Think Twice Before Writing Seven

Should you write a seven book series? Why not? Jack Lewis did!
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Two big reasons it worked for him: character and setting change.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we have four Pevensies and classic Narnia. Next is The Horse and His Boy with Shasta who barely visits Narnia and only meets the four original kids as adults. Quite the change-up! Next Peter, Sue, Ed, and Lu with Prince Caspian (in the book named after him 😉 ) face a brand new enemy. Grab the youngest two, King Caspian, and Useless for The Voyage of the Dawn Treadera completely new adventure and setting. Next in The Silver Chair we have Scrubb and Pole–underground! (No Pevensies in sight!) Skipping back to The Magician’s Nephew, Polly and Digory’s adventures happen in a total of three different worlds. And The Last Battle, well, there’s everyone everywhere!

Do you see how many times he switched characters (four Pevensies + so and so or no Pevensies at all) and setting (London, on a ship, or underground) while still keeping continuity? I say, if you can–do.

Three reasons it doesn’t always work:

  1. Lost. If books are so interconnected that I can’t read one without buying all fifty and reading them simultaneously–no go. I love Easter eggs; but if the books don’t standalone enough, that won’t work for me. That’s coming from the girl who watched the Avengers movie before any of the others and started with the Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode. 😉plank-729442_1920
  2. Six cliffhangers. If the whole series is cliffhangers at the end of each book with next to no closure, I’ve basically been duped into having to buy the next book. I’m no loyal fan waiting to see what happens next–I’m a tortured reader who can’t stand an unfinished story. If it happens enough times, I’ll stop reading. (Who else didn’t quite like the end of Captain America: Civil War?)dangerous-1040641_1920
  3. Tired characters, tired author, tired reader. The Boxcar Children on the moon. In Neverland. In the Marianas Trench. Yeah, just changing the setting alone doesn’t work. (I vote for adopting a fifth Alden with a sense of humor.) So authors puts characters through the wringer. Sixty near break-ups with the man they will finally marry in book ten (or season ten, argh); loss of three legs; and betrayal by their oldest friend who accidentally did their hair in an evil style one morning. Well, Elsie Dinsmore, I say. (I stopped at book two.) Personally, I believe once it has to be melodramatic, repetitive, or unrealistic, it’s time to say goodbye to those characters. They can always be side characters in another series.  😉baby-19295_1280

So, my opinion as an author and reader is plan well. Is this going to be a standalone, a trilogy, or maybe even an awesome seven?

I love standalones (you can sleep with one book under your pillow, not fifty) especially like Gift from the Storm, Red Rain, and The Book Thief. They are so full, it’s a feast and no more is needed.

Trilogies are awesome too! Besides being a beautifully spelled word, it goes with the three act structure idea perfectly and is mentally the ideal length for longer than a standalone.

To be honest, I am wary after book three. The fate of the series hangs in the balance. Will it be original without drama? Do I have to go through the near death of my favorite character again?  I’ve met one perfect four book series (Hello, Wingfeathers!), and a five book series that would have been better as four (The Viking Quest series). Oftentimes, it’s not the last book that feels extra, but a middle “filler” one that does. Nothing a good bit of planning wouldn’t fix. 😉

Once in a while though, there are series like The Chronicles of Narnia and Little House on the Prairie that simply MUST be longer. Or we would protest.  😉

That’s the whole point. What is best for the reader?  What is best for the story? And what is best for the poor characters who have died eighty times (I’m looking at you, Moffat)? There’s a way to do it right, and a way that kills the series.

What do you think? What is one series you think could have been shorter (or longer)?

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20 thoughts on “Think Twice Before Writing Seven

  1. I agree with you on this … The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy keeps getting longer, although I haven’t officially planned the fourth book … although I probably will have a fourth book just to even things out. 🙂

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  2. Meh. Three act. Silly modern meaninglessness.

    Five act is where it’s at. Shakespeare!

    I think long is fine as long as you figure out how to deal with different themes/issues in each book. Why put off the marriage for seven books? Married people have all kinds of troubles to deal with. Pair em in book three then reap the unending consequences. Just make sure you avoid the Goku syndrome of needing each new enemy to one-up the last. Some of that is good, but that shouldn’t be the only progression or it will get boring when your characters are throwing galaxies at each other.

