The cons of writing a continuing series

On Monday, we talked about why I love writing a series. I should love it, I’ve written four Woven novels and four Station 86 novellas. I also write short stories about both.

Yeah, but everything in this world needs balance. Nothing is all good or all bad. So, here are four reasons why writing a series can really blow.

You can start to repeat yourself.

When you’re writing about a cast of characters for a certain amount of time, you can find yourself falling into a routine. Much like a couple that’s been married since time out of mind, you know your characters so well that nothing they do can surprise you anymore. Or, you’ve already thrown everything you can think of at this character, and now you’re out of ideas.

That’s when it’s time to shake things up. Someone needs to change, or something different needs to happen. Someone dies, get’s a new job, does something exceedingly stupid and becomes the villain. Something in the core dynamic of the series needs to change, or you’re just writing the same book over and over.

You’ve established a world with rules that you have to follow.

My husband has this really bad habit now that Broken Patterns and Starting Chains are done. He’ll read through a draft of a future book with me, and start saying things like, “I don’t like what you named this character. I think it’s too similar to the name you gave this other character. Why don’t you change it?” (Example, Lenore, and Lorna. Or Morgan and Monroe.)

Well, gee, that’s a swell idea. I wish you hadn’t mentioned it after I published two books with the characters having those names because I’m sure as hell stuck with them now!

Once something’s published, you’re stuck with it. It is a fact in that series. And while some authors get away with retconning certain facts, it’s hard to do so without alienating your readers or coming off as amateurish. We’re not writing comic books here, people. We can’t just bring someone back to life.

Worse, for me at least, is that you have to keep track of the rules you’ve put in place. Characters features, locations, settings. These things have to stay the same, or an explanation as to why they didn’t is in order. This, at least, is helped by keeping a story bible from day one. Every time you write a new character, add them to the bible. What do they look like, what do they do? Add in anything you can think of that you’re going to need to keep track of for that character. Otherwise, you’ll be grabbing your own books off the shelf and flipping through for references.

Getting bored is almost unavoidable.

Here’s a sad fact of life. Nothing is exciting and wonderful forever. Even the best of things get boring after a time. I’ve finally managed to overplay Hamilton, for instance.

Writing the same world, the same characters, the same story for too long can get boring. No matter how exciting the story, it’s not fun to write about just it.

That’s one of the reasons why I write a novel and novella series. I switch from one project to another in between drafts to take a step away from those worlds. Right now, I’m working on Station Central, the fourth book in Station 86. When I finish that draft, I’ll go back to Sandwashed, the first in a new collection in the Woven extended universe. It’s totally different, and it will feel fresh to me.

Oh, and that’s another thing that’s helped in Woven. I wrote three books about Lenore, Devon, Sultiana, and Victor. Now, I’m switching gears and writing about a new cast that is quite different from them. It’s the same world, and it’s moving the core series story along. But it’s also a new cast, a new point of view, and new incites into the world I’ve created. The bonus here is that not only is that fun for me, it’s fun for the readers.

You will get more attached to characters, and it can be hard to do what must be done.

This is one that I really struggled with while writing Missing Stitches, the third Woven novel. It’s the end of the series, which meant it was time for some people to die. Some people who I’d been writing about for years now. Literally, years.

It was hard. It’s one thing to kill off someone who’s just been in one book. But to make that call to take away someone with a family and connections to the world is something not to be taken lightly.

I mean, I still did it. But it was an emotional process.

It can be hard to know when to quit.

Now, I have a series outline for both Station 86 and Woven. There’s an honest end of the story for both that I am working towards. I have lots of book ideas for both, and I keep careful track of ideas as they come to me.

Even so, I recently went through my book idea list for Woven and realized that there were some that just didn’t fit. Or, at least could probably be novellas not novels.

Writing a series can become comfortable. So comfortable that a writer doesn’t know when it’s time to move on. This is how cheap-ass sequels happen the movie world, and how tv shows jump the shark. I never want that to happen to me. I’ve got a final book planned out for Woven, set in present time. That’s going to be the end of it all. (Psst, I’m saying it now because I don’t want anyone to accuse me of milking the series when I get there. Spread the word.)

You see this not knowing when to quit issue most often in series that don’t have a solid storyline through them. Things like cozy mysteries like The Cat Who. I loved that series until every book started to feel the same. It wasn’t as engaging anymore.

Don’t let this happen to you.

What do you think? Are you writing a series? Can you think of a series that should have ended a long time ago? Let us know in the comments below.

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