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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Long Novels vs. Series Books

I know I'm hopelessly outvoted on this, but I'd like to see the departure of "series fiction" and the return of the long novel, the epic, if you will.

I say this both from the standpoint of a reader and a writer. I struggle with why I can't find good historical fiction to read. I struggle with where my writing fits in, and how I'd define it. I struggle because I use terms like "epic" or "panoramic" to define the kinds of stories I like, yet those very terms are ambiguous and mean different things to different people. Just like the saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure," so too, "one man's epic is another man's small potatoes." Some people also use the term "saga" which, for whatever reason, I tend to shy away from.

All I know is that I like to read (and write) stories that are BIG in scope. Stories that really bring into play the history of the period, the prevailing thoughts of the society, the backdrop of a larger struggle. This kind of historical fiction, at least for me, has been extremely hard to find in CBA.

In fact, I've only read 2 books this year that approached that type of story. But they were written as books 1 and 2 of a series. But books in a series, in my opinion, aren't as powerful or effective as one long sweeping novel. For one thing, when people write books in a series, each novel feels "undone" somehow. You get to the end and think "what kind of an ending is that?" I can tell you exactly what kind of ending it was---strictly a marketing ploy for the publisher to reel in buyers for that next book in the series. Not one satisfactory to the story.

When books are written in a series, the "BIG" feel is leached away from it and instead gains more of a soap opera feel, ie. "stay tuned till next week for the next installment of As The World Turns."

And, by the time the next book in the series comes out, you have totally lost the rhythm, if not the actual content of the story of the previous book. Much of the work the author put into the buildup is lost in the passage of time. I know that by the time I bought the second book in the series this year, the power that the first book packed had faded with time and it was much harder for me to pick up and continue on with book two. I think I would have had a different reaction had the book been one long, sweeping novel. We writers are taught the importance of building tension in our novels. But series fiction loses tension because---well, because it's series fiction.

I mean, can you imagine if Gone With The Wind had been published as a series of books? BLECH!! The magic would have been eradicated. Ditto for Lonesome Dove.

And there is absolutely no good reason for books to be chopped up into separate titles, other than the rule of the Almighty Dollar in publishing.

That stinks.

As a reader, it makes it near impossible to find good historicals to read. As a writer it makes it hard to find my niche.

But I'm going to keep searching for my niche as a writer. And as a reader I'm going to keep scanning the historical fiction bookshelves. Maybe somewhere, somehow, a good long epic will emerge that will knock my socks off and give me hope that the epic isn't dead.


King J's Queen said...

As a fan of serials, I can offer one good reason for that format rather than the epic. I need large print books and I have nerve problems in my hands. It is much easier for me to plow through 4 novels of 250 pages each than 1 of 1000 pages. The heavier the book, the harder it is for me to hold onto it without my hands going numb.

I'll also mention a preference for anticipating the next volume, which keeps me interacting with the characters (in my mind) for much longer.

B.K. Jackson said...

Well the good news is, the publishing industry is on your side. 8-)

Funny you should mention large print. I began reading James Michener's Texas this week, borrowed from the library. It was a mass market paperback, so it's little print with very narrow margins, so that the print is very close in to the binding--and subsequently very hard to read. I was thinking to myself, "I wonder how many pages this book would be if it was large print?"

Seeing as how the small print version was probably 4-5" thick, a large print would be huge.

But the story ends well. I knew I'd never be able to finish the book by the time it was due back at the library, and I was blessed to find a super-clean hardcover copy of the same book at 1/2 Price Books. Now I can read it more comfortably and at my leisure.

Anonymous said...

I think there are many good reasons for both epics and serials. The manuscript I am currently working on was originally planned as a serial, but as I wrote it became clearer to me that I wanted the entire picture between two covers. I hope that is how it will be published one day. However, I do have a few serials planned as well, so for me I think there is a balancing act between the two.

B.K. Jackson said...

One other thing I forgot to mention where series fiction does work better is if the author uses a different focal character in each story. That lends itself better to series fiction.