Dune, Chris Fox, Star Wars – ways to extend a series

If a story is popular, readers want more. Sometimes pressure from fans forces a writer to produce a sequel, but often a book is written with a series in mind. Some series are finite (they tell an overarching story that concludes at some point), while others are more open-ended.

But both types of series can be extended. Even if the main series story-arc is completed, there can be loose threads that lead to more complications. Isaac Asimov extended his Foundation trilogy, as did Frank Herbert with Dune (initially planned as a trilogy, then extended into six books, and I believe Herbert had plans for a seventh).

The Dune example is more interesting, though. Since his death, others have taken over writing in the Dune universe, taking Herbert’s ideas and expanding in all kinds of directions.

I read one of those ‘new’ books recently‌—‌Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson’s The Winds Of Dune. It doesn’t add to the end of the series but fills in (some of) the events between the first and second books.

It’s another way of extending a series‌—‌take events alluded to in the main series, and expand them into their own stories. I think of these series-extensions as ‘side-stories’‌—‌not vital for those wanting to follow the main series story-arc, but fascinating for fans of the series.

And it’s a technique used more and more often. Writers can produce short stories or novellas as ‘bonuses’, either for publication on their own or in anthologies. Stephenie Meyer did this with The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner, a novella following one of the minor characters from her Twilight series. Stephen Donaldson resurrected a discarded chapter from The Illearth War (his second Thomas Covenant novel) as the (long) short story Gilden Fire. In the Star Wars universe we have Rogue One and Solo, along with the ever-increasing TV shows.

Fans of a series always want more. They want to explore the lives of their favourite characters. They’re intrigued by back-story. They want to know what happens next, and also what happened before.

I’m currently reading Chris Fox’s Void Wraith Origins series. It’s a self-contained trilogy, but it’s also a prequel to his six-book Void Wraith series. He’s done something similar with his Magitech books, writing a six-book Magitech Legacy series to complement the original.

He’s also extended his Deathless series (originally a trilogy), and has tied that to the Magitech world.

Multiple series, all based in the same world, all connected.

The idea is to have a ‘flagship series’, one that is the focus and the most popular, and then build more series around that. Star Wars is a prime example, with the multitude of book series, the animated series such as Clone Wars, and the newer additions like The Mandalorian and the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Star Trek has spawned a number of ‘spin-offs’ (Voyager, The Next Generation and so on), as has NCIS (with NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, and more reportedly in production). The Harry Potter series has spawned Fantastic Beasts.

In books, romance writers have long exploited this idea (because romance writers are always ahead of the curve). They might have one series following three brothers, then have another series focused on a group of friends, but both series will take place in the same small town. Friends of the love interests in one book or series will spin off into their own stories and series.

It’s great for readers‌—‌they get that holy grail of something fresh (in a new story) with something familiar (a world they know). And it’s a great way to write, because it takes away the need to world-build afresh with each book or series.

It’s something I’m doing at the moment. I wrote a trilogy a few years ago called Shadows, a sci-fi with horror leanings, and even though I liked the way the three books work together (they feel complete), there were still open loops, and more I wanted to explore. So I’m now working on a new-but-connected series, ShadowTech, following on from the end of Shadows. I’ve pulled back on the horror elements, and this new series has more of a sci-fi adventure feel, with a larger scope, faster pace, more action. It’s different, but still connected.

Hopefully, what readers want — novelty alongside familiarity.

A huge Dominions sale

In a few weeks, I’m putting the whole Dominions series into Kindle Unlimited, which means these books will only be available through Amazon. But until that happens, I’m knocking the price of the novels down to 99c (or your local equivalent), including the 3-book box-set. This means it’s possible to get the whole dark Dystopian series (about a million words) for under $7!

The penultimate Dominions book is out now

Fallen Domain (Dominions VIII) is now out, in ebook from all the usual stores and paperback through Amazon. It’s only 99c (or your local equivalent) for a couple of days.

Cover of Fallen Domain (Dominions VIII)

Can old adversaries become allies?

