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?