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Monday, May 13, 2013

The problem with series

I don’t think of myself as a series reader, let alone a series writer. I tend to prefer the stand alone novel, starting fresh with every new story: new premise, setting, characters.

In spite of this, I have followed SaraParetsky’s private eye character, V.I. Warshawski, in many of her adventures. And I have loved following Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache in his quest to solve murders in Three Pines. Lately, I’ve been reading everything of Charles Todd’s that I can get my hands on, especially his Inspector Rutledge series. And I’ve certainly enjoyed the series penned by my NYUS colleagues.

Back in the day, I used to watch Jessica Fletcher solve murder after murder in Cabot Cove. Since then, I’ve followed the various CSI shows, the DCI Banks, the Midsomer Murders, the Poirots…

And then I found myself writing not one, but two series: the Mendenhall Mysteries and the A’lle Chronicles.

So really, with all these series, how can I say I don’t like them? Maybe it’s because I get tired of the same quirks that originally charmed me. Or maybe there isn’t enough growth in the characters from book to book. Or maybe I just get bored. I’ve lost interest in V.I., and the last Inspector Gamache story made me question my devotion. And frankly, Rutledge does way too much driving around in his little roadster. How can I avoid the same pitfalls in the series I’m writing?

I can’t speak for other writers, but I’ve discovered that writing a series can be challenging. Just keeping track of the recurring details like a character’s eye colour, type of car he or she drives, or admitted likes and dislikes within one story is hard enough. Trying to remember from one book to another while growing my characters, now that can be daunting. Tables become involved. Charts, even. You have to be organized.

Maybe I have a short attention span as a reader, and not so much as a writer. Maybe I’m fickle in my reading, or just can’t commit. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right series. What are your favourite mystery series? And what is it about them that keeps you coming back?


Shelley Munro said...

I like both series and stand alone stories. They both have their charms. With series I like the sense of familiarity - the sense of coming home and rejoining familiar faces. I'm listening to JD Robb's In Death series on audio at present. You can't go wrong with Eve and Roark.

I've been watching DCI Banks and I watch and rewatch Midsomer Murders.

Anne Marie Becker said...

I've recently picked up Darynda Jones's Charley Davidson series (First Grave on the Right, Second Grave on the Left, etc.) I love her quirky character. But I hadn't really read series before (except, I guess, if you can count Hercules Poirot and such). I write what I call a series, but each book features a different couple, so the series tie-in is an organization, not a person. And yes, charts and tables certainly help keep it all organized! said...

Oh God, may I be crass? For the first time in my entire life. I vote for the Murders by Design Series. Quirky villains, sexy sleuth, sexier detective. And fun, at least they have been to write. Okay, the devil made me do this. Killer Kitchens is the last one out and it's only $2.50 something or so on Amazon. A steal!

Elise Warner said...

I like both series and stand-alone mysteries. I've grown attached to Reginald Hill's books with Dalziel and Pascoe and as most of you know I had a crush on Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. I've just been introduced to Louise Penny and have enjoyed them and after seeing George Gently on TV, I shall read the books. I'm finally working on another Augusta Weidenmaier cozy--she does nag.

Rita said...

I hear stories of people who have plot graphs that takke up whole walls in their offoce to keep track of series stuff. I am in awa of all who write them. Great post.

Cathy Perkins said...

I've read and loved a number of series from Sandford's "Prey" to Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott all the way over to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. With all of them (and others too, don't want it to sound like I'm picking on these because I LOVED the early books in the series), the series seemed to run out of steam. Was it the pressure to churn out yet another story about a popular character or simply no new ground to mine? The author and editor are probably the only ones who can honestly answer that question. As a reader, the appeal of a series is a character(s) or setting that I enjoyed and wanted to read more.

I'm writing my first sequel, a contracted book for Entangled, as a follow up to For Love or Money. And it is rather weird. I know the characters so that makes it easier, but figuring how to work in bits of back story or continuity without feeling like a rehash gives me a new perspective on some of my favorite authors' approaches.

Marcelle Dubé said...

@ Shelley: I've heard good things about JD Robb's Eve and Roark. I may just try them out!

@ Anne Marie: Thanks for the new name; I hadn't heard of Darynda Jones. And I like you idea of a series -- same organization, different characters.

@ Jean: You are completely shameless and I love it!

@ Elise: I never could get into Dalziel and Pascoe, but I have yet to try Inspector Morse. I have watched George Gently on television and loved the character!

@ Rita: I'm with you. Too many charts and graphs make my eyes cross and give me a headache.

@ Cathy: I think you may have a point about series losing steam. It would probably be different if the author started with an idea of how many novels she would write in the series and then had an overarching series plot line that carried and built from book to book, culminating in the final one. My sense, though, is that most series aren't built like that. As for writing in back story, I've learned to have a "virgin" reader for each subsequent book in a series, to catch where I presumed the reader would know something but a new reader wouldn't. Tricky stuff.

Dee J. said...

I have to admit a tendency of growing tired reading the same people. With the exception of Eve and Roark, I should add. I haven't read/heard the whole In Death series, but those two are great together. As for me... well my idea of series is the connection of the people, but my H/H (main characters) are different in every book so they all (the books) stand alone. That's something I've always enjoyed as a reader so I like to pass that on as a writer. I don't find it that difficult keeping track of my characters from book to book. 95% of that stuff stays with me because my characters are like friends. I know them well enough (usually!) without too much chart/graph keeping of their stats. Of course, I think reading in order is more fun, but not a prerequisite with my books.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Dee, it sounds like you've found the perfect solution!

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