When Favorite Writers Fade or Stories Go On Too Long

I am beginning to think that sequels are a bad idea in any form. We all know that movie sequels tend to get worse the higher the number on them.  But have you ever noticed that book series can do the same?

I’m not really talking about fantasy series like The Lord of the Rings, Fablehaven, or Harry Potter, all of which needed multiple books to tell the complete story. These are series that the authors always intended to make into a series, I believe.

I mean those series that come because the first book was such a wonderful success that the author decides (for whatever reason) to stay with these characters for more books and more stories.

Perhaps I should backtrack a little to explain.

I am an avid reader. I know, that is a shocking surprise.

Nathan is shocked!

I devour books like chocolate. I especially love books with fabulous writing or books that take me on a journey to a place I’ve never been. I read books from every genre, but often find myself drawn to historical fiction because I love the way fact and fiction blend to remind us all that history isn’t just what we read in books. History was lived by real people.

When I find a book I love, it inevitably affects my writing to some extent. Or at least that was true until I started to find my own style and my own voice, but I still learn from the masters.

If I find an author I love, I tend to read every book I can find written by that person. I love to read series that allow me to live with my favorite characters as they travel through even more adventures and take me along with them.

Except when the stories go on too long.

Back in high school and into college one book that I absolutely adored, which led me to devouring the series that followed was Clan of the Cave Bears  by Jean M. Auel. I loved it so much that it influenced a story I wrote for a short story writing class in college. I wish I could find a copy of that story, but I am sure it is lost in the dusty collections at my parent’s house, or perhaps filed away in some drawer somewhere, or on my old 5 1/4 inch floppy disks that held my writing life at the time.

How does one get stuff off of those now, anyway?

Back on track. I haven’t read any of the Earth’s Children series for a long time, and really just hold the memory of the books in my mind. However, when I went to the library the other day and saw The Land of Painted Caves, I snatched it up like it was a million dollars left behind by some kind billionaire to be found by me.

I dove into this 757 page book, excited to continue the journey of one of the best female protagonists ever, Ayla, and one of the most romantic love stories between her and Jondalar.

You know where this is heading, don’t you?

The story was good, and actually had a few surprises. However, I’m not sure if I have become more discerning in my tastes and expectations of good writing, or if Ms. Auel had a horrible editor, but this novel could have been written in hundreds of fewer pages.  If I broke the story down into a sort of outline it would go something like this:

  • Ayla, Jondalar, travel with their daughter Jonayla, their three horses and Wolf a long distance to meet with other Clans.
  • Upon arriving, anyone not familiar with the animals would be shocked as they watched Ayla interact and control these wild creatures.
  • After Ayla speaks, those who are not familiar with her would be startled by the unique accent that shows she is from a distant land and was raised in different traditions.
  • Hunters go hunting, a lot.
  • Ayla, who is training to be a Zelandonii (spiritual leader) will go with the First (head of the Zelandonii) into a sacred cave that contains cave paintings of all types. We go with her on the journey into these caves, with pages of minute detail describing everything she sees. I would like to amend my post called “The Magic is in the Details” to say that the magic is in selective details.
  • Somebody makes a lamp using animal fat and dried mushrooms to go into the cave.
  • And . . . repeat.

I almost feel guilty writing this because I do love her work, and Ms. Auel is a writer who has influenced me incredibly. Her influence on my writing can even be found in this blog, if you read The Storyteller or The Moon Calls.

But, as often happens in these long drawn out series, some of the magic is gone. The same thing happened to me when I read The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon (which I admit is a true guilty pleasure, romance novel meets history and the sexiest man I’ve ever read about).

I think, what happens, is that a writer feels like they have to finish following the lives of the characters they love. But sometimes the original story is all we need, so then the characters can live on in our imagination.

Perhaps authors find their comfort zone and then become afraid that they will not be able to follow up on their initial success with a new idea. If that’s what happens, it makes me sad, because people who can write should always take chances. Don’t you think?

I apologize for this extra long post.  But I would love to hear from you, are there any series that you think should have ended after only one or two books, but still carry on?

24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Taochild
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 09:15:19

    I think part of the problem is ye old “gotta pay the bills”. Some publisher says “I will gladly write you a check. You just need to guarantee me this story goes on for 15 long worded books). If the initial intent is one book, even the author is liable to get bored with their own work. 🙂 I have encountered this in many a sci fi/ fantasy epic (as much as I am a fan. It is sad when umpteen books are written not to advance the story, but to increase the pocket book. Invariable they start getting mired in unnecessary detail, or worse yet repetition because they still want new audiences as well as those already caught. By the last book, I find I am skimming through most of it, only still reading because the original story was good enough that I do want to know how it ends.

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 05, 2011 @ 09:22:10

      You are so right, and it is sad. I tend to read/skim a lot of later in the series books, hoping to find the end of the story. But eventually I can’t take it anymore and I simply give up, deciding to end it the way I think it should end.

      Reply

  2. LittleMissVix
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 10:05:04

    Recently a new Sweet Valley High book was written, I’ve avoided it as reviews are poor. That series just went on and on and ended up being ghost written for most of it. I suppose some books turn into brands. A bit like James Bond as the writer may have died but they are carrying on with the series. Sometimes it would be better for all to just move on!

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 05, 2011 @ 10:08:31

      I guess I kind of understand it when it is a series that creates new readers, like Sweet Valley High. But, there is a definite point where it is time to put a concept to rest.

