Friday, July 8, 2011

Plotting and Series

So I meant to take this one little break, and before I knew it, three weeks flew by. That's forever in blogging time! Thank goodness I'm not the only one on a summer hiatus lately (even though it doesn't really much feel like summer to me since I still have work. Oh summer vacation, how I miss you!).

My last post was supposed to be about my vision on protagonists, although I did kind of get carried away talking about other stuff. This one is about plot. But since Chantele's post on series triggered a strong reaction from me (from, ah, quite a while ago), I figured I'd talk about that here, too.

Most of my favorite novels earn that distinction on the strength of the characters — ones that make me laugh and cry and worry and wish to be as much like them as I can. They engage my emotions and make me care despite my general attitude of apathy.

But there are also novels that I love for stimulating my mind. I adore logic games and riddles and mysteries and intricately-woven narrative threads; I admire, so much, those masterminds who are brilliant enough to craft a complex puzzle as well as an elegant solution, and unfold both in just the right way to blow my mind.

I don't know if I'm brilliant enough to do that, yet. One of these days I want to write something with a non-linear plot, but I figured it's not ideal for a first project. So at the very least, I will make sure that any plot point I dream up is plausible (given the rules of the world), makes sense, and has a clear cause and effect. It bothers me so much when I read books that have plot holes or elements that just don't make sense to me.

And I also prefer reading about intelligent, observant characters. So many times I've read a book and guessed a twist or reveal ahead of time, then have to endure a character's surprise when he or she finally figures it out. The disconnect tends to pull me out of the narrative and make me think less of the character.

That's why it impresses me so much when I come across a book that's unpredictable on the first read, but when considered in retrospect, every event is logical, adheres to all the rules that were provided in the setup, and culminates in an ending that ties everything together in an inordinately clever fashion.

And oh, the ending. It's so important. One that I find unsatisfactory can ruin the entire book for me (an unhappy one, for example. Yes, I'm a sucker for happy endings). If I make it through a novel, I want closure and contentment when I put it down.

That's one reason I tend to dislike trilogies and series. I cannot stand cliffhanger or unresolved endings. It's bad enough that it seems as if all penultimate books must have one by default, but a lack of a satisfactory resolution in the first book pretty much guarantees I won't want to pick up the next one. I much prefer series where the books are companions, so that each stands alone (even better if they can be read in any order). That way, readers get to dive back into a world and maybe even catch a glimpse of favorite characters while enjoying a brand new story.

Trilogies seem all the rage in speculative fiction, and I understand the appeal. It can take multiple books to catapult a series to blockbuster status, and multiple books allow for more in-depth setup and worldbuilding. Still,  I haven't encountered many series where I loved every single installment; sequels tend to be disappointing. Reading a story that spans multiple books is more of an investment, which means the pay-off better be worth it — and I tend to lose interest partway through or find that the resolution fails to live up to my expectations. I'd rather read standalones and choose my favorites à la carte than as a set/saga/series. Of course, there are exceptions, but here's my general take: standalones with companions, please.

Anyway, these are a few of my thoughts on plot. What are your pet peeves? How do you feel about trilogies and series?


  1. I'm the complete opposite - I love series! I read so fast that I usually don't pick up stand-alone books (unless they are very large, or extremely good like The Lovely Bones) because the story ends to quickly. But a series can have me reading for a week or more. And while I don't like cliffhanger endings if I can't start reading the next book right away, at least I know there's another one coming (usually).

    That being said, my one series is four stand-alone books that take place in the same world. No cliffhangers and different main characters (although they are all from the same family line, so there are appearances by the other book's MCs). I guess I like it either way :)

  2. Hehe yeah I'm probably in the minority with the series-dislike. Ah well.

    That's an interesting take on series. It's fun to hear different opinions! I
    read pretty quickly too -- I can finish a few novels a day, but I learned to
    read fast because I always want to get to the end ASAP. :P If I love the
    book and the ending, I'll go back and savor the best parts again rather than
    wishing for it to be longer or for a continuation.

    But yay for your series! That sounds right up my alley. :D

  3. Deb the Closet MonsterJuly 9, 2011 at 3:32 AM

    If you'd asked me this question last year, I would have said, "Ugh, trilogies!" (Yes, I would've done this despite the fact TMD was written with its successor books in the same six-week period. That was about penniless me needing cheap entertainment in rural Japan!) 

    Recently, I've read books that I'm glad are part of a trilogy or a series. Most recently, I read Bad Girls Don't Die and its successor. I loved the first book but had less love for the second book based on--similar to what you've said!--its ending. Life is so full of ambiguous endings and lack of closure, it's really important to me that even the individual sub-stories of a multiple-installment fictional journey conclude in a way that's true conclusion. I get enough of the other from real life, thanks!

  4. That's how I feel about happy endings! I read for pleasure and
    wish-fulfillment and so I totally want that happy ending when I read. :P

  5. I love series because I love following characters I love.  However, I hate cliffhangers or story lines that flow from one book to the next.  (Okay, that's the definition of a trilogy, but there could at least be some finality to each installment.)  I prefer self-contained plots like Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series and Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series.  I also love the Otherworld series because even though the protagonists change, they all know each other somehow, so you get to see cameo appearances of favorite characters.  That's how I'm approaching my current series.

  6. Yay, that's how I feel, too! Each storyline should be contained within one
    book. As long as a series does that, I enjoy reading about the same
    world/characters. :) Haven't read those series, but thanks for the recs!