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  1. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Charles Stross on Writing Series and Long Books

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by Iain Aschendale, Mar 7, 2019.

    Charles Stross is a British SF writer who's won three Hugos and three Locus awards. Some of his works I like, others I don't take to so well, but his most recent blog features some of his insights into writing long books (600,000 words or more) and series (he's written/writing two very different series of >5 books each).

    Lessons learned: writing really long fiction
     
  2. Flummi

    Flummi Member

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    Thanks for the thread, Ian. Very informative.
     
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  3. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    I'm always absolutely shocked by the number of unpublished writers planning or even actively writing series. Hopefully this article will be another gentle reminder that the first book you manage to get published has to stand on its own, and all plans go out the window once you're actually getting paid as a professional.

    On the other hand, I couldn't stand the writing style of Neptune's Children enough to get a third into that book, so the idea of reading a Stross series is beyond my imagination. If you are a much better writer than he is, maybe you should just get a whole trilogy down before you find an agent. It should sell like hotcakes.
     
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I run hot and cold with Stross, to tell the truth. I liked The Laundry Files until the original MC got leveled up out of being the MC anymore, and couldn't hack it after that. Tried to read his Singularity thing, whatever it was called, but I'm allergic to transhumanism. Debating on Merchant Princes but I've got plenty on my plate right now.
     
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  5. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I found his advice interesting, though my genre is historical fiction. I didn't plan on a series for the Eagle and the Dragon but I am now halfway through the sequel, nominally the Long Road back to Rome. Set ten years later, my characters have all aged, life has intervened, but they are basically the same people. Some that played very minor roles in E&D, the Jewish rebel-turned-deckhand, Ibrahim's adopted son Yakov, Galosga, and Marcia's brother Marcus, are playing much bigger roles. Who is going to emerge as my MC? I didn't know who my MC was in E&D until I finished and had to make that determination. Not who I thought it would be when I started. I expect the same with the sequel. I expect it might be Marcus and his Chinese wife Mei, who will wind up dying in Londinium and being buried across the Thames, so their Chinese skeletons can be found in September 2016 to the consternation of historians.
     
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  6. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    The first two Laundry Files books were damn good, the third was all right, but then the series fell off the table. His best work, in my opinion, is Rule 34.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting article. In a way it pinpoints why I'm not really a fan of long serials. I don't mind if they are separate stories set in a single world, but for me there are two big barriers to the ongoing serial story :

    One — if it's a series that isn't finished yet I'm reluctant to invest in it, because there's a good chance it won't ever be finished

    Two — if the series IS finished, and it's 10 books long, partway through book number three I'm likely to think ...shit! Another 7 books to go before this is all resolved? I can't be bothered.

    Trilogies are fine, as far as I'm concerned. But any more, it starts to get sticky for me.

    I was also interested to read how the passage of time affects how writers see their own creation. And yeah, the way you'd feel about a series when you're in your mid-twenties is unlikely to stay constant for the next 30 or 40 years.

    If you can create a series that reflects that ageing process—either with a main character who also ages and matures, or with a society that evolves over time—it will help. But it certainly would be hard to maintain enthusiasm throughout the time it takes to write 10 long books.

    I know I'm certainly a different person from the woman I was 30 years ago. I would certainly not be the same kind of writer I would have been back then, if I had been a writer back then. :bigconfused:
     
  8. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I have read a couple of good long series. Jack Whyte's Dream of Eagles series, an historical, non-mythical, non-magical, King Arthur and Merlin, spans the time from 380AD in Roman Britain to the late 400s in about 9 books. Obviously, the characters in the beginning grow old and die, while the characters in the end weren't even a gleam in someone's eye in Book 1. Yet each book stands alone. Diane Gabaldon and George R.R. Martin also do good long series. I think a long series to be successful, has to be more than 5-10 good books, they have to be 5-10 great books, or the reader will not finish the series.
     
  9. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why did I know you'd have read Dream of Eagles? I've only read the first one, found it in a free book exchange shortly after I arrived in Japan, but I've been meaning to get to the rest of them. Do they hold up as well as the first?
     
  10. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    This is a wonderful post! Thanks!
     
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  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll "It's a messy business." :P Supporter Contributor

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    600k + is asking quite a bit most of the time.
    though it can work if it doesn't feel like a mini-
    series to a larger trilogy or series in and of itself.

    But hey some people like those long reads. :)

    Though I often find that longer works sag significantly
    in the middle, though you have to slog through them to
    get the important bits that often crop up near the end.

    But it all depends on the story and the reader.
     
  12. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    They are very good! It is interesting to explore an historical Arthur and Merlin, sans magic, and they give a very good view of the collapse of civilization as Rome fell. I think anyone wanting to write apocalyptic fiction should read the series
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I started reading The Skystone, and liked it so much (I'm about 2/3 of the way through) I've ordered the next book in the series already. It's the kind of old-fashioned (circa 1990s) historical writing that I'm incredibly fond of reading. Yay!
     
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