Stories That Span Books

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.

The art of being late

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