Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Storylines That Arc Over More Than One Book or Does Anyone Really Care About The Spinner Falls' Traitor?

We're bad bloggers - and so I'm jumping in here with something that's top of my mind right now. Over-arcing storylines. Trilogies or more with some sort of mystery that needs to be solved, or plot line that threads through every book.

My question is this - does it really work? Really?

I am reading Elizabeth Hoyt's newest - To Beguile A Beast and she has a very excellent plot line/mystery through all her books -- who is the traitor? As plot lines go it's got it all - intrigue, betrayal, torture and death and let me tell you - I could care less. Don't get me wrong, I'm heavily invested in what the events at Spinner Falls did to the heroes of the books - but as for the traitor...don't care. I skim those parts. It just doesn't seem to have any impact. No forward momentum and not enough emotion tied to it.

Now, if Hoyt can't pull it off, can anyone?

I was thinking of Brockman and her storylines over more than one book and they're usually romantic. One couple's romance gets told over several books and that's some good writing. Some good storytelling. Captivating. Until she blew it and wrote a whole book for that couple where there was no tension because she'd used it all in the previous seven books. But a romantic story arc isn't quite the same thing as that over arcing mystery.

So, then I was thinking of one of my favorite trilogies of all time Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Bay books - if you haven't read these books - do it. Even if you aren't a fan of Nora (which I'm not) these books are absolutely the bee's knees. But the mystery introduced in the first book - who is this kid? Gets resolved in the first book - he's the brother's father's grandkid. (Complicated - there's a lot of adoption in there.And I'm not really ruining anything, if you thought that was a spoiler.) So after that the mystery turns into a problem -- how to deal with this kid. And that gets escalated into --how to deal with the kid's mother. So the mystery isn't really a mystery but an ever-changing subplot. And more importantly, I think, a super super emotional subplot.

So my new feeling is this; if a mystery is raised in the first book, it might be best to solve that mystery in the first book. But it's the fallout that drives the following books, or at least impacts the characters and plots. That way it keeps rolling forward, driving things along and becomes unskimmable.

P.S. Smurphy, Beguile a Beast is great, by the way - but it is no Not Quite A Husband. It's not even close.


Anonymous said...

Molly, how rare that we disagree.. but I vastly preferred to Beguile a Beast.
The Thomas book felt a little too similar to her first to me, as if I'd read it before.

Not that I'm complaining, hell, we just got two really good historicals to read.
It's cause for celebration.

Maureen McGowan said...

First, Molly. Thanks for stepping up to blog today. :-)

Second. SMART. I think you're right. Hard to keep someone interested in the mystery of a subplot that's basically the same mystery/subplot that arches over more than one book. But making it spark other new related subplots... Having the solution in one book create a new problem for the next. BRILLIANT, I'm thinking.

I'll let you two duke it out over those books, because I haven't read either yet, but plan to. Love both Holt and Thomas. Perhaps I can be tie breaker?

Speaking of books. The Hunger Games. Wow. You guys, especially Sinead I'm thinking, have GOT to read this book. AWEsome with a capital awe.

Anonymous said...

Maureen, just went onto the Hunger games site and downloaded the first two chapters, and yes please, would very much like to read the rest..

Wow, an unbelievable beginning...

Kimber Chin said...

Well, I have a bad memory so no, arcs that require me remembering the storyline for a year or more (as I wait for the next book) don't work for me.

But I like connected books. I like finding out little bits about previous heroes and heroines. Like visiting friends.

And because I like those books, that's what I write. It is so much fun as a writer having another character's opinion of a former hero. Sometimes it is not so flattering.

Stephanie Doyle said...

For me the mystery isn't what brings me back to the next book. But I do like it. I will be curious to know the ending - but I'll be rushing out to buy the next Hoyt just because I think she's the cat's meow.

I remember Julia Quinn's Bridgerton story with the whole gossip lady as a mystery and I thought that was another nice example of bringing the stories together beyond just the family element.

The challenge for a writer though is to really see the big picture before you start book one. If you don't - and you make it up as you go - readers will know that.

I have a hard enough time seeing the big picture of a book. The big picture of a series... yikes! Although as I write this I'm contemplating doing something similiar with my next historical... I am insane.

But it's something that I think Nora has always done well with in her Triologies.

So far Sinner was my favorite of this Hoyt series. (Raven still rules).

I'm on to Sherry next but as I said I've got some reservations. I heard it's one of those "big misunderstanding" stories and I hate the big misunderstanding. But I can't not read it.


And Maureen - you have to let me know when you finish Avenged so we can talk about. I found it UBER dark.

Eileen said...

Molly! You so just clarified something really important for me in my WIP! Thank you!

Now . . . I just finished reading Ilona Andrews' MAGIC BITES. Or maybe it was MAGIC BURNS. Whatever the first one in the series was. There was a HUGE amount of world-building, but at the end I was left with some important questions. I'm guessing the questions get resolved in future books, but it was frustrating to me. I'm not sure I'll read more of them. There are so many great books out there, I can't always commit to a series.

Leah Braemel said...

I have to disagree. I love connected books where you learn a little bit more about the world and the characters each time. IOW it's a subjective choice for each reader.

I'm interested though - how do you feel about JR Ward's books, they have an overarching storyline. Or CL Wilson's Land of Fading Time.

Anonymous said...

The Fading Lands, yeah. I think the overarching mystery aspect works for that series. Though I agree that I will have had to reread them by the time the fourth one comes out. For me it is the emotional arc for the series characters that keep me coming back. I, too, skim the villains and sometimes the action.

I loved Molly's Riverview Inn series; each book was emotional and yet there was something that was yet to be solved in the third book.

Maureen McGowan said...

Leah, I don't think Molly was saying she didn't like interconnected books... just suggesting some methods for connecting them were more effective for her than others...

Sinead. You'll love The Hunger Games... but it is Book One of, I think, a trilogy... and it's not just connected books...

So although one big problem is overcome in the Book One, it kind of ends on a cliffhanger. Or at least they've set up a problem for the heroine to have at the start of the second and hinted at what the big plot might be. But if it's anything like the first book, there will be surprises, too.

Now I understand those tweets I saw from BEA this year about people trying to get their hands on ARCS for the next book in the series. Looks like it comes out in the fall. I, for one, will preorder. :-)

Maureen McGowan said...


I loved Molly's Riverview Inn series, too... :-)

Molly O'Keefe said...

Sinead - it is rare for us to disagree, but I just think the tension that Thomas packs into every damn word makes it insane. That said - Hoyt and that dog just about killed me. So touching. It is a totally reader's paradise right now, isn't it and neither of us has even touched Ward's new one.

I LOVE interconnected books -- I think it's the only way to go. But Maureen is right when she speaks for me (which I should have her do more often, really. I sound smarter) , I think there are some methods that work better and an everchanging conflict is the best. Leah, the Ward series - which I adore is a strange series. I skimmed almost all of the bad guy POV, because nothing ever really changed with it. And we know who the big bad really is and that - so far - is not changing, so while the arc is still there, it's the next character that makes me go ga ga for the next book. Relationships, I think as Marley said, make for the best arc.

thanks for the riverview compliments!!

Diana Peterfreund said...

CL Wilson's books are really one book split into four (five?) -- Like the Lord of the Rings. One shouldn't really look at them separately.

I think Molly is probably in the minority, though. Most of the biggest books out there right now are series exactly like that. Readers must like them, or they wouldn't keep publishing them. ;-)

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