Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE problem in writing a series, bubba

The Bourne Sanction
Admittedly, I'm a fan of the Jason Bourne character.  A guy who is a trained assassin, apparently fluent in just about every major language in the world; incredibly lucky and one deadly, deadly, deadly dude!

For a person who loves to read action/adventure/intrigue, what's not to like about Jason Bourne?

The originator for Jason came from the mind of Robert Ludlum.  A prolific author if there ever was one.  Like so many other prolific writers, Ludlum came up with a formula to chuck out one book after the other in a machine gun-like rapidity.  Amazingly, if you think about it,  Ludlum found an audience.  A very loyal audience who eagerly waited for his next book to come to the surface so they could snap it up.

It's kinda amazing to think about in that, like so many other writers who chuck out essentially the same kind of novel two or three (or more) times a year, the by-product of this proclivity is that all the books begin to blur.  They begin to merge to the point--if you're one of those who have read them all--you can't really separate the plots of one from the other.  They all sound the same.

But another problem is thrown into this scenario.  Robert Ludlum dies and in comes Eric Van Lustbader to take over and continue the franchise.  Lustbader himself is an accomplished action/adventure author with a pile of original titles all his own being consumed by an eager fan base.  He comes in and it's as if nothing has changed at all.  Lustbader's ability to morph into the writing style of Ludlum is amazing (although I realize there are those out there who would disagree with me).

The Bourne Deception
So Lustbader takes up the gauntlet and moves the Bourne character thru a series of adventures closely linked with each other.  And herein is the problem I want to discuss about.  The key--the central issue writers of a series face when they decide to write a character and make it a long running series is this;  how do you fill in the background story for a reader who picks up a novel in the middle of the series and reads it first?

An especial problem with the Jason Bourne series.  Lustbader has decided (rightly, I'm thinking) in creating multiple characters and deadly plot lines and stringing them through a series of novels.  If a reader keeps up with the series it becomes only a mildly irritating adventure in trying to remember where one novel left off and the next novel takes up the thread. 

But if you're new to the series and don't know the complexity of the series .  . . . hmmmm.  It becomes a little dicey.  Soooo, as a writer who ponders this dilemma, what do you do to try and correct this?  Do you  write a lengthy Prelude at the beginning of the novel in an effort to get the reader caught up with the story line?  Or do you integrate the past novels into the current read and somehow do it in a way that it doesn't come out preachy.  Or chunky  Or inept.  Or . . . worse of all . . . just plain boring.

The Bourne Dominion
That's the problem, Pumpkin.  One all writers face if they create a series.  So, maybe the answer is to write each novel in the series as a stand-alone entity with very few, if any, references about the past.  But then . . . you run into another problem.  The die-hard fans who crave, insist, demand, howl for these very same references.  Fans like this become literately a part of the family.  All the characters, the twists in the plot lines, the nuances, become intrinsically important.  To skip, or simplify, this is to create a different set of irritations.

So in effect you're basically screwed, brother.  There's no good answer to this conundrum.  Write your best story and hope for the best.  Let the die hard friends grumble a bit.  Write a good story and all will be forgiven.  Remember, they're family;  and family members stick together thru thick and thin.

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