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    1. Ha, ha! Shakespeare indeed. That’s very true! Nice analogy about throwing galaxies…I’m beginning to feel that way about some of the Avengers movies though I’m counting on the Russos to do a good job with The Infinity Wars.

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  3. I like long series, because there’s always another one I can read. I can see what you mean about the monotony if you never do something different. (Kin of like Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys; I can almost always guess the plot line. :/)

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  4. You started with the 50th anniversary special of DW too?! 😄 Totally agree with #2 – cliffhangers get on my nerves. Same with #3 – that’s why I generally don’t like TV shows. Too much drama, too many worst-case-scenarios and impossible choices (loss of three legs though XD).
    Have you ever read The Dark is Rising sequence? It’s a five book series, but most of them are fairly stand-alone, except maybe for the last one (not surprisingly). SO GOOD.

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  5. I’m one of those people who’s read some 15 or 30 book series. Mostly because i was a voracious reader and couldn’t help it even when they did get a bit repetitive. Now when I have less time, I usually avoid getting into long series. If there’s only one or two books now, I might be tempted. That’s the case with The Ilyon Chronicles that are now at 3 and a prequel. There’s also the fact that I generally love them.

    And changing the main characters and settings is a great idea too. My other favourite (promising to be) long series, The Rizkaland Legends, has three characters in common in two books, huge time gap and mostly different location. And they are mostly stand alone. Third book will stand on both though.

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    1. Yes, a super long series can be awesome (especially for those crazy young bookworms!) since you know that since one book was good the rest will probably be okay. 😉 I’ve read nearly all the Hank the Cowdog books for that reason, though I try to space them out now. Even if the stories are really similar, the humor is always new. 😉

      I haven’t read the Ilyon Chronicles yet, but they look really good. Yeah, I like how Rizkaland can pretty much standalone, though I’m interested to see how number three integrates the characters from the first two. 😉

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  6. Great post Kate! I mostly agree. I love Elsie Dinsmore, which is where we part ways. 😉 (BTW, if you are going to read that series, you have to get past book 2. That one was a drag, a downer, and just plain not cool. After that is where it gets good. 😉 ) I am actually a fan of long(ish) series. The Red River of the North series by Lauraine Snelling and the Mitford Series by Jan Karon are living proof (wait, are books alive?) that long series can be done well. But I do understand what you are saying, I have read some series that just drag on and ooonnnnnnnnn, and are so not fun.

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      1. Yes, Mitford is amazing! Honestly, being such a bookworm, picking your favorite book is really hard. But I can say without a doubt it is my favorite series ever! You really should check them out! 🙂

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  7. I really like trilogies. But I do like longer series if they are good enough. And if the books keep coming and we don’t have to wait years between two of them.

    I’ve a seven book series I plan to write someday, but it is hard. I’m just thinking about it, and it is difficult figuring out how to keep the pacing up. Make each book different, and forward the story in all of them without it feeling like a repeat. Though… hmm, adding in a new character or two to take over part of the story half way through isn’t a bad idea. I’m going to have to consider that. 😉

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    1. Yes! It kills me when authors make us wait twenty years for a book, that’s one reason I like old books. 😉

      Great idea! I love how you’ve handled this with Legends of Light. The prince and Tauscher are at least mentioned in each, but the stories can nearly stand alone.

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      1. Yes, well it’s easy with Legends of Light because they are all separate stories even though the allegory progresses through each one. But my seven book series will be very connected… We’ll see. I won’t be starting it for some years yet. 😉

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  8. I agree with a lot of the long book series. Too much the same. I did hear that many publishers are wanting 6 book series though. Maybe that’s about the length most people can stand before they get too tired of the characters. Another reason to stop TCR after book 6. 😉
    Elsie Dinsmore. Hmm. Mixed feelings about that series. Yes, book 2 was NOT a favorite. I enjoyed the middle ones the best. (I used to have the entire set of I don’t know how many books!) The early ones (1-3 probably) weren’t as good, and the later ones were mostly traveling and telling stories of history. Two things that drove me crazy about that series was the repeating names! Seriously it felt like every extended family had an Elsie in it! The other thing was the marriage of girls to someone either old enough to be their father or a younger brother of their step-mom! Figure that relationship out!
    Anyway, great post. 🙂

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