Opinions are divided about series, both at the novel and short story level. Readers love spending time with characters they already know and like, but some purists think they’re the death of the genre (in which case sf/f has been dead for a loooong time). One accusation that’s leveled at series, novel and story length both, is laziness. “Once the background is established and you’re familiar with it, that’s half the work. You’re doing paint-by-numbers after that.”
I’ve done three story series so far: The Laws of Power (incomplete), The Eli Mothersbaugh Cases (done, I think) and the Lord Yamada series (current). Let me fill you in on what is not at all atypical for working on a story in that series, and I’ll use the example of the third one, “A Touch of Hell.”(Realms of Fantasy, April 2007) My hero had to leave Kyoto for the region around Mount Oe, legendary home of ogres. At the start I knew just enough to get him where he needed to be and do what he needed to do. But before I could call the story done I had a pack of fact-checking to do. In addition to the books I already owned, I had to order the following reference books:
AS I CROSSED A BRIDGE OF DREAMS: A WOMAN’S RECOLLECTION OF 11th C. JAPAN
THE TALE OF THE HEIKE
GOSSAMER YEARS: THE DIARY OF A NOBLEWOMAN OF HEIAN JAPAN
THE CONFESSIONS OF LADY NIJO
THE DIARY OF LADY MURASAKI
THE TALE OF GENJI
THE PILLOW BOOK OF SEI SHONOGON
A HISTORY OF JAPAN TO 1335
And while we’re on the subject, did you notice the common thread in most of those above? Right. A large fraction of the first-hand accounts of life in Heian Japan that have come down to us were written by women. There are exceptions but not many, which is a fascinating subject all by itself. But be that as it may, I had to check the story against all these references to make reasonably sure that I haven’t violated known history of the period. And that history is, frankly, very well known.
While we may not know a huge amount of what life was like for “ordinary” people in 11th CE Japan, most of the upper classes of the time were educated and literate, and a significant number of contemporary sources exist. So. What was the name of the primary temple on the slopes of Mount Oe? Who was the abbot at the time this story takes place? I had to know, because it was a safe bet someone else did, and would be only too glad to point out what I got wrong. What about the Tamba Road? Have I got it in the right location? How heavily was it traveled and what sort of people would my hero and his companion have met along the way? What villages and border barriers existed in the region circa 1055? Was the name of the provincial governor known? Tons of fiddly bits to go through, and none of it trivial. The Yamada series may be set in a fantasy version of Heian Japan, but the only difference between his world and the actual one is that, in his version, all the ghosts and spirits and divine and demonic forces the Japanese of the time believed in were literally and very actively factual (I almost said “true” but that’s a different kettle of fish). The point being that I have to stick to the facts as known, or I’m cheating or worse, getting it wrong.
Okay, fine, I admit it–I love doing this sort of research. Maybe that’s why I do series now and then. But I’m here to tell you It sure ain’t because they’re so #$!@# easy.