Old Home Week in My Reading

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Series are really big right now. Many readers love them to bits—they’ve invested time, emotion and dollars, and want to revisit the world/setting and cast of characters that the author created.

I’m not really one of those readers. lol.  
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate series, especially when it comes to TV shows or movies. Then I get just as invested in the cast interaction and growth, and overall story arc as the next fan.

But with books? Not so much.
I’m more interested in *this* particular story and what’s at stake for *this* particular hero and heroine.  If it’s a trilogy or series, I can/will get invested in the over-all world-building/setting but my main thing is the main story/romance.  Even then, I rarely stick around beyond book 4 or 5 (if I even get that far) in a series. *shrug*

I accept I’m in the minority this with. Fine, I can deal.  But I’ve come up against something in my reading lately, with certain series that are made up of stand-alone books. What I call Old Home Reunion books.  There are a several authors I’ll buy at full price. They’re worth it. They write well and I like the character types and tropes they use. They also write series, but in a way that you don’t have to read every book (and read them in sequence). It’s more about a familiar world and/or a group of characters.
The problem is that for a few of these authors, their writing has become bloated, for want of a better word.  With their recent releases, the story focuses on the current couple for maybe 50% of the book. The rest of the book is stuffed with scenes where ALL the heroes/heroines from the previous 3-7 books show up.
And it kinda feels like this picture. Who is primary couple here? Everyone's vying for attention
Usually there’s some justification for them ALL being there: the scene takes place at mutual workplace, an annual fair, or popular hangout (ie bar/club) or someone’s wedding, etc. 
Sometimes, though, that justification is paper thin. 
The heroes all own a business together? Makes sense you’ll have work scenes with all of them present. It’s the work scenes where you have all of them at work and then the previous heroines show up for an impromptu visit complete with the twins of one couple—and descriptions of how cute/rascally the twins are and what a marshmallow the previous alpha-hero from book 2 is for his kids, etc., while the other heroine, from book 4) is pregnant and what a blessing it was because the couple had trouble conceiving, but they don’t want to find out the sex of the baby, they want it to be a surprise—which is causing the heroine some problems in how to decorate the nursery and…. Where was I? 
Exactly! What happens to the plot development between the current hero and heroine while we enjoy (endure) these multiple catch up scenes?

And trust me, these scene do come in multiples.
Then author compounds this by throwing in some rampant sequel baiting scenes, and pov scenes between one of the previous couples—including detailed sexxoring—and… where the heck did my romance go? You know the one in the blurb? The one I paid for and was looking forward to reading?

I just read a book that had all the above crap plus two subplots—a subplot to the main romance which included scenes in the pov of the heroine’s ex-boyfriend, and a subplot of the main series arc, which included the pov of the arc villain. Then to make matters worse(!!) we get an epilogue that focuses on one of the previous couples talking about the current couple, *side-eye* before a fade-to-black love scene, followed by more sequel baiting/set-up of the next book from the villain’s pov.  This is the worse Old Home Week read I’ve come across, but I’m coming across too many for my reading enjoyment.
Of course authors want to please as significant a sector of their readership as possible,  so absolutely revisit previous couples if it’s going to make the fans go crazy, but please balance that with *primary* needs of the current couple. Don’t sell them, and their story/romance, short.  

I’ve got a litmus test. Not fool-proof, but I think it can pinpoint whether or these types of scenes are superfluous.  Assuming that the big ‘reunion/gathering’ scenes are not just an excuse to catch up on the previous couples but are relevant to the grow in plot, conflict, and character of the current *story*: 
If you were to switch all the pervious heroes/heroines with new secondary/tertiary characters, would their presence in the scene still be warranted? Is their dialogue needed? Is there a reason to even note that their presence/demeanor?

Yes? Then you’ve got a strong scene that contributes, enhances and advances your *current* story (or hints at the set-up of the next book without distracting from this one).
No? Then what you’ve got there, my friend, is the literary equivalent of Old Home Week.  You’ve got the tail (the readership) wagging the dog (*your* story). 

Please your readers but do justice to the relationship of your current couple and their story foremost.    
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Tania said...

I fully agree with this. Some authors have done a good job weaving a single character into multiple books before giving them their own book, but some don't know when to quit.

vanessa jaye said...

lol. To be fair, some fans won't let them quit. They get tons of emails asking for/about certain characters, but the trick is doing 'a good job weaving in' the characters' appearances into the current story, instead of shoe-horning it in.

azteclady said...

Very good timing for this post.

I just finished Nalini Singh's latest Psy/Changeling book, Shield of Winter. I love that series, and I love the world she's built, but this one book? It seemed that it was more about everything else in the overarching storyline than about the two characters--to the point where I didn't feel much investment in their romance.

And that pissed me off more than a bit, because the hero was a character whose story I've been wanting for a number of years.

It's bad enough that, for me, this is the second book in that series where I find that the extraneous stuff matters more to me than the so-called primary romance (the other one being Tangle of Need). The worst part, though? Is that she's said this first overarching plot will end within one or two books max, and I know I'll buy them as soon as they come out, hoping to recapture the magic of the first ten titles.

(And because quitting book series is for me a hundred times harder than giving up on tv series--go figure)

vanessa jaye said...

"And because quitting book series is for me a hundred times harder than giving up on tv series--go figure"

This is where you and I differ, my friend. lol.

I am so fickle when it comes to series/movies/tv shows. The minute Once I kinda lose interest, it;s easy to miss the next episode/book. And if there is one subplot/character that's keeping me interested, I'd just google for spoilers. :-P

Hopefully, Nalini's next book will leave you giddy with joy. I'm taking an indefinite break from my two authors. I really don't enjoy that type of story-telling, so I'll keep my eye out for any new series/trilogies/stand-alones they start.

Gotta say, tip of the hat to writers like la Nora and JK Rowling; they write their books/characters/plot lines the way they envision, period. They write the best, most enterttaining story they can with the most interestin/captivating characters they are capable of (as all writers try to do), but that's it. They don't take special requests for such and such a character to show up, or to develop a certain subplot, or whatever. It is what it is, and that's what you get.

Having said that, the authors who are writing this way are doing it to please a major/vocal segment of their readership, nothing wrong with that, I'm just not the reader for their books.

azteclady said...

Oh, I have no problem quitting tv series--which baffles my brothers and my sister. If they start a show, they'll follow it to the bitter end, moaning and bitching about the plot holes, the cast changes, the contrivances and the declining quality.

Me? Let's say that I didn't even got to episode six of the second season of LOST.

But books, perhaps because I invest a lot more time and effort getting through each installment (unless we are talking short stories/novellas), are much much harder for me to quit.

And I agree wholeheartedly with you as it regards to Nora Roberts.

Plus, when she hits it right, she shoots it out of the ballpark--have you read The Witness?

vanessa jaye said...

Soooo.... this is where I confess that I've never read Nora. lol. *yikes!* But I have several of her books in my paperback TBR pile and I did read several of the early JD Robb books.

With book series, I'm only invested in the current book/story. If i like the worldbuilding/writing etc, I'll check out another book in the series, *if* that particular story appeals. And I don't care if previous characters show up or not, as long as they don't take away from the main story. These are just some of the ways in which I suck. lol.

azteclady said...

Nah, you don't suck--you are just an original.

Which is a good thing, any way you look at it.

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