Monday, November 23, 2009

Series Questions

So I've been cogitating on series lately. The reason for this cogitation (which should only be attempted by a trained professional, with spotters) is that I'm reading the second-latest in a long-running series that I won't name because really the question is not about that series, it's about series qua series, and I've descended into pretentious Latin that I may not in fact be using correctly, oh god, help me.


Ahem. I promise, no more sentences like that.

So what kicked off all this babbling was that I started the book and went, "Oh, more of this stuff." And then I went, "Uhoh." Because the main character is genuinely a lot of fun and spunky to the max and all that, but I was like, "Really, kid? Again? Do you ever learn? Like, ever?"

I've noticed this with other series, too, especially the ones that get up to about four or five books with no end in sight. I'd argue (and some may argue with me) that the Harry Potter series actually escaped this. Yeah, there was a certain formula. Important elements always included Voldemort, DADA teacher, infirmary visits (god, that kid got banged up), Ron and Hermione, Dumbledore, and often Quidditch. It was a Harry Potter book, so you knew all this was going to happen. But Rowling kept raising the stakes and Harry kept encountering situations and choices that pushed him out of his comfort zone, and ours. Can you imagine first-year Harry doing what seventh-year Harry did? Not me.

It may be the Harry Potter thing, it may be the Will of the Almighty Dollar, but series seem to be longer-running than ever lately. And they're thick books. It's not just the Magic Treehouse model anymore, a whole row of 100-pagers that you can skip through. What this means is that, more than ever, I'm getting the Oh This Again feeling. I'm a completist, so it takes quite a bit to stop me reading the rest of the series, but I'm starting to re-think that.

At what point does a series lose the pull, that Oooh, What's S/He Going to Do Now and become More of the Same? What has an author done that has pulled it out for you?


MaureenHume said...

A very thought provoking post. You're right the books are way thick these days and even at one adventure per book that's still a heck of a lot of reading and a lot of pages to keep your interest.
As a child I loved Enid Blyton's Famous Five and although there seemed to be an awful lot of books they were relatively smallish by todays standards and there were never enough to satisfy me. These were also one adventure per book so perhaps it's the length that could be a potential problem. I think the secret could be to keep it short sharp and very interesting.
But then again a modern child could possibly argue this theory.

Jen Robinson said...

For me there's a difference between a three or five or seven book series that was intended to last for that many books vs. an open-ended series. I think that the reason the Harry Potter series escaped the blahs (and I do agree with you) is that JKR plotted out one story arc across seven books. Ditto with the Percy Jackson books, Gregor the Overlander books, etc.

There are some other current running series that aren't like that - each book just feels like "oh, here's another adventure with the same characters". And while the latter tends to work well for younger kids, and shorter books, it can get old with lengthy fantasy books.

[I wrote about this a while back at Booklights, and talked about "epic" vs. "episodic" series, which is why I have so much to say about it, I guess.]

Kate Coombs said...

I love this post, since I've been bothered by the same thing lately. In fact, I picked up a book in the MIDDLE of a well-known children's fantasy series and got that feeling without even having read the previous four books! Which, in a totally unscientific way, just goes to show that Stale Series Syndrome is about the writing, not about the basic concept of a series. I agree with your Harry Potter example, also Jen's story arc thoughts. Character growth seems to be a key factor. Anyway, nice to know it's possible to get this right!

Bibliovore said...

Maureen (another Maureen! hi!) I think the reason books are thicker is because HP and Twilight showed publishers that kids are *willing* to read longer books. Unfortunately, in some cases it feels as if the editing suffers. Just because the kids will read that length doesn't mean the story/characters will support it.

Jen - your post was one of the things that started me chewing on this topic. :) Why does episodic work in shorter formats and for younger kids better? I wonder if it's developmental. Is it an attention-span thing or that younger kids are fonder of and more reassured by repetition? Hmmmm.

Good point, Kate--it is really all about the writing and the energy and excitement that the author brings to the table. When we go "blah, this again", maybe the author already has, or they're writing on autopilot.

Jen Robinson said...

I thought that you'd seen that Booklights article - I think these are interesting questions. My guess is that it's about the reassurance of the repetition, Maureen. There are kids who will read all 100 Magic Treehouse books, in order (even though there's no continuing plot thread that I know of). And I say, more power to the publishers and authors putting out these series. If they keep kids reading at this particular developmental stage, that's a great thing.

Anonymous said...

I think ur bein kinda mean cus i luved the books and its not easy to plz me i read all 7 in 10 days and im 12