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Old 02-17-2013, 06:49 PM   #1
Fat Abe
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Series from the Perspective of Readers and Authors

We have had a poll on Series, and the preferred methods of reading them. Any which way, in my opinion. But, I would like to ask the questions, why should we read series, and what is their place in literature? My brother-in-law, a full professor of literature, would deride the concept. A series, by definition, relies on recurring characters or themes. In terms of literary invention, this can be limiting, since the character's universe is proscribed and his actions are predictable. The professor claims this is a crutch. Ah, but Balzac used recurring characters and so did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Recurring characters can become a lazy man's way of cranking out novels.

However, from my vantage point as a reader, I love interesting characters who reappear in books. Sherlock Holmes is a deep and fascinating character, as is Harry Bosch. A reader is reassured when a known character (e.g., Jack Aubrey) confronts a new situation. In Tami Hoag's Ashes to Ashes, an FBI special agent, John Quinn, is introduced. As close to a flesh and blood human being as you will ever find in real life. A great person, and a man with wounds, emotional and physical. He reappears in another novel, but Hoag did not develop him further. Are we being selfish as readers in desiring that our favorite characters live on to fight another day? What if life imitated art, and a novel like Misery became reality? Is there a part of me that is comparable to Annie Wilkes (the Stephen King heroine)? Anyway, the economic truth about publishing is that many writers must create series to survive. Sending their children to college or buying that expensive home in Malibu demands this concession. Even if the characters do not repeat, the genres do. We readers have become creatures of habit, favoring the familiar, even if the writer claims to have entered new territory. The publisher's advance is a pair of golden handcuffs, and who are we to argue with this proposition?
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Old 02-17-2013, 06:55 PM   #2
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It doesn't matter to me if anyone else reads series or not. There's no "should", If you want to read a series, read it. If not, then don't.
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Old 02-17-2013, 07:03 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fat Abe View Post
Recurring characters can become a lazy man's way of cranking out novels.
Or it can be an ambitious and ingenious exercise in building a world we wish to return to again and again, with a cast of characters we come to know and love.

There's nothing inherently wrong with series. They can be done well, or they can be done as a sad money grab. Sometimes a given series can be both, when an author doesn't know when to quit.

You use the phrase "from my vantage point as a reader" - when I am reading for pleasure, this is all that matters. I care not about the publisher's motives, the author's desires or a literature professor's opinions - I only care that I enjoy the experience.
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Old 02-17-2013, 08:19 PM   #4
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There are series and there are series.
Some series (Horatio Hornblower) follow one character over the years while other series are really a single over-sized novel (Zelazny's Amber chronicles).
And other series (Darkover) are just a framework for hosting different stories with different characters and themes.
Sure, some series are purely commercial "variations on a theme" that seek to retell the same story over and over with minor tweaks but it is a big leap to extrapolate from the specific to the general.
The case can be made that series are a narrative form all their own, as distinct from novels as novels are from short stories.
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Old 02-17-2013, 08:55 PM   #5
Ken Maltby
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Sometimes, once is not enough. What if there were only one Harry Potter book or
Harry Dresden or lazarus long or Jack Ryan? Sometimes, the world that the author has
created just needs more exploration than one book could provide. P.E.R.N., Middle Earth,
Earthsea, Ringworld, ect...

Luck;
Ken
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Old 02-17-2013, 08:57 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Maltby View Post
Sometimes, once is not enough. What if there were only one Harry Potter book or
Harry Dresden or lazarus long or Jack Ryan? Sometimes, the world that the author has
created just needs more exploration than one book could provide. P.E.R.N., Middle Earth,
Earthsea, Ringworld, ect...

Luck;
Ken
This... although P.E.R.N. should be Pern - name of planet/system
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Old 02-17-2013, 09:07 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elcreative View Post
This... although P.E.R.N. should be Pern - name of planet/system
To the generations that followed, that would be the case, but originally -
P.E.R.N. was the designation of the planet in the classification system of
the discovers of the system and planet.

Luck;
Ken
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Old 02-17-2013, 09:08 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elcreative View Post
This... although P.E.R.N. should be Pern - name of planet/system
Technically it is Rukbat 3...the 3rd planet around Rukbat...which was labeled with the acronym P. E. R. N. for Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible (i.e., insufficient to support interstellar commercial investment)

This acronym became a nickname of the original colonists ... "Pern"...which stuck.

