Anybody who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m not a planner. I have never planned anything in my life, at least not on purpose. I make no apologies for it; what would be the point when I’m at that strange stage of life where I’m old enough to know better but too old to change? None the less, being one of life’s blunderers does have its disadvantages as well as its plus points. On the plus side, it’s always a nice surprise when a plan takes shape almost out of nowhere and your endeavours turn out to be a success. It also avoids disappointment because expectations are usually born out of planning. The downside, however, is realising with hindsight that you maybe should have done things differently but then hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing.
My approach to writing has been as haphazard as my approach to life, it just sort of happened with very little conscious thought. I decided on a series straight off the bat because, as a reader, I love them. Now, in my experience there are two kinds of reading. There’s the serious stuff that requires a lot of commitment and demands a fully functioning brain that’s not weighed down with other things and exhausted. My friend and I have a challenge whereby we try to read a serious book every month although fatigue and other irritations like work can often get in the way. You just can’t read a serious book when you are tired or busy, it simply doesn’t work. We are currently working our way through Anna Karenina but I don’t think we’re going to be discussing it anytime soon.
The other kind of reading is the kind you do for fun and relaxation and it’s into this category that the series tends to fall. For readers like myself, who love a series, it’s about suspending reality and becoming part of an extended little world, where you catch up with old friends as each new story is released. There are lots of series I enjoy, Jack Reacher, Myron Bolitar, Mitch Rapp, Harry Hole, Lydia Chin/Bill Smith. There are very few women though which is partly why I created my own protagonist, Georgie Connelly.
Reading Mike Squatrito’s advice, I was reassured to see that I’d inadvertently done all the right things. Each of the novels in my series can be read as a stand-alone as the stories are resolved in their own right. Georgie’s character evolves in each story but essentially stays the same and she has a cast of supporting characters who are likeable in themselves. So what, you may ask, is the problem?
In hindsight, I wonder if, had I been a planner, I should have written something else before I embarked upon a series. It’s inevitable that the more you write the better your writing becomes and, with each novel, I think the Georgie Connelly stories have improved. Georgie has a small army of followers (okay maybe army is a bit grandiose, possibly a small elite unit within the army) who seem to agree with me. They correspond eagerly wanting to know when the next instalment will be ready and they all concur that the series has got better as it’s gone on. The dilemma a writer of a series is faced with then is that the first one, in my case Business As Usual, will always be the one that readers want to try first but is not necessarily the best.
I stand by it as a novel and, as a reader, it is something I would enjoy but the fact remains it is not my best one. There are no doubt some of you out there thinking, well go back and change it then, but it doesn’t work like that. The reason why writing improves with practise is because a writer grows in confidence and the voice becomes more assured. It’s often something indefinable that couldn’t be changed even if you were to go back. Even successful, best selling writers develop over time. I’ve often discovered a series midway through and eagerly bought up the back catalogue and it becomes very apparent how a series improves with time. Even if it were possible to go back, in all honesty, I wouldn’t want to. My books are a bit like boyfriends, I’m very fond of them but have no desire to revisit them. I’d rather move forward onto the next idea and see where that takes me.
The other option of course would be to end the series and maybe start a different one. Would this be fair though to those readers who have stuck with and invested their emotions into Georgie? Besides I still have lots of ideas for her yet and, of all the characters I have created, she is the one that I feel closest to probably because I’ve written about her the most.
The other drawback of producing a series is that there are readers who are always going to prefer a stand-alone story. In addition to the Georgie Connelly series, I have written three stand-alone novels and they all sell better than the series. The strange paradox being that the fans of Georgie, who have read the stand-alones, claim to infinitely prefer the series. It seems to me that where a series is concerned, you’re either a lover of them or you’re not. Does choosing to write a series then limit your potential market?
As I said earlier, hindsight is a wonderful thing and even if I could go back I would still write a series. Like my lovely readers, I am too invested in Georgie and her friends and derive more pleasure than is probably normal from writing about them. What I maybe would have done differently was delayed the series until I had a few more novels under my belt. My most recent Georgie Connelly was the seventh novel I have written and I think the best so far so maybe that would have been a better starting point.
If any of this is helpful to a would-be series writer, I can assure you it’s completely accidental. Mostly I would say that writing a series is a lot of fun and I have Georgie Connelly with me most of the time. I’m always on the lookout for scrapes and adventures she might get into and anticipating what she might do in any given situation. Maybe that’s the reason a series gets better over time, right there. Just like with real life friendships, the longer you know someone the more you are able to predict their behaviour and you develop that easy rhythm. Perhaps it’s this rhythm that makes your characters more authentic and credible. So if you want to write a series, you’d better get on with it as, the more you get to know and love your characters, the better they are going to make you look.