When I was a little girl, I mostly stuck to reading series because I was lazy. Searching the whole library for new books was far too intimidating, and sticking with a cast of characters I loved promised literary satisfaction with no work involved.
As an adult, slogging my way through ten or twelve books with no end in sight feels like a chore. I’m not against taking more than one book to fall in love with an amazing cast of characters or an intricate storyline. I’ve enjoyed many shorter series, and a good trilogy will always hold a special place in my reader’s heart. It’s the long, ongoing series that I tend to have problems with. In no particular order, here are five reasons why.
Long series are a time suck.
Even if you love the concept and execution of a particular series, or each individual book seems to fly by in a blur, you’re still devoting hundreds or thousands of pages to one set of characters and one story. I’ve had a couple really awesome-sounding series recommended to me, but ultimately, I just haven’t had the time or energy to invest in a story that’s fifteen books long and not yet finished.
The greatest tragedy of my existence is knowing that I’ll never be able to finish all the books I’m interested in reading before I die. Skipping The Dresden Files won’t change that, but it will give me the chance to cross fifteen more individual stories off my TBR list.
I don’t always want to commit to the same characters for hundreds of pages.
Unfortunately, I don’t often recognize that this is a problem until I’m several books into a series. By then, the main character that I loved has become a whiny drag, or the love story I’d been interested in is no longer a possibility, or my favorite side character is dead. There’s nothing worse than watching the characters who felt like your best friends turn into annoying relatives who come over for dinner and never seem to leave.
Sometimes the problem isn’t this dramatic. I’d like the characters fine if their story wrapped up in two or three books. I just don’t care about them enough to follow them through ten more.
There almost always comes a point where the middle books are less exciting than the first two or three.
Middle book syndrome is a pretty common fear among series writers, as well it should be. In the opening books, the conflict is fresh and new and exciting. You’ve got your best ideas on the page and the stakes are incredibly high for the people in the middle of the action. But as the story winds on and those original conflicts wind up, it can be challenging to develop new and interesting problems for the characters to struggle with. Which brings me to a related issue . . .
It becomes clear that the author is dragging out or inventing conflicts for the sake of extending the story.
When an author is killing time before the final battle/epic showdown/last big confrontation between good and evil, it shows. Always. The characters and their choices no longer feel authentic, the plot twists all come across as recycled or cliché, and the story no longer reads like the story I initially fell in love with.
Like any relationship gone sour, it’s even harder to walk away when you’ve already invested so much time and energy into hoping things will work out. Maybe I sound like a cynic for saying this, but it’s often easier for me to skip the long-term love affair in favor of a quick, enjoyable fling with a 300 page standalone.
I am too impatient to wait for the next book and/or I forget what has happened while I’m waiting.
I love huge casts of characters and super intricate world-building just as much as the next girl, but trying to keep all those relevant details straight can still be kind of a drag. The time that I spend double-checking plot points or searching for character backstory that hasn’t been mentioned in three books is time where I’m not being sucked into the story. And if there are large gaps between published books, my memory only gets worse.
When I’m diving back into an ongoing series, I always want to feel as though I’m in familiar waters. If I already know the characters and their current problems, it’s easy to be excited about where the story’s current might take me next. If I can’t remember why the protagonist’s search for the magical amulet was important, or what the villain was doing the last time I saw him, I’m a lot more likely to just put the book down and swim to shore.
If you’re as big a commitment-phobe as I am, feel free to ask me what standalone novels I’d recommend. If you will happily wait on pins and needles for years until the next volume in your favorite series comes out, more power to you. Maybe you can let me know how Game of Thrones ends.