Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Endless Journey

Captain William Drummond Stewart and Caravan in the Wind River Mountains,
Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874),
oil on canvas.

Recently, someone defined the first book of a series as one which contained minor unresolved plot points to be exploited in later books, or interesting secondary characters whose stories are subsequently told.

I find this a very limiting definition, though it is a pattern followed in many romances. The hero is endowed(!) with several equally attractive brothers, for example; or the heroine has a coiterie of friends, who, in subsequent stories, find their true lurve. The family saga may be one of this ilk.

Seems to me these stories are not so much a series, but a collection.

A true series recounts the adventures of a main character or set of characters, and each story in the set can be entirely stand-alone and complete.

True series linkage, in my opinion, is achieved by an occupation arc which logically allows involvement in interesting situations. No unresolved plot points or cliff hangers.

Perry Mason, Nero Wolf, Nick Carter (lawyer, private investigator and government agent)- to name some oldies and boldies - were the main characters in superior and popular series. We have series about forensic specialists (Temperance Brennan) and wandering free swords ( Jack Reacher.) Galactic travel or earthly exploration also provides the venue for series.

Any romantic entanglements are arranged in three types: as Penelopes, as stalwart companions, or, frequently, by serial girl friends. Sometimes these girl friends disappear or are killed off, serially, to clear the decks for the next one and make us feel all sad and fuzzy about the hero/ine's anguish (Angelique, which see.)

It may be a distinction without a difference, but I tend to view quest series (Wheel of Time, The Belgariad) as a different breed altogether, more as really, really long novels broken into convenient bits, in the old to be continued newspaper/magazine fashion.


December/Stacia said...

Your opinion sounds right to me. :-)

As your opinions usually do.

writtenwyrdd said...

I agree with you, too. And Quest series aren't like anything else. So long as the major problem presented in the current volume is adequately addressed, we understand the quest will continue.

I've been working, off and on, with a five to seven volume arc for an epic fantasy quest. These things are bloody complex. Thank goodness for relational databases to keep all the bits organized!

Gabriele C. said...

As reader, I read anything if it's good. As writer I prefer standalones, or very loosely connected books. The closest I come to a series is an onging feud-subplot spanning several generations in my Roman books.

What I hate is sledge hammer backstory. Like Ayla's problems with the Clan because she hunts with a sling. I. Got. It. Already.

Bernita said...

As yours do to me, December!

I can imagine, Written!Because the world itself is a complicated fascination.

Beyond a necessary - and brief - clue-in, Gabriele,I like backstory to imply as much as anything, hint at a mystery and make me want to read the other books to find out exactly what went on. Mercedes Lackey is good at this. So is Elizabeth Moon.Sometimes a simple, bald statement about a past event excites curiosity.

writtenwyrdd said...

What I think makes the epic fantasy series fascinating to me as a write IS the world building, bernita! I get to play with my world and figure out language, culture, religion, physiology of three intelligent species, cross tie it with the SF universe I've also been developing (really, it actually works). I love authors who play in their own verson of the universe and where all the books fit, somehow, into that milieu. More bang for your but that way, too. Now I just have to finish them...

writtenwyrdd said...

'more bang for your but'...that was a provacative typo, wasn't it? BUCK. She means BUCK. LOL.

Bernita said...

Hee, Written. "But(t) makes it a kick-ass story!
I was toying with the idea that the built-world was a form of story arc in some cases and fascinating to the reader. Like Witch World.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think that's valid, bernita. But mostly it's valid for me as a writer because I like it. I suppose that my lovign the place will hopefully create best-selling adoration in the hearts of readers? Heh.

Bernita said...

"my loving the place" - Passion surely trumps mechanical description, Written.

raine said...

Good, valid distinction.

Your post brought back memories of how we used to watch the old western series "Bonanza" as children. Whenever one of the three brothers fell in love/became engaged/brought a woman to the ranch to visit, we'd shake our heads sadly. "Dead woman walking," one of us would say.
We were invariably right, lol.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Raine.
You know, I never did decide which of the three brothers I liked best.

Jon M said...

I'm with Gabriele on the stand alone or loosely linked series meself!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Bonanza. Heh.

I guess I'm writing/have written a quest series. The books to me feel very distinctive, though. I can't say you'd turn the last page of the first one and expect the second one. There's an unwritten year between each book and that helps them feel more like stand- alones.

And yeah, as a writer, standalones are so much easier. Soooo many details to keep track of in almost 2500 pages...

Bernita said...

Series can be frustrating if the major plots,at least, are not resolved, Jon.

I am very fond of series, SS.

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