[/geek-out]


:edit: doh...out typed...again!
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Old 02-17-2013, 09:39 PM   #9
Fat Abe
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The public has a voracious appetite for books. The writer who has a talent for creating a character and developing that person over the course of several or even dozens of books should be congratulated. In every sense of the word, serious, yes- they are serious writers. Some are obviously better than others. I'll let history judge J.K. Rowling, who has decided to go down a different path. It is hard maintaining a series in top form. Writers are human, they burn out. Lee Child's character, Jack Reacher, is hitting his peak. New found recognition can give a writer that second wind of inspiration. May the muses be so kind to your favorite writers.
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:15 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by CWatkinsNash View Post
Or it can be an ambitious and ingenious exercise in building a world we wish to return to again and again, with a cast of characters we come to know and love.

There's nothing inherently wrong with series. They can be done well, or they can be done as a sad money grab. Sometimes a given series can be both, when an author doesn't know when to quit.

You use the phrase "from my vantage point as a reader" - when I am reading for pleasure, this is all that matters. I care not about the publisher's motives, the author's desires or a literature professor's opinions - I only care that I enjoy the experience.
I enjoy opening a book knowing that I am going to see old friends and find out what happens next in their lives, knowing that I will recognize the regulars and not have a learning curve trying to figure out who everyone is.
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Old 02-18-2013, 07:13 AM   #11
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Quote:
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My brother-in-law, a full professor of literature, would deride the concept. A series, by definition, relies on recurring characters or themes. In terms of literary invention, this can be limiting, since the character's universe is proscribed and his actions are predictable. The professor claims this is a crutch.
How limiting is it really? Presumably your brother-in-law thinks the actions are predictable because the character is already established and the reader then "knows" that the character would never do certain things (and that if the author makes that happen she's doing so in reaction to existing perceived limitations.)

Whilst there's something in this I think it's a bit reductive. Long novels would suffer the same problem (character is well-established by half-way through.) In any case characters change and grow. Literally in some cases such as a series of novels where characters get older. Also if you choose to make your main character a coal-miner as opposed to a physicist then you've limited them. Even if your story is of a coal-miner inventing cold fusion it'll be a different type of story than if a physicist does so.

I read an essay a while back which I won't attempt to find but essentially it said that it's the limits that often create the art.
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Old 02-18-2013, 07:45 AM   #12
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I think series' can be a crutch for both authors and readers. But I don't think it's inherent in the concept of "the series" by any means. I do believe there's a lot of crutch-like stuff out there... but like anything, it depends entirely on the author and/or the reader. It's only a crutch if you stick it under your arm and use it to support something that can't walk on its own. It could just be comfort, too: it's not like literary growth is mandated for authors and readers or anything.
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Old 02-18-2013, 07:55 AM   #13
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I think too much novelty is as limiting as too little. Imagine TV where every programme is an original one-off play. It'd be like never having anything longer than a short story, and I know I get fatigued by the constant stop-starting of a set of short stories.

Series characters give us a shorthand. We already know these people, this world. We can get on with the new story without having to set everything up again. Also we'll often like these people, and want to know what happens to them next.

It's just playing with different lengths of form. You can tell a shorter story with a longer underlying arc. It can be a lazy cash-in on some beloved characters, but it doesn't have to be. It's just another story-telling tool, and the more the better.
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Old 02-18-2013, 12:21 PM   #14
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I think writers write series for the simple reason that readers read (and thus demand) series.

And I think readers demand series simply because most humans are wired up that way (with some exceptions that maybe become literature professors or critics).
We are wired up to like a story and we like reading about new adventures and yet it seems there is also a need for familiarity to exist and persist.

Series give us that. Familiar characters, themes and milieu allow us to comfortably embrace new adventures.
I don't think this is a bad or good fact in itself, it is just the way we are.
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Old 02-18-2013, 02:15 PM   #15
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It's just down to personal preference really. I do like series such as Maurice Druon's Les Rois Maudits or Tariq Ali's Islam Quintet which are effectively just a very long story, but at the same time each volume is self-contained and could be read independently of each other. However when it's the same set of recurring characters with just a different storyline, I tend to get bored with it all rather quickly

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