Menage A Many

Lately the publishing (and movie) world has been overtaken by what seems to be a plague of series.  It seems that I can’t go to the bookstore without finding the “tenth book of the claw of honor” series.  The Fifth book of the Immensely Overblown Epic Fantasy series.  And in theaters, well…

I’m glad I went to see Avengers.  I liked it.  I’m glad we decided to buy all the prequels.  But – mama, don’t let your daughters grow up to marry mathematicians – must we watch them all in order?  Even The Incredible Hulk.  (Okay, miles better than The Hulk, but can’t they tweak that story to give the poor critter a happy ending, or at least a semi-happy-ending?  And if they can’t, then why do the movie at all.  he’s okay as a secondary character, but… main?  The emotional arc is all wrong.)

Actually the Avengers is a good example of what I’m talking about with series.  I was a super-hero movie virgin when I went to see it.  At least, I hadn’t seen any since the Amazing Spider man what… eight? Years ago?

The closest thing I watched to a superhero movie before the avengers was The Incredibles.  Oh, and I haven’t read comics since Portugal in the sixties, except for Disney comics, which are different.  (Very, very different at times.)

But I walked into that theater and sat down, and GOT everything.  The story worked.  There was no need for my husband to lean over – as he’s done with other movie series – and whisper, “he and she had this thing.  That’s why she’s upset.”  No, there was full context right there on he screen for me to get the emotional and plot impact of everything.  Yes, even the Hulk, who IS a very powerful secondary character.  You get the feeling of a man watching himself ALL the time, and afraid of what’s within him.  That’s one of my favorite things to write, read and watch.  (For reasons I’ll figure out, should I ever be able to afford a psychiatrist.  Meanwhile, deal.)

Look, I love Dave Weber.  But I came to Honor Harrington late.  And I find I have to read the series in small increments because otherwise I tire out.  (This is true with all series, for me.)  The problem is that six months later, when I resume on book eight, I can’t remember the details that went before, and keep getting the feeling I’m missing something.  He’s not alone.  There are more series I’ve abandoned mid-read than those I’ve followed to the bitter end.  No, I can’t tell you why.  I just get to the point I feel I’m missing too much info to stay with it.  Heck, I have that problem with my own writing, too.  After a while I need a “bible” just to figure out if this character likes black or yellow.

Part of this is the story that follows one character throughout.  In the old days when you got out a book a year, tops, this meant that you were requiring readers to remember to buy that book.  Miss it, and, two years later, get it out of order, and the reader is screwed.  Or more likely, you are, as they toss the book aside and go in search of something else.  If you EVER get to the point people need a glossary, list of characters AND past history in the middle… you’re really screwed.

There is an escape from this – the episodic series.  What I call “bring your characters to their upright and locked position” series.  In the end of each book, we’re back to the beginning, sort of.  The world and the characters change but very slowly, and you can enjoy each book on its own without a reference on how things work in this world and what she did to him in the second book.

Most mystery series are like that, thereby skimming the best of the series – people come back for the group of characters and the feel for the world – but avoiding the worst: the necessity to know what happened in every other book, which becomes onerous as the series goes on.

I figured out early on that I can’t write series that aren’t mystery series.  Once I’ve solved the character’s main emotional arc, I’m done, and I want to go and play with someone else.  The Shakespeare trilogy suffers from this.  The exception, I’d say is the Shifters series, and that’s because in some ways it IS a mystery series.

So faced with the need to make Heart of Light into a trilogy (no, it wasn’t, long story) I thought I invented something completely new: I did the series by moving the “main” character to a new head every time.  This made the series flow better, for me.  I thought I was a genius… It took me years to figure out this is how romance series are done.  (Because you don’t want to undo the happy ever after, but you still want to stay with that group of characters.)

Of course, Pratchett does the same.  His characters are different every book, and he might come back to one, but it’s a whole new problem/relationship, yet in each book we get to see the same group of characters.  And you can start at any point.

So…  Darkship Thieves, now has a second book, Darkship Renegades.  This was semi-difficult since the series is not only one character, but it is restricted to Thena’s head.  I think I can keep it going – and keep it interesting – by treating it more like a mystery series.  Yet it is – in structure – closer to romance.  So, not having sketched the third one yet, I make no promises.  It might very well move to her kids’ heads.  (In fact, I know it will eventually.)  And I suspect the next one of the Darkships will be in the head of a character you have never seen before.  (Evil grin.)  There might be ONE MORE from Thena’s perspective.  You can go three books without a map and a guidebook.  After that… well… things get complex.

