Friday, July 26, 2013

The Never-Ending Sagas.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been truly and wholeheartedly invested in a book series of any kind, let alone a YA one. There are books I’ve really enjoyed that were part of a series but I seldom felt the need to continue with the other parts of the trilogy/quadrilogy/series/saga (can we seriously start limiting what we allow to be called a saga? Twilight was not a saga. Hush Hush was not a saga. To quote Cleolinda Jones, give me Vikings or go home!) To give an example, I really enjoyed Beth Revis’s “Across the Universe” but had no burning urge to read the second book upon its release.

This is partially due to my own preference for stand-alone novels. I like my stories to be self-contained. If it must continue into another novel then I’d rather that the story is able to stand on its own on some level. No cheap cliff-hangers, for example. You have to earn that privilege, authors!

The waiting periods between books are also part of the reason I have no drive to stick with a series. On average, although times differ wildly, one can wait up to a year to see what happens next in the universe they love. Sometimes I just don’t care as much by the time release date rolls in. Then again, indie and self-publishing has sped up the process dramatically lately and I still don’t really care. This probably has more to do with my complete lack of interest in most of the mainstream series on offer from indie writers.

One element of series in YA that I’ve really become sick of is their seemingly endless length. Stand-alone reads turn into trilogies, and then there are multiple add-ons, prequels, midquels, spin-offs and further unnecessary additions that just leave me exhausted. Several notable examples come to mind. “Hush Hush” started out as a stand-alone novel that became a duology when Becca Fitzpatrick’s agent organised the deal, then it became a trilogy, then a quadrilogy. Not a saga, never a saga. Cassandra Clare’s original trilogy for “The Mortal Instruments” is now a 6 part series with several short stories, a prequel trilogy and about three spin-off trilogies, the last time I counted, taking the definition of “flogging a dead horse” to a whole new level. I’ve previously discussed the add-on novellas and short stories phenomenon which has risen in popularity with the increased number of e-reader users. Sometimes the story just doesn’t end.

So why is this? The simplest answer is usually the right one, and in this instance I think it’s business related. It’s a safer investment for a publisher to hedge their bets with something that’s already proven itself to be successful than to take risks. You can build hype and a fan-base with an ongoing saga that doesn’t quite work with a stand-alone. Of course, there are exceptions. John Green comes to mind but he comes with the sort of die-hard fanbase and mainstream critical reception that most authors can only dream of. A series gives an author the opportunity to truly expand their universe and the characters within, but like my stated issues with the phenomenon of add-on novellas, I wonder if continuing to stretch out a series long after the author’s original intentions is a good idea from a storytelling point of view.

How much is it possible to stretch a basic story idea? “Hush Hush” was already light on plot before it became a quadrilogy, and it’s pretty obvious to the keen eyed reader that the author is working with very little plot and the same level of world building. You can only spread a basic idea so thin before it snaps if you don’t have the basic foundations of characterisation and world building in place. It’s one thing if you’re working with middle Earth or Westeros but “Hush Hush” was hardly on that level.

Romance is usually best suited to a secondary role in a story, or at least one supported by an interesting cast, well developed world or side plots to keep the reader intrigued. When the romance is your central focus over the course of four or five books, several more than originally intended, you really have no choice but to hastily assemble side-plots and the like to sustain the series. As a result, the progression of the story feels far less natural and as a reader, I just don’t care.

I completely understand the concept of an author becoming very attached to their work and not wanting to let go of that world. It’s one of the reasons the add-on novellas has become as popular as it has, outside of business related ones, of course. However, objectively speaking, do the author’s desires always equal the reality of the story? I can name more than a few authors whose inability to let go of their world ended up ruining what were previously strong series (I’m looking at you, Laurell K. Hamilton). Sometimes, it’s good just to have an ending. Resolution can often be far more satisfying than a never-ending journey. It may not be as financially satisfying for publishers, but as a reader, I know what I would prefer.   

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