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Do series books get better or lose steam?

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I just read the second book in a new series about MOLLY MOON (another English import!) and while I loved the first book, I only liked the second book.  The first book was funny, exciting with a wonderful rags to riches to semi-rags success story, while the second focused more on a very wild plot without much character growth.  While there were intriguing discoveries, it just wasn't as fun.  Mostly because the heroine was more of a victim than triumphing on her own.

So this brings up the question...Have you read any series books where the additional books didn't live up to the first one?  And why does this happen? 

Do you think some publishers jump too quickly to add sequels? 

Linda
#1 - May 26, 2004, 07:38 AM
Author of SNOW DOG, SAND DOG, THE SEER, DEAD GIRL, CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB & in 2016: CA$H KAT
www.LindaJoySingleton.com
twitter.com/LindaJoySinglet

Jaina

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I don't know if this counts as a series book (but I guess if Molly Moon counts . . . ), but I've always felt that the second Charlie book by Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, was the weakest piece of Dahl writing I've ever read.  It reads as if Dahl was made to write it, and he did it in a weekend.  :(  To me, anyway.

I think some publishers jump too quickly on the sequel or series idea, yes.  Some books should just stand alone.  I think even kids feel that way!  Particularly after reading disappointing follow-ups.

This makes me want to go back and read those other Pippi books.  I liked them as a kid, though none was so magical as the first--I wonder what I'd think of them now?

Apologies if these aren't the kind of books you meant, LJ.  For series that were meant as series in the first place, I often find the second is almost nearly as enjoyable as the first, the third is just as enjoyable, the fourth only slightly less, and so on.  Judy Moody comes to mind--all high-quality stuff.
#2 - May 26, 2004, 07:54 AM

I think series that are intended as series can definitely increase in quality as the characters develop and the plot becomes more intriguing.  Almost without exception, though, it seems that after a couple years the series hits a high point -- and for whatever reason, every book after that is a slow decline into mediocrity.  This goes for TV shows, too.  I think it has a lot to do with creators being compelled by money to continue the story without really having a story to write.  The original inspiration and ideas are all spent and everything else is just.... blah. 

I think a big problem may be character growth.  After a certain point, the characters have grown as far as you can take them, so it's either they are forced to devolve so they can grow again, or each story becomes a repetitive retread of all the others, or the characters are made to change in ways that seem totally unnatural to who they were before.  That's probably why sequels to popular books that were never meant to have sequels seem slight -- all the character growth happened in the first book, so what's left to write about?

I have lots and lots of theories about why series tend to slide down in quality after a while, and I hope to one day be able to try them out.  One thing I want to do is to develop a single character as far as I can -- and then take him out of the picture, and continue the story with a new character with her own journey.  I don't know how people would react, but it seems like it might be an interesting experiment.
#3 - May 26, 2004, 10:02 AM
THE LAST DOGS (as Christopher Holt) - Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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HB

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**** Oh sure. Jeff’s already said some of the stuff I was busy writing. Tough. I’m too lazy to edit my message now. ***

I think it depends on the series. I'm not crazy about books where the author wrote it as a one-off and then it was a big hit so the publisher encouraged the author to write a sequel. Character growth is often reversed in order to come up with similar situations for the second book. Or the author tries so hard to come up with something bigger and better that it ends up forced and ridiculous. That sounds like what you're describing with Molly Moon II.

As well, the original premise may be a brilliant, unique idea. But is it still unique the 5th time you've rehashed it?

On the other hand, with the first book in a series you need to introduce the characters and the scene (especially with fantasies) so there isn't much time for plot. Later books often have better plots, greater depth and give the author a chance to flesh out the characters more.

With Harry Potter, I've heard people complain that every book has the same plot, and I guess that's true. Harry starts a new year. Voldemort tries to come back to life. Harry and friends figure out the evil plot. No one believes them. Harry has to go it alone. Success. School ends for the year. Hope I didn't post any spoilers for people.  ;D

But really, that's the bare skeleton of the plot. The fact is, layers upon layers are being built, and then peeled away for the readers. Clues in book two are revealed in book four. This is intricate stuff. The stuff that fanatics obsess over. Characters are slowly growing and changing. No lightbulb moment at the end of the book with a character learning a lesson and changing their personality overnight. That doesn't happen in real life. Readers recognize this realism and respond to it, feel like they know these characters better than their own family. Look at the number of HP websites. Can the same be said for any stand-alone book?

For the same reason, television is ultimately a more satisfying medium than movies for me. Movies come in two types: plot-centric and character-centric. Writers can’t seem to jam both into two hours. But with television, the sky’s the limit. Not that every show uses the medium to it’s best advantage, but the opportunity is there.
#4 - May 26, 2004, 10:26 AM

tgseale

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Well, I know I was trashing the blatant misuse of the English language in the Junie B. Jones books a few weeks back...  I've read all but a couple of them now though, and I think they're all so funny.  The best one, imo, is #4 Yucky Blucky Fruit Cake.  Call me immature, but I was literally rolling with tears in my eyes reading that thing.

 P.S. I still change all the "I runned" sentences to "I ran" and I change all the "stupids" to silly, BTW.   Can't resist.
#5 - May 26, 2004, 12:03 PM

words4kids

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I don't know if this counts as a series book (but I guess if Molly Moon counts . . . ), but I've always felt that the second Charlie book by Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, was the weakest piece of Dahl writing I've ever read.  It reads as if Dahl was made to write it, and he did it in a weekend.  :(  To me, anyway.

I think some publishers jump too quickly on the sequel or series idea, yes.  Some books should just stand alone.  I think even kids feel that way!  Particularly after reading disappointing follow-ups.

I would definitely agree on the Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.  It was quite weak compared to the Chocolate Factory.

This thread brings me to another question- the most common advice I hear is to submit a book as a stand alone (even if you have written it or planned it in your head as a series).  Then you're to hope that the publisher likes it enough (and that it does well financially of course) to consider it for a series.  So you are almost forced to do all the character development in the original book and make it as strong as it can be so it can sell in the first place.  Having done that, it does kind of limit you in subsequent books, don't you think?  If a writer could just pitch the book as a potential series in the first place and map out what plans they have for the character in subsequent books I think it would  be a lot simpler. 

In my series, I have different adventures with the same characters- kind of like Magic Tree House or Jigsaw Jones- so the plots differ but do have common threads.  In each book, the mc is growing or learning something by the book's end, usually it is something new he has come to understand and not the same thing he learned in the previous books.   But when all's said and done, it's not drastically different from the previous books, just slightly different growth.  It's the same kind of thing you see with Arthur- each episode (or book) a new character development is tweaked or honed in on. Though this can occur with any one of the characters, not just Arthur.  But after viewing or reading a few 'episodes', they all seem alike.  Maybe not to kids though.  I know my son can watch it everyday without fail.  Maybe it's just us adults that tire of the seemingly lack of variety.
#6 - May 27, 2004, 09:38 PM

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Bonnie Bader at Grosset and Dunlap does series and you can pitch your ideas to her.  She spoke at the SCBWI -Hofstra conference in April.  She's the editor for the  Henry Winkler Lin Oliver HANK ZIPZER series, as well as other series  Send her for the first book -the first  3 chapters & synopsis, and a paragraph description for the next 3  in the series.   :books:

--LiZ
#7 - May 28, 2004, 05:29 AM

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