Trying to Make Sense of the Series Mentality

First, a message from your sponsor: Happy 2018 to everyone—let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of 2017 with political strife, natural disasters, and international gamesmanship. Can’t we just give peace a chance?

It’s been amazing to experience the process of creating a series of books with interlinked arcs. There is no one way to do it, just your way.

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I was reminded of this watching Babylon 5 for the third time through. For those unfamiliar with the 5-year syndicated SF show from the 90s, it was J. Michael Straczynski’s masterpiece of storytelling. It might have not had the special effects of The Expanse, or the taut drama of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or the off-beat characters of Firefly, but the story is remarkably—some would say uncannily—tight and complete from end to end.

When I first binged it at my brother’s recommendation, the point was to “find out what happens.” I think this is common to all series, whether visual or written; it’s only in subsequent viewings or readings that linkages and foreshadowing make sense. These connections enrich the story over time; I am re-reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen at present and the richness and complexity of the story comes forth in ways I completely missed first time through.

In my second binge of Babylon 5, I found a similar richness; how did the writer know that an action in season 1, episode 12, would be pivotal to a turning point in early season 4? The series is rife with these long-distance foreshadowings and connections. When I realized this, I could only shake my head at Straczynski’s genius.

Now, however, in the third binge, I’m not so sure it’s pure genius. Oh, certainly there is a great attention to story detail and major character growth—a hallmark of Bab 5 as opposed to the Trek canon, where Kirk and Picard will ALWAYS be the same Kirk and Picard. But in creating the linkages in The Fifth Circle—now conceptualized through 5 books—I think there’s something less magical going on. It’s called happy accidents. Was that turning point in season 4 deliberately foreshadowed in season 1, episode 12 or when Straczynski was writing season 4 did he said to himself, “Wow. I could use that thinga dinga I did in season 1 episode 12 to get through this tricky turning point.”?

Having said that, I have no doubt those who write series—movies, TV, or books—have an intent and a deep understanding of how their world plays out. But is it ALL deliberate? In my personal experience, no. And the more I look at series from that perspective, the more I see the combination of careful planning and serendipity at work. Every creator’s mileage will vary, but that balance, to me, is what makes the process so damn interesting!