Herbert West Series Science or Magic

How (Not) to Write a Series

The Herbert West Series began with an obsession-driven novel, The Friendship of Mortals. When that was finished, I didn’t want to say goodbye to the main character so wrote another really long book set in an entirely different location with different supporting characters. I decided that book was too long (230K words, as I recall), so chopped it in two, making an instant trilogy. But the story kept going in my mind, so I whisked the title character to yet another location and reunited him with two characters from the first book. Fine, except now it was no longer a trilogy. I thought “tetralogy” sounded lumpy and angular, and “quartet” was too musical, so I settled on “series.”

Except that suggests a procession of books with no intended conclusion, and my story has a definite conclusion at the end of the fourth book. True series have more uniformity: same genre, same point of view, similar challenges for the main character. Whereas mine started as a kind of horror story and evolved (some would say devolved) into a mere adventure with supernatural and symbolic overtones. And while the pov is always first person, there are 5 (or maybe 6) different narrators. Each one delivers their own experiences with the main character. His name changes at the end of the first book, but references to the previous name are frequent enough (I hope) that the series title isn’t confusing.

Then there’s the numbering. Books 2 and 3 of the series are also Volumes 1 and 2 of what was a single book (Islands of the Gulf) until the big chop.

Are you confused yet?

If not, consider also that the series has a two-book sequel of sorts (well, it will be two books once I publish the second one). And there’s a short story collection, half of which is “spin-off” stories from the series.

The about-to-be-published book (She Who Returns) will be the finale of this saga. Although it takes place half a century after the first book (The Friendship of Mortals), it revisits some of the places, characters, and situations of that book, as a kind of farewell gesture.

In retrospect, I should probably not have called the four books a “series.” Maybe something like “A Herbert West Book” applied to each one would have been enough. And I should have rigorously reduced the middle book and preserved the trilogy.

“Shoulda, woulda, coulda.” Too late now. The books–all 6 and soon to be 7–are what they are.

63 comments

  1. Speaking as one who grew up following the constantly-expanding and occasionally completely altered “Star Wars” lore, this is simple and straightforward by comparison. πŸ™‚ (Not to mention *much* better written and thought-out.)

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I wouldn’t worry about it, Audrey! It reminds me of my own books! The Termite Queen was a very long single book – too long to publish – so it turned into a “two-volume” novel, meaning it isn’t complete or satisfying until you read the second volume, something a lot of people never do. The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head is a sequel to TQ and was meant to be a trilogy, but turned into a series of six books plus a sequel – at least it’s finished! Then The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars was originally meant to be a single volume, but it kept growing and growing and is now at 8 volumes and not done yet (probably never will be). I don’t recommend that writers end up as prolix as I am, but whatever works (or doesn’t) – as long as it makes the writer happy, and a few readers, too, along the way.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It seems that our writings have developed in similar ways, Lorinda. As a cataloguer, I fretted about my use of the word “series,” but of course few readers would get that.
      And the fact that our series have attracted readers who have read and enjoyed them sweeps away such reservations.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m smiling while reading your post. You sound so much like me because I second-guess a lot of decisions. Oh well, it probably doesn’t matter what you call it. I’m sure the writing is excellent. Congratulations on taking it so far. It will probably seem odd to let go of your characters.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I faced a lot of these challenges, Audrey, especially with two tetralogies (what an awful world). Quartet is better, but not quite right. Quadrology? I’ve referred to them as series, but they aren’t really series, and I worry that a reader will assume they can be read out of order. Sigh. I feel your pain. Just keep writing. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I recently encountered the word “quaternity,” which is defined as “a union of a group or set of four.” I wish I had known it years ago.
      And I didn’t even mention reading order!
      Thanks for the encouragement, Diana!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Actually, I thought of that one. Maybe it’s because I’m always listening to classical or jazz music, both of which are full of quartets named after someone. Readers may have expected Herbert to be a musician. πŸ˜‰
          Of course his granddaughter is a cellist of sorts, though. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          1. lol – I suspect that most people haven’t got a clue about ‘quartet’ and may not even connect the word to the number 4. That said, Durrell is famous so there is a happy precedence. πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Contrarywise Audrey, it could be argued your books are record of a number of linked events. Life can be most disjointed during the passage of years and even lives, different themes coming to the fore, different folk taking centre stage.
    It could be argued your change in empathise illustrated Herbert West’s life at those different stages, and others taking up his torch.
    The overview sounds fine to me. Embrace and own it.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. They certainly are. Herbert West changes from the aloof, seemingly remote and driven fellow to one beset by issue. Charles is far more than an observer and accomplice, maturing through his own journey. And Alma, an independent determined person, making her own ever questioning way in the world, instead of being a romantic foil.
            Let the character’s loose on the world and see where they take you.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Thank you Audrey….
                Plots are fine (in their place), but give me characters and their quirks.
                PS I’ve nearly finished The Friendship of Mortals (Nothing wrong with the book…it’s me and my sloppy reading discipline)…..I am enjoying this part of the ‘Lovecraft’ universe Review to follow

                Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmm…how odd. I’ve always seen the Herbert West books as part of one long story in that they trace the life and gradual evolution of the main character, Herbert West. In a way, whoever may be telling the story, the story is still about /him/. In the two books of ‘She Who’, Herbert West is simply…back story. Or at least that’s how I see it.
    Perhaps you could rename the first four books as The World of Herbert West?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have it exactly right, Meeka–the series consists of the four books that feature Herbert/Francis through a number of decades. The “She Who” books are related to the series, but not part of it. I lumped them together in my mind, however, when I wrote that post.
      Changing the title of the series isn’t on because it would mean redoing the cover images, and I can’t do that myself because they were professionally designed. Either I would have to pay the designer for adjustments or start from scratch myself. Much as I enjoy playing around with images, that’s too big a project.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aaaaah. That’s a pity but I do understand. Maybe ten years down the track if you decide to refresh the series, maybe add the short stories to it or something, you could revamp the whole thing then.
        Btw I have read a lot of scifi that occurs within a distinct universe – I’m thinking of the Liaden universe here. The authors have something like 17 books that are loosely and something not so loosely related to each other.
        I’m also currently reading the /ninth/ book of a trilogy of trilogies that are essentially 3-book-episodes in one very long story. There is precedent. πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, definitely. Berthold mentioned all the Star Wars spinoff series. So my books are in good company, even with their idiosyncrasies. I think they can even be read out of order, except perhaps for the two volumes of Islands of the Gulf and the two “She” books (of which the second is imminent!)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, I think you wove enough backstory into each book to make them comprehensible as standalone stories but…I think Readers would miss a heck of a lot doing that. Like you, I was a bit obsessed with Herbert West so following his evolution from book to book was a joy. πŸ™‚

            Liked by 1 person

  7. The title of this post caught my eye because that’s how I think about my current Believing In Horses series. I set out to write one book and realized I still had more to say, but was up against word count. So, then came the second book. Years later, it dawned on me that I had to continue the now-series to close out the full story. I finished the third in the series, and am planning at least a fourth, and probably a fifth and final. Sometimes I wish I had planned it all out from the start, but mostly I’m glad it’s worked out the way it has. There are times we need to let our creative selves win over our logical selves and have some fun along the ride. Thank you for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like your series developed much like mine, sort of organically. I certainly had no intention at the beginning to write a series. It was more like “Let’s see if can write a novel,” and it grew from there.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Like

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