Let’s Talk with Karla Brandenburg

Writing a Series

By Karla Brandenburg

Many readers these days look for authors who can give them continuity in what they’re reading, a series. There are two approaches, continuing saga and recurring characters. In the continuing saga, like serial television, you generally want to start at the beginning and read in order. For recurring characters, that’s generally not as critical.

An example of continuing saga would be Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series. This series hooked me from the start, I began with the second book and eagerly went back to read the first to see what I’d missed. I will say that she lost me after a few books, but those first couple were very intense and compelling. If you didn’t read them in order, however, you might miss important details that shaped the characters.

An example of recurring characters would be Jill Shalvis and her Lucky Harbor series. These are books that all take place in the same small town, and she wrote them in triplets. Three books of related characters at a time, although all the characters make appearances throughout the series. Three “friends” whose lives interrelate, and then she moves to the next group of three friends in the next triplet. They don’t have to be read in order, and yet it does add to the experience if you do.

One of the pitfalls of series writing is info dumping. It’s a tricky juggling act to entice readers to go back to the earlier books in the series by dropping information into the current story without stopping the action in the current story. In my “Mist” series (a trilogy of a continuing saga), readers who might pick them up out of order need to know some of the history, who is who and what they do, but each story focuses on a different set of characters. While writing the second book, Gathering Mist, too many times the characters in the first book tried to take over the story (and I had to remind them this wasn’t their book!). I rewrote entire chapters into a single sentence or paragraph to keep from stopping the action in THIS book.

Another dangerous pitfall is not writing an end to each installment. Personally, I have a huge issue with authors who leave me dangling at the end of a book, expecting me to read the next one to “find out what happens next.” I want the full story. Beginning, middle, end, which doesn’t mean you can’t leave a couple of open threads to draw people into the next story. An example I can use to illustrate this would be Anne Rice. I like her stories, her characters, but the woman doesn’t know how to end a book. In her Vampire Lestat series, she has the hero climb into his vampire coffin at the end of the second book—but he’s not alone. Wait. What?? Who’s in his coffin?? I read that book while she was still writing them, which meant the third book wasn’t yet available for sale. I was so angry I almost didn’t read the third book, and there are books that I’ve refused to read as a result of similar type endings.

What about you? What type of series do you prefer? Or do you like fresh characters and stories in every book? If an author leaves you hanging at the end of an installment in the series, does that influence whether you will/won’t read the next in the series?

The third book in my trilogy is due out this fall. Leave me a comment to win an ebook version of Mist on the Meadow, the first in my “Mist” series.