Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When One Thing Leads to Another

I'm late again with this, although this time I do have a passable excuse, since I've been doing battle with a rotten cold this week.

There was a great, thought-provoking Letter of Opinion last week by Janet over at Dear Author, on how things have shifted from standalone books to the series, and what sort of ripple effect this might have for both writers and readers. If you haven't read the piece yet, pour a cup of tea or coffee and go read it now. I'll wait.

You're back? Good. I found that post really intriguing, along with the questions it raised about whether the standalone novel was falling from favour, and whether we've all been conditioned, when ending one story, to look for the sequel.

I suppose it could be argued that this isn't such a modern development, really. After all, Anthony Trollope was writing his Palliser novels and Barchester Chronicles back in the mid-19th century, and Winston Graham spent over half a century writing about his Poldarks. And of course, being Canadian, I was raised on the series of Anne of Green Gables books. So it's hardly a new thing for writers and readers to want to revisit familiar, loved characters.

Image from Fantastic Fiction
I can't say that I've never done it myself. For example, when I needed a vicar for a small part in my thriller Every Secret Thing, it seemed silly to invent one when I already had a perfectly good vicar (Tom, from Mariana) walking around in my fictional world. So I gave the part to Tom, and he did well with it. I've done that a few times, with various characters.

And when a reader wrote to ask me whether Robbie from The Shadowy Horses would ever get his own book, it did get me thinking how perfectly suited he'd be for the role of The Firebird's modern-day hero. But generally, when I have finished a book, then the characters' business is finished, as well, and I'm done with both them and the story (or they're done with meI can never quite figure out which).

If The Firebird continues the story of several of the historical characters from my book The Winter Sea, that's only because those particular characters still had one stray bit of business outstanding that wanted to be finished properly, and now that I've taken care of that for them, they've pretty much settled down into their lives (though there are one or two, still, who might not be totally satisfied, and seem a little bit restless).

But I can't help but wonder, after reading that post, if our reading (and writing) habits are actually shifting. So, what do you think? Are we losing our ability to simply let a story end? To close the final page and give a happy sigh and let the characters go, without demanding to be told what happens next? And if we are, is it a failing of imagination, or some natural desire that readers felt at least as long ago as Trollope and his novels about Barchester?

And while you're pondering all of that, be sure to come back Thursday, to read Julie's post.


  1. I think that it's a natural desire to keep favorite characters in our minds and a desire to have a place to escape to with them. However, I find that if a story is finished, then it is just as wonderful to go back and reread the story over and over.

    My favorite authors are the authors whose books have infinite re-readability. I think the that an author knows best if a series feels right and tailors their writing toward that end. :) Thanks for sharing, Susanna! And thanks for sharing your infinitely re-readable stories. - Shanah

  2. I think it depends on the story - like Dear Author said, some series you get really fed up with, others you can't get enough of. And some books are really hard to leave, you want to know what happens next, at least for a while. Then there are the secondary characters that just cry out for their own story. I would agree that three is about right though, no more.

    Having said that, if there's going to be lots of sequels, I also agree it's probably better with just one (or two) main characters who return, while secondary characters change. For instance, I was happy to follow Brother Cadfael through twenty books until there was a natural conclusion for him. Everyone else came and went, but it was clear the author had a story arc for him that had to come to an end satisfactorily, and it did. I really loved that!

  3. It's difficult to find educated people for this subject, however, you sound like you know what you're talking about!


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