Sunday, May 30, 2010

Series Fatigue

When is it time for an author to end a popular fiction series? This topic has been written about previously at Susquehanna Writers, but I’d like to offer a fresh perspective given my personal experience in living through this decision.

Readers can become attached to characters such that they eagerly await the next release of their favorite series. To name a few, I always look forward to Victoria Thompson’s latest Gaslight Mystery and wonder if her characters Sarah and Frank will finally “get together” this time. Charlaine Harris recently released her 10th Sookie Stackhouse novel. I’m as eager to dive into this story as I was the previous 9. I just finished reading Maria V. Snyder’s Sea Glass and can’t wait to find out what happens next to Opal. In my opinion, what these authors share in common is an enjoyment for writing that carries through in the quality of their work.

What causes a reader to lose interest? I used to enjoy James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels, but recently these installments have disappointed me. With no disrespect to Mr. Patterson, an author I have a high regard for, his newer plots seem stale and recycled, his characters flat. An example of series fatigue. Is it possible that he no longer enjoys writing about Alex Cross?

My latest Perry County Mystery, Dancing Bear, released April 2010 is the 4th book in the series. See:

While outlining a possible 5th and 6th installment, I discovered that I no longer have the same enthusiasm for my characters. Although I still have several intriguing plot ideas, writing about the same cast of characters has lost its appeal. A sure sign that it’s either time to end the series, or at least I need to step away from it for a while. Some of my readers express disappointment over this decision, but it’s better to leave them hungry for more than it is to create a lackluster product. Fortunately, I’m under no contractual obligation to produce a certain volume of work. Wouldn’t it be awful if writing turned out to be just another obligation rather than something we love doing? To be fair to Mr. Patterson, maybe this is the position he finds himself in.

What next? The post-apocalyptic genre is one of my favorites. The appeal comes from speculating about what it would be like to live through a reboot of human civilization. My current project explores this possibility, and I’m having great fun with my new characters. I’ve rediscovered a joie de vivre in my writing and am confident that this new enthusiasm will eventually result in an exhilarating novel for my readers.


Cate Masters said...

Great post Dennis. I've never attempted a series, but can imagine how difficult it is to draft new scenarios for the same characters, and keep it fresh. The post-apocalyptic novel sounds intriguing. Hope to hear more about it!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I heard from an editor at Pennwriters that post-aplcalyptic is pretty hot and he thinks it will continue so good luck with that, Dennis. I like to write series and I think fantasy fans expect it but I like to keep them at three or four books. Some fantasy authors take their series so long I lose interest in reading about it. How long does it take to figure out how to save the world anyway?

Dennis Royer said...

Susan - I agree, 3 or 4 books in a series seems optimal before the characters run out of gas. I attended David Pomerico's session at PW where he spoke of the post-apocalyptic genre being "hot" and learned about the new genre: "dystopian" fiction which he says is also hot.