There is something about reading a series of books that fulfills every requirement of a reader. We are immersed into a fictional world that becomes ever more real the further into the series we read. We begin to feel a part of the characters’ lives, we recognize the villains, we watch familiar scenery passing by. We almost feel a right to advise our favorite character(s) about how best to live their life, how best to deal with their problems, and are surprised and gratified when they behave as we have become accustomed to them behaving. Or, really, really irritated when they do not.
Series of novels have been around a very long time; they differ from separate novels or stories in that we already like the characters, their world and their problems. We want more, we want that familiarity, we want to belong, and we open the next book knowing what we will read about, where we will be and hope that our desires and expectations will be met yet again. It is like slipping into our most comfortable clothes and drinking our favorite beverage or eating our favorite meal: we want to know what we are going to get, that the author will not let us down. The knowledge that, unlike a single-serve novel, this one will lead us through its ending into another story, and another. There is the happy experience of wanting to finish the book knowing there is more to enjoy, versus wanting to finish the book because it is so good, and not wanting to finish it because it’s so good – if you catch my drift. It’s a very big trust issue indeed and one that I am experiencing right now.
I have read many series, starting with Beatrix Potter and all her animal friends, through Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, to Harry Potter, numerous crime series, and now Winston Graham’s Poldark series. The Poldark series has taught me something as a writer: that if you have characters you enjoy working with and who have interesting lives, there is no need to have amazing or horrifying events every couple of chapters. Very often it is the characters and their daily actions and decisions that make the reader keep reading and just as long as there is some sort of believable crisis being dealt with, it is a satisfying read. I started reading the Outlander series but got no further than the middle of the second book. Why? Because, while I found the characters generally well-written and believable, the constant threat of danger and, in particular, the seemingly always-imminent rape of Claire by some man or other, became too much of a cliched plot line and I couldn’t see past it. That’s just me, obviously, as they are best-selling books.
Happily, I feel I have learnt from my reading preferences and am applying what I have learnt to my writing. I finished my second book of Felicity in Marriage, leaving the characters from Pride and Prejudice one year further on in their lives. Since then I have been writing what will probably be the third and fourth books in what I can now call a ‘series’, mainly because I want to know what happens next with those characters – as do some of my readers, apparently.
As I said earlier, a series is a big trust issue: I have to write what readers expect from the series while maintaining their interest enough to keep reading, but also staying realistic for the characters. I’m enjoying where my characters are taking me: let’s hope the readers agree.