Series have attracted me since I read Trixie Belden when I was a kid. Every summer we’d go to my parents’ hometown, and there would be a new Trixie to buy at the bookstore. It was a real bookstore, not a chain depository of “product.” Of course, it is now long gone.
When I planned to become a screenwriter, I decided I would refuse to write sequels to my scripts. Unless one is lucky or has planned for a series, screenplay stories present a crucial passage in the characters’ lives. Characters are developed to support that one story, not to exist past its end. That’s why sequels so often falter.
Getting back to books, the trouble with a series is that eventually it chokes on its own saliva. As some wise culture, I forget which one, observes, “Everything holds the seeds of its demise.”
Arthur Conan Doyle grew to hate writing Sherlock Holmes, surely the most famous example of author fatigue. The characters that charmed him became routine, and he ground out stories because the public demanded them and paid him well. In my beloved Trixie Belden books, the characters gradually grew too old to be kid detectives and had to enter Eternal Teenland, where one is somehow forever doing home chores and worrying about high school matters. “Gleeps!” as Trixie has exclaimed from the 1950s into the twenty-first century. More often, secondary characters appear and have to be considered in the following books, or, as information is given about the main characters, they are gradually locked in place and all freshness is lost.
On the other hand, mystery series is the way to do it nowadays. I am flabbergasted to see the variety of mysteries: knitting mysteries, quilting mysteries, cat mysteries, cooking and catering mysteries, mani/pedi mysteries (how did manicurist accidentally slice victim’s carotid artery?), real estate mysteries (free corpse with every new home) make-your-own-pet-food mysteries (ugh, a nasty business in itself), vegan mysteries (“I’ll make you stop eating meat!”), and the Dust and Clutter in My Home series (a theme with universal appeal, certainly, though I hope few of us routinely find dead people in the mess under the couch or behind that pile of laundry from last summer).
However, indulging in fears for the future is foolish when I don’t have the first book written. Time to move ahead with the planning. Choosing a series forces me to consider every element of the book for long-term value. What will develop into something else? What will become a very stale cliché of the series? What characters have enough breadth to remain interesting?
And this shades into the old “write what you know about” debate.