It’s All Hard

With the third Constance Verity book coming out this week in the US (and already out in UK), I’m officially wrapping up the Constance Verity trilogy. I’m not saying there won’t be more Constance books, but right now I’m pausing to work on other projects.

My first ten novels are all standalone stories set in their own distinct universes. I remember once I was on a convention panel discussing Standalones VS. Series. At the time, I wasn’t interested in a series, which made me a bit of an anomaly in the field. One of the panelists even remarked that “Maybe one day you’ll be a strong enough writer to create a series.”

It was a silly comment. At the time I thought a series would be easier than starting from scratch every time. You’ve already done half the work by reusing characters and concepts, right? Now that I’ve written both standalones and one short series I have a different perspective.

It’s always hard. All of it. The problems might change, but the basic goal of creating something to engage the audience remains. And that’s never as easy as I’d like it to be.

Standalones have to be rewarding in and of themselves. They have to have worlds that make sense, characters worth following, and satisfying conclusions. There’s no trading on fondness for the characters or their world. There’s only this story to get it all done, to introduce the characters and the conflict and resolve that conflict in a way that makes the reader glad they read the book.

Series can explore characters and their world and themes in larger ways. They can win over an audience at the beginning, providing the audience has developed some fondness for the character and / or world. They can shortcut some elements, having established those elements already. But they also have established elements that can’t usually be ignored that could get in the way of telling the story you want to tell.

Series often have a status quo that must be maintained, whereas standalone novels can go wild. If I want to blow up the universe at the end of a standalone story, there’s no creative repercussions.

This is a big part of the appeal of prequels for writers. The writer can’t (or won’t) change the status quo, so they revisit a character’s past and then spend the story getting them closer to that status quo. It becomes the plot and character development, though often it’s just the appearance of such, which is why the audience can respond negatively.

One of the biggest strengths of series is that they can trade on fondness. I love Tarzan stories. Some novels I like more than others, but even the weaker novels feature characters I love in broad, sweeping adventures. Put Tarzan in the title, and I’m usually an easy sell.

The disadvantage is that if someone doesn’t like those characters, they’re unlikely to pick up another book in the series. I didn’t find the first Harry Potter book compelling and haven’t read another of the series since.

(I only hope J.K. Rowling’s bank account can handle the loss of six sales.)

The advantage of standalones is that, if you can convince the audience to take a chance on it, they’ll need no prior experience and can just enjoy the story. But convincing them to take that chance is often insurmountable.

That’s not because the audience isn’t open to new things. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have a career, but there’s a lot of competition out there. I can’t blame someone for spending their money, time, and attention on something they’re more likely to enjoy rather than take a gamble on something unknown.

Ideally, as a writer it’s my name that should be the familiar thing, and it can be. But it can still be a big ask to hope a fan will jump with me from classic horror-inspired Gil’s All Fright Diner to urban fantasy Monster and pulp jambalaya Constance Verity. If you’re one of those folks who’ve made that trek with me thanks for taking the chance.

On the other hand, I’ve heard from fans who generally like what I do, but just aren’t into Constance and her adventures. For them, a series is detriment. There’s no way around that. It’s not impossible to dislike The Last Adventure of Constance Verity and then somehow like Constance Verity Saves the World. It’s not impossible. It’s just unlikely.

There’s no choice in storytelling that doesn’t end up creating problems. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and I can say that while I’m better at it, I still struggle now and then. The worst thing about it is that I have no way of knowing until the book finally finds itself in the world. By then, it’s too late to change it, which means I’ve learned to take the good with the bad, the praise with the criticism, and hopefully apply them to my work in the future. It’s not ideal, but there’s not much to be done about it.

Yes, it’s all hard. Writing a good story isn’t easy, no matter how you choose to do it. Even after all these years, it’s often still a mystery as I do it: a long, complicated process full of missteps and mistakes and accidental discoveries and joy, too.

And editing.

So much @#$ing editing.



4 Replies to “It’s All Hard”

  1. I really appreciate having Constance to get back to this week. Thanks for writing these books. They’ve given me adventure and levity at a time when I REALLY need adventure and levity:) I also appreciate this post. Onward to more good things!

  2. Although I am still a bigger fan of Gil’s All-firght Diner, Automatic Detective, Too many Curses and especially Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain (and they all deserve seconds, thirds, fourths!) Constance is also a great story. Keep up the excellent work, please, Lee!

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