In what will come as a complete surprise to almost no one, I read a book this weekend. Because I spent all of Friday passing another kidney stone and the first part of Saturday recovering, I had settled on a light, chick-lit sort of read. Unfortunately for me it was also part of my “get over my prejudice against Christian Fiction” reading plan.
One of my oft-repeated complaints about Christian fiction is that the books are always carved up into pieces which become marketed as “series”. The world of most genres right now is plagued by the marketing device of series fiction and there’s almost no escaping it.
(I actually wrote a version of this same blog post a few months back. I’m repeating myself largely out of frustration, but also because I don’t hear many other people saying it and as a book consumer AND producer I think it has to be said.)
There is a difference between writing a series and chopping up a single story.
True series are like starfish and earthworms. When you carve up the main story, each book grows into a complete body. The best example I can give you is the series I know the best–Harry Potter. (And you KNEW I was going to say that.) Each Harry Potter book is a stand-alone story. This means characters are introduced and developed fully, plotlines are begun and brought to conclusion. The “series” comes into play with the overarching story of Voldemort Vs. The World and the Bildungsroman of Harry Potter himself. Those elements are intriguing and keep the reader coming back to subsequent books. But if you pick up, say, Chamber of Secrets, you could read that book and only that book. All the main questions–Is there a Chamber of Secrets? If so, who opened it? Who is petrifying the students? Why is Harry hearing voices no one else can hear? What is written in the diary? What is to be done about Professor Lockwood?–are answered completely.
The book I read on Friday did no such thing. It’s about four girls living together and remodeling an old house. I started to get concerned when I looked at my Kindle Indicator and saw that I was at 68% and we were still introducing story elements and character dilemmas. Generally the introductions don’t take more than 40% of the story–and that’s being generous. So when the book just stopped after a birthday party I was befuddled. Do any of the girls end up dating the men who have crushes on them? What happens with the one girl’s dreadful boss? Does the Christian girl convert any of the other girls?* Does the mean girl’s bulimia get treated? A bit of research on Amazon and Wikipedia reveals that if I DO want the answers to those questions I will have to buy THREE MORE BOOKS at $10 apiece. When I read the synopses of the other three books it became painfully clear that this was actually ONE book, carved and padded to look like four. The Christian publisher (in this case David C. Cook) is asking me to pay $32.99 for a basic chick lit novel that would have sold for $12.95 through Red Dress Ink.
These books are tree stumps. You’ve got the basic bit of wood upon which you can sit for awhile, but there’s nothing to climb.
I know a lot of writers and I implore you–if you want to write a series, fantastic. Just please write a starfish and don’t let your agent talk you into turning your story into a bunch of stumps.
*I really despise conversion as a plotline because it implies that become a Christian is just getting converted. It’s the same reason I dislike weddings as a whole plotline. Both events–a wedding and a conversion–are the beginning, not the culmination. In addition, a lot of stories which use conversion as a plotline imply that the main character is heroic for converting the other people. It’s sort of like saying the mailman is a hero for bringing you a check for $1,000,000 and totally ignoring the fellow who actually paid the money out of his account.