Sunday, June 9, 2013

Serial Killers

Successful authors write serials? 

This is the theory being peddled in the land of writers' dreams; the reader gets hooked on your characters and on the world you've created. The cliff-edge story-ending makes your desperate reader finish one book only to reach for the next, hoping for a climax. 
Hooked on a book

But is it true?

It is so easy to get caught up in other people's opinions on 'success' (and its Siamese twin, failure). Defining what success means to you, personally, as a writer, is at the heart of what you choose to do and how - or even if - you judge the result.  For the sake of brevity, let's say that success means finding readers and keeping them. 

From a reader's viewpoint

It is comforting to drop into a world and characters you already know, and far easier than adventuring into the complete unknown. Going back to Hogwartz each year combines the familiar with the new story elements, whether they are the fiendish attempts of the forty-six villains to destroy the universe or the growing pains of the key friends, Hermione, Ron and Harry. The mundane complications of the timetable entertain us along with life-or-death magical battles. We might spare a thought as to who will be teaching the Dark Arts this year while we contemplate the latest plot by the forces of evil. We inhabit the world we read about. I think J.K Rowling got the structure of her books spot-on and as serials go, the Potter books could be considered successful so maybe we should all be writing serials?

Ereader in Venice 

Serial or Series?

The television world makes a clear distinction between a serial and a series; the book world muddles the two and I think this matters.

A serial has a plot that runs on, from one episode to another, from one book to another, in sequence. Television soaps are serials.

A series has a complete plot per episode or per book but usually also has a bigger plot that carries on from one book to another. Many detective series are - series :) There is a murder enquiry in each episode, which is resolved, but the 'bigger plot' is often to do with the detectives' private lives and relationships


I am fascinated by J.K.R. and was among the 29,000 in the audience who attended her reading at the Toronto Skydome in October 2000. (I was one of the minority over four feet tall and not dressed up in pointy hat or round black-framed glasses). She knows what she wants of her readers; they must read each book, in the right order, for the story to unfold in the way she planned. And that, dear readers, is one reason why J.K.Rowlings fascinates me. She plotted every last detail of all seven books right from the start. So that's a serial, right? (as well as being seriously organised)

Each book resolves enough enough of the plot to give a satisfying ending, while leaving the big question 'Will Harry defeat he-who-must-not-be-named?' to be answered in the final book. And there IS a final book. So, in my view, J.K.R. is a serial writer but not a serial killer.

Get those ducks in a row

The Serial Killers

However, George R R Martin is one, and I'm not the only reader who thinks so. If you read reviews of the wonderful 'series', A Song of Ice and Fire, you'll find readers dropping out at Book 3, Book 4 or Book 5, with comments such as 'I'd lost all the characters I knew' or 'I didn't know where the story was going'. I've read the first two very big books and am asking myself why I'm not sure about reading the next one. I'm deeply involved in the characters, I love the way he writes and there's plenty of action. What's missing? My answer is that the stories go on and on. I need resolutions and I don't get them.

A serial killer is a writer who wants you to read on, forever. Each book finishes in the middle of the story - or of many stories. Serial killers might do it for love (they never want to finish their story) or for money (so you always buy the next book) but they all have this in common; they kill their story. Method - the never-ending serial. It's the writing equivalent of Tantric sex. And most readers want a good old-fashioned climax; deferred is fine but 'never' is not a popular option.

The Good Guys

There are writers of serials and series who seem to successfully juggle the continuity/resolution conflicts. I've just read an interview with Michael Jecks  which inspired this blog. His Templars series of murder mysteries contains 31 books that stand alone - a real series. It's even in his contract to ensure that each book stands alone. Presumably, like the television detective series, each book resolves a murder and there are personal details of the detectives themselves. Unlike the television detective series, the personal lives don't develop sequentially in such a way as to disadvantage a reader dropping in to one book.

Good guys aren't greedy. Good guys welcome readers who might enjoy one of their novels but who don't want to commit to a life sentence reading all of  that writer's books.

From an author's viewpoint; Resolution

I am not J.K.Rowling but J.K.Gill (yes, my middle name begins with K and no, I'm not telling you what it is) I like to think my books are character-driven. With my historical novels, I do have a rough idea of the plot, not least because the history itself is fixed, but I never know exactly what will happen until I write it. I aim to have a resolution at the end of each book but a continuation too as I know there are more books to be written about Estela and Dragonetz. But then it gets hazy. I don't know how many more books there are in this 'series'. I had no idea when I wrote the first one that it would be either a series or a serial. Each time I write a book, there are others not being written. Am I spending my time on this planet in the best way possible?

Writing this blog has made me realise how I want to continue with my Troubadours series. I am going to be as clear as I can about my plans so that my readers don't feel sucked in by a serial killer. I want to be a good guy.

The End

My Resolutions

There are currently two books in 'The Troubadours' series, each of which ties up some threads while leaving some loose ends. 

I plan to write at least 2 more books in the series. It should be 4 or 5 books in total with a grand finale in the last book. The series will then be finished. It will NOT carry on forever.

Each book can stand alone but reading them in order will make more sense. 

Each book will have an ending but the last one will have THE ending.

Now all I have to do is write the books. This takes time so if you want to hear from me now and then, please put your email address in the 'subscribe to news' form on the right and I will send you book news and updates. 


  1. Really interesting post with some useful points. I love your definition of a serial killer!

  2. Thanks, Karen. Writing the post helped clarify my own thinking!

  3. Many thanks for your kind comments, Jean. Hope you don't mind: I'm going to mention it on Twitter and Facebook for others to have a look.

  4. Thanks, Michael aka one of the good guys :) Tweet and fb sans moderation as we say here in France.

  5. Great food for thought, Jean. Glad the interview inspired you to blog.
    I have an idea for your next blog...a Serial Killers Part Two, if you will. What about 'the Trilogy' and the 'Spin Off Series'?
    More series ground to conquer there. :)

  6. lol a Serial Blogger :) I like it!

  7. This is a very informative and useful post. I am trying to make sure that my novels about Edgar Atheling are part of a series and not serial killers so the definitions are very helpful.

    Martin Lake

    1. Glad my post helped you, Martin and good luck with your writing.