Sunday, August 23, 2015

The One Essential Element for Writing a Successful Series

I'm up in Maine with friends and family, celebrating my birthday, along with my aunt's and stepfather's. Here's my celebratory lemon-drop martini (of course).

Fortunately our list-makers here at the Bordello have chosen a one-hit list for this week's topic: The most essential element for writing a successful series.

Of course, if anyone could perfectly ID the *one* perfect essential element for writing a successful series, we would probably all do that thing. So these things are a bit of a crapshoot, a bit of hand-waving and a dollop of black magic. We know what things tend to make a series stand out and rise above, but doing those things doesn't guarantee a successful series.

That said, I spend a fair amount of time reading other people's successful series and studying what they do. If asked to identify the essential element that keeps me fascinated and clicking that auto-buy (as I have been) I'd say this:

A hero and heroine who are richly detailed with continuing and compelling character arcs.

I tried to compose that without too many generalizations, but I'll break down the components.

Hero and Heroine

This is me, but I love the polarity of male and female, the push and pull of a relationship, hopefully romantic, preferably sexual. This can also be male/male or female/female or multiples, naturally, but I like how the male/female relationship represents the two major genders of the human race. It creates many possibilities, which is key.

Richly Detailed

The more complex, real and deep your characters are, the more room there is to develop them over time. Layer in the pain, the angst, the wounds that take forever to heal and there's plenty of story to keep telling.

Continuing and Compelling Arcs

The characters have to continue to change. It's not enough to have huge transformation and transcendence in book one - they have to face challenges and change in EVERY book. They can maybe backslide, but I advise against it as that creates a sense of frustration of hopelessness in me as a reader. If that happens, then they need to *really* surge ahead to much farther along than before the backslide. Overall, I think they need to continue to grow in their abilities with each book. This creates the reward that keeps me coming back for even more. However, it also should be clear from this that the characters must have a long way to go from the very beginning, thus the richly detailed depth and angst.

Two series that do this *really* well? The Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews and the In Death books by J.D. Robb.


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