Here’s the problem I see with long-running series: unless you’re careful and ambitious, they cease to grow. Instead of the plot driving the production of the novels, the need to continue the novels drives the plot.
What does this mean exactly? Stagnation.
Why wreck a good thing? If people like reading about certain characters, then those characters can’t ever die, and therefore are never exposed to any sort of real risk or significant change. The plot becomes a balancing act where the main objective is to shuffle the pieces of the world around – characters, relationships, conflicts – to make it seem like there is growth, but without really providing any.
This is an illusionist’s art.
Having just finished reading through the eleventh Thieves’ World book, Uneasy Alliances, I find that I am, for the most part, dissatisfied. The town of Sanctuary has become the setting for a soap opera rather than EITHER an attempted recording of the life of a real fictional town OR a place to set intricate, complete, and related stories.
Have I mentioned here that I’ve long wanted to write a soap opera?
To be more specific, I would love to write a soap opera if the producers gave me leave to write whatever I wanted, beholden to nothing but my own complete creative freedom.
But still, you might ask, why? Aren’t soap operas noted mostly for their utter lack of creativity and reliance on formula bolstered by long-honed stalling techniques (long silent looks, pauses, and oh, the wasted words)?
And, yes, I grant you these things.
The reason that I’d like to have the reins to a soap opera is, partly, to do away with such things. I like the challenge of having to come up with an hour’s worth of new material each day, and to make sure that all that new writing is pushing the plot forward. And, yes, that plot would undoubtedly swiftly spiral out of control Dark Shadows style.
And, yes, even before that happened I might burn out at that level of production. But it would be a glorious crash and burn, my friends, glorious.
My real problem with the Thieves’ World series is that it refuses, for the most part, to move forward. About a half of the authors in each volume (after the first three or so) are simply treading water. Instead of writing complete stories, they lay out fragments for other writers to pick up that, for the most part, are never seen again.
If they end up writing a complete story, what it entails is a dance where the end of the story leaves the main characters at the same point they were at in the beginning. And, yes, this is a perfectly reasonable way to construct a narrative, but when nearly every story by certain authors end this way, the narrative of Sanctuary as a whole fails to progress, and the novels-in-stories that the anthologies pretend to be end up failing as well.
This is one reason that, though I’d love to try my hand at a soap opera (per the restrictions above) I am not very tempted to write a series. Yes, series are popular because readers get attached to certain characters and want to keep reading adventures about those characters that they love.
But it seems that often those continuations are simply more of the same. And why I like that in television (my love for Law and Order and Criminal Intent know no bounds), in writing I get bored. I get bored reading series when authors aren’t pushing their art, when they are simply dressing up their old plot in new clothes. I get bored writing when I’m not doing something different than what I’ve already done.
Does it make me a less marketable writer in that I’m more interested in writing single novels than I am in establishing a series?
Probably. But at least I won’t be bored while I’m poor.