What makes a great series?
I just read an article by Elizabeth Spann Craig about keeping a series fresh while meeting your fan’s expectations. She was talking about mysteries, which as a genre often run long series, but it prompted me to think about what makes a great series in my genre of choice, fantasy.
In a mystery series, you start with the character, the mystery solver. In each book, the character investigates and solves a murder. This is why the genre works so well for series, because while the character can and should grow and change, the adversary is different in every book. Fantasies often lend themselves to trilogies because the main characters are struggling against one huge adversary. Often the story hinges on the hero coming of age.
The Belgariad by David Eddings is a great example of an epic fantasy series. Garion, the young reluctant hero, starts off as a little boy swept up into a global struggle of good against evil. He is surrounded by powerful people who effect change, and travels across the world.
Garion grows to become the hero, a powerful sorcerer, and a ruler.
Another way to keep a series going is to tell many different stories on one world. Terry Pratchett started
out by telling the story of Rincewind, a very (very!) reluctant hero of a wizard, but he has gone on to tell many character’s stories set on Discworld. Some stories run into multiple books, some stand alone. He has developed many characters and many adversaries in a complex, well developed world.
Jim Butcher’s Dreden series combines the mystery and fantasy genres to create a reluctant hero strugging against evil while also solving a problem brought to him. He has gone from solving simple cases involving one monster to dealing with world-shattering problems. In gaming terms, in each book he has leveled up to the point where he is now at epic level (20th level in classic D+D).
I would say that all great fantasy series have strongly developed characters and settings. They are consistent in tone. As characters gain power and experience, the level and
scope of their problems increase as well.
Some more of my favorite fantasy series:
- Lord of the Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien
- Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
- Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
- Graceling series by Kristin Cashore
- Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
- Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
- Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
- Sun Wolf series by Barbara Hambly
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
What’s your favorite fantasy series? What makes it great?