This is topic Leaving an opening for a series in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by idacalgal (Member # 10306) on :
Now that I'm writing my first novel, I feel like I could see myself continuing the story on into a second book. However, I don't want to create an obligation to continue. I'm wondering how I might go about structuring my plot so that way it leaves an opening for a continuation, but still stands alone as a singular book without any loose threads.

I really hate when books (and more often, movies!) create a second part to the story after the first part is completely resolved. It really feels like a separate story just tacked on to the end and I don't feel like they flow as a series.

Does anyone have any tips on this?
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Never been a problem I've had to face. However, as a reader, I've read through many lotsa-volumes series till my own interest in going on tripped out.

There's the basic win-the-battle-but-not-the-war situation---your heroes triumph, bringing some sort of cloture to that novel, but things can be picked up as the fight goes on.

Another suggestion I can offer: see if you can write something about characters who are minor players in Book Number One, see if they can have adventures of their own.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Serial installment novels tend to deal mostly with superficial dramatic complications and transformation outcomes. After more or less a direct effort with a few roadblocks along the way, the heroine saves the day, the community, the world from a dangerous villain at no especial personal cost. The moral crisis of substance generally is a righteous defeat of wickedness -- evil -- and often a rigid moral polarity of characters good and evil. The thief or other immoral character archetype with a heart of gold doesn't change her or his ways much, if at all, only uses the skills of her or his basic nature and behavior to win the contest between good and evil.

Stand-alone novels of the same stripe also follow those same parameters.

Serial installments that have a greater personal moral crisis, an internal complication and conflict, accompany the surface action. Extended subtext is the underlaying meaning of the whole, not just situational subtext for pieces and parts. Because personal morals and their crises are subjective -- they are invisible, intangible, immaterial, idealized, abstract circumstances-- they are challenging to portray. Implicature -- the art of implication -- uses readily accessible concrete, visible, tangible, material symbolism, imagery, and sensory stimuli to represent, suggest, imply intangibles, etc.

Also, extended irony contributes meaning to a narrative, not least of which are dramatic complication and dramatic conflict. Not the situational sarcasm or witty repartee of clever word games, but irony of a poetic conceit nature. A poetic conceit is a surface meaning and subtextual meaning operant in contrast, parallel, congruence, and correlation. A poetic conceit example attributed to Shakespeare: My love is a rose. A straightfoward metaphor with at least a dual meaning--a rose is visually beautiful and has a delightful scent, yet comes with thorns and pain. Shakespeare's poetry repeats that rose motif for different ironic conceit effects.

Serial installment sagas generally resolve one tangible main dramatic complication per installment. Readers follow along because they are entertained by the Milieu, Ideas, Characters, and Events: Our host Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. quotient. All of those features for serial novels generally comprise the action, mostly superficial.

For stronger, more appealing writing, another depth is needed; that is, a character arc -- the progress of a maturation tableau driven by the superficial action, at great personal cost. The central character, a central agonist, experiences personal loss and suffering, doubt and moral crisis, setback and reversal.

Put together, tangible and intangible action, extended irony and subtext, character arc, a novel installment should satisfy -- not per se resolve -- a dramatic complication and portray personal maturation due to a moral crisis.

Dramatic complication: antagonizing event, setting, and character wants and problems wanting satisfaction.

A novel installment can satisfy a tangible dramatic complication yet extend an intangible one. For example, the Potter saga's tangible plot arc is completed in the first installment, a more or less stand-alone novel in many respects. The second installment renews the tangible plot arc from the increasing complication Voldemort represents. Later installments continue the extended, tangible plot arc. The intangible plot arc doesn't fully develop until the second installment, when Potter begins to doubt he'll reach adulthood -- in the process of the saga, he matures, comes of age.

[ September 11, 2014, 01:33 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
I have a strong preference for stand alone novels that actually do stand alone--particularly as opposed to seemingly endless series where nothing ever seems to get resolved (*cough* Wheel of Time *cough*). And yet, I'm currently writing a series.

First, be aware that starting sequels is much harder than starting the first novel. The balancing act of reintroducing characters and past events sufficiently to orient new readers and not so extensively to bore readers of the previous work is distinctly not trivial.

