Today I am super excited to welcome back Katey Hawthorne to Joyfully Jay. Katey is here to give us some thoughts about reading and writing a linked series where there stories exist in the same world, but are not necessarily directly connected to one another. She is also giving away a reader’s choice of one book from her fabulous Superpowered Love series. So please join me in giving her a big welcome!
I’m a character reader, myself. I read to fall in love. That doesn’t mean I need the character to be a “good guy” (witness my love of all the Lannisters in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire), it just means I need to care what happens to them. So of course, I also love a series that can follow a character or group of characters for several books and keep my interest. But there’s another kind of series that works for me too.
I mean, of course, the linked series, a set of novels that have only/mostly “the verse” in common. No, Browncoats, I do not refer necessarily to Firefly or even the Whedonverse, but something more general: a single, fictional reality. I’ll let the link do the heavy explaining for those interested, but basicaly that can mean anything from our own world with an alternate history to the out-and-out constructed world ala Tolkien. Think Kevin Smith’s Viewaskew Niverse or the overall set up of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld*.
Stories in a linked series like this don’t continue the same story in a direct way, they just explore different parts of and characters in the same world. Occasionally they expand on the same themes and are complementary. In theory the characters from different books could walk into each other or already know each other, but if they do, it’s likely to be completely incidental. As a result, the books can be read in any order — which is the first selling point for me.
By now I’m sure someone’s going, “Wait, is she talking about her own books?” Busted! Yeah, the superpowered love books operate that way, though a lot of my other stuff doesn’t. But that’s why I’m the one here yammering about this during Jay’s series celebration. So hey, there’s an easy example to illustrate my…
Second selling point: less infodump. This is particularly a problem in fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction — though it certainly exists everywhere. SFF gets it bad, though, because in most cases the author has gone to the trouble to build a new world and is trying to show the reader how very shiny it is. The linked series is cool for this because different books can actually deal with different aspects of a world or situation, as opposed to trying to shove them all into a story where they don’t belong — which is frankly distracting as hell** — or glossing over them. It’s also awesome for setting things up for later books and/or planting fun Easter eggs without screwing up the freedom to read them in any order.
So to take the easy way out and go back to the superpowered example: in Equilibrium, Hansen talks about “witch hunters” who murdered his uncle, but how these witch hunters operate isn’t particularly important to Hansen and Sam’s story — nor is it something Hansen would be sitting around thinking to himself or explaining to Sam, considering their, er, situation. But in a later (currently unnamed) book, a kid called Jody will be taken by witch hunters and given an intimate portrait of what it is they do — and how the superpowered (called “awakened”) types take care of it.
In Riot Boy, Brady warns his cousin Malory that “they do have prisons that hold people like you, you know.” It’s not relevant to Brady and Et’s story to find out how or why. But in Reentry Burn, Mal’s story, oh, we’ll hear alllllllll about how those penitentiaries operate. (And yeah, you won’t have to read Riot Boy to get Reentry Burn, when it happens. I made sure. It’s complementary, is all.)
In Nobody’s Hero, Jamie complains about vigilante superheroes and those who can’t keep their superpowered secrets, but they’re not really relevant to his own pseudo-heroic issues. In Losing Better, the whole story will revolve around a possible vigilante superhero and the FBI agent sent to shut him down.
The potential connections are endless, but far from mind-boggling, this way. Can choose to dig a little deeper — or not.
Third selling point: layers — the easy way. On a related note, worlds are nuanced and layered, kinda like the real one we live in, and that’s what worldbuilding is all about. With a chronological, continuing series, the layers are built in a particular order to further the overarching series plot as well as the hopefully satisfying plot of the single book itself. With a linked series, the layers can be built in any order without sacrificing overall complexity. You don’t have to swallow the medicine at once, but you still get a full dosage in each book no matter what, and by the time you’re on the fourth or fifth, you’ve got more layers than an onion. (Or parfait. Everyone likes parfait. Way more than medicine. Dammit, mixing my metaphors, sorry.) But not only can you read them in whatever order you choose — or not read them, if one looks like it’s not your cup of tea — you can also get the next layer without having to re-read the first book or two or whatever came before.
I mean, I’ve had George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons waiting on my iPad since it came out last year and haven’t even touched it yet. I’m too paranoid I forgot everything from the first four books, but no way I’m going back and reading them all again right now. Hey, like I say, I love that kind of series more than life itself, but there are some days that I want it to go down a little easier.
So I could natter on about it all day, but the material point is that a linked ‘verse series allows a lot of the benefits without many of the pitfalls, and the same goes for the other way around. Personally I can’t get enough of both, either reading or writing them. Some days I want Tolkien to break my brain with awesome; some days I just want an instant payoff — but with that little extra something to keep me coming back. Pick your pleasure.
I mean, that’s the point of romance, right?
*Yes, many of the Discworld books are series, but some are standalone or complementary/subplots that don’t need to be read with the others, etc. It’s a big old world on the backs of four elephants on top of a turtle in which Awesome Things Happen. See also D&D books in realms like Dragonlance and/or Forgotten Realms. Yeeeeah, I’m a huge nerd, no one’s shocked.
**As a side note: the appendix or complementary guidebook (aka: “It’s All There in the Manual“) is a good trick for this too, if the information is never going to be particularly relevant to a plot or understanding, but might interest people all the same. See Tolkien’s Silmarillion and all the appendices to The Lord of the Rings that give incredibly detailed information that would’ve gummed up the works of the story… even more. Another famous example is Frank Herbert’s short but informative appendices to Dune on Arakeen ecology, religion, and the badass Bene Gesserit. Obviously something like my little superpowered series doesn’t need anything so massive, but there is a rundown of the “magic rules” in the verse — aka superpowered science — exists at the website in the same spirit.
Thanks again so much to Katey for stopping by and for the great guest post! If you want to find out more about her, check out Katey’s website at www.kateyhawthorne.com. And if you would like to enter to win one of Katey’s Superpowered Love stories, be sure to leave a comment below. The contest closes on Sunday, July 22 at 11:59 pm EST.
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