Meanwhile, and because I needed to do the revolution on Earth and couldn’t do it from Thena’s perspective – she’s moved on.  Her “home” is now Eden – I started the Earth Revolution series.  You get to see some old friends – all the broomers – but each book has a new main character whose problems (well, the main ones) get more or less resolved at the end of his or her book.  And who come back as secondary characters in other books.  This also allows me a wide-angle perspective that covers the entire Earth and dips into the places of trouble with a fresh perspective.

The first of these is A Few Good Men, coming out this spring, and your returning character is Nat from the broomers in DST – though he’s not the main or voice character.  (Though Fuse is also there. He didn’t die at the end of DST.  Thena just thought so.)  The next book either involves Jan Rainer or Simon.  (Not sure which, yet.)  I know by book four or five (Blood of Heroes) we’ll be well into the second generation.  Unfortunately that’s the missy who is VERY loud in my head right now.  No, you don’t want to know.

And meanwhile I have a whole future history sketched to around 3500 and space colonization, and I reserve the right to dip and swoop wherever I feel like.

I hope thus to harness the best of series.  You get to see all your old friends.  You’ll just never believe the twists life takes on them!

Tighten your seatbelts and trust me.  It’s gonna be a wild ride.

66 responses to “Menage A Many

  1. Okay, miles back than The Hulk, but can’t they tweak that story to give the poor critter a happy ending, or at least a semi-happy-ending? …

    Yes, even the Hulk, who IS a very powerful secondary character. You get the feeling of a man watching himself ALL the time, and afraid of what’s within him. That’s one of my favorite things to write, read and watch.

    You know I had already pondered that when a certain character changed he got this green aura and he became a great big monster … nevermind.

    In the world of action comics a character having their issues resolved and a happy ending is a death knell. The industry is built on series. The first issue of Hulk was first published fifty years ago. Thor appeared for the first time in Journey into Mystery the same year. These characters have long, and at times convoluted, histories. The most you can really expect is to resolve the item at hand, possibly setting up the next issue, in that way they are like a mysteries.

    Your husband, if he could explain the background of those characters, would have spent the entire movie and then some whispering in your ear. And if certain parties will forgive, I really can think of better things to have a significant other whispering for that long. (Though it might be shorter than an explanation on the trial of the Flash…just joking and don’t ask.) One of the real successes of these movies has been that the comic geek AND the not comic geek can appreciate them.

    • miles BETTER — must go and correct.

      Yeah, but if they had set up the problem OF THE MOVIE as, say, saving the girl from a fate worse than death and NOT his turning into the Hulk, the movie would have felt satisfying. Kind of like Ironman feels satisfying. (The first. Haven’t watched second yet.)

      • I think your interests as a writer and those of the reader are at cross purposes. The reason why the reader reads a Hulk story is to see the green angry dude. Oh, sure you get your jollies off him mastering some aspect of his character, but that’s not what the reader in this market wants. Like the ’70s TV show Kung Fu. Yeah, yeah, we know violence is not the answer. But we tuned in to watch the hippie looking guy kick butt.

        • Um… I wasn’t talking as a reader. I don’t READ Hulk. I was talking about the MOVIE which is a larger audience with a different POV. The Incredible Hulk grossed the least of all the movies in the series, which supports my point. Yeah, it’s fine not to solve his anger problem, but there should be another arc presented as “the movie problem” such as saving someone from a fate worse than death. instead, while there was a plot, the focus was on him changing and running (and in the movie it wasn’t so much smashing as RUNNING. Continuously.) it was, like the Rincewind books, a plot based on running away, and in the end the character can’t run away from himself.
          No, my interests aren’t at cross purposes with movie viewers. It has always been a puzzle to me why Hollywood, playing with budgets of MILLIONS (billions?) doesn’t bother having its writers learn PLOTTING which almost every prose writer knows and can analyze. Now I realize WE might not be as visual, etc, but at least as advisers we could greatly improve their movies, and we work for what is for them petty cash. Yeah, a few writers have been hired, but in hollywood fashion this usually means “young, cute, connected and politically correct” in some order. Not “midlister, can crank the books and has HAD to learn craft, so can spot the flaw.”

          • Regarding the “resolving the problem” issue, definitely, they need to have some issue to resolve. In the TV series, he was always running and/or trying to solve his problem and failing, but almost always there was a problem wherever he wound up that he would solve, either by using his head, or more often, hulking out and beating up the bad guys.

            On plotting, I think the writers have become a large echo chamber, who have given up trying to actually write good stories, and just fill their scripts with a Cafeteria-style luncheon of plot points, without trying to string together an actual plot. Though, I understand that Hollywood has become infected with a huge aversion to risk in the past 20 years or more, and no one wants to try doing anything new, so they keep recycling the same things they have made money on in the past.

            • Remember that in Hollywood the writers are not treated as important. In many cases they turn in a script and all the “important” people like the director, producer and studio contacts change the story without consulting the writer. The script might have had a plot., Passive Voice had an article a while back where the writers actually got invited to the premiere.

