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?

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