You know those fiction series where you finish the first one – which you loved – and you’re so excited to discover that there are more to come? It’s kind of like eating the first Cheezie. All that addictive cheesy-salty taste and a texture like styrofoam that melts in your mouth. Yum! But by the twentieth book (or thousandth Cheezie), the characters are no longer as enjoyable as they once were and the suspense in the character’s personal life begins to wear on you. Maybe you’re tired of the main character with two competing loves, or the possessionless wanderer who never seems to settle down. You need closure.
Characters who genuinely grow and move forward in their lives – and in a series – are much easier to stick with than those who never seem to get it together. Even whacky characters can get stale after the 15th book and as readers, we lose interest. I think the worst, however, is when the author has lost interest in the characters and it shows in the writing. If you’re not sure, just go back and read the first in a series you love and compare it to the latest to see if the attention to plot and detail is the same. Are you reading it because it’s just the next in the series and you don’t know when to stop (just like Cheezies!), or are you enjoying each one because it’s authentic?
The problem, of course, is money. If the series is hugely successful, the publisher is going to be offering the author delicious, wonderful sums and royalties to continue the series. Eventually, however, the author may be out of ideas of how to progress the series or have fallen out of love with the main character and that’s when it shows in the writing.
One of my favourite series started to lose me after about the 10th book. The main character responded to a question with “Don’t know, don’t care.” It was so out of character, I felt like the writer was actually talking about her own interest in the plot! But I still went out and bought the next book – just to confirm that the author hadn’t had a rebirth of enthusiasm (no such luck). Which is exactly why publishers write cheques for those series in the first place. You see? I’m part of the problem!
In another instance of a series I had been devoted to, the plot turned out to be so thin that 3/4 of the book was sub-plots – to the point where you almost forgot what the main plot was about and it was solved so quickly and easily with little intrigue, that there too, I thought the author had lost interest in the series.
I think it’s up to the author to recognize when a character’s series has reached its natural end and not wait until the publisher says, “Sales are down! We need to come up with a new, intricate plot twist!” That only usually makes things worse. As painstaking as it might be to say goodbye, there are likely other, wonderful stories pent up inside the writer just waiting to get out. Given a strong fanbase, any new story introduced by the same author will be just as much of a hit as the old one.
Memorable stories start with memorable characters. But if a character just keeps getting into the same scrapes and never moves forward, eventually, we readers will say goodbye – even if the author won’t.