There’s a strange sort of lag time when you finish a work – there’s editing, covers and formatting, and then uploading it to stores and finally a launch. All throughout that time, which could be weeks (or months, depending on your process and amount of caffeine), the writer (using myself as an example) might be off on a whole new adventure. By the time a book hits shelves, they’re thousands of words into a new universe.
I’m going to argue here that this is a good thing. You’ll hear from some prolific authors that they don’t remember entire books they wrote, simply because they’ve produced so many by this point. You’ll see or hear about others that appear to write very similar books over and over – all of this is partly because when you move onto a new story, you have to forget, to some degree, the one that came before. Otherwise you run the risk of influencing your work beyond what the characters would normally do. Alter circumstances to force things just to be different, rather than earning a new state of affairs.
- A space opera in which a crew saves a ship carrying a data file essential for winning a war.
- A fantasy novel in which a band of rogues ambushes a caravan and winds up with a captive that carries a secret to overturning an oppressive king.
At their core, these two plot elements are close. Writing one after another, the author might decide to change their story so as not to seem too close to the former. However, I would argue that keeping the second, if it fits the characters and world and narrative, is the better choice. In other words, don’t make decisions based on what has occurred in another book, in another setting. Provided you’re true to your characters, the end result will be different and have its own flavor.
As such, when I start a new series – note that you’ll want to be careful about repeating plot elements in the same series, at least in books neighboring each other – I don’t spend much time asking if I’ve written something similar elsewhere. Not consciously, anyway. A big part of the fun in moving to a new world, a new setting with new characters, is that freedom. The lack of chains and callbacks to previous events that you have to remember.
Instead, treat each and every series as its own creation beholden to nothing but itself.
And, eventually, you can reread your older works and they’ll feel like new again.