Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why I Stop Reading a Series

After viewing 31 seasons of the TV show “Chopped”, I recently dropped it from my list of shows to watch. That’s over 400 episodes of chefs creating appetizers, entrees and desserts from some of the oddest combination of ingredients you’ll ever see.

I stopped watching it because it dawned on my I wasn’t enjoying the show anymore. That I was watching it because I always had. That was quite a revelation for me. You see, I’m the kind of person who must see every episode of shows I consider worth watching. I can get quite obsessed about it.

That goes for books I read as well. If a mystery series captures my attention, I’ll generally read every book in it. Sometimes long after, shall we say, its expiration date.

This got me thinking about why I stop reading a mystery series and if there’s such a thing as the perfect length for one. I had a discussion with an avid mystery reader about the latter at a library event once. After some thought, he decided 7 books was the right number for a series. He felt the books after that didn’t match up to the first seven.

This interests me now in particular because I recently signed a contract for books 4, 5, and 6 in my Aurora Anderson mystery series. I have lots of ideas for these three books, but whether or not I’ll have ideas for ones past that, I don’t know. That’s a bridge that I’ll cross a few years from now.

Back to thinking about mystery series in general. I’ve read some where only 3 books were published and I felt there should be more. And others where 3 books were published and I thought that was too many. Then there’s the Aunt Dimity series. I’m 17 books in and still loving them. Sure, there are ones I enjoy more than others, but I love the characters and settings so much I don’t envision dropping it from my mental TBR pile.

After some thought, here’s my list of reasons why I stop reading a series:

I no longer care about the characters. I don’t necessarily have to like the characters to enjoy a series, but I at least have to find them interesting. Once I feel ho hum about what happens to them, that’s it for me.

The main character is too much of a wimp. I don’t expect the main character of a series to be Wonder Woman or Batman. Everybody has their wimpy moments and that’s okay. I’m pretty much a wimp myself. I also know there are professions where the customer is king and you’d better kowtow to them or you’ll be out of a job. I don’t count those in this. But there is a point that I find it hard to define where a character crosses once too often into Wimpville for me. That’s when I’m apt to not even finish the book and immediately cross the series off my reading list.

Situations have become too preposterous. I’m pretty easy going when it comes to books, especially amateur sleuths. Situations and reasons for investigating only have to be marginally believable for me. But sometimes, after many books, things become a little too preposterous even for me. This hasn’t happened very often. Maybe it has more do with the next item below than anything else.

I’ve grown tired of the main character. Sometimes a character I enjoyed at the beginning of a series no longer appeals to me. Maybe they’ve grown too far away from what I liked about them in the first place or maybe I’ve grown tired of their quirks.

I’m no longer enjoying the books. And then there’s the revelation I talked about at the beginning of this post. Nothing’s changed about the series. I just don’t enjoy the books anymore. Maybe this has to do with growing older and really realizing there’s limited reading time and I don’t want to waste it on something that’s just okay.

That's my list. Type M readers, why do you stop reading a mystery series? Do you think there's a perfect length for one?


John R. Corrigan (D.A. Keeley) said...

Thanks for this. Ironically, my wife and I have begun watching House of Cards on Netflixs. We are seven episodes in, and I just said, "There isn't one character I like on the show. I might have to give this series up."

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

I felt like this about Boardwalk Empire. At first I was addicted, and binge watched it. Somewhere in Season 3 I just stopped caring. The characters were starting to annoy me and so...I have no idea how it ends!
I also gave up on NCIS Los Angeles about a year ago. One day I said, "Not Afghanistan again." They are supposed to be in LA!
With mystery series, I am very devoted and try to read in order. But I'll give up on a series if it's just the same story told over and over. I have found that with very popular authors. I suspect it's the pressure to produce.
Great post. Good luck with books 3-6 and congrats!

Rick Blechta said...

Certainly likable characters (or ones you find intriguing) are my reason for getting interested in something, and if that changes over time (they begin to get tedious for some reason), I'll just drop out.

When there are certain "set pieces" or characters that have to be included in every story, regardless of whether or not it's appropriate or helps move the story, I generally stop reading. That sort of thing is contrived and I'm not interested in contrived.

If I find I'm skipping too many pages, that's a strong sign that I'm losing interest, and usually I won't make it to the end.

Many series writers stop being succinct as a series moves along and tend to go off on long tangents that have nothing to do with the basic story they're supposed to be telling. Result: drop out.

Sybil Johnson said...

That's funny about House of Cards, John. People keep on telling me to watch it, but I haven't yet. When I started watching How To Get Away With Murder, there wasn't one character I liked either, but something about the situation or way the story was told kept me watching.

Thanks, Judy, for the congrats. When Hawaii Five-O goes to some place like Mexico or Afghanistan, I sometimes don't watch those episodes. I mean, I want Hawaii! so I hear you about the NCIS:Los Angeles thing.

Skipping pages is definitely a sign for me, too, Rick. I don't like long descriptions very much so I'll sometimes skip over those. I'm with you on the tangent thing. I can think of at least one best-selling author who I stopped reading because the books were just all over the place. I knew they could do better. I'd read better from them. I sometimes wonder where their editor went.

Donis Casey said...

The editor comment is right on the money, Sybil. I can think of three giant-name best-selling authors whose editors have apparently decided that they could write any schlock and sell a gazillion copies, so why bother editing?

Sybil Johnson said...

That's probably it, Donis. Books sell so why bother.

Rick Blechta said...

I wonder if editor's feel intimidated by an author's success and are hesitant to really force the author to dig deeper in order to make a better book. They probably just don't want to piss them off, or be forced to listen to, "If I'm so bad, why do millions of people buy my books -- or do you think they buy them because of your wonderful editing?"

Susan D said...

Yes, I've stopped reading some long series because the characters are going nowhere. Or in a strange direction. I stayed with one well-know series far longer than I should have, but finally quit mid-book a few years ago, when it got even more ridiculous, and the protagonist still hadn't shown a modicum of character development, and for some reason a runaway giraffe became part of the story.

But I read every single Brother Cadfael book.

Sybil Johnson said...

A runaway giraffe? That sounds a little odd, Susan. Unless it's a story set in a zoo, but it doesn't sound like that's the case.

There must be some intimidation factor, Rick. Maybe it's an editor's boss who is doing the intimidation.

Rick Blechta said...

Susan, I think runaway giraffes (or dancing elephants, for that matter) can just bring that frisson of je ne sais quoi that every crime novel needs. Actually, what the mystery-writing world needs is more runaway giraffes.

As for intimidation and editors, Sybil, you could be very right. "Keep the great artiste" happy and all that rot.