Sunday, September 12, 2010

Series Snafus

My seemingly non-stop whining about series over the last 6 months and Apprentice Writer's recent post inspired me to turn whining into articulation a blog post and make a list of what it is that drives me bonkers in a series.

Side note: I had been meaning to do this with writing pet peeves in general but turns out a pretty good list already exists. To this I would add: misuse of reflexive pronouns, overuse of "twitch" to indicate humor by lip movement, and overuse of the word "sardonic." In fact, I believe I will never use the word again. Ever. Not once. I don't care how sardonic someone is I will find some other way to express it (ok, clearly that was the actual last use of the word).

And a question: what is the name for this? When not falling prey to the Writing Ticks, I describe writing as deft. In the realm of writing what is the opposite of deft?

Ok, counting down to my top series snafu

6. The Increasing Unlikelyhood that Any of This is Possible

Item 6 rears its ugly head in two ways. Way One: we're 11(000) books in to a series and everything has happened to every recurring character. After a while I just don't buy it. When one character has now had more excitement than any 100 people combined it's time to end it - well, probably past time but whatevs. (This error is especially egregious in PI novels. You know, you can only say that most of your time is spent running records checks so many times before the dead bodies start to make me doubt your statement.)
Way Two: reader loyalty is used as a bouy to suspension of disbelief and we are expected to go along with the impossible because, well, shucks, it's Character A and whacky things just can't help happening whenever Character A happens by. I realize that we're not all queuing up to read boring books but you've got to make me believe that what is happening would happen. If not, I don't care how much I've liked your previous work, I'm checking out and not coming back.

5. Recycled Vocabulary

I appreciate style but it quickly loses substance when a series author begins recycling descriptions verbatum. English has much variety. Please explore it.

4. The Recycled Plot/Romance Impediment/Twist

Now this is interesting because it's not like there are a ton of plots out there and I read the same stories over and over. BUT! I read them with new characters in new places with new perspectives. I'm not interested in watching the same characters in a recycled a plot. If I'm going to read the same story I want to meet new people.

3. The Recycled Character Arc

A character that learns the same lessons book after book after book is Made of Stupid and not interesting.

2. The Character Reversal

It is a major party foul to change character attributes (often essential to a previous book's arc or plot) for reasons of plot only. I am more than happy to experience growth with a character but it must stem naturally from events and not simply move things along in subsequent books.

1. Blowing Your Wad

And here we are at the big one! How I despise the re-cap!!! The re-cap puzzles me for multiple reasons. If I am a loyal reader, I do not need your re-cap. If I am a new reader, the re-cap is a waste. Let's say you (the author) are in book three. That means you have two books of backstory! Two books of world-building background! Two books of character outline! What a wealth of information at your fingertips for book three. Why oh why would you blow all that in the first few chapters? This is information that can (and probably will) inform most of what the characters say and do. It breathes in the background hinting at a full and realistic world. Again, why blow this at the beginning? If you have an established character why would you want to do a two paragraph run-down on that character when, instead, you know this character so well that every word and action will come naturally from all you know? I don't want an explanation, I want to see that character being that character! And if you are re-capping past events, again, I must ask why? So often they are not essential to the current story so you have just constructed a nice little "road work ahead" sign that has slowed me down, taken me out of the current story, and hit me over the head with the fact that I'm reading a series. Yuck!

The question for me becomes, why is the re-cap so ubiquitous? It must be serving a purpose that I am not seeing. But what is that purpose? As a series reader have I suddenly been rendered incapable of following the current story or current character without extensive background? Do authors prefer to not incorporate past information in a natural way? Is the re-cap easier? Is it satisfying some desire in readers that I clearly don't share? Gah! So much confusion for me!

Any ideas on the purpose of the re-cap?

Any series nit picks you'd like to add?

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