Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kids' Book Series: Good Idea or Think Again?

Developing a children’s series is both rewarding and taxing for the author, and possibly gratefully welcomed by parents whose children suddenly discover a hero they can relate to and whose actions keep them riveted. Isn’t it wonderful when your child begs, nay, commands you to go out and buy the next in a favorite series because they ‘absolutely have to know’ what is going to happen next. There are many children’s series on the market currently and perhaps many adults are reading them as well as their children. Developing a children’s series is not an exact science and not a guaranteed road to writing success.


Sometimes an author will start out with an idea, and try to stretch the story over several books, but to no avail. They discover that when a story is done … it’s done! On the other hand, an author may find that the story takes off and grows into something that spills over the last two words (“The End”) and shapes itself into another and then another and then another book, before winding down to a great final climax. Yet another scenario is when the author creates a set of characters that have several adventures, each one clearly contained with a storyline. The characters have a particular history or set of circumstances to retain the familiarity for readers. Readers keep coming back for more action.

Can a writer tell if the story has the potential for a series? The plot will evolve naturally if the characters are appealing, and if their personal growth and development hold the readers’ attention. Again, appealing characters are not worth anything if the action and conflict are not compelling. There has to be a perfect marriage between plot and characters to sustain the strength of a series.

So why do children love an exciting series? A gifted author will be able to create characters that readers can relate to and either love or hate. The readers get to know the characters well as the action evolves and, as each book comes out, can explore something new about their heroes.

Characters become friends to the avid young reader, who shares in the hopes, dreams and choices the character makes. Readers are amazingly loyal to their favorite characters, even though they may often disagree with the character’s choices. A good writer can explore these further, enabling readers to begin to make their own choices, especially in a moral dilemma or emotional conflict.

Parents who make the time to read with their children, or who are interested in their children’s book choices, will be able to discuss these issues further. It’s a great way of dealing with ‘sticky’ issues because the discussion is less focused on the child and more on a fictional character. It may be easier for a child to express an opinion if discussing a topic via a character’s choices.

Sensible advice: Amy Allgeyer Cook at Indedebut2010 gives 5 excellent reasons why a first-time author should NOT start out with a series. "But wait a moment," I hear you ask, "aren’t you marketing your own book as the first in a series?" Yes, although I hadn’t planned on that initially. I thought I’d create lots of exciting, unrelated adventures for my heroes. But just after the halfway mark in Book One, things changed and the mythology behind the story grew and grew into almost a story on its own. It was then I surrendered and said to the characters, "OK, you win, it’s a series." Whereupon they all burst into mad cheering, especially the ones who made it into Book Two.

Perhaps writers shouldn’t set out to ‘create’ a series but rather let an original good story develop, allowing the characters and plot potential to determine the end result.
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