Thursday, February 24, 2005

THE SERIES APPROACH

Some might think Charlie Stross a little cold-blooded in his approach re his Family Trade series, and toward writing in general. What? Write a book-and-a-half every year?! What? Map out a whole series and then have to follow through with it for a decade? What what?!

But mixed in with what I would call either blatant commercialism or clear-eyed pragmatism is solid information on how good writers operate--including "steal" (don't borrow) and how ideas form (cross-referencing different genres or approaches).

What I can't buy into is the idea of "series fiction", though. This may seem ironic, given that I'm writing several novels set in my fantastical city of Ambergris, but there is a difference. I'm not writing a story arc. I'm writing several independent novels with the same setting. I can quit any time I like and Ambergris will still seem "finished". Stross may not have that luxury. (Perhaps he does and I've mis-read his blog post.)

In any event, I thank my lucky stars that I'm not locked into a series. And that I'm not looking to produce a novel every year. Every writer is different and any approach can be valid for a given writer. Stross is clearly happy with his approach, and that's great. But there is also something to be said for letting ideas and characters age until they acquire the depth, breadth and level of detail that turn them from the ingredients for a perfectly adequate novel into the ingredients for something more lasting.

I generally try to stretch myself (sometimes severely) with each new novel, so having time to reflect isn't just a matter of organizing my thoughts and developing enough of the story in my head before I get it down on paper. It's also a matter of acquiring enough mastery of technique to write the new novel. Shriek: An Afterword took years to write not just because of lack of time to work on it, but also because I needed time to develop certain writing skills in order to do the novel justice.

Luckily, the next Ambergris novel, Zamilon File, won't take six years to write, delays or not, but it, too, will be a learning experience. And sometimes that takes time.

JeffV

6 Comments:

At 4:47 PM, Anonymous jmorrison said...

hmmm.... vedy vedy inta-esting.

a series can be great (of course) but as of this moment, i tend to find jeff's method of tackling a setting from different angles particularly provocative. there are just so many possibilities.

not to drag the lit conversations into the cinematic mud, but i've often thought about this very subject in terms of film franchises. the worlds/settings created in initial offerings are often fascinating and seemingly fraught with possibility, and yet each successive offering inevitably drains all life from it. couldn't these settings be better explored by spelunking their every nook and cranny?

why not films of totally different genres set in successfully introduced and in many cases beloved worlds? why not a serious drama set in the matrix? why not a buddy comedy set in the star trek universe? why not a noir detective story set in the star wars universe? silly examples but you get my drift. these properties do get explored further in other genre's (games, books, etc) but rarely in the films themselves.

in terms of lit though i appreciate the effort to do just this. as stated i feel like the possibilities are endless.
i've really enjoyed those of charlie's works i've read, but what if he gets bored or itchy for something else 4 novels in? that would be awful for him wouldn't it? then again, he's got a full dance ticket, which can provide motivation, not to mention security!

 
At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of Stross' work--a situation I plan to rectify this year. My post is really more to comment generally using Stross' post as a starting point.

I also thought it important to post so that the Impressionable have more than one model to choose from.

JeffV

 
At 7:15 PM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

I definitely prefer the approach you use. It's more appealing for me to be able to come back to a setting when I want, not because I have to.

I'm way impressed at Stross's organizational skills, and for the way he can think ten years in advance, but I would really have to like the subject matter to devote a decade of my life to it.

Plus, I'm leery of series fiction anyway, since I have so many other books I want to read.

 
At 5:29 AM, Blogger Keith said...

The only series that I've read, fantasy wise, that was satisfying was Neil Gaiman's Sandman books and that, I think, was because they did a version of what jmorrison was talking about, spelunking the world of Sandman.

And personally, I'd love to a see a budy movie set in the Star Trek universe. Rosnekrantz and Guildenstern are Borged would be great.

 
At 11:27 AM, Blogger Weirdmonger said...

I think one writer's fiction throughout his lifetime is a series in the same universe. Some writers have bigger universes.

 
At 8:52 PM, Blogger JP said...

Fritz Leiber's tales of Fafhrd & Gray Mouser have always struck me as the best way to handle a series - short stories, a novel or so, and various odds and sods linked by characters and settings rather than an over-arcing plot.

Quite apart from the creative space this approach to series writing affords the writer, as a reader, I find I simply can't accept not reaching the end of a given story within a single book anymore.

 

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