As a writer, I have a lot of story ideas constantly floating around in my head. Not only do I have individual stories competing for my attention, but I have whole new series of books demanding that they be next on my list of activities.
The problem I, like most writers, have is that there is only so much time in the day in which to write. Yes, it is true that I am very inefficient in my use of time. I spend far too much time watching cable news and screaming obscenities at everyone who appears on my flat screen TV. (I’m an equal opportunity screamer – everyone raises my ire.)
But even so, when new series presents itself, it is hard to ignore it. But then I realize I am falling victim to NIE (New Interaction Enthusiasm). Every new series I conceptualize is a “new love” — exciting, enticing, and demanding all of my attention. Writers have the same problem with their works of fiction that most teenagers have with their budding love lives. The next shiny thing seems better than the old, familiar thing.
The problem is,, the old familiar thing is really your bread and butter. As a writer, you have a better chance of finishing a series or even a book that you’ve been working on than a new one. This doesn’t mean that you should never drop what you’re doing to pursue something better. It does mean that you should really understand why your new work is going to be more successful than your current work.
But that aside, one of the biggest problems a writer has is the sequel problem. When a book, or a series, is successful, how do you decide that a sequel is needed? Here are the criteria I use.
First, is the “story” completed? In my Hot Dog Detective series, I always had three stories going on at the same time. The first, and most obvious story, is the mystery that MacFarland has to solve. That story should be completed in a single book. The second story is one that ties several books together. This is usually a three-part story, usually treated with three to five scenes in each book. This story also usually involves a secondary character. And finally, the third story is the one that resolves the main character’s over-all problem in life. In MacFarland’s case, it’s deciding that his relationship with the woman he loves is more important than his job. It’s about him finally establishing priorities in his life and gaining mastery over the direction of his life.
This last story took 27 books to tell in MacFarland’s case.
But once I finished those 27 books, were there more stories to tell in the MacFarland saga? With the Hot Dog Detective series, the story is complete. But should I write a sequel to the series? Would this be another series about MacFarland and Pierson working together to solve cases as a married couple? Would it be a series about some other character in the MacFarland series?
I am reluctant to take a secondary character and try to build a series around that person. I know this is often done in the television industry, but with very mixed results. (One successful example, in my opinion, is the Young Sheldon spin-off of the Big Bang Theory show. But this is essentially a series about the same character, just much earlier in his life, so it was not about a secondary character at all.)
So the question I have is, if I were to write a sequel series, who should be the main character in that series? MacFarland? MacFarland and Pierson? Rufus? Lockwood?
I would enjoy your feedback on this issue. You can send me your thoughts and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you. Or if you prefer, just leave a comment below.