Writing Series Fiction

[fifth in the MIC blogs]

I love reading series. It’s like dropping in on friends uninvited and being made welcome anyway. How much trouble is Falco’s dad going to get them all into this time? What’s up with Joe and Jim on the Rez? What the hell, Vic’s doing time? What’s that about?

One of the things about series fiction I’m most alert to is how each author works in the backstory. If you’re fifteen books into a series, there is bound to be a lot of backstory, and as an editor once told me when I tried to leave out Kate’s past history, “Welcome to the world of genre fiction, Dana.” You can’t drop a new reader into the middle of an ongoing fictional voyage without a pole star by which to navigate. This leads to what is called “the expository lump,” and the writer’s (sorry, author’s) job is to make that lump as palatable and as digestible as possible.

the ParkFor example. There is always and ever an expository lump in a Kate Shugak novel when the story involves Alaskan land issues. Land issues have been at the heart of many of the plotlines, beginning with A Cold Day for Murder, and there is just no way around the linear explanation. It has to be there to make sense of the story. All too often it is essential to explain motive. The best I can do is make Kate’s head hurt when she thinks about said land issues, as much as mine does when I’m writing them and yours probably does when you’re reading about them.

midnightcomeagain.thumbnailOne of the ways you can get around the expository lump is to have a character other than the main character fill you in. As most of you already know, Hunter’s Moon ends on a major change in Kate’s life. In the next book, Midnight Come Again, I let Chopper Jim take over the narrative for the first seventy pages. You get the 411 on Kate and the Park through his eyes, which has the added benefit of moving him center stage.

Where he still is. He’s kinda pushy that way.

4 thoughts on “Writing Series Fiction

  1. Mary Jo Lang says:

    I have always been pleased with how smoothly you have brought in the background info in each book so that even in #20 it is neither boring or annoying but just seems to fit. You are an extremely skillful writer.
    And thanks for spoiling all your fans by continuing the series. You do know how to deliver a horrifying shock! I absolutely love your books – obviously.

    Like

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