Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Neverending Story

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 it didn't end. (The Fushigi Yugi manga series was like this too.)

And the thing is, it's a really cool idea.

In theory.

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.


  1. I despised the Never Ending Story as a child. I was so terrified of it, I taped over the video with the local news. Got my rear smacked, but I still think it was worth it to this day.

    I'm glad there are some authors out there who don't drag a story along just to get paid. I can think of two popular authors whom I used to read that have done this. One, her stories are basically the same thing over and over. I have the first...ten? After that, I got bored. The second author got so desperate to increase her readership (or something, still not sure what) that she turned her wonderfully plotted books into orgies and it killed her for me. I've heard she no longer writes that way, but I'm loathe to pick any of her stuff up anymore.

    My personal rule is I'll never write more than ten books in a series. Period. Let's see how well that goes for me before my curtain closes. :)

    1. Heh - I think the main thing is that every author's journey is different. It's easy to say I'd do this or I'd do that...but until I get put into that situation? It's all hypothetical.

  2. As a reader I used to think ending a series should be a cardinal sin... But as the years have gone by I realize continuing a series isn’t always the best thing.

    One of my former favorite author's series is finally coming to a close. I am so glad. After a certain popularity hit the tone of her books changed. Her lead character's tone changed to fit another medium’s POV of her. I hate that. It just seemed that once the series hit the big time she began, as you said, "phoning it in."

    Another series by another former favorite author (one I believe Krieger is talking about) has become mediocre. The books are not nearly as well written as they used to be. While I love the characters and continue to read it for them, the plot is barely there, it's more jangled, and doesn't flow as well. You're comment "become fan-fiction of their original selves" was the perfect way of describing this author's books these days.

    Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series is at least one long running series that I feel has only improved as the series goes on. Her back story and her world has evolved and, while the story is always boy meets girl they fall in love, each story is different and it always moves the back story plot further along. Many people will discount her because her books are romance but her world and back story plotting show how brilliant she is. She's created a brand, and unlike most authors, she's able to keep her series fresh and interesting.

    As an aspiring author, I am unsure if my series is open ended or if it has a set amount. I'm still writing it after all. But I do not want to what most authors do when a long series so if I ever get published I will have to take a hard look at that. Until then they are only in my head (and computer) so it doesn't matter.

    I will, however, confess when I found out your Abby books were a trilogy I was disappointed. I love your books. I'd become disenchanted with reading, finding other than a few of my favorite authors, I couldn't muster a lot of enthusiasm for most the books that I was coming across. Then, when I decided to go to Authors After Dark, I investigated some of the authors I hadn't read and found you. Just from the excerpt on your website I was hooked. I couldn't get it out of my head and eventually drove into the city just to get your book. But I am a fan so keep writing phenomenonally and if that means I lose Abby but gain others so be it.

    1. Well, here's the thing - I *want* to write more Abby stories, but at the moment it's in the publisher's hands. (My contract has an option clause - so I have to submit to them first. If they pass? Then I can look at self-pubbing or try to find another publisher for it. What I didn't want was to have an ongoing story arc that went for 7 books or whatever, only to have my publisher drop me on the 3rd. It happens all the time and in the publishing industry right now, nothing is certain at all. (And there is a Melanie short story coming out in August 2013 in the Carniepunk Anthology, so the world isn't closed, by *any* means.) :)

      Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    2. YAY! Will keep an eye out for the Melanie short and any other Abby books. Well any books you write. :)

  3. Love love love the Fuishi Yugi reference! Hubby bought me season one of the anime for my birthday! You get total kudos for mentioning that!

    And I too was a large fan of The Neverending Story - The first one not the sequels. The sequels just did NOT stand out with me. But I remember crying about Ajax! And loved Atreyu's name

    Often I wonder about Atreyu as an adult.. or what if he came into our world. What became of Bastian as an adult.