Monday, June 8, 2009

A Book of Setup: Don't Plan the Series

You’re sitting there watching a television show and things are getting exciting. The villain has put a bomb in the protagonist’s car. His wife has gotten in and driven away, not know that the big red numbers are ticking down, 1:06…1:05…1:04…. The protagonist has to do something soon. You look up at the clock. There isn’t enough time left in the show for the protagonist to defeat the bad guy. You hope it won’t, but you know it’s coming, “To be continued.”

Don’t you just hate those words? Especially when the show is the season finale. Cliff Hangers are supposed to keep people interested, but most of us forget from week to week what the show was able and when we reach the end of the season, we aren’t going to remember the show until the beginning of the next season. Books suffer the same problem. It can be months before the next book in the series comes out.

I don’t think authors should plan to write a series. It does their readers a disservice. I read a book some time ago that was the first book in a series. The author wrote well, there is no denying that, but throughout the book I had this impression that the whole thing was setup. I reached the end and found the equivalent of “to be continued.” When an author is planning for a series, there is the danger that he will stretch the plot out over the series. Every plot begins with the setup part of the story, in which we learn what the character is doing now and the problems he faces. In a planned series, the whole setup gets stretched out over the first book and nothing happens. It isn’t until the second book when anything fun happens, but by that time the reader has lost interest.