Writing a series is a lot of fun, but the task isn’t without its pitfalls. The most obvious is continuity. After half a dozen books, it can be hard to keep track of every character and remember exactly what they look like, how old they are, and what they like for breakfast. Good record keeping can help that, of course, but even then–how much detail do you write in a series bible? Especially about characters who initially seem relatively minor, like servants or a friend of a friend?
Furthermore, the thing about records is you have to remember to USE them. In the Gaslight Chronicles, I didn’t think I needed to check up on the coloring of Wink, one of my major characters (heroine of book 4) because I’ve always had a very clear view of her in my mind. However when I was preparing to write her story, Moonlight & Mechanicals, I read through two previous books, where she was a secondary character and found, to my chagrin, that her eyes had changed from brown in book 1 to green in book 3. Both were compatible with her darkish copper curls, so I solved the problem by giving her changeable hazel eyes, that shift tone depending on clothing. It seems to have worked–at least I haven’t had any readers or reviewers call me on it yet.
Another problem that can crop up is that as the series continues, each protagonist has to remain unique. This is also something I’ve struggled with. Having just turned in book 7 last week, I’m starting to see personality types duplicate. It was particularly awkward with book 7, because the heroine was Melody, who is Wink’s best friend, fellow adventurer and fellow engineer. It took a fair bit of work to give Melody her own quirks, but when I really pondered it, she’s not the same person. Wink is the oldest of the Hadrian brood, Melody is the youngest MacKay. Wink lived on the street for many years, Melody has always been wealthy and loved by a large extended family. So of course those differences in background would be reflected in their personalities, even though their temperaments and careers are a lot alike. Melody’s story, which is scheduled for March, 2014, will show you a young woman who loves designing and building airships, but has a weakness for pretty gowns and sensational novels.
The trick with heroes is that even in a series, they all have to be, well, heroic. Brave. Strong. Handsome(ish), Loyal, dependable, and smart. So keeping them from being generic is a tough trick. It’s a skill I’m certainly still honing, and I’m really grateful to have an editor who will say, “He sounds an awful lot like… Make him different.” You can thank her for Connor’s playfulness, Liam’s troubled past, and one of my favorites, Sebastian, from the upcoming Ashes & Alchemy (Jan 6, 2014), whose quiet strength was a challenge to write, but well worth the effort.
Lastly, I’m going to mention time. There are series of books I remember from my childhood, where the characters never age, even though they have adventure after adventure. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys come to mind. That always bugged me. I do keep very detailed charts of when characters were born, so I know how old they are in a certain book.
In steampunk, or any alternate history, you particularly have to keep track of not only how the characters change and grow with time, but how the world around them changes, both with respect to the actual history of the time period, and to the ways in which your fictional technology will grow and change, and change society. In the first Gaslight books, the splitting point from the real world is about ten years back. Because computers were invented in the 1840s, by 1851, there are wonders the Victorians didn’t really have. By the third book, in 1859, there are more things, like telephones and even a budding LAN network, but there is also a smog problem in London so dire that everyone walks around in gas masks. (Don’t worry–Wink is working on air scrubbers!) 🙂
I don’t think the Gaslight Chronicles will run forever. But if they do, even I don’t know for sure what’s in store down the road. I do know 2 things: 1) they will never become so powerful as to overwhelm their world. Someone will rise up to put them back in their place among the rest of humanity. and 2) Their world will be ever-changing. Just like a real one. 🙂
What do you think? Do you like series that take place in a short span of time or over years? And how long is too long? When’s it time to pack things in and create a whole new reality?