Horror and Hangovers: Why Your Series Sucks
Written by: Mack Moyer
It seems like every novel you read these days is part of a series. That can be great, if done well.
Then other times…blart. (That’s the sound of me shitting, farting and blowing chunks simultaneously after reading Part 1 of some awful, awful series.)
Publishers are looking for series’ and readers respond to them. A writer is more likely to sell books by taking the series route.
But here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your work doesn’t suffer in the process.
Story Structure – This is basic, but bear with me: What three things make a story a story? You know, an actual work of narrative fiction?
Answer: A beginning, a middle and an end. The problem is that many writers are focusing too much on their series and not enough on their story. As a consequence, I often plow through 200 pages of a novel only to realize I’m nearing the end of the book but the ending of the story is nowhere in sight.
I don’t care if I’m downloading your Ebook for free or paying twenty bucks for a hardcopy, if I’m taking hours out of my life to read your shit, you better be telling me an actual story. Prologues are usually unnecessary at best and a masturbatory way to pad your word count at worst. I almost always skip them because I hate them.
Imagine my rage, then, when I discover your 250-page book about Detective McArchetype is just a lengthy prologue to the Un-Ironically Hardboiled Detective Series (Volume #18 available on Smashwords!).
It’s like writers want their novels to be more like comic books, telling a fraction of the story while trying to lure me into a longer (perhaps even 18-volume) tale.
I love comic books, but novels are not comic books. When I buy a Spider-Man comic, I’m aware that I might only get a small nugget of story that stretches into a longer arc and I don’t mind because I only need ten fucking minutes to read a comic book.
Finishing your novel requires me to invest several hours. If you want readers to invest that time (and money) into reading your shit, you owe them a goddamn story.
Avoid the Dangling Carrot – The Dangling Carrot is one of the most underhanded, cheapskate ways to get someone to buy your book.
I won’t use any actual books as an example, although there are many, so I’ll make one up. Let’s say you buy Zombie Strippers Vs. The Mutant Double-Dongers (Part 1 of the Stripper-Donger War Series). The book promises you that, yes, at some point you will indeed see an epic battle between said undead strippers and sentient dildos.
(I’m actually hoping someone who reads this post will write that story, Jesus I wanna read it.)
But no, all Part 1 does is show you how the strong-willed Zombie Stripper Princess escapes the clutches of her traitorous mother (who is actually a closet Double-Donger) and gets out of Zombie Stripper Kingdom before the Donger army arrives.
So Zombie Strippers Vs. The Mutant Double-Dongers is actually the story of a plucky young woman on the eve of said Stripper-Dildo conflict, not the war itself. Well did the book give you any indication of this before you bought it? If not, the author deserves to have any and all copies of his shitty book returned for a full refund because he’s a lying huckster.
And that’s the Dangling Carrot. You lure in readers with the promise of some high-concept epic awesomeness, only to put off the awesomeness until a later volume in your series. And this can only be forgiven if two conditions are met.
One, the book must be done well and, two, the author needs to be honest about that Dangling Carrot.
Does it need to be a series? – I’m not trying to shit in anyone’s cereal, or burst anyone’s balloon, or kick the proverbial three-legged retard puppy, or…okay, you get it. Yet a lot of stories – most stories, in my opinion – don’t need to be dragged out into a series.
Some books suffer because of it, and not just because of my first point about proper story structure. I’ve read otherwise cool novels that have rudderless endings due to stunted character development all because the author wants to delay that character’s growth until later in the series.
My favorite Stephen King novel is, hands down, Misery. Yet I’m not hankering for eight more volumes to the original, wherein we watch Paul Sheldon hobble along on one foot fighting evil. That novel, great as it is, is better as a standalone story. We simply don’t need a prequel starring Annie Wilkes, showing us how a once-innocent chubby nurse became the Dragon Lady.
The Sun Also Rises is one of the most magnificent pieces of literature ever assembled, but I don’t think anyone wants Ernie to come back from the grave to make Part 2 of Jake Barnes: The Dickless Drunk Series.
Does anyone want Dean Moriarty Goes Hawaiian, Volume 2 of The Insufferable Hipster Twat Saga?
These are some of the most beloved novels ever written, yet none of them would have been made better if Steve, Ernie or Jack “I’m A Whiney Bitch Without a Sack” Kerouac forced their stories into a series-length epic.
They all would have suffered because of it, even if the authors would have sold more copies.
By all means, if you have a story idea that would make a wonderful series, write that motherfucker now. Just don’t be pressured by the “everybody has a series!” trend that’s hurting as many writers as it helps.
Gold – although I’d read the hell outta a Misery sequel (Misery 2: Los Miserables).
As a writer who listens to podcasts and has read material concerning the science behind the self-published series and as one who even has friends who have an impressive amount of book sales as a result of their decision to take their stories to a series format, it is something I have struggled with trying not to do. Partly because I’ve never jumped on a bandwagon and have always prided myself on that but also because I’m afraid what i have to say will fail as a result of forcing it into a series, so this article hits home and the series I started has sat collecting virtual dust on a virtual shelf for several months now….for now. Nice article. The Green Mile is one example of a book that heightened my reading experience because it was serialized. My wife and I read that side by side and it really was something special.
I think what really kills me is when you’ve got authors who release in serial form and they expect you to buy every story individually, then they put it all together to make a book, and expect you to pay for that, essentially paying them twice for the very same (sometime authors will throw in an extra story or two) product. I’ve always felt as though that’s a little insulting and disrespectful to the reader. As though the author is basically calling me an idiot, and milking me for far more money than I should be paying.
It drives me crazy when new and unknown writers announce thier release as part of a trilogy – then you read the 1st book and it’s just a boring set up for the next one. What did they do, save all the good parts for the next book?
I get why authors write series. From a marketing perspective, you are trying to hook and keep an audience. Some of the series are pretty addictive. I hate it but I cannot stop reading. Bobby Adair is the perfect example. He does not write anything to be a one off.
I think a better way to do it without the series vibe is a single universe in which multiple books with their own plots and characters take place. Lovecraft and King are good at this and recently you could argue that writers like Brian Keene have perfected it. These narratives reward readers for having read the author’s other stories, but all are standalones.
Also along this same line of this article, I hate it when writers stretch a narrative that works as a short story or novella into a full length novel. If the work only needs 80 pages to tell the story fluffing it up to 300 pages just makes it feel drawn out and boring. I can respect a writer that pumps out shorter works. The story should be as long as it needs to be not as long as the public decides is typical size and format of a mass market paperback.
I rarely ever tackle a new author of a series. I assume the author does not have a sense of structure. I avoid most new TV series: you can bet they will have good buildup leading to irresolution and collapse and incoherence. I’ll tackle “Fargo” and “American Horror Story” because they are complete in a season. Length doesn’t bother me: I love all 4 enormous volumes in which Neal Stepehson’s “Baroque Cycle” is published, but that is one novel, just long. I trace it all back to when the single novel “Lord of the Rings” had to be issued in 3 volumes because of the publishing imitations of the time. I will tackle a series now only if someone I deeply respect suggests that it is worthwhile. And that is rarer these day.