Sunday, July 12, 2009

Serial Killers

Nope, not a post about Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or the Zodiac Killer. Not even a post about my favorite fictional serial killer, Dexter Morgan. It's about a couple things I've run into recently that can kill a book series.

1) Too much success. This can happen with any author. Once they reach a certain level of success, it seems that editors hesitate to edit any longer. Suddenly, the characters act, well, out of character. Interesting secondary story arcs just disappear. Not to mention the typos and grammar errors that go unchallenged. In Book 7, Sookie gains a very handy new ability which is not mentioned at all in Book 8. She also does a lot of thinking that something someone says or does is significant but "can't think about that now, because I'm so busy/tired/angry/sad/you name it," which just feels like a cop out.

2) Overlapping two of the author's series. The appeal for the author, of course, is that it introduces the readers of one series to another series and, she hopes, causes the reader to buy the second one. But doing it wrong can backfire. In book 5 or 6 of the Sookie Stackhouse books, Lily Bard from one of Harris' other series shows up. Crossovers aren't new. They happen on television and in books all the time. However, Lily has undergone some major life changes since the first book in the four-book series. I've only read the first book of the Shakespeare series so it came as a big surprise. And has potentially spoiled my enjoyment of the other three books, because I know how she ends up.

3) The neverending story. Agatha Christie had Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and the Tommy & Tuppence books. But they are each standalone books. It really doesn't impact the reader much if they start with the first book or the fifth. You might be slightly rewarded for knowing a little of the history of Miss Marple and her nephew or how often Poirot teases Captain Hastings for having a preference for redheads, but it doesn't take away from the story if you don't know that.

Enter the method of having a major arc that follows the character through all the books. In the Stackhouse books, the main one is "Who will Sookie end up with?" We have at least 5 possibilities as I'm well into Book 8, From Dead to Worse, which will be my last for a while until Dead and Gone (#9) comes out in paperback next April (or I grab a copy from the library). While it's kept me turning pages until this point, I'm starting to feel it's enough already. With each book, there's the potential for another love interest to show up and further cloud the issue. She needs to make up her mind. I don't buy the airhead who can't decide anymore. She's been through too much--usually because of those men--to not have made up her mind about them.

Television series offer some good examples of the problem. The X-Files should have ended in the fourth or fifth season. Instead, it limped on flipping the roles of believer and non-believer from one character to another and back again, contradicting past "truths" and generally mucking up the works. Lost got a bit lost during the second and third seasons, but has come back nicely now that there is an end in sight. Whereas a series like the various and sundry Law and Order franchises don't have that problem because they are fairly self-contained episodes each week with only minor bleedover from show to show. The CSIs are starting to suffer, because they let in the personal lives of their characters and introduced overarching arcs that are now getting old.

How does a writer deal with this? I asked DB if she had plans for overarching arcs in her series. She does. And she says she's a bit worried about that. She also thinks she might spin off her second and third series from HM when the time comes. Or possibly have crossover books. DB has planned a point for ending the HM series, but doesn't know about D&D or Benny.

I know a couple of you have a series planned. Are you planning an overaching arc? Have you thought about how you'll know when to end it? What will be the signal?

I'm just happy that I don't have to deal with that.

1 comment:

Fleur Bradley said...

I have a series-in-progress. i never really thought about the end point--but after reading your post, I'm realizing I probably should...
The upside to writing YA is that at some point, your protag is just too old.
On a sidenote, I always thought Sue Grafton kind of cheated, by essentially freezing time.

Best of luck to DB!