That said, there are a lot of different kinds of series--from multi-volume tales that are really all one story (like Wheel of Time) to truly stand alone episodes that could potentially be read in any order (think of a series of mysteries featuring the same detective, but totally different crimes each time). Another kind of series is linked stories, where each stands alone and completes the conflict for that book, but still leads to the next. (Think of Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series. MOON CALLED stands alone, but the favor Mercy asks for leads her to do a return favor that gets her embroiled in another problem in BLOOD BOUND. To resolve that, she accepts another favor, which then leads her to an obligation in IRON KISSED, and so on.)

So, maybe the first thing to decide is what kind of series you're thinking of. Will there be an overarching plot arc (like the Harry Potter book, for example) or one long story, or totally separate stories. Then find (or ask for suggestions of) other series with a similar format. Sometimes the best thing to do is see how other authors have handled it--and what you liked or didn't like about their approach.
Posted by Natej11 (Member # 8547) on :
Not quite related to the topic, but to how you put the book out there. I've heard a lot of reservations from readers about starting an unfinished series, especially if they happen to be a George R.R. Martin fan (cough 6 years cough cough).

If you're not sure whether it's going to be a series or not, start out not including it as part of a series. You can always make it a series later, but in the meantime readers will see it's a standalone and be more likely to pick it up.

With my first self-published book I had it as a standalone, but I thought I might turn it into a series later so I put it in a series. Some of the feedback I got was reservation about picking it up in the first place if they'd have to wait for sequels.
Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
I think you're getting ahead of yourself, worrying about structuring a novel *series* before you've finished your first novel. I feel planning a multi-volume epic complicates the process unnecessarily. Finish this one as well as you can, and when you see what you have you can revise if need be to lay the groundwork for more entries.

To address your question I can think of three methods used to link books in series. The first is to exploit questions that naturally arise after the first book full exhausts the conflict that drives it. In THE PRISONER OF ZENDA Mr. Rassyndyll saves the king and chooses his destiny, thus completing the action of the story. But the reader naturally wonders, "Do Rudolph and Flavia ever meet again?"

The second method is to provide one or more of the characters with multi-volume story arcs. Each book resolves the conflict with the antagonist du jour and ALSO moves the character a bit further along his arc. One of the most common tropes in classic fantasy is the protagonist who doesn't know his true identity. In a series each book brings the protagonist closer to his true identity, or resolves some questions while raising others. The Chronicles of Prydain follow this structure. The question of Taran the Assistant Pigkeeper's identity hangs over each installment. In each installment he matures and faces more morally complicated challenges, each bringing him to a truer understanding of what the question "who am I?" really means -- a cut above the usual "plot coupon" device I thought.

The third method is simply to stretch the plot over multiple books. It used to be that leaving loose ends was frowned upon, but we can't ignore the fact that the dominant fantasy series of this decade is Song of Ice and Fire, in which each "book" resolves almost nothing. TV episodes used to be self contained, but the style shifted toward multi-episode and even mutli-season arcs in the 90s, and by now TV show episodes are often incomprehensible outside of their story arcs. I think we have a generation of readers conditioned to this kind of serial story telling from watching TV.

I don't really care for that style of story, but I think it's appeal lies in consistently transporting readers to a place the want to go, over and over. You sit down on our couch and veg out in front of your favorite show. I think this is what got a lot of readers through Lord of the Rings, the pleasure of visiting Middle Earth. LotR is far too complicated to grasp in one reading.

One last piece of advice I'd give in response to your question is this: don't get stuck on one story, either revising your first novel endlessly or expanding it into a never-ending serial. Writing about different characters, settings and conflicts stretches your abilities more than rehashing the same old ones.
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
My favorite method is where each book is about different characters in the same world. You will see the first and other characters at one time or another, but each one is really a different story.

Ann McCaffery in her Dragons of Pern series and Piers Anthony in his Xanth series, used a linear method where each story happened in conjuction with or just after a previous story, using the same world and situation, seeing the world from different eyes. The stories are really about the individual with their own situation but in the same world. Each story could be read by themselves and be enjoyed, but they were so much better read as a series in order as world details were explained in previous stories.

