I just finished reading Karen Wiesner’s Writing the Fiction Series. I knew the moment I had the idea for my current project that it would be a series rather than a stand-alone novel, so I picked up this book for some series-specific advice. Overall, I think it provided excellent advice and structured worksheets to help a series writer get organized. I also appreciated the outline of the various series and book arcs of the Harry Potter Series in the end as a way to visualize how J.K. Rowling worked so many plants into her novels.
There was also a lot of good advice for authors with respect to writing characters for a series, but I did not agree with everything Ms. Wiesner had to say. One area that I patently disagreed with was the idea that you should not kill off important characters. In Writing the Fiction Series, Ms. Wiesner accuses J.K. Rowling of killing off a number of her characters for no reason. I heartily disagree with this statement. I believe that an integral part of J.K. Rowling’s theme was accepting loss and the idea that the individual on some level needs to be able to be sacrificed for the good of the whole. It is her own prime directive if you will. To have Sirius, Lupin, Tonks, Fred, and the others all come through at the end would have rang false with the entire theme of the books. Sure, Harry has suffered a lot, and sure he just finds a family and then loses that family again, but life is not fair. Life is not pretty and not easy. I think Ms. Rowling wanted her readers to remember that life isn’t easy and that sacrifices have to be made in the war for your values and ideals. Additionally, I think when you have such a magic heavy world, you have to up the ante, or the entire effort just seems too easy. If it’s not worth fighting and dying for, why would she expect people to read seven books?
So, while I appreciate Ms. Wiesner’s advice on many points in Writing the Fiction Series, I very much disagree with the idea that characters need to live in stories. I think it is particularly compelling when an author can build a world so engaging and rich with so many good characters that it can withstand the loss of some important characters. I believe J.K. Rowling did this admirably. George R.R. Martin is another author who places the story and the whole above the individual characters. This isn’t always a successful way to go, but if you can truly bring your environment to life and build a cast deep enough to sustain it, then it adds a bittersweet and emotional element when you kill some of the well-loved characters.
Also, another point that was brought up by some of the authors that Ms. Wiesner interviewed was that you have to maintain the expectations of your readers. If someone is a villain in the beginning of the series, they can’t be a hero at the end. The same goes with other role reversals. Ms. Wiesner herself did not appear to agree with this statement, but I will say that such a statement is very short-sighted in character development. If the hero can’t become the villain, we wouldn’t have the show Breaking Bad, which is critically acclaimed and a must-see show. Again, I think George R.R. Martin also is able to do this with his character development. He is able to take a character that you despise during the beginning of the series and make them sympathetic by the end of the series. People change, people grow, and people redeem themselves, and it just makes a richer tapestry if you can have characters that do that (or alternatively that slip into depravity) through the course of your series.
So, I recommend Writing the Fiction Series for the organizational and practical advice, but I would not let the book limit your ideas and creativity when it comes to growing and evolving your characters and your story.
About the Photograph: Photograph taken in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in September, 2012.