So as I prep for release of Paint it Black, my first novel-length release in almost two years, there have been a ton of things running through my head.
Things like “oh crap, I’ve gotta get this play blocked!” “Oh crap, I’m late for work! Again!” and “Oh crap, I owe Alan a story for his steampunk superheroes anthology (coming this weekend, I promise!)”
Along the way there have been plenty of “Oh crap!” moments about the actual book I’m releasing as well, but somewhere along the way I had an epiphany that I wanted to talk about here. The books are changing as the series progresses. And I’m not sure that all of my fans will like that.
Let’s back up to some of my reading history, and all will (hopefully) make sense as we move forward. And someday I promise to do a blog post devoid of parentheticals. Today ain’t that day.
When I started reading The Dresden Files, I was instantly captivated. Here was a fresh voice – a snarky, witty, didn’t take himself too seriously, even kinda goofy narrator whose smart mouth frequently wrote checks that his ass couldn’t cash. Over the course of the series, to keep raising the stakes and keep the character in a constant state of turmoil and peril (like we do), Butcher had to make the situations darker and more lethal, and he had to make Harry more and more powerful just to survive. By the last couple of books before Ghost Story, Harry Dresden had grown into such a badass and so dark that many hints of the character I loved were gone. Butcher had to go so far as to kill the protagonist and bring him back to get him some sense of perspective and lighten the character a little.
No, I did not put a friggin’ spoiler alert in there. Cold Days came out in November of 2012, so almost 11 months ago. If you haven’t read the book by now, you’ll have forgotten anything I have to say about it.
So as I went through Paint it Black, I realized that there was a little power creep in my guys, too. And that the story had gotten darker. And it was all in service to the story, and the advancement of the plot, but I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen if I decided to keep the series going for a long time.
Because that’s kinda how it works. You have to keep the stakes high, either in the level of physical danger, or in the emotional cost to the characters. In Hard Day’s Knight, I messed up. I didn’t know I was starting a series, so I saved the world. Then, when I decided I liked the characters enough to go back for another book, I had to make it a very small book in scope, essentially a family drama with a supernatural framework. But when I revisited Back In Black for rewrites, I started laying the groundwork for the entire six-book arc and saw that to continue to keep abusing my readers in the fashion that they have become accustomed to, I was going to have to do some fairly nasty things to my characters. And I don’t really know how much of that the characters can take without fundamentally altering their makeup over time.
So how do I deal with this? Can I just hit the reset button like Butcher did? Not really, because it’s now been done. Can I find new an entertaining ways to torture a main character like Kim Harrison does? Maybe, but I’m not really that bright.
So I decided to end the series.
Not anytime soon, don’t worry. But I decided that to maintain some semblance of the characters that I love, the series eventually has to end. Because otherwise my goofy, snarky urban fantasy heroes will turn into just more dark, brooding anti-heroes like everybody else. And who wants that?
So what do y’all think? Can you have characters that go through spectacular trials, end up changed in every book, and still maintain the same qualities that made you love them in the first place? Can a series run indefinitely, or do all good things need to come to an end?
And I promise, just because I’ve figure out where The Black Knight Chronicles will end, it’s not happening anytime soon.