Thursday, July 22, 2010

Change

I saw on a Hollywood gossip site that Sherri Shepherd is going to play Lula in the Stephanie Plum movies. I like her. I think she’s perfect to play Lula. I saw her on a sitcom years and years ago and thought she’d be a great match for that character. Now I just need them to listen about casting The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, to play Ranger. Mmmmm, Ranger.

Speaking of the Stephanie Plum series, I stopped buying the books at book 11. I still read them but I don’t pay for them anymore, I get them at the library. Why, you say? Well, there are a few reasons, let me tell you them.

  • Character growth. Stephanie never gets even a little better at her job. Ever.
  • Unresolved romantic conflict. Stephanie will never choose between Ranger & Morelli. Ever.
  • Writing. I don’t know who’s writing these anymore but I don’t think its Janet Evanovich.
I’ve heard similar complaints from others about this series, but some people love them just the way they are, my mother for one, and don’t want the books to change. But the lack of change, makes the Plum books feel stagnant and rehashed to me.

So that brings me to the topic du jour. Change. When you love a series, do you want change as the series progresses or do you like the characters to stay exactly the same? If you like change, then how much change do you like? A little or a lot? What about the characters or the original story is ok to change and what is taboo?

These are tough questions for me to answer and I’m sure for the author of a long running series, even tougher.

What if JE changed the Stephanie Plum series? What if she made Stephanie The Best Bounty Hunter In All The Land, and Grandma Mazur died and became a poltergeist that haunts Stiva’s funeral home but only Stephanie can see her because she accidentally became a necromancer and Rex is now a zombie hamster? Ranger and Morelli are still around but after being ignored by The Best Bounty Hunter In All The Land, they discovered their love/hate relationship was just a cover for their true feelings for each other and have moved in together in Morelli’s house. Morelli still works but because Stephanie is TBBHIATL, Ranger retired and spends his days Tole painting thimbles. Too much? Yeah, you’re probably right. Fans would be angry. Mel Gibson angry.

Here’s an example of change in a series that appears to have gone horribly wrong. I say appears, because I haven’t read the book, I’m just reading the reviews at Amazon.

Undead and Unfinished by MaryJanice Davidson. I stopped reading these after the 5th book in the series, when the books went to hardcover. According to the reviewers, it seems like there’s a whole mess of change and nobody’s happy about it. Think angry pitchfork and torch bearing villagers storming the castle unhappy. So maybe change didn’t work out very well for Betsy readers. From what I glean from the reviews, MJD took her original paranormal lite, chick-lit world and made it darker. Too much change? Seems like a lot of readers think so.

The good news is, there’s a happy middle ground between good change, bad change and no change (can there be a middle when there are three choices? I’m bad at math) and some authors get it just right.

There are a couple of series that work for me that do indeed include change and maybe that’s why I’m still reading and buying the books. One is the J D Robb In Death series. Let’s go through our checklist.

  • Character growth. Both Eve and Roarke have grown since book one, individually and as a couple.
  • Unresolved romantic conflict. Nope. Eve and Roarke got married after book 2.
  • Writing. I never hear any other voice but J D Robb’s when I read these books.
So I guess for me, the answer is, I like the middle of the road change. Go ahead and let your characters grow, get rid of that love triangle, stay true to the basic tenets of your original story and for heaven’s sake, don’t hire a ghost writer and don’t jump the shark with a zombie hamster.

17 comments:

Jessica said...

Great Post and way tooo true!!! I quit with the Plum series around 8. It got too predictable. Only the mysteries changes, and not even that much. I loved the idea of Morelli and Ranger getting it one, that was perfect. By the way, The Rock as Ranger...perfect!

I just found J.D. Robb and am about half way through the series. Even though the characters are all there, they change, evolve, and are just as wonderful as when you first met them.

If the characters in a series don't grow, the books grow stale. Don't like stale...anything!

Chris said...

LOL! I loved the trainwreck combo of Stephanie Plum and Anita Blake there! Personally, I'd be happy if Ranger and Morelli ditched Stephanie...

A friend read the most recent book by MaryJanice Davidson and pronounced it Undead and Unreadable. I think that sums it up nicely.

Katie Reus said...

I only read a couple of the Plum books (definitely not 11, lol) and you're pretty much spot on for why I stopped reading. And I absolutely love JD Robb's In Death series for the same reasons you listed :)

Kati said...

It's funny, I've been pondering on JD Robb recently quite a bit. Roarke is my favorite romance hero ever, but I feel very, very strongly that Eve and Roarke are at their best when they are on opposite sides of an issue. Lately, they have very minor skirmishes, but there's never any real tension between them.

One of my favorite In Death books is Divided in Death because Eve and Roarke are at odds for almost the whole book. While I never doubted they'd resolve the issue, watching them deal with it, and interact in close quarters while disagreeing is what made the book so interesting. And when they came back together it was so sweet.

The last book was like reading the Batan Death March for me. I need some sort of tension between Eve and another character. Mostly because Eve written best, I think, when there is tension in her personal life. And let's face it, she's a difficult woman under the best of circumstances. I don't want Robb to write her in such a way that she's lost her "teeth".

vslavetopassionv said...

