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EVOLVING INTO HUMDRUM – RUNNING A SERIES DRY

December 19, 2018

I originally posted this article in 2015 when Fred Central was only three years old. I was about to publish my first book, Treasure Of The Umbrunna and I received a lot of questions about whether it was going to be a trilogy. Why? Because it was a fantasy and because of Lord Of The Rings, everyone assumed I’d follow that pattern. Nope. Just like with my Gold series and Lusitania Gold, which saw publication in 2017, trilogy has never entered the picture.

This brings up the thought of a series, how long it should be and how to keep it going. The best writers can keep them going (it seems like) forever, while others burn out relatively fast.

Why burn out?

The characters evolve too far.

Below is the original article, tweaked with my latest thoughts, especially since I now have three books under my belt with no sign of stopping.

ORIGNAL INTRO

I think back to when I first joined the Air Force. I was a terrible Airman as far as military bearing. However, I loved being a mechanic, especially when it came to electrical stuff. In fact, I was good enough that my bosses tended to overlook my personal foibles with my wrinkled uniform and ratty hair because I got things fixed. The other side of the coin was that because I got things fixed, and because I had a natural ability with multiple choice tests, I worked myself right out of what I loved doing. In one respect, I shot myself in the foot. On the other hand, I did my body a world of good and though I’m paying for it now with plenty of health issues, it could’ve been worse. The point is that I evolved. That made me think of characters in series that evolve. The intent is well-meaning, but the end result can ruin a good thing.

BANDS

I think about some of my favorite rock bands. I often loved their first few albums, but then the musicians got bored, or decided to evolve their sound to become more commercial. They changed into something I didn’t like as much. I look at the huge album shelf next to me, as I type this, and see bands with one or two (out of five or more) albums that are great, while the rest are just meh. The thing is, those meh albums are usually their biggest sellers. Go figure. Then again, after those big sellers, the bands faded as musical tastes changed and the groups broke up for various reasons.

TV SHOWS

TV shows usually have a much shorter shelf life. The first few episodes start with a bang. That’s the thing that attracts audiences to them in the first place. Then, the writers and the audience get bored. Pressure is on to “evolve” the characters, to keep the numbers up. Before long, the show either flops, or becomes way more popular. More often than not, it’ll not be the same animal it was in those first few shows. Once that evolution takes place, it’s make or break time to soar or fizzle out. Shows that stick to a formula seem to last longer. They take a lot of flack for sticking to said formula, but they gain dedicated viewers who stay with them.

BOOKS

I’ve fallen in love with a book series, only to have the characters evolve into something I don’t like anymore. The characters and plotting grow right out of what attracted me in the first place. They become something a far cry from what I read in book one.

The authors run the series dry and move on to something else. Fin. Done.

Maybe it was their plan all along. Maybe the author gets as bored as the audience. Maybe the story arc made the end inevitable, at least to the author.

What if you want the story to live on?

PROS AND CONS

Many readers love and expect characters to evolve. There are others that don’t. I think there’s room for both.

Some people think it’s mandatory to evolve, like there’s some cosmic rule that you have to evolve the characters, or what’s the point, and bla bla bla.

I say bull.

You don’t have to do anything. It’s your world.

Why not be like AC/DC and don’t fix something that isn’t broken?

I have no issue with the character evolving a little. Maybe put in small changes or details along the way, but nothing that requires or forces the character to change character. A natural progression is fine as long as you don’t fix something that isn’t broken – something that’ll kill the series.

There’s no reason a character has to start as A and end up being Z.

In this short attention span world, it’s almost expected characters have to change or the audience gets bored. If we all bend to that, we’re playing right into that mentality.

BRIEF EXAMPLE

I’ve always loved the Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt series. Over the decades, he’s written several dozen novels. My beef with Pitt is that the series has been going for so long, Mr. Cussler chose to age Pitt. Instead of keeping him young, and not letting time get in the way of a good story, he threw realism in and gave him age and baggage. Pitt started as the young, dashing hero. Now he has a dead wife, is semi-retired from adventuring, and promoted to director of his organization. His son and daughter do most of the heroics. That’s not exactly what attracted me to the series. I’ve aged right along with him, but though I still enjoy the series, it’s not quite the same. Yet, he still has his detractors who say it’s the same old thing, which is just a case of you can’t win.

On the other hand, the good old pulp stories of Doc Savage never had that issue. Though it’s been several decades since I last read them, I don’t remember Doc evolving all that much. Ken Robeson, AKA Lester Dent, didn’t fix something that wasn’t broke. He wrote 30+ great quick and dirty novels that gave me a great time.

I could list more examples but you get the point.

SUMMARY

It’s perfectly fine to evolve your characters if you want to. I do, to some extent, but not enough to limit the series if I want to write a hundred books. You don’t have to either. You don’t have to fix something that isn’t broken. You don’t have to ruin something good. You don’t have to bend to the will of the short attention span crowd. On the other hand, that does buck catering to a wider audience. Then again, there are authors out there cranking out what some call the same old stuff, and they’re doing just fine, like Stuart Woods, JD Robb, and ahem… Clive Cussler, according to his critics (yeah, go figure).

Happy writing!

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