Three’s Company, but 25 is a horde…

PortraitThis post by Craig Snider

I have a rant. Granted, in the end it will impart a lesson, but first you must endure the rant.

I hate, HATE, when a series of books has a million books in it! There are a few exceptions to this rule. The exception exists when the author has a predetermined number in mind in order to tell the story. The Harry Potter series is a good example of this.

Why are these series so popular? Here’s why. Readers are greedy. They want to know everything there possibly is to know about the universe in which their characters reside. Why is that wrong, you ask? Because, it is also greedy on the part of the author.

I understand the author wants to please their readers. And, I understand the need to dig into every secret of the story. I admit, I’m one of those fans who must immediately go to Wikipedia and read about the movie I just watched because I loved it so much. I read about the movie, then about the writer, then the director, and so on. But, I would be upset if they continued to make more movies that do not contribute toward resolving the story.

In real life, stories don’t really end. I suppose the story of a single individual ends upon their death, but their story continues on with the people they’ve touched with their lives.

But, when it comes to fiction, you have to have the end-game in sight at all times. Readers, despite what they may say, want finality and resolution to the story, they want to feel that the story has come full circle. Once the story is “over,” then the full appreciation of it can begin. Now, analysis of the story as a whole is possible.

To me, if you can’t tell the character’s (or the universe’s) story in three books, you should probably rethink your approach.

The two genres that are the most prominent offenders are Fantasy and Science-Fiction. I lost count of how many books are in Robert Jordan’s “Eye of the World” series. And, I’m sure the books are great. But, at a certain point, I must throw up my hands and say enough is enough. I just want the story to end, and for the entire series to be building up to that ending. A trilogy should only be a trilogy if the story is so complex that you couldn’t possibly finish it up in a single book, or two books. Anything beyond that, in my opinion, is selfish.

What do you think? And, if you disagree, what is your legitimate, and objective reason for liking a long series of books?




15 thoughts on “Three’s Company, but 25 is a horde…

  1. I look forward to series as long as they don’t ramble or get stale, especially with detective series. Romance series not so much (they tend to get silly if there are too many). Good post. Made me think about what I’m reading.


  2. Craig, you make a good point. I would agree with your premise that trilogies fit most scenarios. But as with all ‘rules’ I believe there are some exceptions. The ‘Amber’ series by Roger Zelazny really did need the full ten books to complete the stories and world. Having said that, it really is the exception (and all were so incredibly well written).

    It is rare that I finish a series if there is more than three or at most five, for at some point most become repetitive. Doris


    1. Doris, you are so right. Every rule is made to be broken. And, again, if the author knows in advance how the story will resolve, allowances can be made. But, many series feel stretched out merely to resolve the author’s bank account. :-/


  3. I don’t read science fiction or fantasy, and I don’t think mystery series work quite the same way. I do think it’s difficult to keep a series fresh after it’s been running for a while. Except for the Nancy Drews, of course, with a heroine who is eternally eighteen.


    1. Kathy, mysteries are certainly guilty of this, but you’re right, they do follow a different format. They are serialized, which is something mysteries can certainly do, as the point of the story is the mystery more than the characters sometimes. We do learn more about the character, but more often than not, they remain pretty much the same throughout.


  4. I like for a book, a movie, a TV show or whatever to end in one book, movie, TV show. A books series, like a TV series, can go on with the characters, but I want an ending in my allotted time. I don’t do Trilogy, or anything like that, I’m afraid I’ll have other things going on before I get to the second or third book. Good point and good blog. Thanks Cher’ley


  5. Hmm, this is a really good question Travis. I actually love trilogies if they continue the story well with new settings and characters but I also like books that tell the tale in one book. I just read Jeffrey Archer’s (The Clifton Chronicles) and enjoyed each book. So far there are three but may be more. Because I’m invested in the characters and storyline I’ll read them all. I am currently writing a series of three because the stories differ even as the threads are woven together. I’ll actually be ready to write something else though. Staying with the same characters and time frame wears one out! Thanks for an interesting post!


  6. This is very interesting, Craig. Just this past weekend, my son’s fiance who is now 22, brought me the entire movie collection of Harry Potter to watch. She absolutely loves Harry Potter. She was eleven when the first book came out (the same age as Harry when he first went to Hogwart School). Although I did not read the Harry Potter books, I did spend the weekend watching the dvd’s. J.K. did an excellent job in taking on a series where the characters actually grew up with many Harry Potter readers. J.K. struck a magical cord in kids and had an active audience all through their teenage years. Amazing marketing! Magic, identifiable characters, a setting that fueled the imagination! I give her koodos. Like you, though, I agree that this magical technique can’t be easily replicated in other works. Good post, Craig.


  7. When Debbie Macomber wrote the last book in her Cedar Cove series a couple of years ago, I was disappointed because I really wanted to follow her characters on more adventures and meet new characters. Now, she is continuing the series with The Inn at Rose Harbor, and a sequel is due out soon, I think.


  8. I love reading series, though I tend to read things like trilogies or the Harry Potter books, where there is a definite end. In some other series I’ve read (part of) that don’t have that end, I often lose steam. Maybe because I’ve gotten enough of that world, but sometimes because it feels like after a while the author is just phoning it in. The formula works so follow the formula, blah blah blah. So, I’m off to find new candy. I think that would be one of the difficulties of writing that kind of long series for the author–sustaining their own interest and not just phoning it in because they want a new world too.


  9. Travis – I think there are different kinds of series. I love mysteries and my favorite authors have self-contained stories in each book but the characters grow and change from book to book. What I don’t like and I agree with you whole heartedly, is when a book comes to a random stop only to start up again. I started reading “The Game of Thrones” and enjoyed it until about book three when I realized that potentially it was never going to end. The books didn’t complete with a satisfying ending and then have the characters move forward. No, everything just goes on and on and I got tired of wondering if there was ever going to be a pay-off. Great post.


  10. Craig, you bring out many good points. There’s a Wyoming author named Craig Johnson who has a BOATLOAD of books about one character, Longmire, that’s now a series on A&E. He has a HUGE following, so I think he probably fits into that “exception” and his are crime/mystery books. I must admit, I’ve gotten hung up on the books and the character, a lot because he’s a Wyoming author and also because of the TV show. Nice to be able to cheer on and support a “home boy!”


  11. Yes there are exceptions to the rule, Craig and some authors do very well with many books in them- crime and mysteries in particular. I never intended, at the outset of writing my first historical romantic adventure, to write a Book 2, 3 or 4 of my Celtic Fervour series. Number 2 transpired becasue a reviewer asked when the next one was coming out. I had no date, of course, but set to and wrote the next two books which are interlinked with Book 1 but don’t actually have the same main characters as Book 1. In that way I’m hoping to keep a ‘freshness’.


  12. I had a friend who has since passed away, and we both loved reading fantasy — and we both got fed up with Jordan. He’d do a novel in multiple POVs, do a few scenes from a particular POV in one book and not pick it up again until the next book. That is so slow and tedious I’m sure he lost readers … I know of two. In fact, he lost a third reader … himself, when he died. Had to have another writer comb through Jordan’s notes to finish up the series. I have the book on the nightstand and I’m struggling to get through it.


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