Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 27 October 2013

A RUMINATION ON SERIES by Gill Stewart

A snapshot of the family bookshelf showing  our penchant for series – Rankin, Pullman and Rowling among others.

















I often think there is nothing as wonderful as a good book.  But, actually, I realise there is something even more wonderful – a series of good books! 

A (good) series provides the joy of getting to know the characters, of reaching the satisfying end of a story with the bonus knowing that the same characters will appear again, in a story just as good.  You will learn a little more about them, minor characters may take centre stage, old friends reappear 2 or 3 books down the line. 

I have to admit that not only do I enjoy reading series, but that I have also started writing one.  And that’s just as much fun as the reading – the chance to develop character, relationships and setting in so much greater depth, over a longer time period.

After I started writing this blog post, it occurred to me to wonder what exactly it is that defines a series?  I consulted the web and consensus seems to be:

  • -          a group of books where reading in order is essential or at least preferable; and/or
  • -          a group of books sharing a common setting, story arc and characters

Series are different to novel sequences, which are set in the same imaginary universe but they have a free-standing storyline and can be read independently of each other. 

Series can be divided into a number of categories.  Some have one central character and one continuing mission (Harry Potter), others a central character solving a string of unrelated mysteries (Ian Rankin’s Rebus series).  Another type of series is centred around a particular location (e.g. Rebecca Shaw’s Village) or a family or group of friends (Nora Roberts – too many to mention!).
 
Series are particular common in children’s fiction and genre fiction, particularly crime and fantasy.  The title may indicate that the book is part of the series, e.g. ‘Harry Potter and…’ or may give no particular suggestion that this is part of a series.  In the latter case publishers now-a-days usually add a by-line e.g. ‘a Gil Cunnigham mystery’.  In earlier days publishers didn’t do this, and often didn’t even indicate what other books existed in the series.  I remember endless frustration as a child because I had no way of knowing how many Chalet School books there were and what order they came in.  It was only with the creation of the organisation Friends of the Chalet School in the 1990s that I finally got a definitive answer to that question.  Oh the joy!

Which brings me to another interesting aspect of series – many of them have spawned clubs, newsletters and web-sites for fans who want to share their fascination with others and extend their stay in this make-believe world just a little longer.  It is also common for series to be made into films or tv series, recent bloc-buster successes including Twilight and Game of Thrones.  The US/Scottish timeslip series Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, is currently being filmed for television. 

What is it that makes a series more than the sum of the parts?  I think it is that opportunity to engage more fully with the imaginary characters and their setting.  It really makes that fictional world seem real.  Do you read series?  Why?  And if not, why not?

16 comments:

  1. I enjoy reading series but it as you say, like going back to well loved places and meeting up with old friends again, and even more importantly discovering what developments are affecting their lives and the lives of their families and friends. Sometimes discovering a secret or fact which intrigued me in an earlier book. I do not follow TV soaps though but that may be due to having to set aside time at regular intervals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gwen, your series are some of my favourites! Definitely like going back to a well-loved place. Thanks for popping by.

      Delete
  2. I love a good series. Your post has made me think – why haven't I written one? I do have a fictional village – Hailesbank (in East Lothian) – and some of my books take place there. Sometimes the odd character squeezes back in and I have my eye on at least one whose back story I really want to know!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe this means you do have to go back and give your character that back story? I think so!

      Delete
  3. Very interesting and thought-provoking post, Gill. Although I love reading crime or fantasy series, it's only recently I started writing a contemporary one and aim to begin a new one soon in a different genre from normal. Good luck with yours!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck with yours too, Rosemary. I look forward to it!

      Delete
  4. Great post, Gill. I'm wondering now if it isn't a trilogy I'm writing but a series....hmmm....food for thought indeed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh definitely not just a trilogy! A quartet at least...

      Delete
  5. An interesting topic and I agree with you - I think what makes a series so enjoyable is that you really get to know the characters. I love to read Nora Roberts who does series so well - you enjoy the central hero and heroine, but at the same time you're gradually getting to know the others too, so much so that you can't wait for their time in the limelight. An excellent way to ensure the next book sale!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly how I feel about Nora Roberts - and she does it so well! Thanks for popping by.

      Delete
  6. I'm trying to post a comment for the third time! You'd think on a blog I share I'd be able to post? Anyway, I said I thought it was a good post and it made me think of the series I read or have read. A long time ago I was hooked on Anne McCaffrey's dragon series. I don't usually read fantasy and can't remember what made me read the first one but I was taken to a different, but very real, world where I lived with wonderful dragons. I read one or two of her other books but they didn't grab me the way the dragon books did. I have read most of Ian Rankin's Rebus books but became a bit irritated with them towards the end and haven't bought the latest one - yet. I'm sure I will, though. I am totally in love with Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie (long before the television programmes) and can't wait for the next one. I was so disappointed to find her last book isn't a Jackson Brodie - feel like writing to her to tell her to get a move on. I wait two years, read the book in one gulp and have to wait another two years. Maybe I'll re-read them all, In every case, it is very much the people which makes me want to read the next book to find out what is happening in their lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm going to have to have another go at Anne McCaffrey. I tried one of her non-dragon books and didn't like it and so was put off. And don't complain too much about Kate Atkinson's 2 year delay - George R R Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) has had gaps of 7 years or more between books. Not good!

      Delete
  7. I too have had several attempts to comment but let's see if this works! I do like a series but I'm funny about them - I like to know what to expect. I was rather put off by HP because the books just got longer and longer, which is totally trivial. And also I think they have to be different enough to keep me interested.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that is interesting Jennifer, that you are so picky! If you didn't like the length of the later HP books I definitely don't recommend you try George R R Martin (although for every other reason I would recommend him) - his later books got so lengthy the publisher had to split them into Parts 1 and 2 - each over 800 pages!

      Delete
  8. A series I enjoyed was the Kate Ivory series of amateur sleuth novels by Veronica Stallwood in which Kate, a romantic historical novelist, who lives in Oxford just happens to help the police solve crimes - as romantic historical novelist do! Then, there is the super series by Jacqueline Winspear, starting with Maisie Dobbs. Then, of course, the highly acclaimed Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. As for children's series, my favouries (apart from the very famous Famous Five) were the Wells ballet series by Lorna Hill.
    Margaret Powling

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's fascinating Margaret. I've never even heard of the Veronica Stallwood books but they sound like just my thing and I'll definitely look out for them. As for childhood favourites - for me it has to be the Chalet School. 59 books. I now own 54 or 55, still a few to go...

      Delete