My friend Lisa made a good post today about ongoing series and how they're sucked dry if allowed to go so long. For the most part, I agree, but there is one angle that these discussions always overlook that I think needs to be brought up: series that run season-by-season.
This isn’t a very common set-up here in the West, so I can only think of one series that does it really well – Power Rangers. I don’t know how many people reading this blog know this, but post “Mighty Morphin’” era, Power Rangers began a cycle where they re-invented their concept every season. For the first few seasons they tried this (Power Rangers Zeo, Turbo and In Space) they continued the ongoing story from original series; but eventually they began creating entirely new teams of characters every time.
Seriously, if you want a more detailed account of how well this can work, go watch Linkara’s History of Power Rangers series on ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com; he does it better than I ever could. Other series that pull it off well are things like Digimon, .hack and the Gundam franchise. Each onetakes the same general concept, themes and sometimes locations and explores them in different ways season to season. Often each season features a completely new cast of characters with their own story arcs, which feed back into the growing mythology of the fictional universe.
This is an excellent set-up, and I think more people should give it a try, especially book authors. For example, J.K. Rowling chose to write another few books exploring the stories of Harry Potter side characters – the children, for example; or the parents; or even the concept of wizarding schools in places like America, Asia or Africa – they’d have a good chance of living up to the potential of the original series.
Why? Because the themes would still be expressed, but in a new way that keeps them from getting stale and with fresh characters who aren’t worn down from years of spotlight time.
I haven’t seen this used very often in books. The only examples I can think of off the top of my head are the Animorph “Chronicles” books; Scott Westerfeld’s “Extras” (spun off from the Uglies trilogy) and “Last Days” (sequel-ish to “Peeps”); and possibly some of the “Maximum Ride” books from James Patterson.
But I think it’s a concept worth looking into. After all, if there’s a world that you and your readers want to return to, there’s bound to be a story there without needing to run your characters into the ground.