Neverending Stories: Writing Sequels and Series

by K.C. Maguire

I make no apologies for the fact that I love reading trilogies, quadrologies, series etc, especially in the science fiction and fantasy area. However, I also have my pet peeves about sequels and series, particularly when it seems that the writer or publisher has lost the plot (literally speaking) and is milking the series for all (s)he can get. It’s important to know when a story is done and when it’s time to move on to something new. Of course, I have to admit that sometimes authors who really have lost the plot continue to make money because readers will pick up anything containing their beloved characters, even a grocery list…

Recently, I attended a lecture about fantasy and science fiction writing where the presenter (herself, an established series writer) answered a question about series writing by saying that a series is not an “excuse for repetition, but rather a call to go deeper”.

This statement resonated with me as a reader and I started thinking about techniques for “going deeper” when writing a series. Now, I have to admit that I haven’t personally written any sequels or series myself, so I’m speaking entirely as a reader here. But these are my suggestions for going deeper if considering writing a series:

(a) ensuring the series has an over-arching theme that resonates with the individual books;

(b) changing point of view characters between books;

(c) altering the timelines between books;

(d) introducing readers to new aspects of the social, political, cultural, religious, or geographical features of the fictional world; and,

(e) raising the stakes between books.

These ideas are all interconnected. In particular, all of them relate in some way to the first notion: ensuring the series ties together with an over-arching theme.

We can all probably think of examples of series that use these techniques to greater or lesser effect. One of my favorite YA fantasy authors for engaging in many of these techniques is Maggie Stiefvater. She uses most of these approaches in her Wolves of Mercy Falls series and, more recently, her Raven Cycle.

I’m not sure how many sequels or series I’m ever going to write in my life. But for those who write sequels for readers like me, it pays to think about how to go deeper in the next book and the next book … and the next, and to avoid repetition.

🙂

Are there other ways to keep the reader engaged that I’ve missed here? Share your thoughts …

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One thought on “Neverending Stories: Writing Sequels and Series

  1. I hate B! That drives me nuts in a series.

    Seriously, I like the idea of going deeper. Sometimes I think writers lose the character as well as the plot in a series. Going back and revisiting your earlier works is helpful. I think JK Rowling did it well. Personalities in later stories were hinted at in earlier books.

    Plus you gotta love those characters to keep writing about them ad nauseam! Great post.

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