How did we get here? Where all books in a series are nothing more than incomplete stories, unable to stand on their own?

In my last installment, I examined what splitting a story narrative meant.

Here’s my conundrum. I understand that virtually everything in entertainment is a diminishing return. Frequently, fewer people go to see movie sequels. And fewer (I wish I could remember where I read this. Pretty sure it was sales data but still… I’ll edit in the link when I find it) read a book sequel. That means everything has to DEMAND (yes, in all caps like that) your attention. A book needs to generate a reason for you to return to that world. Not telling the entire story is one way to hook a reader.

Problematic? Sure. What if I don’t like the series? Then I’m not coming back. Devils-advocate: If I don’t like the series, I’m not completing back complete series or not. Which reveals that there isn’t any incentive in this manner to not split stories. Just a win-neutral result.

I guess this is part of the problem, is that when this works, it works in gangbuster style. Event comics. Event movies. The origin, like many events in pop culture, can be attributed to two main staples of fiction: the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (specifically: the Empire Strikes Back). LotR was never written/intended to be three separate books, but was inevitably published as such due to mitigating circumstances.

Speaking of Star Wars Episode IV, Incomplete stories are normally more a problem in trilogies and series rather than initial novels. I’ll call it Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back syndrome. Is there a climax? Sure. But no one would ever claim ESB is a complete story. (well, plenty of people would claim that actually)

Part of it might also be building completely new world’s takes time and investment.

  • Primarily, I think once a book has proven popular enough to warren a series investment, the author is allowed to expand the narrative in unproductive ways, stretching out story lines that would otherwise have been taken out or edited for time by an editor. Classic examples are Harry Potter, books 4-7, Wheel of Time, book 4-14. They aren’t nearly as concise as they once were. Content editors don’t appear quite as invested in culling out extraneous lines and material.
  • Secondarily: as a book series progresses, split narratives appear to become more prevalent. It’s like every author got it in their head that after their first book they can FINALLY tell their grand epic, inspired by the [word count] of the Lord of the Rings.

The great Fantasy epics, universally loved and remembered, the ones that irrevocably changed the Fantasy landscape, bending fiction to their will, aren’t pale imitations of one another. Narnia is nothing like Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Rings is nothing like A Song of Ice and Fire, which in turn is nothing like Harry Potter.

Somehow, [I say somehow, despite having a good idea how] we’ve arrived at this nexus of pop culture when complete stories are the “IT” property. I could enumerate the reasons for this in far greater detail and probably will at some future time. 

However we got here, we are here. Arrived? No. Passing through, like every journey and trend. But, while we’re here, I’m gonna sit on my digital soap box and explain why it sucks. Next time, I’ll explore potential solutions.