Sunday, June 01, 2008
Series Fiction: Pros and Cons
As I work on the fourth Taleran book, I’m considering again the pros and cons of writing a series. For me, I know that quite a few people seem to have enjoyed the first few books and it’s a nice feeling to know that there are folks looking forward to reading more from me. I’m also finding it a lot of fun to revisit characters and settings that have meant something to me in the past. It’s also a joy to expand the world. No standalone novel could have explored the entire planet and I’m finding myself able to flesh out details that I had to gloss over in previous entries in the series. Plus, it’s a different kind of creativity when you can interweave new material with older material. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it allows you to develop more depth in the basic creation.
On the con side, it’s hard to know how much background material to include in order to orient new readers to the series without boring those who are familiar with earlier books. I’m struggling with this quite a bit right now. Do I need to explain the Taleran calendar again? How about the mechanisms by which the sky ships fly, or the characteristics of the saddle-birds? Do I need to give meanings for every Taleran word again?
Right now, I’m handling this problem by including a short “What Has Gone Before” section, and by having Ruenn give little narrational asides to explain certain situations, although I’m trying to keep these to a minimum and make them very tight so they don’t impede the pace of the story. For the language issue, I’m trying to use the Taleran words in contexts where their meaning is either clear or where it doesn’t really matter if the reader gets the exact meaning as long as they get the “feeling.” I’m toying with including a kind of appendix with the book which would give the meanings of the words and include some cultural elements. This would essentially be selected entries from my Taleran Encyclopedia. I’ve seen Sword and Planet authors do this before, most notably Ken Bulmer in his Dray Prescot series, and it can be kind of fun.
A last “con” about writing a series is, what do you do if you make an error in one of the earlier books? Do you perpetuate that error for the sake of consistency? Do you correct the error in the new book and acknowledge it? Or do you correct the error in the new book and hope no one notices? I’m re-reading the first three Taleran books as I work and have already discovered two such errors. In both Wings and Witch I mentioned that the Taleran dawn comes at the “fourth dhaur.” I realized this time that it should have been the fifth dhaur in order to be consistent with other things I’ve said about the Taleran light/ dark cycle. In Witch I also mentioned that the period of the day called “Mordai” comes at the twenty-first dhaur. Seeing as how I made it clear in Swords that there are only twenty dhaur in a Taleran day this seems a bit of a problem.
I also wonder, of course, how I could have possibly made these errors considering that I read every one of these books over and over and over again before they were published by Borgo.
For both writers and readers out there, what do you find as the pros and cons of a series?