This is a dilemma some authors might er, die for: whether to transform a novel originally meant to be a one-off into a series. Having now published a number of one-off novels in the “indie” line on-line, and working on a new one, it has occurred to me that this one might turn itself into a multi-parter.
I’ve had this inclination in the past. Savonarola’s Bones, a romp of a certain sort, has periodically cropped up in my consciousness as a possible part one, and I’ve even toyed with an introduction to the sequel. I may do it yet.
What makes me think more of this now is Joleene Naylor. She is the author of a kind of genre fiction that normally I would never bother with: “vampire lit”. Till I read some of her books in what is called “beta” – apparently some pre-publication version put out to friends/enemies/passersby for a response before tidying it up as a “finished product” – the only vampire novel I had ever read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Several “beta” novels in the Amaranthine series later, I know that my contempt for the contemporary dress of this genre (teenage junk lit, inevitably superficial, unendingly boring, without literary, moral, or intellectual merit) was just prejudice on my part. Moreover this is but a reminder of an argument I put in an essay many years ago, and that forms the basis of my own genre writing:any genre can be the occasion of literary merit. In the case of Joleene Naylor, as she has gone along her series has improved as writing, and it has always had a serious purpose.
Nor is there anything unliterary about a series. Many English novelists with shall we say advanced reputations wrote them. Dostoevsky was toying with extending his last finished work, The Brothers Karamazov with a second part. Shakespeare, my model for many aspects of writing, did an eight part play cycle – King John, Henry IV parts one and two, Henry V, Henry VI one two and three, and Richard III. I have seen an argument that this greatest of all writers actually conceived this cycle, and worked out all its ins and outs, from the first.
Actually I find this hard to believe. But who am I?
There are of course “series, and series”. Some writers use a hero or heroine whose exploits and problems consume book after book. This is not quite the same thing but nonetheless there is a link there that allows for development both of character and plot. It is a motif of thriller writers whose principal character or characters is in a sense “the story”. Yes, Sherlock Holmes. Later, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was a model for this type of series, and spun off many similar characters (Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, perhaps most significantly the unnamed protagonist of the first few espionage thrillers by Len Deighton). The plots could be unrelated to one another because the hero was the same hero, but they could have loose or very close connections. It’s a popular wheeze today.
Putting that aside the full-blown series is an epic and takes quite a bit of doing seems to me. Joleene Naylor so far has five parts plus a “prequel” in her Amaranthine series and for those reading this who are not writers, to keep this logical and interesting and relevant is not at all easy. If there is a pot of gold at the end as there should be, all the twists and turns getting to it should add up to something, not just be bumper cars at a literary fairground, banging about haphazardly on the track till at some point time is up.
The promise of a second part to some of my own work, including the present one, is comprised of loose ends. I like loose ends, or at least ends that are not spelled out exactly. There are things that may look like something that isn’t resolved in the existing writing, that I decided to leave unresolved, or perhaps “full of promise” – I like the idea that my books become the readers’ books too, that they engage with the stories and where things are not specified, spelt out just so, colour them in with their own private palettes of the mind. Yet these can prompt another book, and then another…as the loose ends unravel at another end…and if there is still a loose end, another one…and then another one…all of the plot elements remain relevant by necessity. Yet I’m not sure I’m made of the right stuff to do that.
With Kaos, the book I am working on now, I finished the “body proper” of the first draft and was working on a sort of coda when I began writing this post. This coda shuffled into my consciousness as perhaps something that might be quite long by my standards – a part two of the novel, or the second part, that could lead to a series! That may yet come. But for now, I finished the coda off at 10,000 words, knowing that more words are going to spin out of what is there. But I’d like to rewrite the whole thing, so am going to do that and call it a second draft, or even a reworking and a first draft.
So nope, it’s another one-off. So far.
Thanks for reading.