Thursday, November 8, 2012
The Neverending Story
Posted by Allison Pang
When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was The Neverending Story. I mean - it touched a lot of nerves for me - the bullied child getting a chance to become the Chosen One and enter a magic land.
But of course the real rub was the fact that once you started reading the book, your story became part of THE story...so it didn't end. (The Fushigi Yugi manga series was like this too.)
And the thing is, it's a really cool idea.
In practice, though? Not so much. And that's not to say every book or story has to have *everything* completely wrapped up nice and neat - but most readers do want some sort of closure.
So how long is too long?
I guess there's no real answer to this either - each author and story is going to be different. Some books and series can seem to float on adventure after adventure - whatever it is that makes them appealing to readers has struck a perfect balance. People are creatures of habit after all - if they weren't, shows like "Murder, She Wrote" wouldn't have been on the air forever. (And we always KNEW how they would end more or less, right? Mystery solved, etc.)
And book series are the same way - look at all those Harlequins and their familiar tropes. There can be something very soothing about getting exactly what you expect, again and again.
For me - it just depends. Sometimes what makes a book or series that much more precious *is* the fact that it ends. I think it's far better to leave your readers wanting more than it is to watch your story fade away with a whimper.
And maybe part of that is planning. In general, I've found that authors with well planned out story arcs tend to fair better, even if there are several books in the series. (Though certainly, I think we've all seen those authors who plan a trilogy...and then the story explodes on them and it becomes seven books - but again, so much of it depends on different variables. If the story arc does call for more books, wonderful - but if the author is padding each book with repetitious phrases and themes? That's when I start throwing hairy eyeballs. (Looking at you, Robert Jordan. I couldn't get past the 9th book - just so much exposition and the same damn descriptions over and over and over again - e.g. women were always "planting their fists on their hips." I get that this is epic story-telling - The Odyssey does that too - dawn is always creeping in with rosy fingers and all that - but ancient stories were often meant to be told orally - totally different audience and the repetition was meant to help the listeners remember. Plus it was ONE story. Not fifteen 800 page epics.
At World Fantasy Con this past week, I sat in on a Charles de Lint reading and someone asked if there were going to be anymore Jilly Coppercorn stories (one of his more popular characters in the Newford books/short stories.) He's currently working on another story collection, but he said he wasn't sure about Jilly. He's actually been taking a break from writing Newford for a while because part of what made the Newford stories so interesting was the concept of hidden magic and how it intertwines within the lives of some of the people who live in the town. But where do you go when it starts to seem like *everyone* has a connection to this magic? It starts to lose some of its charm, I guess. Or at least maybe it becomes less special.
I found that to be very interesting - he clearly knows what his story limits are. And he's not willing to forsake the integrity of writing those stories, simply to collect a paycheck. Which is a nice place to be - not all authors are that lucky - but there are certainly authors who get tempted to extend their series for several more books, even if their original plots didn't require that. And really - who *wouldn't* be tempted? Problem is that it doesn't always work out - and that's when it starts to seem like the author is phoning in the books, and reader dissatisfaction grows. Honestly, sometimes it seems like some of the super long running series have almost become fanfiction of their original selves. Like the only reason people read them is because they have a favorite character and plot doesn't matter at all.
I wrote my current set of Abby books as a trilogy - but that was based more on practicality than anything else. I knew there wasn't any guarantee the publisher would want more - and frankly, I had no idea how my books would be received when I first sold - so I attempted to set it up so that if there weren't any more, at least most of the plot threads would be tied up. Mostly because I wanted to leave some stuff open to pick up from, just in case. (And yes, I've got a proposal in for the option book(s) - but again, depending on if and when, I'll adjust my story arc accordingly, or look into self-pubbing if there's enough interest.) But even if I manage to pick up a few more books, I don't see myself writing the Abby stories forever.
New stories are waiting just past the horizon, after all - gotta give them a chance to be told.