Just One. . . or Twelve — Whichever

Is “one and done” not a thing anymore?

No, I’m not talking about one-night stands. Get your minds out of the gutter. This is a fantasy/sci-fi blog after all, not romance. Although I must admit, there is a distinction is most notable among the three genres, a distinction that romance has barely touched. I’m talking about: the series.

Romance fans probably disagree since dozens of romantic series come to their minds. Yes, romances—particularly paranormal romances—have series, too; however, more often, romances have collections rather than series. The authors tell their stories of meeting “the one” in only one, rarely two, novels. The romantic collection is a series of stand-alone novels about a big loving family or close-knit friends. Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City and Lisa Kleypas have great friend collections that make readers feel part of the gang while offering differing perspectives—friend, lover, supporter–of beloved characters. Yet, R.L. Mathewson and Judith McNaught are queens of the family. Neighbors from Hell (Mathewson) and the Montgomery family (McNaught) finesse these family collections better than anyone. Every single–well, eligible–bachelor and bachelorette in the family deserves his/her novel with cameo appearances from previous novels’ characters.

A reader cannot skip a book within a series, but a reader never loses the plot in a romantic collection.

However, that’s not what sci-fi/fantasy series are. By series, I mean book after book after book with the same characters and conflict/issue that the protagonists steadily try to resolve. Sci-fi and fantasy genres have plots and problems too big to resolve in a single book. Each novel is a separate episode with a conflict, climax, and resolution that reveal more about the characters and locations, but the novel doesn’t resolve an overarching issue that drives the major plot, like a television show’s season.

In fact, I’ve read dozens of series that could not do their plots justice within one novel. The series has become the Netflix of the genres. They are long, action-packed stories with an overarching issue or conflict that cannot be resolved easily. Instead, the characters experience challenge after misadventure until the primary conflict is resolved. And each episode—oops, I mean book–has a beginning, conflict, and satisfying end that inches the protagonist a step closer to the bigger problem. These series are perfect for binge reading and hooking the reader.

Right?

Of course.

But are five, ten, twelve, twenty books necessary to finish a story? Ah, no, if the author eliminated all the subplots and story shifts. Here’s a litmus test to prove it:

Could s/he finish the real story plot within one book, two tops? Probably. Some books devote only portions of the book to the major conflict.

Couldn’t the other issues and challenges the protagonist faces in book after book be the next segment in his/her wild misadventures? So wouldn’t the slow march to the primary conflict and its inevitable conclusion be just a doughnut on a string leading readers around? Maybe authors worry their readers will lose interest after a conflict is resolved; however, I doubt it.  Readers (like TV watchers) can be loyal to great characters and will stick with the stories until the plot becomes formulaic or the characters no longer feel like familiar friends.

Do we need to trudge through her version of romance and ultimate marriage of two characters for three books only to trudge the exact romance and marriage from his perspective? No.

Do we need a cliffhanger at the end of the book when the issue is resolved within two chapters in the next book? No.

Are these drawn-out plots just the author’s cash grab? Well, $4.99 per book for twenty books adds up, and some authors increase the price as each book is released. One author, whom I will not name, began her series at $7.99 (for an e-book?!!), and thirteen books later, the final book is $14.99.

Is the protracted plot the reason these books are so appealing? Ah, well…yeah.

OK, I vented enough. Where’s that final book for $14.99

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