              • Zounds – writers are not important in Hollywood???? Actually the first black and whites were done w/o scripts. Screenwriters (no matter what they think) have never been important in Hollywood. TV screenwriters are a different story btw.

          • Umm … you are familiar with the Hollywood joke about the starlet so dumb that she thought she could advance her career by sleeping with the writer?

            Fact is Hollywood is full of people who think they know more about writing than actual writers, and each of them wields more power over the final product than does the writer. The producer and director may respect the writer’s work, offering only a few “minor” suggestions of things that would enhance the impact of a scene or enrich a character or be “really cool.” The star might want a more prominent role (Shatner) or more attractive motivation, secondary characters want to be leads, third-tier characters want to be second tier … Writing is one of those skills universally underappreciated by those who can’t do it.

            Hulk has had a long and varied story arc. The key innovation of Stan Lee at Marvel in the Sixties was to incorporate the memes of soap opera story-telling into the superhero genre. Thus character arcs would go unresolved interminably, each problem generating two new ones like Hydra’s heads. One way of handling this was exactly what you proposed: make the putative lead into a secondary character. This is most common in American television series such as The Fugitive where the lead acts as catalyst/aid to sequential tales — which is what the Hulk television series did and what Quantum Leap, The A Team and countless other series do. (Sometimes the lead is stationary and the tales come to them, as in Bonanza, Marcus Welby and others.)

            And of course the various memes can be mixed. Ben Cartwright can make a cattle-buying trip to Virginia City where he a) runs into an old friend in trouble b) is charmed by a winsome lady c) breaks up a lynch mob and has to determine the true culprit d) all of the above and then some. And a story arc in television can be developed over the course of a season, a la Buffy, with side stories focusing on secondary characters and digressions for Thanksgiving or a musicale.

            When you get to the Thor DVD be sure to watch all of the deleted scenes — it is the only film where Beloved Spouse and I agreed that EVERY one of those scenes would have improved the finished product. Then contemplate the problems of writing stories in a medium which so casually discards plot points.

          • It has always been a puzzle to me why Hollywood, playing with budgets of MILLIONS (billions?) doesn’t bother having its writers learn PLOTTING which almost every prose writer knows and can analyze.

            How many Hollywood writers do you know? Have you ever been near one who’s drunk enough that s/he abandons caution and rants about the dire state of the movie industry? (They have to be really, really drunk, because if the wrong person heard them give their honest opinion, well, the phrase “You’ll never work in this town again” was invented in Hollywood, after all.)

            Because from what I gather*, Hollywood is worse than the publishing industry in terms of irrational decisions. Films that should never see the light of day are greenlighted, while great screenplay ideas are canned. This happens for all kinds of reasons — except “is it a good story?”, which is almost never the reason. Maybe the producer doesn’t like the screenplay author’s political opinions. Maybe the director or one of the leading actors knows where too many of the bodies are buried, so the studio execs want to stay on his/her good side. And so on.

            * I do not work in Hollywood and do not personally know anyone who does, so all this is gleaned from second- and third-hand sources. Those sources are, however, remarkably consistent as a whole, so I think the picture I’m painting is reasonably accurate. Take it for what it’s worth.

            And since you’re probably thinking, “Worse? How can it possibly be WORSE than the publishing industry? Equally bad, yes… but “worse” just isn’t possible.” One simple thing. The publishing industry may have its faults, but at least sexual exploitation of children isn’t routine in the publishing industry the way it is in Hollywood. Note how Martin Weiss defended his actions by saying that “what they were doing was common practice in the entertainment industry.”

            More articles: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/08/business/la-fi-ct-hollywood-molesters-20120109

            http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/18/entertainment/la-et-molest-survivors-20120418

            You know, there are times when I really, really want to believe in the existence of hell.

            Also, if you’ve heard about the case in Texas recently where a father found a man sexually assaulting his four-year-old child, and beat the assaulter to death with his bare hands? Let’s just say that if that father were tried for murder and I were to be selected for the jury, there’d be at least one juror who persisted in voting “Innocent” no matter how the other jurors argued about it.

