What Makes a Good series?

 

by

Rachel Seigel

Last week during a Twitter chat, a particular question caught my attention. The participant was wondering if books in a series have to be read in sequence in order for the series to be good.

This lead me to consider what does make a good series, and while there are several factors that play into it, for me, the simple answer is that any series that can sustain my interest over several books, and keep me invested in the characters and the world is a good series.

The next question then, is how is this accomplished? What are the key ingredients to creating a series that will keep a reader with you over 3, 4, or even 7 books?

When asked what has made Sherlock Holmes one of the most successful and best-loved detectives of all time, Anthony Horowitz (who is the author of the Sherlock Holmes Adventure House of Silk) pointed to three factors: The richness of the characters, their world, and of course, the writing! (If you’d like to read Horowitz’ full blog post, it can be found here: )

The Harry Potter books are another example of a successful series, and they work largely in part to the freshness of each book. With every new volume, Rowling introduced new characters, new locations, and new events, but she also allowed her original characters to evolve.

Another common answer that I’ve come across while researching this topic, is direction. Have you ever read (or watched) a series where the story seems to just jump off the rails halfway through, and the writing seems aimless and without direction? A successful series needs a direction, which is not necessarily the same thing as a cliff-hanger. The reader needs to believe that the plot has a definite direction, and that the author isn’t unnecessarily stretching the story just to keep it going over multiple books.

Finally, there is the matter of cliff-hangers. While leaving some questions unanswered is a great tool to get people coming back, but readers quickly get fed up with multiple dangling plot lines, or cliff-hangers that are cliched and without purpose.

Now I turn the question over to you. In a market that is crowded with trilogies and series, what factors hook you and keep you reading a series?

Rachel Seigel is a Sales and Selection Strategist for EduReference Publisher’s Direct Inc. in Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

13 Responses to What Makes a Good series?

  1. Amanda Jun 18 2013 at 7:15 am #

    Whenever I finish the first book I ask myself “Do I care about what happens to these characters?” About half the time the answer is no. Sure the series needs a cohesive story line, but more importantly it needs good characters. I stopped reading the Twilight series after the second book because Bella annoys me like no other character in literature. I need characters I like, that I want to root for, to make me keep reading. And judging by how many series I don’t finish, it’s not an easy task.

  2. JoSVolpe Jun 18 2013 at 7:25 am #

    Great post, Rachel! For me, it’s always the characters that keep me coming back. I don’t care what they’re doing. If I’m not invested in character, it’s easy to forget about the rest when the next book comes out.

  3. Jemi Fraser Jun 18 2013 at 7:37 am #

    I need to really care about the characters – otherwise no cliff hanger in the world will make me keep reading.

  4. stephanie garber
    stephanie garber Jun 18 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Great post, Rachel! I agree with the other commenters, it’s definitely the characters that keep me reading a series, but that’s not the only thing that will convince me to keep buying books. I loved Beth Revis’ Across The Universe series, and while I liked her characters, what really drew me into her books was the way that she was able to write such a compelling, page-turning mystery. So for that series it was definitely the writing and the plotting that kept me reading.

  5. Kateri Ransom Jun 18 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Definitely installments that can stand on their own! What I think this mostly applies to for me is the character evolving, not necessarily plot. I think each books should mark and clear change, progression or digression, for the character while the plot only continues to develop and build. It’s not a one-size-fits-all rule per say, but it’s an attribute in a series that I often admire when writers pull it off well.

  6. Diana Jun 18 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    While I agree with everyone else–characters are definitely the deal-breaker–I do have a Cliffhanger Pet Peeve. I hate it when the cliffhanger seems thrown in like a curve ball: the story (for this book) is ended, there’s enough tension to make me want book 2/3/4/whatever NOW, I’m already missing the characters and the world… The cliffhanger is already there, built in to the fact that this story isn’t over yet–and then the author tosses in a random thread. A thread that could just as easily START the next book. A thread that hasn’t been even hinted at in the 20-50 chapters I’ve already read. Not only does this drive me up the wall–it’s bad plotting, at its core–but it doesn’t even keep up the tension. I find myself going, “oh, I need to wait a year, but this is such a terrible position that angsting over it would be stupid and anxiety-inducing.” It actually makes me care about a series less.

  7. Carrie-Anne Jun 18 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    I like good characters I truly care about, coupled with compelling storylines and suggestions of future adventures or drama without a cliffhanger at the end. I’m less apt to read a wandering series, which might start out fun but become tedious after awhile since it’s more about commercial product over literary quality. I want to know there’s an end in sight to a series, not just new books to give the characters some more adventures for their own sake. I also need to get a sense that the writer truly cares about and deeply knows these characters, instead of just pushing on to make money.

  8. SBibb Jun 19 2013 at 12:25 am #

    For me, there usually needs to be something that drives me to want to know what happens next. Not necessarily a cliffhanger (though they sometimes work), but something that keeps me interested. I might thoroughly enjoy a first book in the series, but if it ties everything together too neatly, I’ll be left with little drive to keep reading. I can think of a couple novels where the first one was great, but it didn’t hook me to keep reading. On the other hand, if a story leaves off with no answers to my questions, I’ll likely assume the other books are the same and not continue the series.

    Still, some first books may have held my interest, but not with an immediate desire to keep reading, but I kept wondering what happened next, and later picked up the next book.

  9. Paul Anthony Shortt Jun 19 2013 at 6:35 am #

    Great post. 🙂

    I have to care about the characters to want to read more. I need to root for them want to see them succeed. I find it very difficult to finish even a standalone novel where I don’t connect with and root for the hero.

  10. Alexa Y. Jun 19 2013 at 11:59 am #

    For me, I always enjoy a series if, right off the bat in the first book, I’m able to form a connection with the characters. I end up caring about them, and longing to have MORE of them in my life (which is what makes series work for me!). Plus, I love it when the story cleverly spans more than one book, and has, as you’ve said direction!

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