There's been good discussion on the blog this week about what makes for a successful series, with interesting characters being one of the top ingredients mentioned. Since we've hashed that over pretty well and enjoyably, I'll say that even if you have interesting characters, ya gotta have craft. You could have THE most interesting people in the entire galaxy to write about but if you don't write as well as you develop your characters, no one is going to read volume one, let alone volumes 2 through n.
Chuck Wendig had a good post this very week over at Terrible Minds on some of the things he sees beginning writers do that really mess with their chances at being successful. ("I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writer"). The post resonated with me because recently I was a judge in the first round of several contests for unpublished manuscripts and I think I saw every one of the things he cites, more than once. (No, I won't be discussing specifics obviously.)
Just to pick a few of the ones Mr. Wendig mentioned: Not Everything Is Interesting. Totally agree here. Although if you have a really beautiful way with words, I might read descriptions of the mundane, but better to save the details for stuff that's so cool, and belongs just to your story.
Going on too long, cut it by 1/3: I'll fess up, that I had a really bad habit of doing this in my first manuscripts and my Editor finally got me to stop. For some reason I just felt compelled to recap the first 7-8 chapters' worth of events at least once in the last two or three. I have no idea why. If the reader made it to Chapter 9, they were probably paying attention along the way. And if they weren't, my recap wouldn't do them any good anyway. Usually I'd have one character reporting to someone higher in the chain of command, so I guess in my beginning writer mind, that meant I should really make them deliver a report. Thank goodness for dogged Editors, saving me from myself!
The story starts on page one: I'm pretty good about that, usually. I like to dive right in and hit the ground running. Blow something up, have a fight...but a couple of the entries I read went on for PAGES of not-very-interesting back story and the difference was so glaring and so refreshing when we actually reached the start of the story itself. If I hadn't been a judge, I'd have been DNFing by about the second paragraph, let alone the second page of this.
Too many characters bumping into each other. To which I'll add, and too many have similar names! I just finished reading a book by someone I do enjoy a lot and I had to really persevere as they tossed all these people at me in the first two pages. I had a hard time remembering who the hero and heroine of this book were, and I felt annoyed at all the clever in jokes and references to books I hadn't read. It was like being at a party where everyone else has known each other since second grade and you can;t make a dent in the conversation because you just moved to town. I mean, some of this has to occur obviously or else why write a series, but be kind to the new reader you might be gaining in Volume 3. Every reader doesn't always pick up volume 1 as their first exposure to your delightful series.
You can give me lot of characters and you can work in the backstory as we go, just not all in the first few pages, ok? Let me get really attached to the one or two people I'm supposed to care about in this book before I meet everyone else in the town/galaxy/ship/guild.
Start with Bilbo, add Frodo, let Gandalf drive down the road.....(don't wait too long to show me dreamy Aragorn though. And NO EAGLES, are we clear on that?)