Katie Rose Guest Pryal, J.D., Ph.D., is a novelist, freelance journalist, and erstwhile law professor in Chapel Hill, NC. She is the author of the Entanglement Series, which includes Entanglement, Love And Entropy, and Chasing Chaos, all from Velvet Morning Press. As a journalist, Katie contributes regularly to Quartz, The Chronicle Of Higher Education, The (late, lamented) Toast, Dame Magazine, and more. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where she attended on a fellowship. She teaches creative writing through Duke University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and leads the Village Writers Workshops of Chapel Hill. She also works as a writing coach and developmental editor when she’s not writing her next book.
I basically want all of my favorite authors to revisit all of my favorite characters and write books about them again. So I wrote this column to encourage them to do so.
Writing “Linked Novels”: A Series of Standalones Sans Spoilers
Series are common is science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, and other “genre fiction” (not a term I’m a fan of, but it’s what we have). Series share some common features, including these:
(1) Often, a series is set in a “world” that the books return to—a common setting and time.
(2) Often, books in a series share a common cast of characters.
(3) Often, books in a series feature the same central hero POV character: think Miss Marple (Agatha Christie), Adam Dalgliesh (P.D. James), or Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy). Although the series may also be told using other POV characters, the hero is the central character.
(4) Often, books in a series also have an overarching storyline, and they use cliffhangers to keep readers interested. The drawback to using cliffhangers, of course, is that if a reader reads a later book before earlier books, the later book is a spoiler—it ruins the surprise the earlier books might have held for a reader.
There are many reasons to write books in series. You get to know your characters, and you can stay with them for longer than one book—which, in some ways, is easier than starting from scratch. You get to know your setting, and you can live there for a while—which is also easier than starting from scratch. Your readers’ gain familiarity with your characters and your setting, and they enjoy that familiarity. And lastly, according to many publishers, series are easier to sell to readers.
But series are not so common in fiction that isn’t considered genre fiction—in “literary” or “upmarket” fiction, or in genres that aren’t fiction. (Here we are with the infuriating and inaccurate fiction labels again. I swear I’m not being snobby. You’ll see in a minute.)
When I wrote my first novel, Entanglement, I thought it would be a standalone, and submitted it to my publisher as one. But at the time I was writing and preparing Entanglement for publication, I was also reading Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books. French’s books enchanted me because they were amazing books, but also because of how they were related: they were a series but not a series. They were books that followed each other in time and that shared a setting (feature 1) and a cast of characters (feature 2). But I noticed that each book could stand on its own and could be read in any order—indeed, I read The Likeness first, the second book in the series, before reading the first book, and my enjoyment of the first book wasn’t hurt at all. The second book in the series did not spoil the first at all. [Read more…]