Monday, December 19, 2011

Miscellaneous Mondays: Is Your Favorite Series Past It's Expiration Date?

Last week's poll asked our readers how many books is optimal for a series, and more importantly how many is too many? We're talking about series that you love, or at least loved at first. You love the author's style, love the characters, love the world, and yet after book 14 or 15 you find yourself asking the question "Is there a point to all this?!" The responses the the poll varied, with 7-8 books getting the most votes, and over 12 coming in at second. So for the most part everyone feels that there is a limit, but most feel that it's pretty high. I noticed that no one voted for hating series, and I'm not surprised--series are the big thing right now.

By way of kicking off our discussion, I'm going to talk about my specific experiences with series and what I feel they did right or wrong with regard to length. Remember that this is just my opinion, and feel free to disagree.

Harry Potter: The Finite Series

This was the first continuity based series that I ever read. I've gushed about it enough on this blog that I don't think I need to explain why I like it.  

Rowling had said fairly early on that she'd be writing seven books, and only seven books. As a kid reading these, that idea used to torture me. It tortured me the entire time I was reading the last book, knowing that this was my last encounter with Harry (barring some spin-off series way down the road). But now, looking back, it was the best thing for the series. As a whole, the series has plot structure--rising action, climax, and resolution. There's a big goal, and that goal gets accomplished within exactly the time frame that Rowling set out to do it. I'm not saying it's a perfect system, but it worked for me.

Bottom line: If you are going to write a continuity based series that follows one character or very few characters, planning is key. Have in mind how many books the story is going to take to tell (or at least an approximation), and how you're going to end it. Make sure each book builds toward something, and DON'T pad the series with more books than you need.

The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning: Should Have Stuck With The Plan

This is a wonderful series that had a finite number of books...that the author kept changing. I believe it was originally going to be a trilogy, and then it was 4 books, and it FINALLY ended at 5. And the thing is, it didn't need five books! The exact same story could have been told in 3 or 4 books if the author had planned better and tightened up the narrative. When I look back at this series PADDING and FILLER are two words that always enter my mind, even though I'm extremely fond of it and recommend the series all the time.

The Carpathians by Christine Feehan: Why Copy-Pasting is BAD

Every time a new book in this series comes out, I think "Holy Penguin Poop, they're still publishing that crap?" It's one of those series that ALWAYS gets brought up when you talk about series that have gone on too long. A lot of people complain about the silliness, like the made up language that Feehan is so proud of (sorry lady, but you aren't Tolkien and this isn't Middle Earth), plus the plots that don't make sense.

My qualm, and the reason that I stopped reading them, is that every love story in this series started to feel the same. At first, there were some original ones--Dark Desire had a bat-shit crazy hero, Dark Melody had a pregnant heroine...and that stuff worked as smoke and mirrors to prevent me from realizing that every character in this 20-something book series experiences love the same. This is boring and, in my opinion, inaccurate. Romance is interesting to me because real people, and really well written characters, all experience love differently. Every couple should have a different journey.

Bottom line: sameness/repetitiveness is probably the most common way for a series to go stale, and is the reason why series should be capped at 12 books.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R Ward: Derailing for a Different Reason?

I've been having mixed feelings about this one. It's not growing stale due to repetition, but it may be headed in the opposite direction. The last book had me thinking that Ward no longer wanted to be writing romance, because she spent so little time on her main couple. This begs an important question: If a series needs to change in order to keep from going stale, how can it do so without changing so much that the fans no longer connect with it? If you started reading a series as romance, how do you feel if it suddenly changes to more fantasy or mystery?

Bottom line: I'm reserving official judgement on the expiration status of the BDB for at least one more book. However, I do think the series would be stronger if Ward decided how many more books to write and stuck to it. No more introducing new, unheard of characters that no one cares about just to extend the life of the series. No more foreshadowing things that she'll forget to address later. And for the love of God, a little more focus please.

What's Your Opinion?

I think even the best of series should stop at ten. I have yet to read a Book 11 or Book 12 that was as good as the earlier books in the series. By this point, you've seen enough of the world, you know everything there is to know about your main character(s), and if there's a big overarching goal in the series, it should have been reached by Book 10. I'm sure there are exceptions, and I'll be happy to declare myself incorrect in this matter the minute I find that magical, perfect 15 book series. Whatever happens though, I remain a believer in planning and finite series.

What are your experiences? Do you have any big ongoing series that you continue to love? Series that you read out of loyalty only? Hopes for a series to make a come back? What keeps you reading, and what makes you stop?

PS--The new pole is up, and it's a lighter one: Best cookie variety! Be sure to vote!


  1. I stand by my assertion that 6-7 books should be the max. Unless as you've said, the author intended the series to go on longer from the beginning. When a series is continued because it's a cash cow, you really start to notice a decline in quality. Like the House of Night series by P.C & Kirsten Cast. They're on to about book 12 or something ridiculous and the books are total drivel.

  2. I completely agree with you regarding the Fever series, and I don't know how I feel about the spin-off. I'll probably read the book, but I may not follow it.

    BDB is another series where my interest is starting to wane a bit. I think it would have been a very strong series had she capped it after writing about all the brothers, and I agree that introducing all these new characters for the sake of having sequel-bait is getting a little old.

  3. Wow. You are right on the money with those series. I totally agree about the Carpathians. I think a series needs to end when it needs to end. Giving it a number is difficult because some writers can continue a series for many books and still have the series seem fresh and interesting. Though I have noticed that many series after book 6 or 7 usually start to go down hill. Not always but usually.

    Now the Anite Blake, Vampire Hunter series should have stopped a long time ago. I'm thinking at book 10 or somthing like that. It use to be my favorite series but it has gotten pretty bad and it's at 20 books. I truly think after 10 books, a series just doesn't have enough juice left to keep the readers interested.

  4. Lan--Oh yes, you can tell when a series makes the jump from legit stories to money making schemes. It's hard to keep enjoying a series when you feel like you're being manipulated.

    Scientist--The spin-off might be a great thing, it might not. Moning has created a big world and there could certainly be more stories to tell there, but she needs to watch herself with that filler habit. And yes, I wish that Ward had done all of the Brothers introduced in book 1 and then stopped.

    Jennifer--I don't remember exactly which book it was that made me stop reading the Anita Blake books, but sadly I can't stand them any more. I liked Anita when she was a bad dresser and socially awkward and collected penguins...NOT so much when she was caught in who knows what love triangle or other contrived, sex soaked plot.

  5. This is a really interesting post! I agree with the point about Harry Potter, if the author knows & plans a finite end, it's so much better. It's really frustrating when an author cobbles another book just for the sake of profit. It's like the Hollywood sequels, the sequel is almost never as great as the first! Ten seems like a good number but a bit hefty if it's say, for a YA series. When I was younger, I could totally speed through the Boxcar Children or Nancy Drew because they were quick easy reads. Nowadays, I don't really think authors can pull it off like that! Well, mangas can, be that's a totally different story. If I find out a book has A LOT of other books, I tend not to read them.

  6. elena--You're comparison to Hollywood sequels is very apt. Some movies call for a sequel, but many don't. They get them anyway, because they will make money.

    Now, when it comes to things like Nancy Drew, you get into the idea of series vs. serials. Serials being, to my mind, the more episodic sets of books, as opposed to continuity based books. If each book is a self contained story and there's no real connection between them, sometimes the authors can keep going a little longer without things going stale. Things like the BDB books or even the Carpathians make the mistake of building continuity but not knowing when or how to deal with it, and I think that's their downfall.


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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