Series: Episodic or Epic?


Fantasy in particular lends itself to series.  A majority of those series have the same overarching characters and themes, and the books are connected.  Due to the strong influence of Lord of the Rings many are trilogies.  Often the series really is just one large story, broken down into smaller chunks which allows the story to be released earlier and in the case of print, because they might not be able to physically release the book elsewise.  When creating these separate books there are two ways they can do it – the book can still have the basics of a beginning, middle and end, but honestly identify more as another “chapter” of a larger chronicle then a true standalone work.  These types of books do have the downside that they cannot  be just picked up and read as its own story out of order and without knowledge of the rest of the series.  The other way is to have a completely self-contained story that continues themes amongst itself, but can be read in mostly any order and still enjoyed without knowing anything else in the series.   The downside to this type however is if the specific plot, theme, or character focus does not hook the reader, they do not feel bad skipping it.

Examples of the books focusing more on being pieces of a large series than stand-alone stories include Wheel of Time, Tears of Rage, Game of Thrones and most of the other epic fantasies that are the bread and butter of the genres.  This description is not meant to disparage those types of novels, and they can still contain the basics of a story (conflict, climax, resolution) but they are not normally intended to be read out of order, and even with recaps and Wikipedia catching reader up are really intended to be read as a series more than by themselves.  I still love The Shadow Rising by itself, and it does have it’s own plots that open and close in the same book.  I could not however hand  it to someone without them reading the rest of the Wheel of Time and expect them to love it nearly on the same scale as those who read the series in order.

The advantage of this style is it truly allows a giant Epic that the other form does not.  When read  in a row a well-built epic of this type has the potential to really enthrall a reader.  Since in essence one giant story is being composed, each individual book can allow an attention to detail, themes, characters, and events that standalones do not.  Although less accessible to people when not in order, it makes up for it in scope and depth.

Some of my favorite television is this way, including Battlestar Galactica, most of 5th Season of Buffy, of course Lost, and the “mythology” episodes of X-Files.  Most movie that are this way tend to be adaptations (other than the Matrix but whether or not that made sense even watching it in order is up to personal taste) as for economic sake when creating new movies it makes sense to allow them to stand alone without prior movies having to be seen to enjoy them.  Comic books on the other hand, for the past three decades are like this, rewarding large collections with knowledge that enhances each later story.

The other way, of self-contained stories that mainly share the same characters but do not build up to one large overarching plot is not currently the standard for many modern fantasy books.  During the Pulp era, however, this was much more common.  Sword and Sorcery books still tend to be in this format, self-contained, and so do more comedic books like Piers Anthony Xanth series, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  Dresden Files (which feels more like a pulp novel then an epic fantasy) straddles the line, in the sense that reading them in order enhances the novels because you know the characters better, but it is not necessary normally required for most of the books in the series.

The fantastic thing about this is every book is truly a jumping on point for new readers.  If they love the characters they may want to go back and pick up earlier works to flesh out their enjoyment of the series, but they should never feel lost no matter where they first start reading.

I think of these things because my current trilogy is of course, the type that must be read in order to be fully understood.  The next series idea I have after this however, I am highly considering making it more episodic, and not concentrating on overarching plots so they can be read in any order.  Also, outside of fantasy my favorite genre is probably mystery/thrillers that contain the same characters, but can honestly be enjoyed in any order.

Poll Series Style Preference:

1)Episodic:  This is like Dresden, Conan, Discworld.  I like self-contained stories

2)Sprawling Epics: I like intricate tapestries of stories that wind between several books with a large overarching plot.

Results from Worldcon were good, Mandatory Paradise got up to 13 on the Epic fantasy List, and Fall of House Nemeni got up to 26th on the same list.  I have decided to finally have Fall of House Nemeni released to Nook after this cycle is over, and focus on Mandatory Paradise during promotions.

World Info:

The main adversaries to the Allmother in her religion are things called Firesouls.  They are said to possess people and come from the place of eternal torment, the Sun Below all the Islands.  It is said they are led by something called “Other” but no solid information is ever said about this entity.  The Songs of the Allmother do not focus on the Other often, and whether or not is is male or female, human or monstrous, and even how it acts are different in the various tales that have been passed down.

The Songs and stories focus more on Firesouls, and how they can control your life if you are too evil, or fall into the Sun Below.  Of course no one really knows how something could survive a fall into the Sun Below, or even more who one could come back.  Tales still persist of it happening, and if someone starts acting very strange or unpredicatable it is wondered if they have been “Firesouled” or “firetouched.”

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About mdkenning

E-book clockpunk fantasy author View all posts by mdkenning

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