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Monday, April 17, 2006

Having too much sympathy

It is not uncommon for an extended series to slowly wane in power and interest. An author who writes outstanding books at first can go to the well too many times.

After putting down a somewhat disappointing read by one of my favorite authors last week, I started thinking about why this occurs. Shouldn't a series get better as the author becomes more familiar with the characters and more comfortable with the setting? Shouldn't dialogue flow easier as the authors become more intimate with their creations?

Yet, I think one of the problems is inherent in the intimacy that authors develop with their characters. First, it becomes essential that the main protagonists survive so that the next book can be written about them. If you're on book 12 in a series, even the most gullible of readers isn't going to believe that the main characters are ever in any mortal danger.

What becomes even more threatening, though, is that the characters are often shielded from emotional and psychological danger. Perhaps it is because the fans of the series would become too outraged or perhaps it is because the author herself/himself has become too fond of the characters, but rarely can any real harm come to the characters.

This lack of risk, lack of conflict, lack of suspense, can hurt a story. As fans, we've come to really like characters and we don't want anything bad to happen to them. However, as readers, we want a story that is compelling and interesting. These two desires clash with each other and I'm not sure what a good solution is.

Certainly, there have been some series in which this rule is ignored. George R.R. Martin is considered a breakthrough fantasy writer because of his willingness to kill off main characters, in particular sympathetic ones. However, his Song of Ice and Fire is less of a series and more of one long story broken up into several lengthy books.

How does the author of as series overcome this challenge? Especially a writer of thrillers or mystery novels?

That's an answer I haven't found yet.


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