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Writer's Toolbox - Opened and Closed

How many? That question is one that writer's face often: How many words? How many characters? How many view points? How many clues? How many books?



When I first started writing back in the mid-nineties, I wrote books as the idea struck. Most of the time, I had one book, and that was all. The older I became, the more I realized that my favorite books were part of a series, and I decided to write a series.

Yeah - that went over easy.

Writing a series, no matter how much one loves the characters is not an easy task to accomplish. One of the hardest aspects about writing a series is keeping the characters interesting and engaging, especially what I would term open series. Open series are those with no logical ending. These are the series that have no particular dictates placed upon them, and usually involve mystery series.

A closed series, on the other hand, are series with a defined ending. The ending might be defined through a common writing practice such as the fantasy or romantic trilogy, or by a limitation on age such as school years. The most common closed series include three books (trilogies), five books or seven booksAzure Maris will have four books, whereas my next series beginning with the Shamrocks of Stone is open-ended.

How do you decide which sort of series to use? The easiest answer is to listen to the characters. Often, the story will lean towards how many stories are available. During college, I started a series that originally I planned to be three sets of trilogies. The nine books would tell the story of one family from the founding of their dynasty to the re-founding of the dynasty. Three sets of three seemed to work, but I could not create stories to fit the pattern. In fact, out of the three, only the middle story fit into a trilogy. The first story only fit into a novel, a long one, howbeit, but a novel. The last story filled five novels as the story there divided easily into five parts.

On the other hand, mysteries especially tend to be open-ended. The trick with mysteries is to keep tabs on the characters. If the stories begin to go stale, it is often wiser to end the series than to continue the series. With my mystery series (I'm currently writing two), I found that creating a list of story ideas works best. For an earlier series, I wanted to create sets of five. The primary reason was the first five books in the series had an over-arching storyline, and I wanted to keep the pattern.  While creating future storylines, I realized that I did not have the necessary story lines for the series. In fact, the first five books seemed to be the only story for the characters. Added to the problem, one of my two current series follows similar topics, but only in a slightly different aspect.

Three ways I found to decide if a story has series material:
  1. Do I like the characters? An important question to ask, and after the first book, chances are I know if I want to spend more time with the characters. Some, honestly, I don't want to follow any more.
  2. Are there any loose ends? If the book ends well, with no desire to see any more about a character, chances are there is only one story. Often series create a desire to read more about the character. Something, somewhere is left undone, and another book should tie it up.
  3. Anything else to explore? Writing is the best way to explore a subject, and sometimes one character does that better than another. If there are elements about a character or topic to explore, maybe the series needs to continue.
Any other thought about how you keep series going or when to end?

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