Friday, October 26, 2012

Where the Series Ends

by Meredith Cole

The moment that a series usually comes to an end is usually not the moment that most people agree that it should end. Some series end far too soon, and readers wish there were more books so they could hang out with the characters far longer. But publishers are under increasing pressure to discard dead wood, and so if a series doesn't take off they stop buying books from the author. And in some cases we lose talented authors (like Hillerman) and have to mourn both the writer and their characters' demise.

What about a series that goes on too long? Will Grafton's series end with "z" or should it have ended long ago with "m"? Will Evanovich make it to 100 on her Stephanie Plum books? Will someone continue Robert Parker's many series until Spenser is in a nursing home?

I don't know. But I do know this: as long as publishing houses are paying money, people are buying the books, and Hollywood is knocking on the door, authors will continue to write a series. I could say that I'm too pure to be corrupted, but I can truthfully say that I have not yet been tested. (Note to publishers and Hollywood: I would be happy to have someone try to bribe me--so give it your best shot!). My series, like Chris', is still just two books long.  I just hope when I get to my xth book in my series, I know when to call it quits and move on.


But I'm not only a writer--I'm also a reader. And there is definitely a moment when I give up on a series and wish it would go away. Here are just a few reasons:
  • Every book in the series has become exactly the same. You pick up the book and the character hasn't changed, the story is almost identical and you know exactly what is going to happen. Clearly many readers find this comforting. I find it rather dull.
  • The same villain comes back again. And again. And again. Until you wonder if you've stepped into some alternative universe, and the story is no longer scary--just ridiculous.
  • The cast of characters has become so large and complicated that you need pages and pages of explanation to get you up to speed. And characters constantly refer to previous cases that happened in earlier books until your head is spinning.
  • The author is just phoning it in so they can collect a check. How do you know? See any of the above.
 





8 comments:

Barb Goffman said...

I relate to your thoughts about bad guys coming back again and again. Without naming names, there's a series out there - the first book was wonderful. I couldn't read it fast enough. Ran out to buy book two. Book two was fine, nearly good, but I didn't like the bad guy. (And not in a he-was-so-bad-he-was-good way. This bad guy was annoying.) So imagine my horror when he turned out to be the bad guy in book 3, too, and no matter what happened to him, he kept coming back for more. Apparently indestructible. I couldn't buy it, and I couldn't stand it. I didn't finish book 3 and that was the end of that series for me.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Meredith, I can think of several series I stopped reading because of exactly the reasons you mentioned. And let me add another: the main character never grows or changes.

Meredith Cole said...

Yup--I think we read the same series, Barb! Too unrealistic for words. And I was so disappointed, since I really liked the first couple of books...

Meredith Cole said...

The main character never growing or changing is a major pet peeve of mine, too, Sue Ann. Definitely adds to the repetitiveness!

Alan Orloff said...

I like your list of reasons--well put. I also think you're correct: Sometimes when money talks, quality walks. But, like you, I'm available to be bought. Rather cheaply, too!

Reece said...

Well put, Meredith. While, like most of us, I would love to write a long-running series, I hope I'd also know when to stop. I'm sure it's awfully hard to do when the books are still selling.

Susan Whitfield said...

Great post. When I started to write back in 2007, I was going for a short story that turned into a novel. LOL. So I went with it, never considering making it a series. Fate stepped in and when "the block" hit me hard, I decided to start another book and use the same protag in a different situation in another town in the state. I now have four published novels in the Logn Hunter Mystery series and while I've enjoyed her immensely, I'm writing the fifth and last one now. Why? Well, I've put her through some tough times both physically and emotionally and showcased different parts of North Carolina in the process. Logan has matured from a naive intern in Genesis Beach to a determined SBI agent in Sin Creek, dealing with gruesome scenes and too much death. It wears her down. At this point, she has just buried her husband and the next book begins with her finally coming out of the stupor nine months later.
She and I have both grown during this series but I found myself wanting to move on to an entirely new adventure even though some of the characters in this series would make good stories too. I took a break last year and wrote women's fiction, Slightly Cracked, which just debuted. I had a ball writing this book and realized that I want to write another non-series book.
Yes, in series we must move the character along with age, description changes, and all the rest. I'll miss Logan but I'm looking forward to new challenges. Ditto to the being bought cheaply;-)

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone! I'm glad to know I'm not alone in wishing for the problems that plague best selling mystery novelists with long running series...

Hope everyone stays safe and dry this weekend!