I would so read a book with zombie Rex and man love between Ranger and Morelli! I'm in! :D

~smooches~
Jase

Kim said...

Jessica~ Thanks! The Rock is just yummy. Love him, and he needs to be in more movies. Haven't seen him in a while.

Stale is a good word for the Plum series. JE really needs to shake it up a little. It's like she rewriting the first book over and over and over again.

Kim said...

Chris~ I agree. Ranger and Morelli could do so much better than Stephanie. JE hasn't shown me any good reason as to why they still hang around her.

Unreadable is so true. MJD is being crucified in the reviews. I'm really glad I stopped reading those so I can remember them fondly, because GAH, it sounds like it's a mess.

Kim said...

Katie Reus~ J D Robb/ Nora gets it.

I think it's too late for Stephanie. I think any growth or change should have happened by at the very least book 4, especially with the triangle, and now I think JE is stuck. If JE has Stephanie choose one over the other, I think she knows she would lose half of her fan base.

Poor Ranger and Morelli.

Kim said...

Kati~ I had to look up Batan Death March. But yes, I agree. You and I think alike! I always feel bad that I want my two fave characters to be at odds, but you're right it makes a good story. IMO fighting and making up is a huge part of character growth at least it is for them. Eve and Roarke haven't had a good fight in a long time & I've been waiting for it too! The last 2 books have been very conflict free for Eve and Roarke. Maybe JDR is bringing it back in the next book. :)

Kim said...

vslavetopassionv ~ They should totally dump Stephanie. I think she's a beard anyway.

Seriously....how old is that friggin hamster? How long do they live?

Thanks for the comment!

Tracy said...

I can go in for change in a series but nothing as drastic as your new Plum version! lol

Great post, Kim.

Kim said...

Tracy~ Thanks!
And thanks for all your help during my computer crisis!

Good God! I don't know why you don't just kick me off this blog...it seems like every single time it's my turn to post my computer acts like a brat and I have to have your help.

I think it's sentient. LOL
Thanks again for all your help!

Liz said...

I like to look at book series (and to some extent, TV series) as school. The structure of school is today as it was when my mother was in high school. You show up. You have teachers you like, some you don't. You have pop quizzes and tests and homework. But as you progress, it gets more and more challenging. You don't just go to Kindergarten twelve years in a row. You learn one thing, and you move on to another, harder thing. You ace some classes, you fail some classes. But that's where the change comes in--not in the structure, but in the challenges.

I thought the first 12 books of the Plum series were great. 9-12 were awesome. I will admit that I didn't have to wait a year between them, so maybe having them on hand to read back to back to back kept me interested when otherwise I wouldn't have been. But by book 12, yeah, I felt like Stephanie had evolved into her proverbial high school. Then 13 came along, and then 14, and then 15, and 16... Now she reminds me of a 30 year old who purposefully tries not to graduate Kindergarten because, omg, what if she had to take responsibility? It's stale, it's boring, it's frustrating... GRR.

I think the biggest problem with Stephanie is Evanovich. I think she's outsourcing some of the writing to her daughter, Alex. I think she's rushing through a first draft and calling it a day. And I think she's keeping the series stagnate because she knows if Stephanie showed any growth at all, Morelli would be history, Ranger would lose his edge, and the series would be DOA. What I don't thinks he understands is that, hello? it's already DOA. And as for losing half her fanbase, that's already happened.

Long story short, what it comes down to is this. In 2006, a friend of mine saw JE at a signing, and she brought along an ARC she'd bought off eBay. (My friend collects rare books.) JE's editor was annoyed that they were being sold, but JE didn't seem to mind. Her exact words were, "I got my money up front, so what do I care?"

JE got her money up front. What does she care? She doesn't. That's what.

LesleyW said...

Great post. :)

I think characters have to change, there has to be growth. In a long running series there are often bridging books where the series changes direction. This can be a risk but I think as long as the change is organic to the story and doesn't feel forced that most readers will go with the flow.

Or something like Lois McMaster Bujold does with the Vorkosigan series where each book has a unique voice/style - young adult, political thriller, romantic farce, detective story. etc.

I think one of the worst things is when a series stagnates. If this is happening I think an author needs to have the courage to bring the series to a natural close. I greatly admire Lynn Viehl for bringing the Darkyn series to a close and continuing the story in a new direction with the Kyndred series.

Kim said...

Liz~ That's exactly what I was trying to say when I said it's like JE is writing the first book over and over again...but you said it much better!

I agree with you about the challenges needing to change. When the characters face and overcome new challenges that is exactly what provides growth for the characters and JE just hasn't provided that for Stephanie.

I also think you're spot on about who is writing these books now.

Thanks for the comment!

Kim said...

LesleyW~ Thanks! Oh I so admire an author who knows when to stop a series. I know it has to be a hard decision to make and I know longtime fans hate to see it happen, but sometimes it needs to be done.

Sometimes I get the feeling it's all about money, and sometimes I feel like maybe the author just doesn't want to come up with anything new.

But when readers can tell when an author is apathetic toward the series, then I think it's time to stop.

I've never read Lynn Viehl...I'll have to check those out :)

Sullivan McPig said...

Hey I liked the zombie hamster scenario!
That being said, I like the niddle of the road chages the best too.

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