Guest Post: Challenges and Rewards of Writing a Series by Dave Creek

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Photo by Andry Creek

Dave Creek is the author of the novels CHANDA’S AWAKENING and SOME DISTANT SHORE, novellas TRANQUILITY and THE SILENT SENTINELS, and short story collections A GLIMPSE OF SPLENDOR and THE HUMAN EQUATIONS.
 
He’s also published the Great Human War trilogy, including A CROWD OF STARS (2016 Imadjinn Award winner), THE FALLEN SUN, and THE UNMOVING STARS.
 
Dave also edited TRAJECTORIES, an anthology of stories about space exploration and its many challenges, and is the author of MARS ABIDES: RAY BRADBURY’S JOURNEYS TO THE RED PLANET, a non-fiction look at Bradbury’s Martian stories.
 
His short stories have appeared in ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT and APEX magazines, and the anthologies FAR ORBIT APOGEE, TOUCHING THE FACE OF THE COSMOS, and DYSTOPIAN EXPRESS.
 
In the “real world,” Dave is a retired television news producer.
 
Dave lives in Louisville with his wife Dana, son Andy, Corgi/Jack Russell Terrier mix Ziggy Stardawg, and polydactyl cat Hemmie.


Challenges and Rewards of Writing a Series

by
Dave Creek

Science fiction has a long tradition of stories that take place within a series or a common future history.  E.E. “Doc” Smith began his Skylark series in AMAZING STORIES in 1928, and continued with his Lensman series in 1934, also in AMAZING.  Catherine Lucille Moore chronicled the adventures of her hero Northwest Smith and swordswoman Jirel of Joiry.  Many other authors quickly learned the appeal to readers of revisiting characters and situations.  

Then authors went beyond just following the adventures of individual protagonists.  ASTOUNDING STORIES editor John W. Campbell, Jr. is said to have coined the term “future history,” and Robert Heinlein first popularized the idea in a series of stories he wrote starting in the 1940s and continuing through his last novel, TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET, published in 1987, the year before his death.

And that tradition of series and future history stories has continued through the decades, with more recent examples being Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan stories, and  N.K. Jemisin’s fantasies, with touches of science fiction, of The Broken Earth, among countless others.

So how does a writer get into this game of creating a series or future history?  

I’ve written about at least eight series characters over the past twenty-plus years.  Now, my definition may be a bit liberal — if I’ve written more than one story about a character, I consider them a series character.  They include:

Chanda Kasmira, a woman of Zambian and Russian heritage who is an Earth Unity “frontier diplomat,” who sometimes ends up doing as much fighting as talking.

Matt Christian, a contact specialist born on Pitcairn Island who is exploring the ocean world Welkin alongside a native from the planet, an Aquatile named Sarbin.  

Carrie Molina, a bio-engineered woman from Madrid, Spain who can breathe underwater for long periods, and who is a trouble-shooter and problem solver for the Earth Unity.  

Leo Bakri, a Georgia native, has been a security officer on an orbital habitat and a starship, and later becomes an explorer.

Kayonga Tedesco, from Ghana, is a pilot at Callisto Base, then a crewmember on board the starship Belyanka.

We first meet Amaia Moreau as a child struck by tragedy in the aftermath of a war, then later as another Belyanka crewmember.

Jon Hendrik, of Somali and Scandinavian heritage, is first the commander of a starship, the Solar Eagle during a war, and a peacemaker after the conflict ends.

But the character I’ve written about the most is Mike Christopher, an “artificial human” designed in a lab and grown in an artificial womb.  His unusual nature keeps him apart from most people; he has no concept of family, having none, and was often the target of taunts from other students growing up.  He turns his back upon the Earth and heads out to the stars in search of adventure and discovery.  So far Mike has been the lead character in seven published stories and one novel (SOME DISTANT SHORE, included in the SFWA space opera bundle), with another novel in the pipeline and a third in progress.  

Taking all my other characters into consideration, I’ve published 28 short stories and novelettes, four novellas, and three novels.  They also feature plenty of supporting characters and the main sequence spans several decades.  Some of my stories have been crossovers where we get to see a couple of already-established characters interact.  So how do I keep everything straight?

Mostly I keep a very detailed concordance.  Every character I create has a biography, even if he or she is just a “bit player.”  I’ve had minor characters show up again in supporting roles in different stories.  I know some readers like that kind of continuity, and I do, too.    

Alien races and planets also receive their own biographies.  Among my alien races, I’ve created several that I’ve gone to again and again.  The Sobrenians are probably my favorite.  They maintain that weaponry is their highest art form and are always threatening other Galactic races, even during routine contacts.  But somehow, despite their bluster, they seldom shoot first, and sometimes back away from conflict.  My favorite quality of theirs is their condescending attitude toward humans and other races — they consider us “pre-sentient.”  Often they learn better the hard way.

Another favorite is the Buruden, starfish-shaped beings who have “joiners” on the sides of their legs.  If only a few Buruden are joined together, their collective intelligence is low.  Bring more together, and they increase their intelligence.  They also mix-and-match certain individuals to create different collectives.  Switch a few individual Buruden around, and suddenly you have a diplomat instead of an engineer.  

Buruden logic is based on a perception of fours.  That is, instead of “either-or” they think in terms of something being a truth, a likely truth, a potential truth, or not a truth.  It can lead to long conversations that often frustrate humans.

I have over 3600 words in my concordance about Mike Christopher, over 2100 words about the Sobrenians, and nearly 1600 words about the Buruden in my concordance.  Before I write a story about any of these characters or races, I “research” what I’ve already written about them.  Many times I come up with a more detailed story outline than I anticipated, or with plot elements I hadn’t considered.  To me, such a concordance isn’t just there to avoid continuity errors.  It’s there to let your imagination grow beyond what you’ve already established.  

One of the pitfalls of a series is that you can end up recycling already-established elements in your story.  My personal rule is that I have to discover something new about my characters and background anytime I reintroduce them.  You can’t let writing a series make you lazy, plus it’s more fun to find more depth within your work.  If you aren’t engaged and interested in your work, the reader certainly isn’t going to b

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About the Bundle:

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Welcome to the largest, grandest and most out there bundle SFWA has ever done: the Sci-Fi SFWA Space Bundle! With 17 books that range from hardcore military sci-fi to character-focused alien encounters, we might have gone through the wormhole and out the other side.

SFWA serves authors at all points in their careers and we’ve embraced that diversity for this bundle. First, the Self-Publishing Committee reached out to a number of sci-fi authors throughout the genre who we know have enthusiastic and diverse fanbases. Then we opened the bundle up for submissions to our entire membership. We received far more submissions than we could actually put in this bundle, but after some rousing debate, we settled on a total of 17 spectacular titles.

Some of the proceeds of the bundle go to support SFWA in its mission to support, promote, inform, defend, and advocate for professional fantasy and science fiction writers. For more about the organization, see sfwa.org. For its grants program, see http://www.sfwa.org/2017/09/call-grants-2017/ – Daniel Potter

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