Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When we're talking series

Let's look at two of the most famous middle-grade series out there: Harry Potter, by J K Rowling, and Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer. Both are blockbusters, both are beloved by children and adults (I hope!) alike. But in terms of content, the big difference is the series' arc.

What I mean by arc is this: from the very first Harry Potterbook, the story is culminating up to the final hoedown throwdown between Harry and Voldemort. (Hey, did anyone notice that Voldy's name means "flight of death" in French? See, this is why you should be Canadian. Sorry, random side note. Back to your regular program.) Each book in Rowling's seven-part series builds up to number seven.

By contrast, the Artemis Fowl series has no arc. Each of the characters have their own arcs, yes, but plot-wise, The Arctic Incident (#2) has almost no impact on The Atlantis Complex (#7). Colfer introduces new characters with abandon and drops them with equal abandon. Anyone ever wonder, for example, what happened to Minerva from The Lost Colony (#5)? In this way, Colfer's means of sustaining his series are through the familiar characters and a lot of action. When he stops writing the Artemis Fowl series (or when he dies,not to be morbid), it's extremely likely that the series will finish open-ended -- very dissimilar to the HP series. It was said that The Time Paradox (#6) was to be the last book, before Colfer came out with #7.

Series like Magic Tree House have no arcs, because it works that way; the series's only purpose is to educate, so readers don't mind if the characters don't age. But in general, you want your series to have an arc. My thoughts? I'm betting Eoin Colfer didn't expect for his AF books to be so wildly popular (as a professional critic, I will say that he has an abundance of clich├ęs, adverbs and exclamation marks). Perhaps he's been forcing books #4 and on due to popular demand. And I won't lie -- count me in his fan base. I'm just worried for the direction his series is heading.

What do you think about series?


  1. Interesting!

    So Nancy Drew is arcless. No wonder she was always eighteeen! ;)

  2. I haven't read all the Artemis Fowl books, though my son devoured them. I'm sure you are right in that Colfer had no idea his books would be so popular, and he hadn't thought out how many he would write. I'm amazed Rowlings did actually have a plan for so many books. I think that is probably more rare than people realize. Nice info about Voldemort! I didn't know that.

  3. I love series but they need an ending. The TV series Lost is a good example. I'm sad when a series ends but I love the stories more when they have an ARC especially for adventure/mystery series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid works for me because it is just a collage of hilarious incidents.

  4. I prefer a series with an ARC, I want everything wrapped up at the end. I read somewhere that Rowling spent a few weeks plotting books 2-7 before signing a contract for the subsequent HP books, which I find amazing!

  5. I like it when a book, even if it is part of a series, reads like a stand-alone. I hate a cliffhanger ending! The Oz books sound a lot like AF, in that they have no real arc. Great post!

  6. I think certain books have series written all over them, while others are meant for standalone.

    I agree with Tim, can't stand the cliffhanger...unless it's a new twist, wherein the author has tied up the plot lines in the current book, but then leaves you with a new twist/cliffhanger for the next book in the series. That's when I gasp and realize I'll have to wait at least a year for the next book! :)

    Great post, Yahong! :)

  7. I've found I'm not really inclined to continue with series, even when I liked the first book. As a kid, sure, but in the last ten years, it takes a lot for me to remain interested between books. Maybe this is a horrible confession, but I can only think of two series I've stuck with.

    I read the first Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl and thought they were both great...and had no burning need to continue.

  8. I love series and hope someday to publish one ... or two ... or ... anyway. Regardless of whether there is an arc or order, I HAVE to start at the beginning. I don't mind trying a book in the middle of the series, but if I like it at all, I have to start from the beginning. I guess that's where it helps that so many of the series I now try to read are "old" (Clive Cussler, Ian Fleming) so I can quickly go to the next book--if I can find it. Though I think I do prefer ones with an arc. I like to see a character change.

  9. Firstly, I KNOW WHERE THE HECK IS MINERVA?! I think the Arc thing works somewhat in Colfer's favour because honestly, sometimes I don't remember anything from his previous books (so a continous arc would induce *headscratching*). However, as a whole, I would have definitely appreciated it if there *was* some Arc going on (ahem, how about one with Minerva?).
    Also, the series, IMHO, should have ended in book 3/4-ish. I'm not a huge fan of the later books. Great post Yahong!

  10. Caroline -- haha, you're very right about Nancy Drew. And it intrigues me that series don't interest you as much; I wonder what it'd take? ;)

    Dee -- I KNOW! I am in AWE that JKR managed to map out her books in such detail.

    bfav -- Diary of a Wimpy Kid and TV series are good examples of arcs vs. no arcs!

    Jenny L -- Rowling is amazing, period. ;)

    Timothy -- good point; books in series must be able to stand alone, too.

    Hilary -- I KNOW the wait is agonizing! :D

    Jenny R -- I love having all the books in a series available too. :) Character change is important too!

    Audrey -- the AF series does feel a little forced, doesn't it? Probs has to do with its popularity...

  11. Oooh, don't get me started on Lost.

    I love series, maybe because so many fantasy novels are trilogies or much longer. The hardest part is the long wait (yes, I mean you, George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan)! I often have to reread all the books leading up to the newest one, and, while that kind of gave me a thrill when I was younger, now it just makes me feel like I'm losing my memory - ha!

  12. Marissa -- I think memory loss can be forgiven, especially considering the epic SIZE of some of those fantasy series ;)

  13. I've only read through The Lost Colony in Artemis Fowl. Really, Minerva falls by the wayside? Thought she'd be around to stay. My favorite character is Juliet, who sadly seems to disappear after the The Eternity Code. I hear she finally returns and plays a big role in The Atlantis Complex, however, which is why I *must* read the latest books...

    This is why series work for me, I think. I get attached to characters and want to know what happens in theirs lives, what challenges they meet and how they grow, after the first book. Really great characters stick with me, and I tend to want to spend a little more time with them :)

  14. I have to say I rather like books without arcs, simply because they're never really "done with". Like JK Rowling can't write another Harry Potter, but arc-less books can just keep on going. The only frustrating thing about books without arcs is that some of the characters you connect with just DISAPPEAR, like what you said about Minerva. Sometimes that alone is heartbreaking enough to keep me from reading the rest of the series. But then again, that's what fanfiction is for :)

  15. Dawn -- Juliet does come back :) You're right, characters help make series enjoyable.

    Boyu -- That's a good point about how JKR can't write any more HP, no matter how popular it is. And fanfiction IS excellent for arc'd series :P


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!