Friday, December 02, 2011

Series-A criticism

I am not sure what school of criticism this would fall under or if it will fall into one at all.  I am here today to criticize series.  I know, I have went after certain series on the site before.  *coughwheeloftime, coughsongoficeandfire.  In the past, I mostly criticized series for the amount of time between books and that is still a concern of mine, but there are other things that peeve me about series. 
Never-ending-  I won’t pick on wheel of time here, instead I will go after Sookie Stackhouse and her ilk.  The never-ending aspect can be good as you are always looking forward to the next book.  Put another way, there is always more to read.  In my opinion what ends up happening is character atrophy.  By book nine or ten, the characters have pretty much developed, they may have new adventures and/or learn new things, but they can get quite stale, especially second and third tier characters. 
One continuous story-  I am not wholly opposed to series, but recently it seems like series are just telling one big story instead of different stories with the same world and characters.  I will pick on song of ice and fire here.  The books don’t tell individual stories at all, the stopping points, although logical, are arbitrary.  In primary school we learn that structure of story and while playing with structure is sometimes fun, most stories follow the same structure.  They are introduction, build up, climax, and resolution.  In most series you get intro in the first book, build up with mini climaxes in every book, no real climax until you are thousands of pages in and then hopefully a resolution that isn’t a book in itself.  Stories have been told with that structure for thousands of years because it works.
Numbering-  I have had the misfortune of picking up books from a series without realizing that they are not the first book in said series.  These are almost impossible to follow.  Sometimes, trying to find out what books are in the series and which comes first is painful.  Also seeing book 13 in whatever various series makes me think I need to start at book 1 and then makes me think that I don’t have time or money to read 13 book.  Ignorance is bliss, so I walk away. 
Trilogies-  Did you know that Lord of the Rings wasn’t originally a trilogy.  You probably did.  Binding a single book that large wasn’t actually feasible so they had Tolkien split it into three volumes.  How many trilogies today are completed when they are split into three volumes.  I would guess that none are and while the system sometimes works, sometimes you get books that feel very different from each other, or maybe even worse, years between books.  Look at the Dark Tower series for an example of both these things. 
Self Published-  If you are self published and you are writing a series, I have less faith that said series will ever be completed.  I am sorry, but that is the truth of it and I have been burned by published authors who do nothing else but write for a living. 
In conclusion, series are not bad.  I picked on some very successful stories that had weaknesses in a certain area but tend to be strong in other areas and well regarded over all.  That said, not every good story has to be a series. If you create an amazing world and want to use it for more stories, go for it.  Just remember that your world is likely populated with millions of people and amazing things can happen to all of them.  You don’t have to wear out the same cast, don’t be afraid to spin off.  One last note:  If you can’t tell a reader how many books there are going to be in the series, you are just making it up as you go along and that doesn’t inspire confidence.  For a look at a well done series, look at J.K. Rowling.  They all have self contained stories with normal story structure, we all knew how many books there were going to be, It was easy to tell what book was first and seven, while a lot, doesn’t sound insurmountable.  While she didn’t do it all in one go, she didn’t write anything else in between.  She did it right and turned okay writing(it did improve) and a “chosen one” story into one of the most popular series of all times. 


SteveB said...

Good thoughts, Budd -- ones I definitely agree with. I have become very anti-series in the last several years -- mostly because of WoT and I&F. Martin still has a chance to save his series, and I'll read it when it's done because I think on the whole he's done a good job (better earlier than more recently though which IS worrisome).

I think the same thing applies to TV series. One of the best things that ever happened to LOST was when they set an end-date. Interviews with the show runners revealed that in seasons 2 & 3, they were "winging it" because it was open-ended. Once they decided on a finite story, they began to close it in.

The other thing about open-ended series is that you never really worry about the major characters' safety. Did you ever really worry about Mulder or Scully? Sookie? Of course not, they're cash cows and no ones willing to put them in real danger -- which really diminishes the story-telling ability.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I missed your post picking on Wheel of Time? Damn! Yeah, that is the never-ending series. I finally gave up reading it.
The pressure is on for me to make my books a trilogy, I have an idea for a third, but I never meant to write another book. Fortunately CassaStar and CassaFire are both stand alone books.
SteveB mentioned Lost. With TV series like that, I wait until they go off the air so I can get them all on NetFlix and watch from start to finish within a month or so. Makes my life easier!

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Thanks so much for the book. It's my first Kindle novel. What made you send it?

Budd said...

Steve-Lost is a great example of a turn around, in my opinion. No I never worried about mulder, scully, or sookie. Although anyone in the whedonverse was iffy.

Alex-I liked that Cassastar/fire are stand alone. Just don't forget to re introduce everyone in fire. The third book could be about voyaging out into space a la vernor vinge.

Cal-you had won the drawing for halloween. I had emailed you before but it probably went into your junk mail. Enjoy the story.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Damn, how did I miss that? So glad I didn't this time around. I appreciate having my own book to read on the Kindle I am buying my mother for Christmas. Thanks for opening a whole new world to me.

Max Silver said...

Definitely a great post :)

Ekko Johnny said...

Great post. I always enjoy your feedback on stories, but you always have something vital to say about the characters. Very cool.

I have always tried to apply advice to my work-if applicable. The first editor I worked with encouraged me to turn the work into a series. I did, but it scared the shit outta' me. Now working on book 3, I actually find it easier. I know the 'mates' and their personalities, and I find that I'm doing less research. Hardest part is making sure the reader (also) knows what the hell is going on, while keeping it adventurous.

I was also taught that each book should stand on its own. Tough call, as I'm looking to get six books out of my story.

Your post is a wake-up call to keep it alive. I'm definitely not a best selling author, but constant feedback from people like you is more help than you know.

Thank you for always keeping it real.

Budd said...

Ekko-glad that you got something out of it. It sounds like you are taking a good path with your series.