            • A little informed Googling will give an idea of how badly Hollywood treats writers. Here are summaries of a few efforts at relaunching Superman:

              Superman Reborn

              “In any good Superman movie, the fate of the whole planet should be at stake. You’ve got to have villains whose powers and abilities demand that Superman (and only Superman) can be the one who stops them. That’s the only way to make the movie exciting and a dramatic challenge.”
              —Writer Jonathan Lemkin on writing Superman Reborn[8]

              With the success of “The Death of Superman” comic book storyline, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights of Superman from the Salkinds in early 1993, handing the project to producer Jon Peters. The studio did not want to use Superman: The New Movie, and Peters hired Jonathan Lemkin to write a new script. Warner Bros. instructed Lemkin to write the new Superman film for mainstream audiences, a style for the MTV Generation of the 1990s. The additional family film approach would add to Superman’s toyetic appeal, similar to Batman Forever. Major toy companies insisted on seeing Lemkin’s screenplay before the deadline of the American International Toy Fair.[8]

              Lemkin’s script, titled Superman Reborn, featured Lois Lane and Clark Kent with relationship troubles, and Superman’s battle with Doomsday. When Superman professes his love to Lois, his life force jumps between them, just as he dies, giving Lois a virgin birth. Their child, who grows 21-years-old in three weeks, becomes the resurrected Superman, and saves the world. Warner Bros. did not like the script because of the similar underlying themes with Bruce Wayne’s obligations of heroism found in Batman Forever.[9]

              Peters hired Gregory Poirier to rewrite the script.[8] Poirer’s December 1995 script had Brainiac creating Doomsday, infused with “Kryptonite blood”. Superman has romance problems with Lois Lane, and visits a psychiatrist before he is killed by Doomsday. An alien named Cadmus, a victim of Brainiac, steals his corpse. Superman is resurrected and teams with Cadmus to defeat Brainiac. Powerless, Superman wears a robotic suit that mimics his old powers until he can learn to use his powers again on his own, which, according to the script, are a mental discipline called “Phin-yar”, a concept similar to The Force. Other villains included Parasite and Silver Banshee.[7] Poirier’s script impressed Warner Bros.,[9] but Kevin Smith was hired to rewrite.[10] Smith thought Poirier’s script did not respect the Superman comic book properly.[8]
              Superman Lives

              Kevin Smith pitched Peters his story outline in August 1996, and was allowed to write the screenplay under three conditions. Peters wanted Superman to wear an all-black suit,[8] and also did not want Superman to fly,[8] arguing that Superman would “look like an overgrown Boy Scout.”[7] Smith wrote Superman flying as “a red-and-blue blur in flight, creating a sonic boom every time he flew.”[11] Peters also wanted Superman to fight a giant spider for the climactic showdown. Smith accepted the terms, realizing that he was being hired to execute a pre-ordained idea.[8] Peters and Warner Bros. also had Smith write a scene involving Brainiac fighting polar bears at the Fortress of Solitude, and Peters wanted Brainiac to give Lex Luthor a space dog, stating “Chewie’s cuddly, man. You could make a toy out of him, so you’ve got to give me a dog.”[10] Peters’ additional Star Wars similarities were due to the recent re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy, such as Peters’ insistence that Brainiac’s robot assistant L-Ron was to be voiced by Dwight Ewell, calling the character, “a gay R2-D2 with attitude.”[10] Peters was able to recycle his giant spider idea in Wild Wild West, a film he produced.[8]

              Smith’s draft (titled Superman Lives) had Brainiac sending Doomsday to kill Superman, as well as blocking out the sun to make Superman powerless, as Superman is fueled by sunlight. Brainiac teams with Lex Luthor, but Superman is resurrected by a Kryptonian robot, The Eradicator. Brainiac wishes to possess The Eradicator and its technology. Powerless, the resurrected Superman is sheathed in armor formed from The Eradicator itself until his powers return, courtesy of sunbeams, and defeats Brainiac.[11] Smith’s casting choices included Ben Affleck as Clark Kent / Superman, Linda Fiorentino as Lois Lane, Jack Nicholson as Lex Luthor, Famke Janssen as Mercy, John Mahoney as Perry White, David Hyde Pierce as The Eradicator, Jason Lee as Brainiac and Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olsen.[12]

              Robert Rodriguez was offered the chance to direct, but turned down the offer due to his commitment on The Faculty, despite liking Smith’s script.[8] Smith originally suggested Tim Burton to direct his script,[10] and Burton signed on with a pay or play contract of $5 million. Warner Bros. fast tracked production and set the theatrical release date in the summer of 1998, the 60th anniversary of the character’s debut in Action Comics.[9] Nicolas Cage, a comic book fan, signed on as Superman with a $20 million pay or play contract, believing he could “re-conceive the character.”[8] Peters felt Cage could “convince audiences he [Superman] came from outer space.”[13] Burton explained Cage’s casting would be “the first time you would believe that nobody could recognize Clark Kent as Superman, he [Cage] could physically change his persona.”[14] Kevin Spacey was approached for the role of Lex Luthor,[14] while Tim Allen claimed he was in talks for Brainiac,[15] a role heavily considered for Jim Carrey.[10] Courteney Cox was reported as a casting possibility for Lois Lane, while Smith confirmed Chris Rock was set for Jimmy Olsen.[15] Michael Keaton confirmed his involvement, but when asked if he would be reprising his role as Batman from Burton’s Batman films, he would only reply, “Not exactly.”[16] Industrial Light & Magic was set for work on special effects.[8]
              [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_in_film#Other_proposals ]

              • The sad thing is that, when Hollywood started, a lot of the impresarios involved were big believers in the principle that a good story was how you made money. Every time Hollywood forgets that, they lose money.

