Writing Alex Verus #6 has been an interesting learning experience. In particular, it’s gotten me thinking about variations within a series.
Normally, a series tends to model itself on the first volume – people pick up book one, and if they like it, they pick up the future books too, looking for more of the same. To a certain extent, that’s what I’ve been doing with Alex Verus – plot- and character-wise, there’s definitely a lot in common between the books, and it’s obviously meant as one continuous story, albeit an episodic one. The same characters crop up in each book (with some shuffling), and the structure of each story isn’t massively different (though a lot of that might just come down to my writing style).
That said, while I do think that ‘more of the same’ is a legitimate way to write a series, it’s not quite how I do things. I get bored quickly if I’m only doing the same thing over and over again. I don’t know how obvious it is to a reader, but up until now, while writing the Alex Verus novels, I’ve actually been doing a fairly significant amount of experimenting. With each book I’ve been mixing things up a little, changing the formula to see whether I like the results.
With Cursed, the changes in theme and style from Fated were relatively small, mostly in the form of upping the action scenes. With Taken, I went the other way. If you count them up, there are far fewer fights in Taken than in either of the previous two books, but they’re more protracted and more tied into the primary storyline. Instead Taken ended up having some elements of a murder mystery if anything, as well as introducing two new characters, Anne and Variam. (Anne and Vari are a good example of an experiment that worked. I had no idea when I was including them whether they’d stick around or not. As it turned out, they did.)
With Chosen I did something different. In books 1-3, Alex was typically drawn into the plot out of a desire to help someone else – someone was in trouble, and Alex would get involved trying to help them. For Chosen, I decided it would be fun to reverse things. Instead of Alex being the one helping others, he was the target, and everyone else became involved due to trying to help him. It was a nice change of pace, and let me explore the character relationships from a new angle.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that the current book is turning out to be quite different again. It’s much more focused on politics and on police work, which has been a new experience for me – for one thing, it’s meant that many of the conflicts are very long-distance affairs where Alex never sees the face of his real opponent. Which causes some issues – how do you keep conflicts interesting without that personal touch? Not an impossible problem, but it does force me to think, and do things differently. And there’s always the risk that readers won’t like the changes I make.
But all in all, I prefer it this way. Writing stories in a slightly different style is harder than writing them in the same style, but it’s more fun, at least in my opinion. Wonder what I’ll end up doing for book #7?