November 15, 2019, 04:34:08 PM

Author Topic: Shrug of the Author  (Read 641 times)

Offline Yora

Shrug of the Author
« on: October 21, 2019, 09:02:23 AM »
This has been something I've been thinking about for a while, and I just got reminded of it again:


What about Novel Series Never Finished Because Author is Scumbag? ;D

That'd be Evil Evil, which is pretty much what George R. R. Martin is.  ;D

I was thinking about Rothfuss ;D

I think everyone in fantasy knows the story of the Wheel of Time series and its writer Robert Jordan dying after having completed 11 books in what turned out to be a 14 book series. These things happen, are unavoidable, and you can't blame anyone for it. In this case, the conclusion of the series had been sufficiently laid out and a fitting writer was found who was able to write further books based on that which were considered satisfying.
But to me it does bring up questions of how good an idea it is to plan really long series that will take decades to create.

When a writer actually dies, or has to bow out for health reasons and the series remains unfinished, that's a sad thing, but nothing you can blame them for. But I think in recent years we've been having more and more cases of creators planning their new works as long series right from the start and ending up putting a lot more on their plates than they can handle and the series eventually getting abandoned.

Famous example being of course A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin. I've recently seen the statement that he might have made a deliberate decision to wait out the end of the TV show before continuing to write, to not have two competing versions at the same time. Which does sound plausible, but I still can't shake the feeling that the spark for the story has left him and he doesn't really know how to continue it.
The other example that was mentioned is the Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. Four years to write the second book (which is totally fine), and left hanging for the eight years since. I am not familiar with the series and have no idea how much of a cliffhanger the last book had, but apparently fans are still upset.

And it's not just limited to books. In videogames, there is the very famous example of Half-Life 3. The last entry in the series had the biggest cliffhanger in the series so far, and that was in 2007. Since then the boss of the development company has said that he simply isn't interested in going back to the series. So that's that. There also recently was the game Anthem, which was announced as the first entry in a 10 year long series, but it tanked so hard that nobody expects there to ever by any new entries. Now what?

I might even bring up the Disney Star Wars movies. The first one raised lots of questions with no answers. Then it turned out that they didn't really have any answers planned and intended to fill that in as they go. (Since the first movie was by JJ Abrams, that really should not have been a surprise to anyone!) Then the second movie really didn't deliver on any of the promises of the first one, and now nobody seems to really care of whatever they throw together in the third. (Apparently they are still filming new scenes two months before release.)

I don't have anything against long running series in principle. They are great things when they work. But I feel that much too often creators have this shining idea of making the big epic hit with 10 entries over the next 20 years or so and biting off much more than they can chew. I think it's much more sensible to simply write one book at a time. Start a story, finish the story, release the story. Then start a new story. When you use the same setting or even the same characters, fans will love it. But I really think you need to have regular exit points where it's completely okay to not continue and have no major threads left hanging.
Releasing the first part of a continuous story without having written the ending yet just seems very irresponsible to me.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline isos81

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2019, 09:49:09 AM »
I think it is O.K to plan and write long series as long as you can stick to the deadlines. I'm also O.K. with the author being sick. However, if you tell your readers that the books are ready in your mind and then do not finish the last book where you have tons of other stuff you do instead of writing, well, that makes you a cheater at the very least.

It's not about how much of a cliffhanger the last book had, either. I might not even read the 3rd book if it ever comes out. It's all about being a man of your word and responsibility.

Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline DrNefario

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2019, 01:20:59 PM »
We are the ones who demand long serieses. It's not really surprising if authors sell works planning on a long series. And shit happens. It's always possible that plans will change, that the author will die or have health problems, that the reader could die or have health problems, that sales might be such that a series gets dropped, that the publisher will go under and tie up the rights, that the entire series will take a wrong turn and end up awful, the author could write themselves into a corner, etc. You've just got to be prepared for that. Accept that the early books are things that exist in themselves and can be enjoyed for what they are without having to have an ending.

Wasn't WoT supposed to be a trilogy originally?

I think fantasy would be immeasurably poorer without Song of Ice and Fire and Kingkiller. It's mildly frustrating not to know what happens next - although I don't really remember any big cliffhangers in Kingkiller, it's more a case of how they get from there to here; and I felt that at least one storyline was going off the rails in ASoIaF, so maybe I'm better off not knowing - but the books we already have are pretty important (especially ASoIaF, which essentially founded a whole subgenre) and mostly pretty great.

Offline Rostum

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2019, 01:38:23 PM »
I don't understand why readers feel entitled to the end of the story? They may have invested money in previous books and time in reading them, but it is the authors choice to write them and agents and editors choice to unleash them on the world not the customers.