The big advantage to this kind of series is that the world rules are already developed. No reinvention necessary. One problem one can have is keeping details right through the entire series. I have seen that in a couple stories. Piers Anthony had to come up with an explanation in the next story for a problem he had caused because of the plot of one story he did.

Of course, you could do the Doc Savage style series where you simply don't care about the growth of the character and simply have your character in different situations each time. Each story stands alone. You just have the same character, same world but different stories and situations.

The real question you need to consider is whether the characters you are working with are the most important thing, or the world you created. Can you come up with a series of scenes and situations that would be interesting as separate books, and then how do you tie them together.
Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
I'm not sure if this will help, and some of it has been said. But I'm tiring of flipping through Amazon's Kindle bookstore, skipping book 42 of this and book 57 of that. If I can see that a trilogy has been properly thought through and completely written, I'll consider buying it. I bought the Harry Potter books to read with my kids because, even though they were a work in progress, I trusted JKR to be true to her word of stopping at book 7.

I've too often read books that finish abruptly to make way for the next book of the series, or clearly are trying to suck me into buying more of the series.

So for me the thing is that the story, its characters, milieu has to sustain the series, alongside the quality of the writing itself. If the series seems to me more a money maker than a story, I won't buy it.

I've not tried to write a novel yet, but suspect that you'd be right to focus upon your own observation, "I really hate when books (and more often, movies!) create a second part to the story after the first part is completely resolved. It really feels like a separate story just tacked on to the end and I don't feel like they flow as a series." If it were me, I'd write the first book first, make it a decent story, and then decide what to do next. One small step for the reader perhaps, but a huge step for the novelist.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I have inadvertently 'blocked out' a trilogy. The first story is complete unto itself with the hint that it will continue. As a single story it stands alone but will (hopefully) leave the reader wanting to know more about the characters, despite both of them dying (essentially) at the end of the first book.

The second and third books are a true duology, part one and two of a single story, yet their genesis is the first story.

I began structuring the second and third book and then found that I really wanted to write the back-story, or rather the legend, that spawned the circumstances for those subsequent novels. So, I stumbled into a trilogy rather than designing one.

Having waffled on about myself, I suggest you take a look at a TV series like Babylon 5. This series has weekly episodes that are stand alone stories which also carry forward a season long story-arc that, in the case of the Shadow War, extends over three years.

In essence, if you want to write a serial story, plan it out from the beginning rather than fall into it like I did.

Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
I'm working my butt trying to sell one book. Selling several at once...well, let me sell one first.

I think you just have to make a decision; is your story a stand-alone novel or a series? They're two different beasts. Which beast are you birthing?
Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
Originally posted by TaleSpinner:
I'm not sure if this will help, and some of it has been said. But I'm tiring of flipping through Amazon's Kindle bookstore, skipping book 42 of this and book 57 of that. If I can see that a trilogy has been properly thought through and completely written, I'll consider buying it.

I think you're putting your finger on an important point here, which is that there are certain satisfactions that are difficult to deliver in a serial story, and nearly impossible to deliver in series that goes on indefinitely.

A typical stage play or movie runs about two hours and has to be efficiently structured to be effective. I tend to think of similarly compact, efficiently structured novels as having a "dramatic" style. A novel should provide pleasure from the first page to the last, but the thing that sticks with you most *after* you've read this particular kind of novel is how the ending is satisfies all the action leading up to it. Call it closure, or catharsis, or whatever you want.

There are other kinds of novels of course that don't necessarily work like this, but I'd like to focus on the kind of stuff most of us here are interested in writing. I think the longer a story goes on, the harder it is to deliver on the particular pleasures of a dramatic story. The less it becomes about how the journey leads to the end and more it becomes about the scenery and events along the way. I think of this story as having an "epic" or "episodic" style.

Everyone enjoys a good dramatic story, but some people just don't like epic stories no matter what their offsetting virtues are. They're not going to stick it out through 200K words of AMERICAN GODS or 1.7 million words of SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.