            • For another example of Hollweirdness, keep in mind that the story of Beverly Hills Cop was radically changed when Sylvester Stallone dropped out, to be replaced by Eddie Murphy.

              Writers in Hollywood read your publishing horror stories and sigh: “If only!!!”

            • Melvyn Barker

              Sexual abuse of children is much more prevalent than anyone is prepared to admit. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9327534/Child-abuse-taking-place-in-every-town-village-and-hamlet-in-England.html

              Unfortunately “normal” people find it so distasteful they don’t want to talk about it or believe it is happening even when children try and tell them.

              • Unfortunately “normal” people find it so distasteful they don’t want to talk about it or believe it is happening even when children try and tell them.

                If you hear a child talking about experiencing any kind of sexual contact, LISTEN and investigate! Sexual abuse is something a normal child wouldn’t be able to invent convincingly (it’s so far out of the “normal” experience of childhood that 99% of kids wouldn’t be able to make the details of their story coherent, unless they’re a very precocious reader). Which means that if a kid is talking about sexual abuse, one of two things is happening:

                1) He/she is telling the truth, or

                2) Someone has coached him/her into believing a false story, probably with the intent of ruining someone’s life with a child-abuse accusation (always hard to disprove).

                In either scenario, somebody needs to do hard time.

                Hopefully most people know this already, but it always bears repeating.

                P.S. Some might be wondering if I know about this from personal experience. Not personal experience, no. I’ve never suffered any kind of abuse — but I do know at least two people who suffered sexual abuse as children (in both case from a close relative) and were willing to talk about it as adults. Given how often it happens, I probably know a lot more who suffered abuse but have never talked about it.

  2. Series are a tricky thing to get right, if you aren’t careful episodic series books all start to sound the same; and eventually if to many books sounds the same in a series it will send me screaming into the night. Even though there is nothing wrong with any individual book. On the other hand I have a wonderful habit of just picking up books that sound good, so I hate books that don’t stand alone. David Weber was very good at this in the earlier HH books, pick up Field of Dishonor, or Honor of the Queen, and they were just as good book whether you had ever read On Basilisk Station or not. His newest ones not so much, (but of course he already has me hooked ;)) he has branched out so much that that is much harder to do, and he has started ending books on cliffhangers to avoid giving away the parallel book that will be published in six months.

    Yeah, the series is getting a little big to go back and reread everytime the next book comes out, which is what I tend to do with trilogies and such. I hadn’t read them all in a couple years though, so when the last one came out I did go back and read them all, which gave me lot more enjoyment, but is not something I want to do with the next release again.

    Now what you are talking of doing with DST is probably my favorite kind of series, the characters stay fresh, because they are only the main characters through a couple of books and then the perspective changes. Books tend to stand alone much better in that type of series, because the main characters each have a different perspective.

    • I abominate the kind of series where you simply have to read all of the books and in the right order to know what’s going on. Even though my own constitute a kind of a series – being mostly about an extended family over fifty years, I’ve made them all stand-alone and individual. You can pick up any one of them and plunge right in.

  3. One way I look at it is character arc versus world arc. I think that is one of the reasons M. Lackey’s Valdemar/Velgarth books work so well as a set is that everyone has the same rules (magic, feudal systems, deities) and geography, even though they are scattered through time and PoV. You can drop in with Tarma and Kethry (three books), the initial Mage Wars (two and a half books, three PoV), the various Herald books, and chronology is not that important. Different characters develop and come and go, all in the same world, so if the reader (or I suspect writer as well) gets tired of someone, there are a lot of others to investigate. And if you’ve been following for a while, you get the world arc, from before the Mage Wars to the fall-out (literally in some cases) of the Mage Wars a thousand and some years later.

    That and all the technical homework behind the scenes. Larry Dixon’s essay about the mechanics of the magic used to run the geothermal and defensive systems of the Vales is well worth reading as a world building study.

  4. ppaulshoward

    If Banner’s problem is solved, there’s no more Hulk. Hulk won’t like that. Hulk will smash! [Wink]

  5. i like series – I like when one book goes into another book which is probably why I stayed with Robert Jordan so long. Ugh – that series needed to end and he died before it ended.

    So I am planning a series – My first book came out this year. I will confine it to three though and then go for another character.

    • Sorry for the little “i” … I am not too comfortable with this keyboard. It doesn’t do well with the shift key. I have to hit it hard.