SM Stirlings the Sea Peoples Embervers book #14 was so poorly recieved my American Import hard back cost me just less than £2. I haven't read it yet as the previous book was pretty poor, but I have shelf full of the series in hardback. Instead of pumping out a book a year regardless of quality perhaps slowing down would have retained readers and protecting the reputation of the work before would have been a better option.

Perhaps we won't get the end of some of the series, but better it takes a while and what we do get is worth reading.

Offline Bender

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2019, 03:18:11 PM »

Famous example being of course A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin. I've recently seen the statement that he might have made a deliberate decision to wait out the end of the TV show before continuing to write, to not have two competing versions at the same time. Which does sound plausible, but I still can't shake the feeling that the spark for the story has left him and he doesn't really know how to continue it.
The other example that was mentioned is the Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. Four years to write the second book (which is totally fine), and left hanging for the eight years since. I am not familiar with the series and have no idea how much of a cliffhanger the last book had, but apparently fans are still upset.

And it's not just limited to books. In videogames, there is the very famous example of Half-Life 3. The last entry in the series had the biggest cliffhanger in the series so far, and that was in 2007. Since then the boss of the development company has said that he simply isn't interested in going back to the series. So that's that. There also recently was the game Anthem, which was announced as the first entry in a 10 year long series, but it tanked so hard that nobody expects there to ever by any new entries. Now what?

I might even bring up the Disney Star Wars movies. The first one raised lots of questions with no answers. Then it turned out that they didn't really have any answers planned and intended to fill that in as they go. (Since the first movie was by JJ Abrams, that really should not have been a surprise to anyone!) Then the second movie really didn't deliver on any of the promises of the first one, and now nobody seems to really care of whatever they throw together in the third. (Apparently they are still filming new scenes two months before release.)

Good post!

I personally have different views of the same problem between mediums, books vs games vs movies.

Books are far tougher because they involve an immense effort from a single person. After success, the person gets busy in media appearances and marketing/money making ventures that eats away into writing time. Or they hit a creative block or some incident in personal lives...the reasons for not finishing a book could be varied. What makes this worse, as across all mediums, a unfinished book is the greatest source for frustration. I've known many people who refuse to read unfinished series just to avoid this. Perhaps a duo (Like Steven Erikson and Ian C Esselmont) who can complement each other would be a better in theory.

Games are self-contained, even those in a trilogy or with unfinished plot. As you mention, Half Life is a classic example (greatest FPS game imo). But I love and will wait for next game simply because I love playing the game and far less to see how the plot ends. Like you'd expect the same of other non-sequential games (like Diablo).

I have the far less pity for movies, because the rule of thumb is that a sequel is rarely as good as original. There are few deviations, but overall the principle holds good. Same with TV series, the longer it goes the greater the drop in quality. So I have very few expectation regarding conclusion of a trilogy.
Not all those who wander are lost

Offline Yora

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2019, 03:19:44 PM »
Oh sure. It takes however long it takes. But what I am referring to is writers drumming up attention for their books by promising long running series, and then later realizing that they don't have such a story in them. Either because they don't know how to continue and end it, or because they lose interest.
Being unable to continue or complete a multi-volume story because of outside factors is something that can't be prevented or predicted, and the longer a series get, the more chances there are to that happening. But I think it's a different story when a story remains left hanging because the writer made too ambitious promises. If you can't do it, you can't do it. But I think it's bad practice to sell a product based on a promise when you're not certain that you'll be able to deliver.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline isos81

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2019, 03:28:36 PM »
Perhaps a duo (Like Steven Erikson and Ian C Esselmont) who can complement each other would be a better in theory.

Erikson stopped writing the third book of Kharkanas due to the low sales of the previous 2 books IIRC... He was probably let down but this punishment to the readers is debatable.
Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline Bender

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2019, 03:41:53 PM »
Perhaps a duo (Like Steven Erikson and Ian C Esselmont) who can complement each other would be a better in theory.

Erikson stopped writing the third book of Kharkanas due to the low sales of the previous 2 books IIRC... He was probably let down but this punishment to the readers is debatable.

Agree it's debatable. From what I understand a vast majority of his readers were more interested in Kallor books than Kharkanas, so you can position it as Erikson changing plans to satisfy his fans.
Not all those who wander are lost

Offline xiagan

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Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2019, 08:10:06 PM »
Perhaps a duo (Like Steven Erikson and Ian C Esselmont) who can complement each other would be a better in theory.

Erikson stopped writing the third book of Kharkanas due to the low sales of the previous 2 books IIRC... He was probably let down but this punishment to the readers is debatable.

Agree it's debatable. From what I understand a vast majority of his readers were more interested in Kallor books than Kharkanas, so you can position it as Erikson changing plans to satisfy his fans.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2019, 01:23:01 AM »
When we were talking about waiting for books, I made reference to the band Tool and the wait between albums. Since we now have a new Tool album (first one in 13 years!) it seems appropriate to talk about them again here.

