Trapped in a world of their own making

From the Wall Street Journal: “How to Kill a Vampire (Series).”

The article details the tribulations of authors whose popular series and characters have taken over their careers. Then when they decide to wind a series up, they have to deal with legions of upset fans clamoring for more. The main example in the article is Charlaine Harris and her “Sookie Stackhouse” series.

I can imagine the unpublished authors out there shaking their heads: “Lord, please curse me with that problem!” Yeah, me too. It might be stifling to some writers to spend much of their career in one world with one set of characters (“prisoners of their own creations” as the article puts it, referring to Arthur Conan Doyle), but there are some positive angles to it, too.

In a long-running series your world-building work is largely behind you, but you can still add new places if you really want to. Your characters settle down in your mind, and in some cases practically write themselves. While many authors put their characters through “arcs” of personal growth and change (Harry Potter, Sookie Stackhouse), others write characters who are essentially unchanged through the whole series. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is one example. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are the same through 46 books, and don’t even age noticeably between the 1930s and the 1970s.

There are other advantages, too, not least of which is that a long-running series builds a large, loyal audience that will reliably buy new books in the series, sometimes waiting in line to get them. This makes your publisher, your agent, movie producers, and your bank account very happy.

I still remember when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. My family was in the line at the local Borders bookstore, along with hundreds of others. When the time came for the release, and carts of the books were rolled in, there were screams like you hear at rock concerts. Imagine writing a book that does that. Imagine writing books that make you a billionaire.

Best of luck to those authors trying to move on to different things and stretch themselves, but there are worse things than a prosperous, celebrated, and beloved writing legacy wrapped around one series of books.

Crowd waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Border’s