Monday, January 17, 2011

How to make an on-going series that isn't sucked dry

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; 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.


  1. Hello! Sorry to comment so late on a months-old blog post, but I've just now gotten into reading writer blogs. I too am an aspiring writer, with tastes similar to yours in some ways. Love geekery. Can't stand paranormal romance. Etc.

    I just wanted to mention that this has totally been done. Have you ever heard of Tamora Pierce? If not, you should read her books, because they're awesome and, from what I've been reading, right up your alley. Her first series is the Song of the Lioness quartet, featuring a girl who dresses up as a boy in order to train as a knight. That series was followed by the Realms of the Gods quartet, which has a few of the same characters, but is centered on a brand-new protagonist. It's set in the same world and the same kingdom, but perhaps 20 years later in time.

    This was followed by yet another quartet set maybe 10-15 years after that, and then by another two or three books about one of the woman knight's daughters. Some of Pierce's most recent work is set in the same world but 200 years before the original series. The protagonist is the ancestress of one of the more important characters in Song of the Lioness.

    Tamora Pierce has written other series too, set in completely different worlds, but if you want an example of books set in the same world and exploring a lot of the same themes, but with different characters, then this is about the best one I can think of.

  2. I've flipped through a couple of Pierce's books, but I'm afraid I don't have much of a taste for high fantasy. Couldn't do the swords and sorcery thing. ^.^;

    I do agree that she's great at her world-building though. And that's a perfect strategy for keeping an ongoing series going strong.