crazy! I’d want to know what happened to Richie’s arm, or why Angel Sabrina was suddenly single again.

Lately, though, television has gotten its act together. Shows have continuity. What happened one week effects what happens the next. You can see growth in the characters. You know the reason someone acts a certain way in episode 10 is because of their experience in episode 3. I think it’s great.

For most of these shows you can still jump in at any point and enjoy what is going on without having seen the whole season. But for some you can’t. Take LOST, for instance. If you haven’t been watching from the beginning, you’re probably going to be hopelessly…well…lost. While it’s worked for LOST, doing that can be a danger. You can lose viewers, because if they start missing an episode here and there, they have a hard time picking it up again later, and ultimately they say, “Why bother?”

That’s the same danger you run into with a series. Make each book too dependent on the one that came before and you will be narrowing your audience with each new release. So you’re left with two choices: 1) the static/reset approach, or 2) let your characters change and grow, but make sure that the book still stands alone.

For me, the static/reset approach is not an option. It just doesn’t work for me personally. Not in the stories I want to tell, anyway. So it’s number 2 that I strive for.

My main character, Jonathan Quinn, has definitely come a long way in my new book, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, from when we met him first in THE CLEANER. And, just to give you a preview of things to come, he has a long way still to go. But not only Quinn has changed, so has his apprentice Nate, and his partner/girlfriend Orlando. So have some of his clients. But each story, each book still stands on its own. You don’t have to read THE CLEANER before you pick up THE DECEIVED. And you don’t have to read THE DECEIVED before you read SHADOW OF BETRAYAL. (Though I would remiss if I didn’t suggest reading them all in whatever order you like!)

As I move forward with the series (and, yes, there will be another Quinn thriller next year), I will continue to work hard at creating this evolving world I’ve created while writing books that can be read without any previous exposure to Quinn’s life. It’s part of the challenge, and part of the fun.

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