I’m still working on Treasured, Book Three in the Loving Elizabeth Series. I hope to have it out in October. From time to time I’ll hear–or rather read–a comment about the story not being complete. This isn’t unique to me, of course; lots of writers of series get this comment.
Let’s do a bit of research about series. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
Fictional series typically share a common setting, story arc, set of characters or timeline. They are common in genre fiction, particularly crime fiction, adventure fiction, and science fiction, as well as in children’s literature.
Some works in a series can stand alone—they can be read in any order, as each book makes few, if any reference to past events, and the characters seldom, if ever, change. Many of these series books may be published in a numbered series. Examples of such series are works like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Nick Carter.
Some series do have their characters go through changes, and make references to past events. Typically such series are published in the order of their internal chronology, so that the next book published follows the previous book. How much these changes matter will vary from series to series (and reader to reader). For some, it may be minor—characters might get engaged, change jobs, etc., but it does not affect the main storyline. Examples of this type include Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn books. In other series, the changes are major and the books must be read in order to be fully enjoyed. Examples of this type include the Harry Potter series.
There are some book series that are not really proper series, but more of a single work so large that it must be published over two or more books. Examples of this type include The Lord of the Rings volumes or the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
Some authors make it difficult to list their books in a numerical order when they do not release each work in its ‘proper’ order by the story’s internal chronology. They might ‘jump’ back in time to early adventures of the characters, writing works that must be placed before or between previously published works. Thus, the books in a series are sometimes enumerated according to the internal chronology rather than in publication order, depending on the intended purpose for the list. Examples of this series include works from the Chronicles of Narnia, where the fifth book published, The Horse and His Boy, is actually set during the time of the first book, and the sixth book published, The Magician’s Nephew is actually set long before the first book. This was done intentionally by C. S. Lewis, a medieval literature scholar. Medieval literature did not always tell a story chronologically.
The post on this site sagas, serialized epics, and continuing adventures. The author writes SciFi/Fantasy, so things are filtered through that genre. In Romance, we usually find sagas as multi-generational family pieces. He describes serialized epics as:
These are the series where the next book in the series picks up right where the previous one left off. In essence, the author is writing one enormous book, releasing it in installments.
Mr. Sanderson lists The Lord of the Rings as an example. Finally, he says of continuing adventures:
This is the series where you get one central protagonist who has a complete story in each book. Then, when another book comes out, that character can go on another adventure. It differs from the saga in the fact that it goes chronologically and focuses on a single, central viewpoint character.
Sanderson adds that he finds this type of series very successful and the most popular outside of Scifi/Fantasy.
I’ve heard different names for this breakdown of series specifically for Romance. The Continuing Character Series is a series with one or two central protaganists and each story is a stand alone. Connected Character Series would be similar to the description of Saga above. The best friend or brother in Book 1 might be the protagonist of Book 2. Multivolume Series has one large conflict that extends throughout the series while each book will deal with a subplot and will finish the conflict central to that story.
I’ve heard different names for this breakdown of series specifically for Romance. The Continuing Character series is a series with one or two central protagonists, and each story is a stand alone. Connected Character series would be similar to the description of Saga above. The best friend or brother in Book 1 might be the protagonist of Book 2. Multivolume series has one massive conflict that extends throughout the series while each book will deal with a subplot and will finish the conflict central to that story.
Let’s consider my various series.
The Jane Austen Re-Imaginings series is entirely stand alones. Read them in any order. They do not build upon one another. This would be close to the Continuing Character series. Obviously, it is not the same Darcy and Elizabeth in each story, but it is as though the game board has been reset and the pieces are set up all over again.
The When Love Blooms series was supposed to be a Connected Character series. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married, and their storyline is complete. Book 2 then fills in the gaps of what the minor characters were going through before they each get their own book. It’s not sold well, and I think the issue is mixing up all the points of views in book 2, Renewed Hope. My new intention is to give the connected characters their own series while continuing to follow Darcy and Elizabeth in When Love Blooms. This will involve taking down the current book 2 (Renewed Hope) and possibly adding scenes from it into Extraordinary Devotion. Instead of following what happens to the Bennet family through the eyes of each sister, I will be keeping with Darcy and Elizabeth.
Pride and Prejudice and Bluestockings is multivolume. The first book was so long that if I had continued to follow all the storylines, it would be probably 1,000 pages long and years of writing. The primary conflict is completed at the end of Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride, but other issues remain. Additionally, Darcy and Elizabeth will be going on a new “adventure” in each book.
Loving Elizabeth is intended to be a Continuing Character series but within a self-contained universe. The conflict of Pledged is “can they fall in love despite their family’s disapproval?” Wickham and Lord Harcourt were up to no good. Sam and Mr. Darcy disapproved of Will and Elizabeth’s attachment. Reunited begins after they were separated for years. Wickham isn’t even mentioned for most of the book, Harcourt never is, Sam and Mr. Darcy are dead. Yes, Will and Elizabeth loved each other and wished to marry at the end of Pledged, and that never changed. Reunited poses a new question. Why were they separated? The answer is as much about their personal flaws as it is about stolen letters. Treasured‘s conflict will center on conquering all opposition. There are now even more people against Will and Elizabeth’s marriage and for different reasons. Wickham is a potential threat again. Will they give up on each other or will they fight and overcome together?
Additionally, each book in the Loving Elizabeth series uses a different romantic trope. Pledged combined the brother’s best friend and young lovers tropes. The conflict is centered around those problems. Reunited is a second chance story at its core. Treasured will be… well, that’s a secret for now! 😀
All this to say, each Loving Elizabeth story is a complete story. Should you read in order? It would be helpful. However, enough is said in Reunited and Treasured that you could read out of order.
But if they’re short and I’m releasing several of them, aren’t I just cutting up the story and publishing it in installments?
They are novellas. Length does not determine completion of a story. I have read a few very, very long stories that did not complete the conflict they introduced. I can think of one that despite this fact is a favorite of mine. The Lord of the Rings series is described as being released in installments in both sources above. They are some of the longest books out there. By the same token, even micro of flash fiction can give a complete story: conflict, climax, resolution. Most children’s books contain these elements but are only a few pages long.
Combining the three stories into one book would make for a poor reader experience as the would not be a sustained conflict that continues to build until the final quarter of the book. It might one day be available as an anthology, the way I offer others from time to time. That should not be confused with putting the story into one volume or releasing it as a “complete book.”
To address a less openly discussed criticism of the series: if I had written it as one novel, then it would be nearly 100,000 words or about 600 pages and would be $9.99. It’s actually cheaper to buy it as three novellas.
In conclusion, here’s my confession about incomplete stories being series. Pledged and Reunited at not part of a chopped up longer story. However, Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is. No one complains about it because it’s long. Chew on that for a bit.
Additionally, even that isn’t wrong, incorrect, unfair, or unusual. It may not be the standard in JAFF but there’s a wide, wide world of books out there. JAFF is a teeny, tiny niche compared within other genres. Most would place JAFF in Regency Romance (a subcategory of Historical Romance (a subcategory of Romance)) or in Regency Historical Fiction.
Adopting practices from other categories that might not be the norm in JAFF can keep the genre relevant and revitalized. It’s not enough to merely write JAFF as it’s always been done for the sake of always doing it that way. I don’t care if no one else has done a series this way or that way and therefore some readers think I’m doing it wrong. I’ve done my research. I know I’m doing something acceptable and crafting a story intentionally around it. If Regency Romance folks like that style, maybe they will give our JAFF a try. This is something to keep in mind regarding length and series before judging an author’s work.