New website is under construction.

Oct 10, 2012

How To Write A Series - 02 – Medium and Genre


Chances are, you already have a good idea if you want to write a series or not.

But let's say you don't.

Let's say you have a bright, shiny idea for a story, but no idea how BIG this idea is -- is this an idea that can last a series, or is it the right size for a book, or is really just a short story.

Ideas stretch. So this is kinda a trick question. There are three main factors:

1.) Expanse
2.) Medium
3.) Genre

The expanse of the idea is a big topic, so I'll postpone that to a later post. Right now I'm going to talk about medium and genre.

First, though, let's get the obvious caveat out of the way: It's less about the idea itself and more about your enthusiasm. I can think of a lot of good ideas for series that I know would bore me after one or two chapters, never mind books or episodes.
If you are a novelist, your enthusiasm has to last over the long slog. You can't just shrug it off after a book and a half.

But, duh.

So let's move on to the other two factors besides expanse.


Whether you write a series also depends on your medium and your genre. If you write epic fantasy, chances are, you’re writing a series. It comes with the territory. Same goes if you’re writing a cozy mystery. Chances are you have a spiffy amateur detective ready to solve a whole slew of murders, book after book.

If you’re writing a historical romance, you might not be sure. Romances are about one couple and end happily at the end of the book. It’s tricky to turn into a series in a way that’s emotionally satisfying. Yet, you’ll find, some of the most successful authors have done just that. And others use some of the tricks of good series writing to produce a huge number of books in a short period of time that have their own “signature” – and that keeps their fans coming back for more.

If you are writing a literary novel, you’re probably not writing a series. (But there are notable exceptions.)

So which genres usually have series?

Franchise Movies

Chick Lit
Women’s Fiction

Science Fiction
Alternate History

Do you have to be a slave to convention? Can you write a one-book epic fantasy? Can you write a six-volume literary oeuvre?

Of course you can. You didn't need me to tell you that. But there are reasons that each genre tends to gravitate toward series -- or not. And when we look at the different kind of series there are, we'll see genre plays a big role there too.


Genre is the kind of story (science fiction, police procedural) and medium is the form the story takes--often impacting the audience and distribution. Think novel vs movie vs video game. Three separate mediums. Within the visual arts, the two main mediums are television and cinema. In literature, you have novels and  magazines. (Just to name the most obvious.)

If you’re writing a screenplay for a movie, it’s probably not part of a series. If that same screenplay is for television, it almost certainly is. Almost all television consists of series of various types. Almost all movies are one-off – although the biggest grossing pictures tend to be part of a series, a sequel, or a remake (arguably a kind of “sequel.”

The alternative medium to novels, which is sort of the the "television" of the literary world, has almost died out—magazine serials. Before the middle class could afford many book purchases, magazine serials were the primary vehicle of fiction. Charles Dickens and Edgar Rice Burroughs both published their novels as serial installments, initially. They were paid by the word. (This one fact alone makes sense of many otherwise inexplicable scenes in Dicken’s works.) Serials are a special kind of series.

Serials aren’t common anymore, and the death of magazines may have doomed them to extinction. Then again, whenever technology closes a door, technology bulldozes open a wall somewhere else. Serials, like novellas, may make a comeback as blog content and as digital shorts.

No comments: