Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Series or Parallel


Genre writers sometimes fall into two categories: those who beat a character to death and those who write what is essentially the same plot over and over.
Series or parallel from the negative ion perspective.
Perhaps infected by television, the public seems to embrace them.

Myself, I love to read series.
Andre Norton's "Witch World."
David Eddings' "The Belgariad" (five volumes) and "The Malloreon" (six volumes - but then he had his wife to help so he didn't lose his focus.)
Lackey, Modesitt, Moon.
Even Jordan and Goodkind - though Jordan should have stopped at # 6-8 and Goodkind definitely by #3.
Some writers do it both ways - a trilogy here and there with stand-alones in between.
All these examples are from fantasy, but the same applies to other genres. Mysteries especially lends themselves to series, and have a longer attention span.
Many creators of a good central characters don't seem to fade until sometime after about 30 or so adventures.
Sometimes the authors get weary of the pattern long before their readership does.
Trot out the classics such as Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolf, Perry Mason, but there are lots of others of endearing/enduring interest.
Romance doesn't lend itself quite so well to perpetuity, but then one thinks of "Angelique" and Galbadon.
Historical fiction does; to wit, Hugh Corbet, Brother Caedfel, among others - about 19 or 20 books each.
What electric current in a novel makes you hope and yearn for subsequent volumes?
Obviously, imaginative central character or characters, both major and minor, are a priority/ an absolute necessity.
Two, a situation which allows for expansion and extension without defying logic and expectation.
The character(s) at the onset must be put in the way of an open-ended environment or perpetual conflict. Detectives and police procedurals, spy thrillers and assorted mercenaries have this element built -in.
Landing the character in the middle of a war or a prophesy or an eternal quest ( a grail, - whether sacred or vengeful, or a lost city, or identity/homeland/parents) also works, if the writer draws it right.
Innovative interaction as a form of suspense is a third.
This may either be a slow-developing theme (will the kick-ass heroine get it together with the charming rogue in later volumes? - as in the Vicky Bliss series) or the pleasing/humorous repetition of minor plot elements - what will the idiot assistant/obnoxious boss/ irreverent side-kick do next to foul things up?
I would define this quality as of less of a "what next?" suspense and more of a "how?" technique. We expect the event to occur or re-occur, but we are curious as to how.
What else sends you salavating?

19 comments:

Tsavo Leone said...

For me it is simply a case of "I want to know how it ends."

If I'm told that a story will take three books/six films to tell in it's entirity (sp?) then I make a conscious choice as to whether I wish to commit to that kind of a long term relationship right at the start. There is nothing worse than finding out halfway through a series that the author was blowing smoke...

I tend to read specific authors rather than genres, and one or two of those authors have had me hanging on for a decade before finishing a story (Take a bow Mr King! And you, Barker, get back to writing the Third Book of The Art!). That being the case I find that I enjoy catching up with 'old friends' such as Harry D'Amour (Barker) and getting to revisit places I've come to know, such as Castle Rock (King).

Overall, I suppose I prefer the notion of an over-reaching arc to a series of 'monster of the week' sequels.

Dennie McDonald said...

I have to say I have writers ADD and this carries over to my reading. Pretty much I go through phases. I had read all the John Sandford books up until a point then I got burned out (I mean, how many times can he jilt a woman get her back, deal with the bad guy forget the girlfriend and lose her again)

And I hop genres to (though for obvious reason I stick to romance novels)

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm feeling real l-a-z-y today so, I'll just say, "Good morning Dear Gal!"

Bernita said...

So, you're not necessarily a "serial killer", Tsavo.
(Sorry, couldn't resist, everyone groan now.)

Much like me, I think, Dennie.

Bernita said...

~looking around for the pony whip~
Good morning, Dear Guy...

Gabriele C. said...

I tend to give up on series sooner or later. Eddings was the uppoer limit of what I can stand length-wise, it seems. I stopped Gabaldon halfway through book 4, Auel after book 3, never even started Jordan, and Goodkind ended against a wall with his first, I just can't stand his writing. Even hist fic like McCullogh can get dissed - her Rome series after book 4 though the reason was not the increasing serial repetition and overwriting à la Gabaldon (which isn't as bad in her books), but the fact that I can't stand the way she heroizes Julius Caesar.

Sleuth and 'mercernary' series can keep me longer (Hornblower even throught the whole of it); I have some 10 Cadfael books and a number of Sharpe, and just ordered Scarrow's 6th - but I'm not sure I'm going to read another 6, :-)

I haven't given up on GRR Martin yet, so he stands a chance to win the Longest Serial Keeper in fantasy.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm not really a series follower. I think it's because I'm anal retentive and once I start something I see it through to the end, whether I like it or not.

Case in point, I started reading the Left Behind series...who knew there'd be twelve books?? After reading the first three, I couldn't stand them any more...but did I quit?...Noooo, I tortured myself through twelve books!

Bernita said...

I like Hornblower, too, Gabriele. Haven't come across the Sharpe books, for some reason. I think I'm missing something too.
Martin is very rich.

I tend to finish a book, once I've begun, even if it feels like a penance. Don't think I could have managed your marathon though, Bonnie.

Carla said...

I pretty much always finish a book, even if only in the hope that it must get better sometime :-) Usually I find something to like. I tend to give up on series when they start getting so repetitive that I feel like I'm reading the same book over and over. Or if something annoys me - I'll finish the book but I'm not likely to go looking for another.

What attracts? Chiefly, if I get to the end of a book and wish it hadn't finished so soon, I'll hope there's a series and read the rest. It might be a character I like (not always the main one), or a convincing and interesting world or society, or a sense that there's more story to be told and it hasn't ended yet. Though I do like to be able to see that there will be a definite end sometime - open-ended sagas that tell the story of umpteen generations tend to put me off, because there's no obvious point at which the story will finish.

Bernita, if you want to try Sharpe (and if you like Hornblower you'll probably like Sharpe), I'd recommend starting with one from the first series (Eagle, Gold, Company, Sword, Enemy, Honour, Siege, Regiment, Revenge, Waterloo). I think these are considerably better than the ones written later, after the TV series made Sharpe a bestseller, which I find get a bit formulaic.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla.
Strong feelings I have been missing out here.

Carla said...

If you mean missing out on Sharpe, read one and see what you think. I personally find Hornblower a more attractive and interesting character than Sharpe, but you won't know til you read one. If nothing else, it's a masterclass in writing battle scenes.

Rick said...

Types of series seem to vary by genre, and in a pretty logical way. (We talked about some of this a little while back.)

Detective stories naturally lend themselves to an episodic style, without much overall arc - in comes a client, and we're off, with not much connection to the last one or the next one. Is Kinsey Milhone going to be much different at Z than she was at A? If there is an overall arc, it has to be a rather subdued one.

Quest stories, on the other hand, ought to eventually have closure (even if they sometimes go on endlessly). Sooner or later, doesn't the Widget of Power have to be found, the True King restored, and the Dark Power banished for an age or two?

Hornblower and his various successors are a sort of intermediate case, because the long arc naturally follows a naval career, from midshipman to his first command, then a frigate or three, and ultimately his admiral's flag.

I bought GRR Martin's A Game of Thrones, which ought to be a natural for me, but so far I haven't been able to get into it - the tone is just too bleak, and I wasn't warming up to anyone. Starks or Lannisters, who cares? Sort of like the real Wars of the Roses, in fact - Henry VII wasn't any better or worse than the rest, just successful enough to end the cycle.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hey, I just noticed...Bernita...you didn't give me any definitions to snicker at this morning!!!

Bernita said...

Yes, Bonnie, I'm sorry, I forgot.Tomorrow.

I have read a couple of R.R. Martin. While recognizing his undoubted genius, the richness of his mythology, I too find them too bleak and bitter. Too much betrayal. One invests in a character and then he maims or kills them off. And he shouldn't have killed off that dire wolf.

Shesawriter said...

I'm not too into series because I like a bit more meat to my books.

Tanya

Robyn said...

Loved Nero Wolfe, and I really liked both Sharpe and Hornblower.

Right now I'm positively addicted to J.D. Robb's In Death series. Probably because of the romance element- it is Nora Roberts, after all- but i like seeing her defiantly imperfect, tough as nails, kick-butt heroine grow by becoming more vulnerable. She doesn't lose any of her edge, or her cajones, but she grows. It's my new crack.

jason evans said...

I only like a series when there is an overall build towards a grande finale. Not really a fan of the over and over again variety, like Sherlock Holmes.

Bernita said...

Oho, Tanya, some are very "meaty."

Another one I'll have to find on that recommendation. Thank you, Robyn.

I think the "how" type work best for those series closer to real life, Jason, such as the more modern detective/set of homicide cops types.

Mark Pettus said...

What tsavo said. I started reading Jordan after he had already written New Spring - and I forgive him for not having finished yet. I waited my entire adult life for King to finish the Dark Tower. Never again.

Goodkind needs to learn how to kill his darlings. Two hundred page stories shouldn't be eight hundred pages long.

I can't help myself. Get me caught in a story arc, and I can't quit. Goodkind is still making money off me, and I've hated his writing from book 1.