Writing the Series – Part 1


All seven books in the Harry Potter series in ...

All seven books in the Harry Potter series in order without their dust jackets. Each hardcover book used a different two-color scheme. The books are the first American editions published by Scholastic. Author’s collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A book series is a sequence of books having certain characteristics in common that are formally identified together as a group. Book series can be organized in different ways, such as written by the same author, or marketed as a group by their publisher,” at least that is what Wiki P says.

It is clear that this definition falls short. Dr Who, for example, has a multitude of authors, who all write about the same main character. Generally a series is built around a central group of characters and a central theme.

Allow me to use television and movies to illustrate my point. If you are old enough you will remember LA Law. The series is described as “The lives and work of the staff of a major Los Angeles law firm.” That sounds rather underwhelming, but considering that it won 47 awards, including 5 Golden Globes and received another 144 nominations, it is clear that the series was anything but underwhelming.

James Bond is another example. The Harry Potter series, J.R.R Tolkien’s LOTR and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight also spring to mind. (Note: LOTR was supposed to be a single volume, but pricing caused it being published in three parts.)

A fiction series is a sequence of books that generally has a set of characters in common as well as some kind of overarching theme.

An exception to the rule would be The Culture by Iain M. Banks. Here the unifying theme is built around a society called The Culture. “A central theme of the series is the ethical struggles which face the Culture when interacting with other societies.” Characters never get an encore. Lots get murdered, shall we say educated by the Culture and the rest are left behind by the author.

If you look at Louis L’Amour’s books in general, you can see why development of the characters is important. In L’Amour’s “single” books the story line is nearly set in stone. Loner cowboy, great with a gun. Great fighter. Does not speak much. Pretty girl. Bad man. Good guy gets wounded and recuperates in the bushes while trapping rabbits. Final confrontation. Good guy wins and gets girl. Various Indians, cattle and rustlers also make an appearance.

This happens over and over, in book after book. But it is not a series, even though you can identify over arching and consistently repeating themes etc.

This shows us that a series is much more than a bunch of numbered books. A good example would be Spenser by Robert P. Parker. Spenser, a private investigator, solves many cases, but the overarching theme is this enigmatic man, his life, his history, his relationships and especially the code he lives by. There is continuity between the characters that feature in the series, their personal development, etc.

The InstaScribe team, in this series, will share with you some thoughts on what makes a series a great series, and what potential pitfalls to avoid. Before we start with that however, have a look at the lesser known series we have read and loved. These exclude the obvious hobbits, sorting hats and bloodsuckers.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

This series consists of four books. The Third was written and published first, followed by. the fourth, first and second.

If you have never read a western this is a great place to start. Book Three Lonesome Dove was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1986.

It follows the life and development of Woodrow Call, a Texas Ranger. From starry eyed youngster to knife, scythe, scissor and plow sharpener.

Violence, death, rape and whores play a great role in this series. Yet, McMurtry, author of  Terms of Endearment  , never makes you feel as if you are stuck in a Tarantino blood-fest. (By the way, the film won five Academy Awards and four Golden Globes- not your average western.)

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row was followed by Sweet Thursday. How do we share the comic genius of these two books, without spoiling the surprises? If you have only read Grapes of Wrath, you will struggle to believe that it is the same author, writing about the same era.

Steinbeck’s books, set during the Great Depression, show how the human spirit can overcome life’s most difficult circumstances and triumph. Contentment comes from who one is and not what one owns.

Aubrey – Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian

This thirty part series starts in 1800 and ends in 1815. It follows the vicissitudes of Lucky Jack Aubrey, a respected fighting captain, and Dr. Stephen Maturin, the small, ugly, highly intelligent user of opium and coca leaves, who also serves as ship surgeon.

The books are filled with obscure technical sailing and period language that O’Brian uses without confusing the reader. Often Maturin, who is a pathetic sailor, is used to explain nautical terms.  Jack, and the other sailors, are often aghast at Maturin’s ignorance. In explaining to this lubber what a sloop or ship of line is, we the readers are also educated.

Have you read any obscure series that you think deserves mention?


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