      Reply

  3. Rose
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 11:28:39

    It’s funny that LittleMissVix mentions the SVH series, because I think that’s literally the only series that I’ve read (don’t tell anybody). I have no tolerance at all for petering stories and sequels. And, as far as I’m concerned, SVH should have ended much, much earlier, with it’s 3 page descriptions of the twins’ hair and clothing making me wish that I too was 5’6″ and a perfect size 6. Aren’t I cheery this morning?

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 05, 2011 @ 12:35:28

      Well, Rose, I completely agree with you. The SVH series perpetuates the image of girls and women which is so unachievable it is nauseating. However, I will not allow you to be less than cheery. As part of a blogging reward I received this morning from the Idiot, I am supposed to “approach someone within your family, workplace, or school, that is obviously having a bad day, and you must grab them by the shoulders, shake them violently if needed, and then scream at the top of your lungs…”Lighten up already!! SMILE!!!! Life is too freaking short to be in a bad mood!!!”. Consider yourself officially shaken. 😉

      Reply

  4. TheIdiotSpeaketh
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 14:09:25

    I have no problem with series like Harry Potter which were always meant to be a series, but I think books that were originally written as a stand alone piece, need to be left that way. When they start writing sequels solely because the first book did such huge business, then they will inevitably dilute the characters and story by stretching them out into further installments that were never part of the original equation……my God! I’ve become a rambler!! I gotta go!

    Reply

  5. notesfromrumbleycottage
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 14:55:03

    I think part of the problem is that fans clamor to know what happens next. They don’t want the story to end so the author starts writing. Sometimes it is better to let the characters ride off in the sunset.

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 05, 2011 @ 15:07:08

      I am guilty of that myself, but then I don’t really want to know. I mean, I hated, absolutely HATED the ending of Harry Potter (the 19 years later thing or whatever) because it didn’t fit what I wanted to happen for the characters.

      Reply

  6. Piglet in Portugal
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 16:07:18

    I am ashamed to say I have not read a fiction book for about 6months 😳 I used to read loads of books expecially those in a particular series, so I really “got in” to the characters. In the end, like you, I often found the quality of the last books were not the same as the first.

    I am not a Harry Potter fan…only watched a couple of the films. They def dragged on far to long!

    Personally, I would love to write childrens books.

    PiP

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 05, 2011 @ 16:11:00

      No shame in not reading fiction. I’ve been leaning toward non-fiction a lot more lately. I love children’s books. If I ever get the one I am working on published, it is a middle grade or young adult book. I have a few younger kid books in progress.

      I actually like the Fablehaven series better than Harry Potter. I just used the HPs as a kind of famous example of books that are meant to be a series.

      Lisa

      Reply

  7. Kathryn McCullough
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 18:19:40

    Apart for the Harry Potter series, I don’t know that I’ve read many series. Surely I have and just can’t think of them. I suppose few writers have the imagination that allows them to sustain a story and actually manage to build character over a number of books. Could that be it?
    Kathy

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 05, 2011 @ 18:22:07

      I think the ones who do plan to have multiple books in advance. The problem lies in the writer’s who discover that their story hit a nerve, and then decide to continue it, when it really already had a natural ending.

      Reply

  8. ElizOF
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 22:54:40

    Nothing comes to mind even though I agree with what you’re saying. Endless churning out on the same tired topic is wearing. The Harry Potter series are genius, but there are series that aren’t. Great post 🙂

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 06, 2011 @ 07:50:19

      Thanks for the comment. I recommend you read the Fablehaven series. I personally think it is better than Harry Potter, although I love them both.

      Reply

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  10. mzem
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 15:29:41

    I felt this post was very thought provoking. I had read the Clan of the Cave Bears and loved it too. However, the following books just didn’t have the same rush as the initial book. I think the same could be said of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s book, “Mists of Avalon.” I loved that book but some of her others which give more information leading to the “Mists” and more books that carry on the story have left me cold. So, I know of what you write. So far, the Harry Potter series I have read one after the other and still enjoy them to this day. It is fun to continue the story to the end.

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 07, 2011 @ 19:27:47

      I think I only read one of the books after Mists of Avalon, but it obviously didn’t stick with me as much as the original, which I loved. Harry Potter is a series that needed to be a series, but I have no interest in the books that kind of surround the series and hope she never decides to continue.

      Reply

      • mzem
        Oct 07, 2011 @ 23:56:22

        I have not read any of the other books around the series nor do I want to. I read the whole series from first to last in 2009. Enough time has passed that I feel the urge to sit down and read them again. That is how much I love the series.

        Reply

        • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
          Oct 08, 2011 @ 07:37:02

          I usually read that series (along with some other favorites) at least once a year. I love revisiting old friends.

          Reply

  11. Lisa Stowe
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 15:39:41

    When ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon came out, I loved it. When the second one came out, love had paled but I still liked it. With each successive book though, my enjoyment has sunk. These are thick books. At the end of the third one I realized I’d just read hundreds of pages to have nothing happen. The characters were in the same spot as when the book started. Well, there’d been a lot of sex going on as if the author thought that was all the readers wanted. I still love the first book and re-read it, but stay away from the following ones. And yet they are all hugely popular. The flip side is Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series. Each one moves the story and the characters forward, the characters continue to grow, the setting never pales, and the dialog is still fresh and sharp. I’m never bored with this series.

    Reply

    • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)
      Oct 09, 2011 @ 20:52:36

      Oooh, I’ve never heard of that series, I will have to check it out. I know what you mean about the Gabaldon books, the last one I read was only interesting at the very end, and then she left a cliffhanger of course. So frustrating. Thanks for visiting.

      Reply

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