One of the wonderful things about Fantasy noels is that many of them are part of an extended series of books. I love being able to dive into a new world and staying there for an extended period of time. It is one of the things I look forward to creating as I write more books for each of my two fantasy series (the Cirian War Saga and the the Ways of Camelot novels). With multiple books, there is the opportunity to discover so much more about a new world and to watch as characters grow and change. Done well, a lengthy Fantasy series will gain my loyalty.
However, there are quite a few series that I have failed to finish. Some of them I really tried to enjoy but just couldn’t. I have the third book of a trilogy sitting on my nightstand right now that I have been trying to finish for months but it just cannot hold my attention. I greatly enjoyed the first book and I really wanted to like the whole series, but I found that it just became stale. The story couldn’t sustain itself over that many books.
Personally, I can think of five reasons:
1. Delays in Publishing. The longer the delay the greater the odds of readers moving on to something else. Whether the delay comes from a publisher wanting to space out their release dates or from an author being slow to produce, the result is the same. Who wants to read a book when the next one could be years away from release?
2. Repetitive Stories. I have abandoned numerous series because they start feeling like a summer rerun. I will leave when a story drags on, seeming to loop back to repeat similar quests or battles or wars. Life can be a repetitive drudgery; the books that I read shouldn’t be.
3. Stunted Characters. When the main characters never change or mature, then a series will start feeling like a soap opera: lots of words and fake drama but no real advancement in their life story. After ten years of sword fighting, your guy should be a changed man (older, more experienced, hardened, disgusted, crazed… something, anything) Trauma should alter a character’s actions, emotions, and life-goals.
4. Stuck in Glue. There are some great Fantasy series out there that have become bogged down in details. The forward motion of the main story arc almost stops. I get disappointed whenever an author writes a whole novel that is only a side-trip. Maybe the houses are nicer looking on a cul-de-sac, but you certainly aren’t going to get very far driving down that dead-end street. Get the main story moving! Leave off all those side stories that don’t really get us anywhere.
5. Betrayal. This is more of a complex issue. Whenever I feel that an author has set me up, then I will be hesitant to ever trust him or her again. I have had authors create worlds and then mock those creations (and me for naively believing in them). I have had authors lure me into caring for characters and then wantonly kill them off. I have started series where the first book creates a certain mood and then the author (maybe out of boredom) decides to do something completely different with the sequel. Radical change is fine for stand-alone novels but not within a series. Labeling that book as part of a series means that you (author) are promising to uphold the ambiance, the mood, the characters, the brand of the previous book(s). A television series doesn’t shift from romantic comedy to police procedural to nature show each week. The TV show doesn’t alter its main characters halfway through the season. That TV show holds to a similar feel from episode to episode. Your Fantasy series needs to do likewise.
I love reading a good Fantasy series. I often reread the better ones. Sadly, though, there have been many trilogies and sagas that I have never finished just because the author failed to hold my interest over the long run. I don’t desert stories lightly, but I also cannot stand it when a Fantasy series fails to be entertaining or to be loyal to the world the author crafted in book one.
When it comes to my own Fantasy series, I will strive to be respectful of my readers and do my best to avoid the five shortcomings I mentioned above. Will I succeed? I hope so.