In the context of some complaints about the lateness of George R. R. Martin’s next book, which is one in a series, novelist Charles Stross offers some insight into the writing of book-spanning stories.
There are, to generalize wildly, two types of series novels. Let’s call them type (a) and type (b).
The type (a) series consists of books that follow the same protagonist(s) through a series of adventures or incidents — but in which each book tells a self-contained story. […]
The type (b) series consists of books that follow the same protagonist(s) through a continuous, developing story/world. While they may be structured as novels, they do not stand alone and a new reader who tries to jump in the middle will be lost. […]
What I’d like to put to you is that writing a type (b) series is qualitatively harder than writing a type (a) series.
I agree. I’ve written three novels that follow the adventures of a protagonist, Saskia Brandt: Déjà Vu, Flashback (working title) and The Amber Rooms (working title). The story has been somewhat recent at the beginning of each book. Saskia finds herself in a new situation that is not narratively connected (more than loosely) with what’s gone before. I’ve done this partly because spanning a story across multiple books doesn’t strike me as the right thing to do; and because there’s a chance that new readers can come on board at any point without being disoriented. Plus, writing a story that spans just one book is difficult enough.