Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stand Alone Complex

First, I want to say I'm back! As of this month I've completed my Master of Art in Teaching degree and am certified in the state of Maryland to educate students from grades 7-12 in English. Everyone hide your children, I might make them learn something !!

To celebrate my return, I thought I'd post on a topic that has been on my mind lately: to series, or not to series. 

After finishing an ARC of Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a book all of you should get your hands on when it comes out January 3rd) I found myself highly upset that I would have to wait the better part of the year in order to find out what happens next. Like many books in the YA category, Cinder was picked up as a four-part series. Had this been five years ago, you would have seen me jumping out of my skin to get a sequel, yet now I just find myself upset, and not in a good way.

How Twilight and Harry Potter Jaded Book Series

Let me preface this discussion by stating that each of the books I'm going to be discussing I have both read and enjoyed very much. If you must know anything about myself as a reviewer, books fall into two categories for me: Books I Enjoyed and Books I Didn't Really Enjoy. Very few times have I read a book that warranted the reaction of "that was a horrible book" and its actually a pet peeve of mine when people say that a book was "horrible" mostly because it didn't suit their tastes. Books are like food, some people love certain flavors that others can't stand.

With that said, I feel like both the Twilight series and Harry Potter have given the publishing industry, and readers even, the wrong impression of what a series should be. I find myself, much too often, picking up a book and wondering why the plot is moving so slowly, or why things just aren't happening fast enough to give me reason to become emotionally attached to characters. The answer: the book is actually a series. I have heard it said, by many people in the business, that many publishers want new books that can become a series. Why? The money. A book series, int the long run, will make a publisher far more money then a stand alone novel. Both aforementioned series became cultural phenomenons, ones that publishers are still trying to replicate every time they sign a new deal. How many times have you heard a book quoted as possibly becoming the next "blah blah" or the next "blah blah."

Why Is This a Problem?

Because there are far too many books that are series that shouldn't be and it effects the quality of the reading experience. I'll give you some symptoms that the book you've read shouldn't have been a series. Have you ever read a book and when it ended, been upset that something integral to the plot wasn't explained? Do you feel as if character emotions that were expressed continually throughout the story weren't resolved? Was there no real conclusion, and many plot points were left open ended? If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, your book suffers from Series Syndrome. The best way I can describe this problem is that when I look a series of books, I find myself seeing parts of a whole and not complete stories captured from a larger world.

What Makes a Successful Book Series?

The first book series I ever read was the Dragonriders of Pern world series by Anne McCaffrey, specifically the Harper Hall Trilogy. Each of the books in this series was its own, compact story within a larger tale of the musicians of the world of Pern. Never did I finish a book and feel unfulfilled and I was excited to hear about the next story in series. The Alanna series by Tamora Peirce always felt similar in that each book in that series was a story of Alanna's adventure being the first female knight. Each book was it's own and became a piece of the large whole without leaving me to wonder why a vital aspect of the story wasn't explained.

Another symptom of Series Syndrome is when a conflict that could have been resolved in a single book is made into the conflict for the series. I am going to cite the Volturri in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series as an example of a conflict that, honestly, could have been dealt with in one book. Stephenie Meyer herself stated that Twilight was only meant to be one novel, but because of the book's popularity, was expanded to four. Did she have enough material to expand these books to four? I really don't think so.

What truly bothers me is that far too often books that could have been far more powerful as single, stand alone novels are watered down in order to make them last over a longer period of time and, therefore, make more money. The machine of making money has overwritten the need for good story telling. I can think of nothing more disappointing than investing myself in a book and its story just to find out they may as well have printed To Be Continued...on the last page when I wish it had been continued now.

I've compiled a short list of book series that I feel truly exemplify what a real book series should be. If you have any you would like to suggest, please comment so I can add! 

Quality YA Series 
City of Bones, City of Glass, City of Ashes, City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices Series) by Cassandra Clare
All series by Tamora Pierce
White Cat, Red Glove, etc (Curseworkers Series) by Holly Black
All series by Rachel Caine
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins
Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity, Radiant Shadows, Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

Check LEIO out on Wednesday for a new review!

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