      • You’re forgiven for the little i. Once, mind :-P My keyboard at the office — where I’m headed now — is adding a g to every f. It needs to be cleaned.

        • Give me a couple of months and I will have killed this keyboard (came with the new computer) and then I can get a more comfortable keyboard lol. I used to type on a manual typewriter.

          • you might like a good old fashion buckling spring keyboard like the classic IBM Model M. A company in the US South East bought the tooling and pattents when IBM stopped production and has kept on making them. http://www.pckeyboard.com/

            I keep pondering getting one of them myself…

  6. In a romance the story arc is the (main) characters’ arc, so completion of one is completion of both. In a mystery the (main) characters’ arc is entirely separate from the story arc and may not even exist (or exist only as a condition of the story: Holmes endangered by the villain in Des Hund von der Baskervilles is wholly different from his Reichenbach Falls.) In the mystery part of the pleasure is the return to status quo ante the restoration of order, Nero and Archie back to updating their germination records, Poirot & Hastings back at their digs, Travis and Meyer once more afloat.

    Which is why John D. MacDonald likened his tales to folk dancing: everyone knows the tune and the basic steps, all the author does is add a few new variant verses. There are ways to extend a series, such as “chaining” characters: Tarzan’s son, Korak, or Baum’s Tik-Tok, or even Anthony’s Xanthians. You can develop characters across a series, as Rowling did (although I could argue the seven books are just one very very long novel. You can pose new problems consequent upon the solutions in earlier tales, as Turtledove did in his Videssos series. You can mark time by wheeling endlessly …

    Every genre has its characteristic arcs, and authors who blend genres should respect the memes they are handling — which is not to require they handle them with respect: sometimes those memes want to be upended and inverted.

  7. I won’t read novels that aren’t episodic. I don’t mind an over-arching long term series plot, like the Harry’s Potter and Dresden, but I want a satisfying ending to that novel. That’s what I consider a series to be. And yes, I think, with a good series, anyone should be able to pick up any book and figure out what’s going on.

    I’ve stopped reading, or refused to read, any number of series because I got to the last page, and found, not an ending, but a “to be continued.” Sorry, no. I suffered that one time, with Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series, and I’ll never do it again. (And he ended his with cliffhangers. When he did the second series, I bought the books but didn’t read them (still haven’t, sadly). He was at a local bookstore signing the third one, and I told him I was buying them but no reading, because I’d suffered through his cliffhangers. He grinned evilly at me and said this book was originally going to have a double cliffhanger, but his publisher made him take one of them out because it was just too mean.)

    (That being said, I’m buying two “series” from authors I like, and just not reading until I know the darn thing is finished. So, one day, I will have read Patrick Rothfuss.)

    As for the problem of a new emotional arc, in a mystery series, as RES says above, the main character doesn’t have to have one, though it’s nice to see characters progress in their own lives. But the arc is external, it’s the world around that changes. The main character might be the only stable thing in the story, an anchor for the reader.

    But it’s also fun to explore other characters in more detail as well. ^_^

    • Patrick Rothfuss – if you are out there I have waited long enough for the third in the series – It is a really good book, but I don’t want you to go the way of Robert Jordan…. warning Will Robinson

    • I truly believe George Martin is no longer even trying to tell his Song of Ice and Fire in novels but has simply taken to wrapping his chapters after a set word count.

      • No longer? That would imply he ever was trying to sell the instalments as novels. I’ve never seen any evidence that he did.

        • The first one or two built to a sort of climax before they stopped. The last one felt like he just clocked out.

          • The fact that the last one was arbitrarily subdivided into two volumes probably has a lot to do with it. YMMV, of course, but I never felt that the endings of the first three books really resolved anything at all. They struck me as just more emphatic versions of the cliffhangers he likes to use at the ends of chapters.

    • I’m waiting on the next Green Rider novel to come out before I read the most recent one, for that exact reason. I’m not up to an utter cliffhanger and a two or three year wait. Someone did that last year and I’m still grumbling at him. “I don’t want a realistic ending, you evil brute, I want a happy ending! Stop that! Don’t make me wait three years for a resolution.” Grrrr.

      • I really liked Linda Evans, but she seems virtually incapable of actually ending a story, most of her books seem like the end of a chapter, not the end of the book. I quit buying her books for that reason (of course I already owned almost everything she wrote, but I’m not looking for anything new unless I know it will have an ending).

  8. Melvyn Barker

    “I know by book four or five (Blood of Heroes) we’ll be well into the second generation.” So stop talking about them and get them written please. We want to read them now!!! I’m not getting any younger.

