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Jessica Bell

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiona Ingram – Is writing a book series crazy or clever?

Is writing a book series crazy or clever?

by Fiona Ingram

Developing a book series is both rewarding and taxing for the author. It is not an exact science and neither is it a guaranteed road to writing success. Many authors might think, “Aha! Captive audience. They’ll just keep coming back for more.” In fact, many agents and publishers advise against it. However, when either the story or the characters take over, sometimes a writer has no choice.

There are three types of series:

  1. The stand-alone books
  2. The closely linked books
  3. A combination of both

Let’s have a look at stand-alones and examine why they succeed. Some familiar examples are usually detective series such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple; the Midsomer Murders books (Caroline Graham); the Inspector Çetin İkmen books (Barbara Nadel); and the Inspector Rebus books (Ian Rankin). Stand-alone books have a background that creates a definite world, a world in which various events or crimes take place. The main and secondary characters interact, solve the crime, and wrap up the story. In each book, the reader discovers personal elements of the character/s. They may have work, family, and personal crises that help the reader like and appreciate the character/s. However, they are secondary to the actual events, although their personalities may influence events. The characters have a particular history or set of circumstances to retain the familiarity for readers although the external events change constantly. Readers keep coming back for more action.

A prime example is how the wildly successful television series Midsomer Murders retired Tom Barnaby and appointed his cousin John in his place. The series continues because events in a familiar setting define it more than actual characters. (I am a MM fan but secretly prefer Tom Barnaby!)

Closely linked books in a series are usually more emotionally intense and have a finite story arc. Each book takes the reader closer to the conclusion. The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, and (dare I mention?) Fifty Shades of Grey all have a definite end in sight. One wonders if readers would be interested in Bella and Edward’s marital problems, or whether Harry Potter (now grown-up) can cope with a job in the Muggles’ world, or if Katniss can live happily ever after with Peeta, or how long a BDSM love affair could continue. The skill demanded here is for the author to create an ending in each book that satisfies, while still keeping the reader hooked on the major story. The author must also avoid big, clunky info dumps about what happened before as each new book begins.

A combination of the two best suits sweeping epics, historical romance, or family sagas. A prime example is the Georgian historical romance, the Roxton series by Lucinda Brant. The first three books delve into the life and loves of heroine Antonia Roxton, while the fourth book brings secondary characters to the fore, to begin a whole new family drama.

Can a writer tell if the story has the potential for a series? The plot will evolve naturally if the characters are appealing, and if their personal growth and development hold the readers’ attention. Again, appealing characters are not worth anything if the action and conflict are not compelling. There has to be a perfect marriage between plot and characters to sustain the strength of a series.

So why do people love an exciting series? A gifted author will be able to create characters that readers can relate to, and either love or hate. The readers get to know the characters well as the action evolves and, as each book comes out, can explore something new about their heroes.

Characters become friends to the avid reader, who shares in the hopes, dreams, and choices the character makes. Readers are amazingly loyal to their favorite characters, even though they may often disagree with the character’s choices. A good writer can explore these further, enabling readers to begin to make their own choices, especially in a moral dilemma or emotional conflict.

Sensible advice: There are many good reasons why a first-time author should NOT start out with a series. The biggest pitfall is a writer’s inability to sustain an intriguing plot and compelling characters over several books. Perhaps writers should not set out to create a series deliberately but rather let an original good story develop, allowing the characters and plot potential to determine the end result.

In case you’re wondering, I did not follow the above advice and started with a short story, that became a book, that became a middle grade adventure series!

Read more about South African children’s author Fiona Ingram and her award-winning middle grade adventure novel The Secret of the Sacred Scarab by visiting or The Search for the Stone of Excalibur (Book Two) will be available in late 2013, while Fiona is working on The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper (Book Three).


A 5000-year-old mystery comes to life when a scruffy peddler gives Adam and Justin Sinclair an old Egyptian scarab on their very first day in Egypt. Only when the evil Dr. Faisal Khalid shows a particular interest in the cousins and their scarab, do the boys realise they are in terrible danger. Dr. Khalid wants the relic at all costs.

Justin and Adam embark upon the adventure of a lifetime, taking them down the Nile and across the harsh desert in their search for the legendary tomb of the Scarab King, an ancient Egyptian ruler. They are plunged into a whirlpool of hazardous and mysterious events when Dr. Khalid kidnaps them. They survive terrifying dangers in a hostile environment (such as a giant cobra and sinking sand), pursued by enemies in their quest to solve the secret of the sacred scarab. They must translate the hieroglyphic clues on the underside of the scarab, as well as rescue the missing archaeologist James Kinnaird, and their friend, the Egyptologist Ebrahim Faza, before time runs out. They must also learn more about the ancient Seven Stones of Power and the mysterious Shemsu-Hor.

With just their wits, courage, and each other, the boys manage to survive … only to find that the end of one journey is the beginning of another!

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Genre – Juvenile Fiction

Rating – G

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