I’ve ranted on other occasions about my strong preference for stand-alone novels: i.e., no unending series in prospect and no need to purchase a sequel to find out how the story ends. Now and then I find one that “cheats” in some fashion, usually by incorporating plot threads that aren’t critical to the resolution of the novel’s main conflict, but which will support a sequel should the fit take its author. Over time I’ve come to appreciate this technique for keeping one’s auctorial options open. It capitalizes on the existence of well-developed characters and settings, which are difficult, valuable items.
There’s also the recognized attraction of the familiar protagonist and the familiar setting. Many readers actively seek series founded on an appealing protagonist. Consider Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Malorie Cooper’s Tanis Richards, and John Conroe’s Christian Gordon. The approach guarantees the reader that whatever the novel’s failings of plot or style, at least he can count on the presence of his favorite hero.
Of course, there always remains the question of whether a sequel to a stand-alone novel is a good idea. Are its “trailing threads” strong enough to hold up a new story, or will more elements be required? If a protagonist is to be perpetuated, is he attractive enough to serve as the tale’s central character, or should he be subordinated to a new face? And what about the setting? Is it broad enough for the proposed new plot, or would it prove too confining? Satisfactory answers to these questions are particularly important for tales told in the speculative genres.
Sometimes the answers to those questions emanate from one’s readers.
Just now I’m straining to choose what sort of project to start next – apart from the interminable yard work, that is – and I can’t decide. However, in recent weeks readers have asked me for:
- More from the Onteora Canon;
- More from the Spooner Federation Saga;
- More from the Futanari Saga;
- More from the Aeolian Fantasies;
- And more standalone romances.
I’m tempted to do one of each! But there’s no guarantee I’ll live long enough, so I have to choose…or set out in a completely new direction, with no guarantee that my existing readership will follow along. It makes the virtues of the series protagonist / series setting approach look a lot better than previously.
I suppose this isn’t the worst problem a novelist could have. All the same, I’m beginning to feel like the donkey who starved to death because he was equidistant from two identical piles of oats and couldn’t decide between them!
Another consideration is my inclination to explore challenging ideas and themes. That’s been a constant for as long as I’ve been writing. Are there still new ideas to explore? If so, which ones mate best with which genres? There’s also the problem of protagonist selection. Some ideas demand a particular kind of protagonist and wouldn’t work with any other kind. I’d hate to try to wrap a murder mystery around Father Raymond Altomare, the much-traveled pastor of Onteora parish.
The writer determined to address a new idea will always need to select the characters and setting with which to depict it. Generally, the idea must come first. It will rarely arise in the course of writing an already-settled story. But this can frustrate the writer who seeks to incorporate the idea into (one of) his existing series.
You see, I do have an idea in mind. It involves necromancy. I’d like to use it, but it seems incompatible with my four existing series. (I’m not going to embed it in a romance, either.) So far I’ve been unable to sculpt a setting for it. As for Marquee characters, those too have proved elusive. Given time and a smidgen of luck, something will occur to me when I least expect it.
I suppose that’s enough kvetching for the moment. This sort of fumfering around, groping semiconsciously for ideas, characters, settings, and whatnot is one of the reasons writers’ groups haven’t worked out for me. As little as I like my own tendency to drone on and on about the problems involved, I can’t bear to hear other writers do the same. But for those who’ve been wondering what’s next on my fictional agenda, perhaps the mutterings above will tide you over until I have something concrete to dangle before you.
Have a nice day.