    • I’m working on Noah’s Boy. Then there’s The Shakespeare Gambit, with Eric Flint, so overdue that it was my first contracted Baen book — by Jim Baen who paid me the whole thing in advance. And therefore I feel I must fulfill those duties before I go play in the future, okay? By this Fall, G-d willing and health behaving.

      • Is The Shakespeare Gambit a 1632 series book?

        • ppaulshoward

          Thomas, IIRC _The Shakespeare Gambit_ is *related* to the 1632 series but isn’t part of the 1632 series. The idea was that the Assiti (who caused the accident that sent Grantville into the past) were trying to prevent their own distruction by “meddling” in Earth’s past. One of the times that they’re meddling in is Shakespeare’s time.

          • That’s how it started, but we couldn’t fit it into the time line, so shortly after Jim died, we talked to Toni about making it the first of a new series — It having occurred to us that time travel just lends itself to a certain type of warfare in a multi-universe.

        • No. It started out that way, but it doesn’t fit there, and we have these ideas… It’s the first in a Time War (or actually Time Terrorists) series. IF it works, there will be more.

  9. I wrote a sequel to one of my books. It’s harder in many ways than writing from scratch. I do plan to build upon the worlds I’ve created in several of my books for other books set in the same ‘universe’, but not necessarily sequels to previous books.

    Some series work, others don’t. I like some, and I don’t like others. With me, it’s just a matter of taste, I’m sure.

  10. Is anyone else having a problem with WordPress? I keep getting this message “Whoops! That didn’t go well”, and a search page. Reloading the page does the trick, but I do get annoyed with that message 27 times a day…

  11. Melvyn Barker

    In news from the European Football championships Portugal have given themselves a lifeline by scoring a late goal to beat Denmark 3-2. So they still have a chance of possibly qualifying for the next round. The “bum” this time round will probably be Cristiano Ronaldo (who plays for Real Madrid these days). He had four or five chances to score but missed every one.

  12. I’ve done some thinking about series fiction, especially after watching a bunch of old television and comparing it with modern TV. Old shows were nearly all standalone episodes, and were typically constructed around a guest star. A stranger comes to Dodge and . . . , or the Enterprise encounters a man who . . . , or the IMF must help a woman who . . . , or whatever.
    Modern TV series tend to follow the soap opera model, with an ongoing plotline. For some, each episode is just another piece of the continuing narrative; others use the metaplot as a “b-plot” while the main story of each episode is a quasi-standalone.
    Comic books followed the same pattern in the transition between the Golden and Silver age stories and the modern era. Chris Claremont on X-Men in particular got very adept at keeping a continuing plot going even while hitting the heroes with a villain of the month.
    Now it seems books are going along the same path. The Harry Potter series is probably the best example of a series which turned from self-contained novels to chunks of a metaplot. (The transition seems to have come around Order of the Phoenix — books 5 through 7 are essentially one huge novel.)
    I wonder if there’s any merit in deliberately trying for a more “monster of the week” approach in novels again, since one can’t depend on readers being able to find earlier books in any given series.

    • I wonder if there’s any merit in deliberately trying for a more “monster of the week” approach in novels again, since one can’t depend on readers being able to find earlier books in any given series.

      There is certainly merit in not depending on the sort of short-sighted publisher who will let the earlier books go out of print while continuing to publish the later ones. In practice, at present, that usually means self-publishing. One more reason why so many traditional publishers need to wake up and smell the coffin.

  13. Frankly, it isn’t the over-long series which annoys me — it’s the comic-book regularly-scheduled reboot, which leads to 3-4 different continuities, which leads to crossovers, which….

    I’m waiting for the day Weber decides to “reboot” Honor Harrington.

    • You know, Chris? I’ve THOUGHT of this.

    • Melvyn Barker

      Heaven forbid. Its bad enough keeping up with all the characters in the main series and the spin offs as is.

    • I confess to having never read comic books. So, are you saying Weber should start over with Honor Harrington as a midshipwoman again, and write a whole ‘nuther series?

      • I get the feeling that CF is saying Weber SHOULDN’T do that, but probably will.

        Really, the ‘reboot’ only makes sense when you are dealing with a truly open-ended serial format, with multiple writers (and artists) chipping in. Eventually you reach the point where Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth, and the whole thing becomes so unwieldy that the committee can’t find any plausible way to continue it. Since ending it would be out of the question, they just go back to the beginning and ignore all the complications they have built up for themselves.

        None of that applies to a series by a single author with a particular ending in mind. I don’t know what Weber plans for the ending of the Honor Harrington series, but I’m fairly sure he does not simply intend that she shall go on living and having adventures for ever.

        • ppaulshoward

          DW *had* planned for Honor to die victorious in the last battle with Haven. [Wink]

          Her children were to take part in the Alignment war.

