Series in a Family Saga

by Betty K
(Canada)

Question: I just read your reply to the question of writing a series where you state:


"The hard part about writing a series is that your main character cannot have his deepest problem resolved until the last book. Yet, he must have a problem to resolve in each book of the series, in order to make each book a satisfying read, complete unto itself."

In my series, the protagonist changes in each of the sequels although most of the characters reappear. Each book has its own problems which are resolved by the end of that particular book.

Are you saying that this would be wrong?

Answer: No, not at all. In fact, I don't like to say anything is wrong. (I probably should not have used the word "must.") I was thinking about a particular type of series.

What I would say is that series that revolve around a main character and have a Series Goal and an overarching plot that weaves throughout all the books give the readers a strong incentive to keep buying each new book as it comes out. Readers can get very attached to the main character and want to see how he/she eventually resolves the problem that has plagued him/her throughout the series.

However, that's not the only thing that can make a series work.

I also mentioned that some series revolve around a main character, but have no Series Goal. In that case, readers come back because they like the character or the type of situations he deals with. Another example of this episodic format would be the James Bond books - all separate stories, some even with different main characters - but one character links them all.

Of course the challenge with this type of series, where there is no Series Goal, is that the main character cannot change much. If he were to resolve his inner conflict, he would then lose the thing that drives him, making him useless for the next book. So most often, just like
the main character of most television series, these characters remain much the same from story to story.

Another possibility, such as you describe, is a series in which (if successful) the reader falls in love with the world of the story - which includes the cast of characters - and possibly the type of problems they wrestle with. You have a number of stories linked by the fact that they share a setting and cast members. You may also have themes that repeat in different forms among the various stories as an additional way to link them all.

This technique is often employed in literary fiction and, I suspect, appeals more to holistic thinkers than linear thinkers, since the series lets the reader see some of the same events from many different perspectives.

I would argue however that, of these three ways of linking books in a series, that having a Series Goal and overreaching plot as well as one main character is the strongest way to encourage your readers to read the whole series.

A story feels done when all the conflicts and problems have been resolved. That's usually where the book ends. However, if you have a Series Goal and plot, the story doesn't feel completely finished until the end of the last book. So the readers keep with the series because they want to learn the final resolution (one hopes).

Incidentally, there's no reason why, if you were so inclined, you couldn't incorporate a Series Goal and overreaching plotline into the series you're writing, even if each book has a separate main character. Sometimes this is done by having a narrator for the series who is a character with his/her own agenda or inner conflict. Sometimes it's done by having a minor character who exerts an influence throughout the series.

In that case, it's as if, at start of each book, the main character of the previous book hands his particular role in the Series plot on to the next main character.

Just a thought.

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Jul 21, 2012
Thank you,
by: Betty K Canada

Once again, that was a very helpful reply to my question. I really am enjoying all your insights.

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