March of the Sequels – Dorian Hart

Welcome to March of the Sequels, Dorian.

First of all tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel. 

My series, The Heroes of Spira, is Hopeful Ensemble Epic Quest Fantasy. The books are not without their moments of peril, conflict, and sadness, but for the most part they’re the opposite of grimdark, with a core of decency, humor, and optimism.

They have a “classic fantasy” feel about them, and feature a group of unlikely heroes constantly out of their depth, peeling back layers of on onion-like plot and going on ever-more-unlikely adventures.

Among other things, the series includes: swords, wizards, talking gemstones, giant monsters, magical towers, dire prophecies, dream-warriors, evil math-priests, ghost-rats, a side-trip to hell, a dash of romance, a ring of mysterious obelisks, a snarky telepathic cat, an unflappable butler, gods literally playing roulette, a race of telekinetic giant ants, and a nine-foot-tall oracular toad. Probably there’s a dragon in there too somewhere. 

At the moment, there are three sequels, and the 5th and final book (technically the 4th sequel) should be out at the end of 2022. The first book is titled The Ventifact Colossus. The remaining books are The Crosser’s Maze, The Greatwood Portal, the Infinite Tower, and (coming soonish!) The Adversary’s Hand. Each book ups the stakes, thickens the plot, and drives the heroes over sometimes-rocky paths on their own personal journeys. 

Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? 

Most? Hard to say. Probably not, alas. Plenty, certainly, and I’m grateful to my readers, but I don’t think it’s over 50%.

Why do you think that is?

My best guesses, in order of how much I want to believe they’re true, are:

  1. I’m just a small-fry self-pubbed author with questionable marketing skills. I’ve been releasing regularly with about an 18-month gap between books. I think it’s likely that there are readers who picked up The Ventifact Colossus and enjoyed it, but had forgotten about the series by the time book 2 came out.
  2. It’s also possible that there are readers who are waiting until the series is finished before jumping back in.
  3. And, honestly, I’m sure there are readers who read the first book and decided my style wasn’t their cup of tea. There are so many great books out there, I don’t take it personally when readers decide to look elsewhere!

Is it easier to further develop characters you’ve already written in book one?

Keep in mind that for the rest of these questions, I have only the one personal data-point: a single series that I had planned out in its entirely from the start, including character arcs. As such, it’s hard for me to make clear comparative judgments!

In my case, I’d say it was slightly easier in subsequent books because I had both my outline AND  a growing body of fully written scenes to draw upon. Sometimes characters would wrench themselves out of my outline a bit, and I’d run with it and make adjustments, but mostly I found it both easier and more satisfying to dig deeper into characters for whom I’d already established a baseline. 

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships? 

The Heroes of Spira features a close-knit ensemble cast that (mostly) stays the same across the books.  The first time I added a new “family member” was about half way through the second book, and that was tricky. The new character—Certain Step—was more of a side-kick through books 2 and 3, but I made his arc a central focus in book 4. It was challenging, certainly, because the group dynamic without him had its momentum, its pairwise relationships, and he had to overcome his role as an outsider. Ultimately it was fantastically rewarding to write his story, but definitely a challenge.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world you have already built in book 1?

Since I had so much of the world-building planned out from the start, I found the opposite to be true. My experience of writing the sequels has largely been:  “Oooh, here’s where I get to reveal this cool part of the setting I’ve only hinted at before.” In that sense, continuing with world-building has been energizing and exciting for me, and not at all difficult.

Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with worldbuilding?

Here, the odd nature of my particular books makes this a tough question to answer.  All of my sequels take place both in the “original” setting, but also (to greater and lesser degrees) in entirely new settings. I don’t think I’d say location switching has been “easier,” but I’ve loved writing books in new places that I’ve been planning from the beginning.  Where Book 1 takes place entirely in a small fantasy kingdom, Book 2 is largely a traveling adventure across a large foreign land, ending with the exploration of a strange [SPOILER REDACTED]. Book 4 takes place almost entirely in an [EVEN BIGGER SPOILER REDACTED] which I tend to think as a huge and highly unconventional dungeon crawl.  And the final third of the final book sees our heroes questing in [GIANT SPOILER REDACTED SORRY]. 

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books? 

On the one hand, because I outlined most of the story from the beginning, I didn’t thwart myself nearly as often as I could have. But on the other hand – yeah, there were several times in books 4 and 5 where I cursed myself for having painted myself into a corner in books 1 and 2. In some sense, the final book is just a series of inevitable scenes bringing every plot and character arc to a satisfying (and often, I hope, surprising) close before the final page. Which was fun, but it did limit my ability to explore new ideas. I tell myself: “Well, there’s always the next series!”

Michael J. Sullivan, author of the excellent Riyria books, solves this problem by writing every book in a series before he publishes the first one, but I lacked the foresight, patience, and discipline for that!

Did you notice your craft improving from book 1 to subsequent books in a series, and if so, how?

Oh, goodness, yes! In fact, I’m in the process of re-releasing a revision of Book 1 with dozens of tiny improvements to my wordsmithing. Some examples: 

  • Fewer sentences starting with conjunctions. (Nothing wrong with it, but I did this to excess!)
  • Better attention paid to “repeats” —conspicuous words appearing twice on a page or even in one paragraph
  • Less writing in the past continuous tense, more writing in the simple past tense
  • Cut down on my profligate use of semicolons
  • Fixing those 2 or 3 $#@! typos that slipped past my proofreaders.

Writing is not so different from every other human pursuit in this regard: practice makes less imperfect!

Do you plan out the entire series at once or one book at a time?

I planned out and outlined the entirety of The Heroes of Spira before I started writing the first book. 

Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?

My weaselly answer to this is “both.” The Heroes of Spira is really one long story broken up into five volumes. I set up plenty of mysteries in early books that aren’t fully resolved until later ones, and if you want to know how the heroes deal with the Big Bad of the series, you’ll have to read all the way to the end.

Still, I’ve tried to make each book wrap up its own smaller arc by the last page, so it will feel to the reader as if they’ve had a complete experience.  Even books 3 and 4, whose endings are more cliffhanger-y, bring their internal stories to a close before their final “Dun dun DUN” moments. 

One of my earliest reviews for Book 1 included this, which sums up my guiding  philosophy while offering some evidence I succeeded: “…a solid fantasy tale, with a satisfying and self-contained ending, while also clearly being the entry point to greater saga whose next volume I eagerly await.”

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

Er…

I can tell you that wishful thinking and unfocused flailing aren’t great strategies. So, uh, maybe try something else? And tell me if it works?

I do have a small mailing list that lets me inform a hundred or so core readers that a new book has come out. I’m sure that’s helping, but it’s hard to say how much. Beyond that, I don’t know.

Inasmuch as this interview is part of a series, I can tell you I’ll be reading all the others in hopes of hearing a good answer to this question!

Thank you so much for taking part in March of the Sequels, Dorian, and good luck with your books.


About the Author

Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.

In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock. 

Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.

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One thought on “March of the Sequels – Dorian Hart

  1. Pingback: March of the Sequels Hub | Sue's Musings

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