          Of course, by the end of the Alignment war, Honor may be too high of rank to “die in battle”. [Grin]

        • A point of information: the series reboot was not originally the {shudder} ploy it has now become. AFAIK, the first attempt at such a reboot occurred in 1986 when DC Comics hired writer/artist/legend John Byrne to address certain salient facts about Superman. When the character debuted in 1938 there was very little concern over continuity; the Powers-That-Be had no pretensions about what was a disposable popular medium and figured anybody who read them for more than a half-dozen years was probably brain-damaged and their complaints should be ignored. Each comic was viewed as a one-time sale and any effort at continuity was only the minimal needed to explain the return of a villain supposedly killed two years ago.

          Twenty-five years later Marvel’s Stan Lee had the great idea of adapting soap opera continuity to their comics and thus fans became conditioned to respect continuity. Lee further encouraged this trend by awarding “No-Prizes” to readers who could spot and resolve continuity errors, thus stimulating fan involvement and expectations. Sales increased and DC started making efforts at continuity in order to keep up.

          But as Superman approached Fifty it was becoming all too clear that the diverse hands writing and drawing the comic had had their effect. Green Kryptonite, Red Kryptonite, Gold, White and Puce Kryptonite littered the books, Lex Luthor had gone through more persona changes than Madonna and the years of extending the brand — Superman, Superboy, Superbaby, Supergirl, the 3D pair Superman Blue & Superman Red, Imaginary Tales of Superman, Untold Tales of Krypton, periodic retelling of the origin story (each time allowing an artist or writer to add their own touches, several movies (of diminishing quality), a TV series, radio series, movie serials all added up to a horrible melange. Included in that mess was the fact that Superman’s powers had grown over the years, from being little more than an invulnerable strong man (based on Philip Wylie’s Gladiator and Lester Dent’s Doc Savage) to a true uberman, able to halt planetary bodies in their orbits without disrupting their ecologies and travel through Time (although, unlike Doctor Who, Supes was unable to alter the past.)

          Therefore reigning writer/artist fan favourite John Byrne was hired in a highly publicized scheme to revise and relaunch the character. He would meld all the prior incarnations of Superman into a single reality, keeping the best and ignoring the rest, redefining the character’s abilities and resolving contradictions and plot holes. Along the way we would get a new, definitive origin of the character, retelling the arrival of Clark Kent in Metropolis and allowing us to see the first meetings with Lois Lane. Lex Luthor would be re-envisioned as a genius industrialist (sort of Tony Stark without the ruth) and his enmity with Superman given a more emotionally resonant basis. And it was pretty good, for a while.

          “Worked for a while” was all it takes. Thus was license granted to all future reboots of long-standing characters. Film and Television found this congenial as it allowed cannibalizing old poorly executed entertainments (Battlestar Galactica) and beloved but flawed franchises (Star Trek) with some of the more embarrassing bits deleted. And the world has never again been the same (not that it ever was.)

          Sorry – gotta take that geek out behind the bar and relearn him his proper place. We shan’t let him out to disturb you nice folk again. Harry! Make sure those sleeves are fully buckled up the back!

          … and as the van drove off the continuity geek’s eyes were seen to glowed eerily from its shadowy interior and a hoarse whisper was heard to say “Puny humans … I will not be denied.”

          • This is all true — and yet, if it had been a single author rather than the leviathan of DC Comics, the continuity would never have got so far out of hand; and if it had been a single author, he would have felt perfectly at liberty to simply kill Superman off or (which amounts to the same thing) let him ride happily off into the sunset and stop writing about him. But DC could not let its cash cow go away.

            I think it’s a reasonably safe generalization to say that a reboot is always done from strictly commercial motives; and it is always a bad idea from the artistic point of view. Good work may indeed be done in the rebooted series, but the opportunity cost is high: the people working on it are constrained by the inherited continuity, and in many cases they could be doing better original work. Better not because it is original — like Chesterton and Lewis, I put little stock in mere originality — but because it is what they are good at and what they want to do, and not merely a rehash of someone else’s decisions that it seemed to make commercial sense to retain.

            • A nod to the Stratemeyer Syndicate who may be the true inventors of franchise rebooting … for much the same reasons Tom cites: filthy lucre.

              August Derleth at least had the courtesy to create Solar Pons rather than mine Doyle’s lode.

          • Well, everyone but the upright citizens of Gotham seems to know that Arkham Asylum has more holes than a sieve.

  14. “People come back for the group of characters and the feel for the world – but avoiding the worst: the necessity to know what happened in every other book, which becomes onerous as the series goes on.”

    Best line of the post. I’m about to start work on the second book in a series I’m writing, and I think one of the challenges will be to keep it independent but allow more faithful readers to revisit familiar characters. If done right, a good book in the series will draw new readers in but be more powerful for those who return.