Friday, January 4, 2013

A Negative Impact on Your Art

     In her essay "A Sweet Devouring," Eudora Welty described how her reading appetite has changed since childhood. She used to enjoy quantity over quality. Book lust. The more books in a series, the better. That didn't last forever, though, and she eventually began to care more for the content of her reading. "And then I went again to the home shelves and my lucky hand reached and found Mark Twain -- twenty-four volumes, not a series, and good all the way through" (251). She found a new kind of "Sweet Devouring."
     The idea of "more is better" is not an uncommon one in America, and the many trilogies and expansive book deals of late seem to reflect this. In her essay, Eudora Welty mentioned that a certain series was "one grand prevention" (250-251) of resolution. A series keeps the reader asking for the resolution, but doesn't give it until the final installment. Sometimes I just feel like I'm being strung along, as a reader, so that I'll keep buying books and giving the publishers my money.
     Trilogies are hot in the YA market, right now. I used to enjoy that aspect, but it's getting old. A lot of books just aren't interesting enough to merit several sequels. Not that all of them are bad, but many of them are just "eh." I'll read the first book and think, "Why didn't *insert author name here* stop after this book? It was fine, but there isn't enough room for expansion to create a series. I probably won't pick up the next book..."
     But I can think of examples that have the opposite effect. For instance: The Montmaray Journals. I'm reading the third book of this series and enjoying it immensely. Catching Fire, the second book in the The Hunger Games series, is another example. I thought it was even better than the first, which must have been tough to pull off because the first was already an incredibly engrossing Dystopia and a thought-provoking social critique. I couldn't put it down. Why?
     Suzanne Collins did not just add episodic adventure to episodic adventure in her series. She created, explored, related, and critiqued a whole society over the course of her three books and she made a statement about war. She used a compelling character in order to do so. The plot and character stakes grew in each book. And, of course, she made some interesting new comparisons between Panem and America in each book. Collins NEEDED three books to fully explore the concepts she tackled in the style she chose. Those are general ideas of about why THG worked so well over the course of a series. Maybe someday if I ever wise up (will I ever?), I can theorize about the specific craft work that powered Suzanne Collins's success.
     I hypothesize that when a book doesn't meet my high expectations for a series, it has something to do with money. When publishers release a book, they test reader response before releasing a sequel. They leave the story ending slightly open to keep up the possibility. If interest is low, they may not publish another book. If response is high, they rip out a sequel. I think the author should be allowed to write for however long their universe supports a good story and they should stop there. They shouldn't have to or want to stretch it on and on just to make big bucks.
     Movies can also have this problem. I anticipated watching The Hobbit like MY ENTIRE LIFE and was very excited to finally see it. Although I enjoyed a lot of it, the "sequel storm" definitely impacted the movie negatively. Because the story is being stretched into three separate films, someone had the, uh,  brilliant idea of attaching a whole subplot. No, no, no. That kind of thinking is all about money. *
     I'm resisting the urge to explain in-depth my thoughts about the new Bourne movie, The Bourne Legacy. Basically: they created it for money, and used the hype from the original Bourne movies to carry on a new, completely unoriginal story line.
     When art is created singularly for monetary gain, it's usually not very good. Don't get me wrong--all artists should get paid for their hard work. I even think it's okay for money to be a part of the reason you choose one project over another. But adding to a perfectly good story or stretching it out just for money is wrong, because the focus is not on art, but on money and how to make it.
     Scribblers, why do you write? Let's not get caught creating "one grand prevention" to get more money.

*Update 1/7/13: I did find out that the subplot was not entirely tacked on. Some of it was discussed in the Simarillion. still felt out of place to me. I understand what the producers were trying to do. I even like some of it--but parts of it felt silly. I won't ruin it for you. If you have any opinions on this matter, I'd love to hear about them!

Works Cited
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, Scholastic Inc., 2008. Print.
Welty, Eudora. "A Sweet Devouring." The Best American Essays of the Century." Ed. Joyce Carl Oates. Co. Ed. Robert Atwan. Ser. The Best American Series. Houghton Mifflin: 2000. Print.


  1. I totally agree with your conclusions. I've just self-published the 2nd book of my planned trilogy. Why a trilogy? Two books wasn't enough to tell the story I am telling. But I hope it's done after the third book because I'd like to move on to other ideas. Even though I have more ideas for other books with these characters.

    In any case, no one can accuse me of writing the sequel or the third book for money. Of the 10,000+ copies of my first book out in the world, more than 9,000 were free downloads. The book made enough profit to pay my Starbucks bill as I wrote the sequel, but to date, not much more than that! :-)

    I also agree with your Hobbit comment. Even worse, I think the entire Goblin battle was a preview of an amusement park ride. I will forgive a lot--I actually liked the rabbit sled--but that goblin battle was too much. Still, they'll get my money for the rest of the series. For sure. (Can't wait to see Smaug in action.)

  2. Peter,

    Well then, no one can accuse you of writing for corrupt reasons!

    I liked the rabbit sled, too. It was possibly my favorite addition...And of course, Watson, er, I mean, Martin Freeman was enjoyable.