I am a sequel junkie.
When I read a really good book I always wonder if there are others that will come later in the series, will there be a series, and if I can hang around with the characters just a little bit longer. I'm the same way with my own characters.
In the true spirit of a fantasy writer, I try not to think in terms of stand alone books. Most of my novels are designed to inspire spin-offs, sequels, series, t-shirts, lunchboxes, trading cards...well, maybe not those last three, but you get the idea. Sometimes I begin a series knowing that there will be X number of books to tell the complete story arc, other times I'm prepared to write one book when other characters intrigue me and I feel compelled to tell their stories as well.
The problem with the series fetish is that while I'm busily writing down the ideas for the other books in the series, I'm neglecting the other books I've started writing, but as yet finished. So, I currently have several series I'm juggling at once. Then there is the fear of writing a kick-butt first book and letting the readers down on the next one...or making it too much like the first one because you don't want to mess with success. But I don't like writing the same book all the time...I don't even like writing the same genre all the time. (That explains the two pen names and the fact I'm expanding to a third. Hard to brand your career when you switch genres so often.)
But sequels and series aren't always fun. I've come to realize that when taking secondary characters from a novel and giving them their own forum, it is sometimes hard to come up with fresh ideas and conflicts that can sustain them throughout an entire 90-100K novel. Especially if the original book was not orginally conceived as the opening of a series. Take my novel By A Silken Thread for example, I didn't think of it in terms of a series but now it's three books long. Not a true series in that you have to read the first book to understand the other two, but there is some overlapping of characters and situations that would make it helpful, but not necessary. I think I've made good starts as to the follow up books, but we'll see once I start to get from the outline stage to the actual writing stage. (It should be within the next six months or so.) -- and what about those series I've read that I've been so excited about the first book only to be bitterly disappointed in the rest of the series.
There have been a few series in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that I've not finished because I got so disgusted with the repetition or the fact the series took off into a direction I just didn't like. I think it's important if you are writing a series that readers have already embraced the characters, to not violate what it is that makes your characters so appealing. That's not saying they shouldn't grow and change. No, I have specific reasons for not finishing a series, and if you want to know those reasons, please email me and I'll give you a list. : )
There is one series I just finished reading. It's actually a historical romance series, set in Victorian England. The series was fun, lively, and engaging, but one of the characters is so self rightous and argumentative that I found it hard to like her...and she had her own book. Granted, I skipped around that book in the series and moved on to the next one..but still...I think if you're going to make a series, you should at least have a heroine that is likeable if she's to carry her own book.
I think it is possible to take secondary characters that are not necessarily 'good' and give them their own book and maybe show how they are misunderstood, or how circumstances may have pushed them into doing something desperate that they wouldn't normally have done. A book is after all just a snapshot in the life of the characters. With secondary characters is so much easier to only see them from the hero or heroine's point of view and therefore the motivations are not always clear. That's where the sequel or series comes in handy. It's a perfect opportunity to interview that possibly unsavory character and find out exactly what makes them tick. How they got to that pass, and how they are trying to turn it around...or they meet the hero or heroine that changes them.
No matter the path taken to series writing it can get very labor intensive. Just to show you what I mean. The sequels I'm working on so far are:
By A Silken Thread* (Triskelion TBA)
Man of Uncertain Virtue
Immorati* (Triskelion March 07)
Fatal Error* (Red Sage Dec. 06)
The Last Keeper*
A War of Saints
A Season of Vengence
* denotes novel is already finished and/or under contract.
What are your thoughts on, or approaches to, writing sequels and series. Do you plan the story arc from the beginning or write a novel and see where it takes you then plan a series later on?