Thirteen years between albums. They didn't go on hiatus. They didn't break up. They did pursue other creative projects. (Vocalist Maynard James Keenan put out something like five albums with other projects in those thirteen years.) It also--apparently--wasn't that they weren't working; in interviews they're saying they wrote about five albums worth of material, and threw it all out and started over, again and again.

Now, the end result just sounds like a Tool album to me. (That's not a disparaging "just"; I love Tool.) I am unclear what could have been so wrong with the other material they wrote. I would probably have loved it too. But they didn't feel it was right. And, in the end, art is a complex experience and a significant portion of that experience doesn't involve me: it's just the experience of the artist, making the art for themself.

This applies to books as well. So I try to be patient and understanding. But gosh sometimes it's hard.

Offline Peat

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2019, 03:13:34 AM »
I don't understand why readers feel entitled to the end of the story? They may have invested money in previous books and time in reading them, but it is the authors choice to write them and agents and editors choice to unleash them on the world not the customers.

SM Stirlings the Sea Peoples Embervers book #14 was so poorly recieved my American Import hard back cost me just less than £2. I haven't read it yet as the previous book was pretty poor, but I have shelf full of the series in hardback. Instead of pumping out a book a year regardless of quality perhaps slowing down would have retained readers and protecting the reputation of the work before would have been a better option.

Perhaps we won't get the end of some of the series, but better it takes a while and what we do get is worth reading.

Because when I picked up A Game of Thrones, I picked it up in the knowledge that it was a series and the belief and implicit promise that it would be finished. For it not to be finished is false advertising. If there's hitches, fine. I get that. If it's just given up on, be that by author or by publisher (coughseabeggarscough) its morally bankrupt.

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2019, 05:32:28 AM »
implicit promise that it would be finished.
For me this is also the key item: a thing has a beginning, middle and end, and if not, that's clearly mentioned. If not, you're always expecting the end, and when it doesn't come, there's the sense of a lie - or like Peat says, s broken promise.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #12 on: October 22, 2019, 06:44:36 AM »
But I think it's a different story when a story remains left hanging because the writer made too ambitious promises. If you can't do it, you can't do it. But I think it's bad practice to sell a product based on a promise when you're not certain that you'll be able to deliver.

Most of them were proficient writers. Martin has an even longer series in Wildcards going on, with seeing from the bibliography, has multiple series within it, finished.

Glen Cook also has multiple series out there, but it did take him over 20 years for the final (or penultimate) book of Dread Empire series, over 16 years to get the final one for Black Company (with 19 more for a tie-in and another one still to be released).
The guy had over 50 books published before the "is he gonna die before he finishes it?"

People may mock Martin now (and to a lesser extent even Cook), but his record was very solid before. Why shouldn't he believe he would finish it? His editors, like Cook's, certainly believed it.

And that's the key point: how can one know they can't do it? How do you know you're being too ambitious, and by not doing it for that reason, how then can you know you're just not lacking the desire too much? That you're not risking enough? You only live once, after all. Martin and others' work will be around and have influenced the genre far more than the vast majority of finished works out there ever will.

Robin Hobb (and others) finished her 20+ year series, with 9 or 12 books, so it's not always a lost cause.

I'd rather be 1000x mind blown by Half Life, Game of Thrones and others even if it all ends in frustration because they never get finished than never having experienced them at all because their authors thought "oh geez, this is gonna take decades, my interest on it may wane, I may get sick, I may die, I may never deliver this, my readers will be so disappointed and angry... better try something simpler."

Better try to touch the sun and fail and fall than keep walking, head down, the same safe pedestrian route over and over.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2019, 06:47:03 AM by Lanko »
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #13 on: October 22, 2019, 08:08:27 AM »
Robin Hobb (and others) finished her 20+ year series, with 9 or 12 books, so it's not always a lost cause.
Interesting you mention Hobb, because for me she's the example of how long series should be tackled. Yes, she wanted an epic story of 16 books, but that was split into trilogies (and one set of 4), that can be read individually without 'harm' and with a sense that that particular story was finished.
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Offline DrNefario

Re: Shrug of the Author
« Reply #14 on: October 22, 2019, 01:19:46 PM »
I suspect Hobb had planned a trilogy rather than a massive 20-year 16-book series, and then saw that people liked it and kept coming up with more. Rather like a US TV series. The trick then is to stop before it all turns to garbage.

Song of Ice and Fire was planned as a reasonably long series, albeit not this long, and Martin apparently wrote himself into trouble when he decided not to do the planned time-skip.

Kingkiller was intended as a trilogy, I believe, and I guess still is, even though the first two very long books don't seem to have set it up to end any time soon.