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The appeal of serial fiction

A series allows an author to build complex characters

Read in Ned June 15, 2017
By Jay Mann

There’s a lot to be said for serial fiction. The fact that so many best-selling books are part of a series – think of authors like Patterson, Grafton, Woods – proves that they are popular. So what’s their appeal? It depends.

Most series fall under genre fiction – mysteries, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. Mystery and crime series give the author and reader the chance to explore a character in depth. How their mind works (to solve crimes), how they relate to other people, their quirks. Many books in these genres can be thought of as an extended character study. What keeps people reading is not only the puzzle of the crime or mystery, but the appeal of someone who has flaws, neuroses, who makes mistakes. Someone like ourselves.

Fantasy series tend to focus on a long quest or story. Children are exposed to this genre pretty early, with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Rick Riordan, Harry Potter, etc. “Epic Fantasy” can have a cast of tens or hundreds of characters. Recognizing how difficult it can be to keep track of so many names, many of them have a section that lists the major characters along with a distinguishing bit of background.

I was reminded of the emotional appeal that a fantasy series can have on my first day in library school. My entire cohort (80 people) gathered together. We took turns introducing ourselves, where we were from, hobbies, and the most interesting question – sharing a guilty pleasure. One of my classmates said her guilty pleasure was a massive fantasy series (by Robert Jordan) that she kept under her bed. She said that she hoped he would finish the series soon because he was very sick. Someone said softly “he died two weeks ago” which caused her to burst into tears. It was an awkward moment but her feelings were something that we could all relate to. The thought that the story of a group of characters and place that we have grown to love may never be completed. The series – totaling 14 books – was eventually completed by a different author.

aspencat.infoAnother example of an epic fantasy is Game of Thrones, which is one of the most popular T.V. shows at the moment. It is based on a series of books called The Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin. I read the first book twenty-three years ago; I stopped after reading the third book in 2000. In the past seventeen years, only two more books in the series have been published. The books are good, even damn good. But I don’t have the ability to keep details in mind for twenty years. So when the series is finished, I might give it another shot.

World building – whether for mystery or fantasy – can take a lot of work. A series allows an author to focus more on character development, rather than creating a new setting each time. Whether you are currently in the midst of reading one, or several, series or are looking to find a new one, we’ve got you covered.

Jay Mann is the Director of the Nederland Community Library.

NCL hosts Conversation Cafe, Thursday, June 22, at 7 pm. Conversation Cafes are open, hosted conversations in cafes as well as libraries, conferences, classrooms-anywhere people gather to make sense of our world.

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