A Series of Unfortunate Books
First, let me say that I’m not knocking a Series of Unfortunate Events, I actually enjoyed that series when I read it in high school. The option of using that as a title was just too good.
What I am talking about is how series are crafted and issues that can be ran into when creating a series. Like most of these topics, it’s come about because I read a book, watched a show, heard something about a game, or something along those lines that I thought is important and could be done better than it is often or sometimes anyways. I also want to get out of the way, I don’t think this book, Arsenal (Full Metal Superhero Book 1) was a bad story and poorly written and not worth anyone’s time, I just have some issues with the fact that to get a full books worth of story, you’re going to have to continue the series, Arsenal felt like an opening act.
Let’s start out this article with wondering if you should even be writing a series. I do think there are multiple reasons to write a series and I think there are some that do it fantastically. For example, Harry Potter, that makes perfect sense to be a series and not just tell Harry and Voldemort’s story in a single book. It would have felt rushed and there is a lot to explore in the world that Rowling does a good job doing in that series, no comments about the other stuff she’s doing now. She had a clear vision for each book and a clear story to tell in each book as well as clear elements of the over arcing story that she was telling. The Dresden Files does the same thing very well with clear stories but after the first book or so, a clear plot running through all of the books. Maybe you just have to have a main character named Harry who is a wizard to write good series (if there’s any piece of advice to take, this is it, I’m sure).
However, in Arsenal, it didn’t feel like that was the case. The first book was the opening act of a larger story with no real tension to the story. You had an idea of what the overall story for the series is going to be, but the first book fell flat on delivering it’s own contained story. One could argue that it’s Arsenal’s story of her joining the superhero team, but there isn’t tension surrounding that part of the story as it’s resolved quite quickly in the book and her probationary period doesn’t seem like a situation where she’s ever not going to become a full member of the team.
Beyond having a number of self contained stories, it could also be that your story is just too epic to tell in a single book. There’s a danger with telling a single epic story like this, though, you have to have some sort of plot to drive the story for each book in the series. Again, Harry Potter and The Dresden Files do a good job of that. That’s actually one of the non-trope based knocks I have on The Warded Man as the first book of the Demon Cycle. While there is some plot that drives the book throughout that seems like it is the main plot of the first book, it falls into the trap of not having much of a plot for the book and focusing only on series plot instead. I think that is some of why it had so much exposition and backstory for all the characters that felt like it was overdone.
I’ve already talked about it some, but when you’ve decided to do a series, trilogy or longer really, there is one huge thing that you have to do to make sure that each book feels like a complete book. This is the part I really want to drive home. Even though you have the most epic story for your series, each book in the series is going to have it’s own complete story as well. An obvious example of something that most people know about that fails to do this completely is Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, after a smashing success with the first movie, they planned on several more of them and decided with Dead Man’s Chest that they didn’t need tell a complete story because they were going to wrap it up in At World’s End. Viewed together, they make a good complete story, however, when you were spending money to get see Dead Man’s Chest in the theaters you felt like you were ripped off because you had to come and see the next one to fully get the whole story.
This is actually why I haven’t continued Arsenal (Full Metal Superhero) yet, because I don’t know that I want to spend Audible credits to continue a story that I know I might have to listen to all of them to get the full story. It’s the idea that I have to do something to really get the story and that there is a very specific amount that I have to spend on the story. If you were to stop after book three of Harry Potter, sure you wouldn’t have the full story of everything that happens in that magical world, but you’d have had a good experience with those stories. It’s the same with the Dresden Files, now obviously, you’ll get more out of reading the whole story, and the same was true with Pirates of the Caribbean, but as an creator, it isn’t your job to force people to give you money to get a whole story. They should be getting a whole story every time, because that’s what they’ve paid for. Then if you’ve written your story well, people are going to want to come back and people are going to recommend your story to others. While I am mentioning Arsenal and that might get some of you interested in reading it, I’m not going to recommend it, because it fails at this tenant of creating a good series and I can’t with good conscience recommend that people spend their money on the whole series to get a whole story.
So quick recap as this wraps up. Make sure that you actually need a series to tell your story. If the over arcing story isn’t so big that you need to, don’t draw it out. You’ll end up with a lot of filler that people don’t want to read and turn people away from your series. Also, and most key, make sure that every book has a self contained story to it. Every book should feel like it’s reached a conclusion and that the consumer got their money’s worth. And finally, if all else fails, name a wizard character Harry and go from there to see what happens.
What are some of your favorite series, either movie, books, or anything else that you think does a very good job?
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