Of course some writers manage to pull of both epic and dramatic satisfaction in one work. LORD OF THE RINGS weighs in at 473K words; THE MAHABARATA at 1.8 million. Both reach conclusions that are dramatically satisfying. But Tolkien was a once-in-a-century genius; Veda Vyāsa a once-in-millenium one. Even very good writers tend to lose the dramatic thread as their stories expand to epic proportions. I thought Philip Pullman's DARK MATERIALS trilogy was brilliant, but he had to resort to crude sentimentality to achieve ending he wanted. I thought J.K. Rowling didn't bring HARRY POTTER to an entirely successful conclusion either -- it was acceptable, but didn't quite stand up to the rest of the series. The test of a good dramatic ending is that you love it, even when it leaves you unhappy.

I'm going out on a limb here and predicting George R.R. Martin isn't going to wow us with the conclusion to SoI&F. If he does he's one up on Vyāsa.

I think the most reliable way to extend a dramatic story is to make it a series of episodes about a character who gets involved in other people's problems, but is not personally transformed by solving them. That's why so many successful serial stories are about detectives, lawyers, and doctors.

If you do go epic, every page has to make the reader want to be in this particular story. That's a good goal anyhow, but the further north of, say 120,000 words you go, the more you'll lose readers looking for things like rising tension and a cathartic ending.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
The many meanings of epic range across length as well as degree of universality relation to the human condition. Ernest Hemingway's infamous six-word, three-punctuation mark micro fiction "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." is epic at only that short a length due to its larger-than-life relevance to a universal human condition.

Cartharsis is one of many possible narrative ends, as are closure, conflict resolution, profound revelation, complication satisfaction. The one of consequence and universally satisfying is a restoration of emotional disequilbrium to a new normal equlibrium.

The Potter saga does that with Potter surviving to become a married adult with children. He has the family his orphaning by Voldemort denied. E.M. Forester disparages wedding ends as simplistic and commonplace, sentimental, though. For the Potter target audience, that ending is satisfying though not overtly accessible, nor congruent to the prior action's dramatic magnitude.

I expect Rowling was weary of the saga and wanted it wrapped up with the family choice as a conventional, if trite, new normal emotional equilibrium restoration. Another choice might have stronger satisfaction, though might require a whole 'nother saga or novel installment to wrap up. Or might be no more length in word count. Not a death or a wedding in either case. Potter as a defense against dark arts instructor at Hogwarts!? His children enrolled in the class? Wife Ginny as well an instructor?
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Originally posted by MattLeo:
. . . but I'd like to focus on the kind of stuff most of us here are interested in writing.

Hmm, debateable. You may not be interested in such things but others may be. Personally, I write stories without consideration of length with one exception; my proposed Jack Rayne series. The difference is that in planning this series I begin with the vision of at least six novels, all stand alone with a satisfying (at least I think so) ending to each but also with a grand story arc that encompasses the entire series and builds to a world shattering conclusion.

The story and its journey is the thing, not the length of that journey nor the sidetrack detours along the way. As long as the story satisfies the readers emotional investment I say that there is no such thing as too long or too many. Of course, there are hacks who will churn out formulaic stories that are also successful; Mills and Boon springs to mind. However, that's a publisher imposed formula, not a writer's self-imposed desire.

Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
. . . but I'd like to focus on the kind of stuff most of us here are interested in writing.

Hmm, debateable. You may not be interested in such things but others may be. Personally, I write stories without consideration of length ...
I wasn't saying people here don't want to write long fiction; I was alluding to the fact that most of us here aren't interested in writing *literary* fiction.

Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

As long as the story satisfies the readers emotional investment I say that there is no such thing as too long or too many.

Well I can't disagree with that. Nobody can. IF the reader is satisfied then you've done a good job, because satisfying readers *IS* the job. The question is *how* to do it.

What I'm suggesting is that radically different story lengths present somewhat different opportunities and difficulties, which I don't think is at all controversial. We all know that short stories and novels are quite different, although they have a lot in common too. Short novels and long novels are somewhat different from each other too, while having a lot in common too.

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