Sunday, February 8, 2015

WITH SERIES POTENTIAL: how books are becoming "Hobbitized"

Today's blog post comes from a topic that my friend and colleague (Erin H) were talking about a bit ago. We were talking books, which we do a LOT, and she said something that really resonated with me.

"I''m kind of over the whole every book is a series thing. I just want to read A book,"

And though at the time, I didn't really think about it, or why it bothered me, it kind of just sat there, simmering.

I just want to read A book. As in, one single book. Be able to wrap it up in a day.

I got to thinking, and kind of becoming resentful, of all the damn series books out there. As an active person on twitter and in the writing community, I am constantly barraged with book after book in a series.

When I go to buy books, it's like "BUY THIS ONE AND THEN GET THE WHOLE SERIES". Then I end up buying three books when all I really set out to do was buy one. And that's OK. Once in a while. But...this is no longer once in a while. It happens with every damn book.

Flashback to last year. I was talking to some author friends of mine and was surprised to find a book that was originally sold as ONE book, has now been stretched into a trilogy and that the whole story that was once told in one book, is now going to be three. And my brain kind of went..."WHUT?"

I get it from a business standpoint. The publishers and agents and authors can make more money on several books because I can't just buy one. It's like the OCD in me won't let me just buy one. I HAVE TO HAVE THE SET. So, that's awesome for the author and the publishers and all. Not so awesome on my wallet. Or my family when I can't pay bills. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you see where I am going?)

On one hand, as a teacher, it's awesome. Because if I get that kid hooked on a series, I've got them reading for a while. BUT, it's also THE WORST.

Because what happens a lot in my classroom is one kid loses the middle book, now the series is an expensive paperweight. Then I have to buy the damn middle book...AGAIN. Or even worse is when the kid wants to read a series and can't find the first book. AGHHH.

And imagine yourself as a young reader. Even better...a STRUGGLING reader. You walk into a library to grab a book for your English class--damn teacher always makes you have an independent reading book, damn her--and you pick out what you think looks like a cool book, people say it's popular and whatever, you start reading and you're lost. You think it's YOU that's dumb. Why? Because it's book three in a series. And you haven't read book 1 or 2. But you don't know all that.


I just want to pick up A book. I want to read A story. I want to fall in love and be mesmerized and have a glorious book hangover that makes me want more of  that book.

You know how when you're young and in love, you just want to wrap yourself up in every moment with that person? You want every touch, every whisper to just freeze because you know that soon, it will end. And when it does, you whirl around in your bedroom, cheeks tired from smiling all night, and let the memories lull you to sleep?

Then, once things are over, you can look back and remember how great it was once. Then three years later, you bump into that same person. You go to coffee and catch up. Thing is, now that you look closer, the person isn't as great as you remember. They're breath kind of reeks and they are kind of...meh. You walk away from the whole experience now, and instead of the wonderful memories you had before, they are tainted with meh.

That's how a lot of series are for me. Tainted because it went on too long. The story got tired. The world wasn't as unique as it once was. And honestly, the things I liked about the characters in the first place I now find cliche and overdone. The other thing that happens is it becomes unrealistic. How many times can our hero battle a villain and always come out victorious? How many odds does this one person have to face? How many times can we see a corrupt government/ leader/ organization/ kingdom/ overlord/ (fill in your own noun here) that our hero has to take down?

It starts to get drawn out and it ruins the whole story for me. Even the books that came before. It has happened to me so many times, I now stay away from buying series. And I feel led on if I read a book that is supposed to be one, but then another one comes out. Like...if I would have known a guy never wants to commit, I would never date him. Same thing with books. If I knew this story was going to be 1 in a series of 5, I would've said "no, thank you."

As a writer, I think there are so many interesting worlds to explore, so many lovely heroes and heroines I want to swoon over, so many plots and conflicts and twists I want to see, I don't have time for an epic saga. That is what it seems like every book is becoming.

And now that is also bleeding into film. Notice how what was once one movie is becoming two? Three? Hobbit much?

Finally, from an industry that seems to constantly tell writers to be succinct and cut unnecessary things from the story, to then be told to stretch it out, build on to the story, make it longer...seems counter-intuitive. No exposition but LONG EPIC SAGA. Wait...what?

Let's learn a lesson (yet another one) from LOST. Those writers had it right. They knew the series couldn't go on forever. They didn't want it to become a victim of "now what do we do?" on season 10 or 11. So, they told ABC we want it to end. And they gave their own timeline. It was unheard of in a industry all about the bennies. But, they did it. And ABC agreed. And they ended the series before it got tired. I know people disagree with the last season, and the direction they took, but what can't be argued was the fact they didn't keep it going long after it should have. Most people wanted different endings, but we don't get to decide (as readers or viewers) how stories end.

I think publishers could use a lesson in knowing when to end a book. It's like a party. End it so the guests still want  more. Then everyone goes home saying "Great party, I wish it wouldn't have ended." If you let it drag on, people get bored, the party gets lame, and guests end up reflecting on it saying, "It was fun the first hour, then it got stupid."

Let's not let our stories get stupid. End them. Just like Semisonic said, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

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