Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Gimme More"

Sequels seem to be really big these days and not just sequels but series. It's as though every time I turn on the television there's a movie trailer for the next installment of (fill in the blank) or read Publishers Marketplace to learn an author has sold the rights to not one book but an entire compilation.

But this is, I would argue, a good thing. We get pulled into another world and by the time we're really attached to the characters, it's over--the end coming too soon. It's like getting broken up with. Sure we can play out the moments over and over again but we can't move forward...not with them...not any more.

It doesn't have to be this way. We want, we need, we demand to know what happens...next. And I suspect it's not just the readers who feel this way but often the writers themselves. They've lived in that world, in those minds more fully than any reader can. It's this demand that keeps the Bellas and Harrys, Stefans and Serenas* of the world alive that much longer and, of course, the longer they live, the deeper our relationship becomes with them. Now it's not just a craving for more but an insatiable appetite.

I suppose my love of series goes all the way back to Frog and Toad and perhaps even before then. My mother, an elementary school reading teacher, would always bring home the best books but sometimes--usually by the time the bindings were frayed and ragged--I'd demand she tell me a story of her own creation. "Just make it up," I'd urge, "but make it good!"

She'd begin with an elaborate setting, a pair of mischievous kids, and a mystery...and then she'd fall asleep. She was working full-time and raising three kids so who could blame her but what was I to do? I couldn't very well leave the characters at the gates of the castle or in their boat slowing tipping over the edge of the waterfall, and so I'd finish the story.

There in my room, dimly lit by a Rainbow Bright nightlight, I'd resurrect the characters and continue their story and every so often, when my mother would fall asleep again, I'd coax them out of hiding and extend their escapades a little more. They weren't done having adventures and I wasn't done tagging along.

I think we all have these kinds of stories where we tear through a novel at world record-setting speed despite not ever wanting it to end, or anxiously await the next installment in a series because we're not just enamored anymore but in love.

And there are, of course, those stories we wish we'd written or feel like we almost have because they ring so entirely true. It can feel like the author has been listening to our thoughts and giving voice to our emotions and then there they are, staring back at us from the page.

Candace Bushnell wrote that authors must know their characters more than they know their real-life friends. This is because writers know what motivates a characters and all the nuances of their every relationship. And often as readers this information is shared with us. Perhaps it's this closeness that's spurred fan-fiction and midnight parties to camp out not for concert tickets or sporting events but the next released book.

I knew when I finished writing a scene for my novel, tears streaming down my cheeks, that this wasn't just fiction anymore. These characters seemed as real to me as any one I've ever met so if they were struggling or dishonored or betrayed, it felt like I was too. When they were jovial, laughter would escape my lips at their funny banter.

For me, nothing beats a good book except perhaps a good book with my favorite character friends. What about you? What books or characters, series or sequels have come so vividly alive on the page and made you long to read more?


*If you didn't know, the names reference the Twilight Saga, Harry Potter series, Vampire Diaries, and Gossip Girl. The blog's not long enough to list all my loves so I wrote the first that came to mind.

6 comments:

  1. I'm curious to hear who's sick of all these series. Wasn't part of the fun sometimes in imagining what could have happened after the last page? Don't get me wrong, once I finally read Harry Potter, I pre-ordered with the best of them. But I also remember having to figure out character development and growth to imagine where they would go next. I remember talking to my parents about stuff like that. (Specifically I'm thinking about the Hobbit. Yes, I know the LOTR fills in some of that, but this was before I was old enough to read that, and just had to think about Bilbo on the hugely detailed frame Tolkien provided and imagine on from there.)

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  3. I love a good series, however, I believe in a universal truth that 9 out of 10 sequels are awful (this includes books and movies). There is always that exception to the rule like T2 or Return of the Jedi, but its just that...an exception. For every good sequel there are 10 bad ones like: The Martix Reloaded, Teen Wolf Too (yes too not two), Dirty Dancing Havana Nights. I might challenge everyone to name a good sequel.

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  4. Below is an eclectic list to say the least but I would argue that some of the most well-known books and movies are, in fact, part of a series. Yes, there are really poorly done sequels and series. I'm not arguing that stand alone books or movie are any better or worse than series or that storylines should unnecessarily be continued only that when we finish a great movie or a great book we crave more and when done well, those are sometimes the most lasting characters of all because we've come to know them infinitely more.

    Some movies that yielded great sequels or series: Lord of the Rings, God Father, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, Rocky, X-Men, Batman (The Dark Knight), Spiderman, Star Trek, Shrek, Die Hard (With a Vengence)...

    Some books: Nancy Drew, Twilight Saga, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Dark Tower, Da Vinci Code/Lost Symbol, Berenstein Bears, Peter Rabbit, James Bond, the Hardy Boys, Percy Jackson and the Olympians...

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  5. I agree with you and Chris. I suppose I just get frustrated when people take advantage of a good thing: Star Wars Episodes I-III, Godfather III, Batman & Robin, Batman Forever, Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Spiderman III (despite my love for Venom)...I'm looking at you! I will not acknowledge Twilight because I think it falls into the "Weekly Reader" level of writing. I just don't like being loyal to something and then having my intelligence and loyalty insulted with a pile of crap. It's mean

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  6. Hi Sarah,
    I totally agree with you, if I read a great book I hate to see it end. I'll try to read other books by the same author hoping I might meet my favorite character again, and of course if the author does write a sequal, it's torture waiting for it to finally come out. I have to agree with Chris, when it comes to movies the sequel is usually a disappointment, except for the Bourne series, I loved all of them equally!
    Great blog!! I'm definately returning to see what's new.
    Mary

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