Starting and continuing series: Sample problems.

Problem One: An idea for a great book or a great one-shot anything does not necessarily translate into a great series idea.
Case in point: Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (spoilers ahead).
In this Y/A fantasy, a teenager traumatized by his Obvious Delusion that a monster murdered his grandfather tries to get some closure by visiting the British island orphanage where his grandfather lived as a WW II refugee. Despite the orphanage’s destruction in WW II it turns out that it still exists in a time bubble created by the headmistress, one of a loose sisterhood dedicated to protecting mutants—er “peculiars”—from a world that hates and fears them. And particularly from the evil mutants, er, sorry again, that’s “hollowghasts,” mutated mutants (from a botched experiment to amp their powers) who feed on Peculiars.
Despite the fact we’re dealing with Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Students (or, I suppose, Hogwarts), the book is really good. The build-up is effective, the kids are weird, the mysteries are absorbing and the teen protagonist is a pretty good character (nothing deep, but workable). But when he and the school kids set off at the end to save other Peculiars and their protectors from the hollowgasts’ Big and Evil Plan … Well it could just as easily have been the X-Men, and the hollwogasts might as well be Voldemort. Of course, that particular style of Y/A (or adult novel for that matter) seems pretty popular; that’s one reason it feels so familiar (even TV has gotten into the act, like the second SyFy Channel version of Painkiller Jane or Alphas). I have no interest in trying Book Two.
Problem Two: It’s also possible that what seems like a great idea in an ongoing series will come back to bite you. Case in point: Avengers 267 (cover by John Buscema. All rights belong to Marvel Comics).
This was the first appearance of the time-traveling tyrant Kang the Conqueror since he’d supposedly been destroyed by his future self in Avengers 143 almost a decade earlier. In the new story, we learn that Kang’s efforts to correct his own past mistakes have resulted in splintering him off into dozens of alternates with three divergent Kangs, working as the Council of Kang, wiping out the others and taking over their respective timelines.
At the end of the story only one Kang remains. It’s a neat and twisty little thing, but it raises problems—have the Avengers really been fighting one villain all these years or have they been battling a bunch of different guys (which I think dilutes Kang as an adversary?). And this being comics, it was perhaps inevitable that later writers would succumb to the temptation to build on this story: Instead of one council of three Kangs, we had dozens of councils in dozens of different timelines and one council running them all, and hundreds of Kangs all of which really reduced the character’s status as an arch-enemy.
I’ve had my own share of problems in this line. When I got the invitation to turn the backstory for Brain From Outer Space (my 1950s SF novel) into a series of short stories, I introduced my super-genius Claire to my protagonists, Steve and Dani several years before the novel takes place. Result: Having her meet Steve and start flirting with him no longer works (not only do they have a working relationship, she’d be hitting on her best friend’s boyfriend and that doesn’t work). Dropping that plot point is one reason I’ve struggled so hard in the rewrites.
That people can write a multi-volume series and not get hopelessly dragged down constantly amazes me.

1 Comment

Filed under Brain From Outer Space, Comics, Reading, Writing

One response to “Starting and continuing series: Sample problems.

  1. Pingback: Game-changers | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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