Rodin knows Authority must be stopped, and that means returning to the Dome. But the only one who knows a way in is Cat, the one-time Authority agent who has been manipulating Rodin for years, playing with Rodin’s life for his own suspicious ends.
To the south of the Dome, Authority relentlessly push Genna back, forcing a retreat into the heart of her district. Soon, she will be surrounded and outgunned. But there’s one man who could help‌—‌the same man who once betrayed her, who was responsible for the near-destruction of her district, who stood by and watched as she was tortured close to death.

With so many lives at stake, can Rodin and Genna do the unthinkable and work with their enemies?

Changing my approach to writing a series

I’ve recently finished reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and one of the things that impressed me was how, over three separate books, the story changes. The second and third books don’t only move the story on, but also peel back multiple layers from what is already known, leading the reader to continually reassess what they already know. On finishing Acceptance (book 2), I had a strong urge to start the series again, to see how much of the ‘truth’ was already there.

The writer part of me can’t help wondering how VanderMeer wrote these books. Did he have the whole trilogy mapped out, or did the layers of the story reveal themselves as he worked on each book? Did he start Annihilation (book 1) with the idea of writing a single book and maybe seeing how things went after that, or was it a complete trilogy in his mind from the outset?

I’m thinking a lot about series at the moment as I’m currently working on the final three books in a nine-book series.

Normally, I work on books sequentially, only starting a book when the previous one is (almost) complete. I’ll have ideas for the whole series, and as I write one book I’ll be noting more detailed ideas for subsequent ones, but plans don’t always pan out‌—‌problems will become apparent as I write, or characters will do and say things that take the story in unexpected ways. While it’s possible to change a book in the process of writing it, changing previous books to fit in with these new developments is far more awkward.

I’m trying something different with this trilogy. The books need to work as stories on their own, but also be a satisfying close to the whole series story. I need to close all (or most) of the loops already opened, answering hanging question. But I also need to ensure that everything that happens in the concluding scenes has been adequately set up.

So I’m working on these new books simultaneously. I planned then all, and I’ve just had a very intense few months writing the first drafts for all three (385k words, well over 1000 pages). And already, I’ve stumbled on issues that I can now correct.

An example‌—‌I found a solution to a particular problem in the final act of the last book, but it relied on a character using a specific skill. This was something that fitted the character, but not something I’d mentioned in other books. If I used this skill with no set-up, it would feel like a deus-ex-machina, a ‘get out of jail free’ card. But now, I can seed this skill earlier, so its use at the end doesn’t come out of the blue.

Another example‌—‌there was a whole sequence of scenes I wrote in the third book that, on reflection, added too much confusion in that book, and were far more suited to being included in the book before. Not a problem‌—‌drag those scenes into the second book’s file, and insert them wherever appropriate.

Of course, there are problems with this way of working. If I’d concentrated on the first book, it would probably be getting close to completion by now, ready for release by the end of the year. But I won’t be able to release any of these books until well into 2021.

There’s compromise in everything, though, and on balance this new method seems to be working better for me‌—‌I’m crafting better stories, both individually and as a series, which is my primary concern here. It’s allowing me to more fully immerse myself in the overall story too. In fact, I fully intend to work in this way with the next series I start.

Writing’s never static‌—‌there’s always more to learn, different strategies and tactics to explore‌—‌so I’m sure my process will change again.

New short story – ‘Allegiance’

I’ve put up another short story, called Allegiance. Hope you like it.

It’s another experiment‌—‌I wanted to see if I could write something purely in dialogue. I’ve seen this kind of thing used before, both as part of a book (e.g. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game), and even as a whole book (A Closed Book by Gilbert Adair), but it’s hard to pull off. I’ve heard quite a few complaints about the dialogue-only passages in Ender’s Game (although I personally like them‌—‌they add a nice touch of mystery from the very start).

Anyway, I think I’ve done okay in this story. You can read it here, and you can check out my other short stories here.