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Gigi Will Know: When writing a series, is it OK if the first novel is more complex than the second?

And if I choose to write flash fiction set in the same world of the series, is it problematic to use these stories in my series?

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Dear Gigi, 

I’ve got two questions. 

1. I’m setting up what appears to be quite a complex novel that is the first in a series. I was wondering: in making it so complex, am I setting reader and editor expectations accordingly for the following books? Do they have to be as complex?

2. I am thinking of writing some pieces of flash fiction about the above-mentioned series. I don’t think I will include these smaller pieces in the series itself, but if any of them get published, would it be OK to use them in the series proper if I change my mind, or would they be regarded as previously published and therefore untouchable?


—A Little Confused and Wary


Dear Confused and Wary,

You don’t need to be either confused or wary just yet. You are wayyyyy ahead of yourself. Here, have a cookie and some hot, milky tea. 




All right, here we go. You say you are writing what appears to be a complex novel. You don’t say how far along you are in this work. I’m going to suggest that it feels like you’re at the first-draft stages, and here’s why: I think a lot of your complexity will fall out in the revision. You will begin to see that there is a certain amount of complexity that will work in any narrative work and that too much complexity will either not suit your personal style, or it will not work within the container of one book.

You’ve already started to see this because you say you know it is part of a series. Some of this complexity can probably be fanned out over a couple of books, so as to not dump all of the complexity on your reader all at once. For instance, if the complexity is stemming from a great many characters within a narrative work, you can introduce some of them on a cursory level in book one and then delve more into them in book two, where you introduce still more characters, whose arcs you can then resolve in book three. 

However, your question was about whether or not your follow-up books would have to be as complex. I’d say that complexity is part of a book’s voice, and so, yes – your ensuing books in the series will have to be as complex. They will have to read in the same voice. 


Your second question was about short stories stemming from the main work. No, you do not have to worry about them being unpublishable. They’d fall under the same rule as short stories being published in literary magazines before being gathered into a book of short stories that is later published. 

Still, don’t put your cart before your horse. Write for now. Remember that revision is a key part of any writing. And have another cookie.