A Life of Their Own

by Gail Z. Martin

Long-running series can be lots of fun because they take on a life of their own.  At the same time, it can be intimidating for new readers because once several books in the series are out, it can be daunting to get “caught up.”  That was the challenge I faced when I wrote The Sworn, which just came out in stores at the end of January.  It’s my fifth novel, and it’s set in my world of the Winter Kingdoms with many of the same characters as my first four books.  But I wanted to create a gateway into the world where someone new could enter without having to read the first four books (of course, I hope they’ll decide to do that later) and still enjoy the book.

Creating that kind of gateway changes how you write, because you can’t take for granted that every reader has the same collective memory about the places, events and characters.  At the same time, since you’re hoping that many of the people who’ve read your other books will want to read your new one, you don’t want to bore them by spending too much time recapping what went on before or re-introducing characters they already know.  It’s quite a challenge.

Before I wrote The Sworn, I paid attention to how other series writers handled the issue.  I noticed how they referred to important past events that had spoiler potential but which had to be explained at least in passing.  I noticed how subsequent books introduced long-running characters.  And I tried to examine from a reader’s perspective where I thought the situation was handled well and where it left me confused or bored.

I learn a lot from paying attention to how other authors handle certain types of plot issues.  It brings a whole new dimension to the way I read, because on one hand, I’m reading for plot and action just like a “regular” reader.  Then the writer side of me is busy looking under the hood to see how the other author handled the “mechanics” of the story.  I guess it’s like eating out at a restaurant when you’re also a chef.  You enjoy eating food that tastes good, but you can’t help wanting to peek into the kitchen to see how it’s cooked!

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