Sunday, May 5, 2013

Group Dynamics

As some of you may know, I love watching television shows in one big gulp. The entire season. In as few sittings as possible. It's probably similar to my reading one author's books all at once, like when I went on a Janet Evanovich run and read all 18 Stephanie Plum/Morelli/Ranger novels. Scrummy. Even when they were repetitive. Or all of Amanda Quick's novels, starting with Seduction and moving forward to the Arcane novels.  What can I say. I'm a completist.

So, series. What is it about a series that I love so much? It isn't the soap opera, though I'm sure some of the shows I watch have it. (Hello Damon/Stefan/Elena!) But when I look at the shows I watch, it is the characters and the ensemble cast.  Big Bang Theory works so well not because the characters are growing and changing and arcing. It works because of the cast - and also didn't work when Raj's sister was added in as a love interest for Leonard. Her character detracted from the show, though it was fun to watch Amy and Bernadette stand by Penny throughout the season.

Sometimes, the soap takes over and change has to happen in order to save the show. Like Vampire Diaries. We ALL wanted Elena to dump Stefan and choose Damon.  But giving in to the sexual tension can be the death of a show (hello Moonlighting) (and also goodbye Remington Steele). This year, finally, Elena GETS TO HAVE SEX WITH DAMON, and I stopped watching it mid-season because without the antici- of maybe sexy times with Damon- pation, the show got incredibly complicated. So complicated, in fact, that the cast had to all sit down in one episode and explain who was killing whom, which werewolf was under which Original's spell, and who was controlling the witches and on and on and I just didn't care, because Stefan looked like a big pouty boy and Damon was finally getting his payoff for being hawt and brooding and misunderstood.

My current marathon is Jethro Gibbs and his team and NCIS. There is no soap here. It is episodic, a little slapstick, and the sexual tension is kept incredibly mild. Instead, I am drawn in to watching Gibbs father his band of merry agents. Of course, it helps that he is hot, though maybe not Damon hot. He's an alpha who leads his pack and is always always there for them. As I watched season 1, I was struck by the fact that nobody has really changed. Even edgy, funky Abby with her tats and her pigtails, still, 9 seaons later, has the same tats and pigtails. Where did her edge go? Wouldn't someone that out there have changed her style by now? When will McGee stop being a Probie? And seriously, would the show not work if Tony, finally, grew up and got a wife and family? But I'm still watching it. Because of Gibbs. If they take him out of the equation (and if I remember correctly, they will one of these seasons), then the show will fall apart.

Look at Buffy. Those writers never gave that woman a break in the romance department. But as I was saying, they were able to remove Angel from the equation, and the show still flourished. Until that horrific was it 5th season? The Willow the Bad Witch season, all crackly faced and revengeful? If only they had given her the Oz for reals, and not just for a season or so. He made a great addition to the cast. Crackle face did not.  I'm still astounded by the choice to shift time and space and give Buffy a sister. Just give her a fully formed, teenaged sister. In what, season five. And because the show is paranormal, it could be explained away and that was that.

But how does this relate to writing. Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle has been writing series over the last few years. Some that connect laterally through a single sub genre, and some that connect unilaterally through all three. But one thing I've noticed is she has very little connection from one book to the next. You may get a brief scene or two, but not much more. In her Amarylis/Zinnia/Orchid series, there was a tiny bit more overlap, but generally she holds each book to its own cast of characters. Maybe there will be an object that will appear in each, and a few times a character may be introduced, but don't  expect to get a lovely glimpse of them again the way that Susan Elizabeth Philips does in her Chicago Stars series.          I get the feeling with Jayne Ann Krentz that when her hero and heroine have solved the crime and admitted their love, the story is over for her, and the characters can be put to bed. 

But when I reach the end of the book, I still want to be in that world. I still want to know what's going on. Are they happy? Do they still have friends, even though the world is no longer about to end or neither character is having to fend off a deranged killer. I care if they marry or have children or remain friends with characters in other books. Nora Roberts, for me, is the master when it comes to groups and group scenes. Her ability to create such authentic composites is incredible. Whether as part of a series when the Scooby gang is finally altogether, or in one of her stand alones, her development of separate characters, giving them all there own voice, their own mannerisms, is quite remarkable.  

Tell me which ensemble cast shows or books work for you? Do you have a favorite? Are you in it for the soap or for Scooby gang?  How easily do you grow bored with a series, book or tv show? Why? 


  1. Whoa! Marjanna, this is deep in a weed induced kind of way. I'm sure I've had this same conversation with my 20-something friends at 3AM at the Steak and Ale in Sarasota.

    Series are very interesting in the choice the author make as to what ties it together--people, place, a family curse.

    I'm writing a series that is linked in two ways -- (1) by people: one of each couple is a member of small history/archaeology consulting firm specializing in coastal SC and (2) by place (hey I'm southern, we're all about family and place).

    I don't see the people from each book fraternizing too much, but the place is central to each book. but that's a tough thing to explain in an elevator speech. I hope I never have to explain in 30 seconds.

    Good thinking!

  2. I love backlists for just this reason. Finding a new-to-me author is a double treat because a)their writing is awesome and b) I can snap up their backlist, hole up, and indulge.

    I love writing series for the same reason. Writing another book in that world is almost a self-indulgence. The great news is other readers adore series and want to indulge as much as we do. Hooray!

  3. Marjanna ~ Great post! I'm a hybrid. I think I like both at different times. There are times where I just love to follow one set of characters through many different stories/situations. And for me, I don't really care if they grow or not always. I enjoyed Stephanie Plum and Big Bang Theory for those quarky characters, not because they changed. However, if the writing gets too repetitive and I feel like "been there done that," I"ll stop reading or watching the series.

    Sexual tension is big for me, too. I adore romance in everything. But in my detective shows (Castle & Bones) I need those two characters to not get together. I repeat not. I stopped watching Castle and Bones both when they hooked up. Sigh. However, if I'm reading a romance, you better give me a hook-up by the end (or at the end of the series, as in the case of the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning).

    One last option . . . it's more the world that I long for and that keeps me coming back in my favorite series authors these days. In Susan Mallery's Fool's Gold series, I adore the town. Same with Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor and Christie Ridgway's Crescent Cove. I want to live in those places in my imagination. And it's okay if the main characters of the book shift each time, as long as the backdrop and the secondary characters come back. ;0)

  4. I love series and I love connected books, like Candy, where some thread ties the stories together, whether it's a conspiracy theory or a small town or a night club.

    My favorite series seem to "know where they're going" from the start(a la Moning), so that the "big bad" is in place early and each book works both as a stand alone and a building block to a final confrontation (usually paranormal/urban fantasy).

    I figure there are two kinds of mystery series - one where the characters don't change - like Nero Wolf and Miss Marple. They are constant in their reactions/actions to the world.

    Then there are series where the characters evolve over several books. Eileen Wilks' World of the Lupi is a great example, as is Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series. Complex characters trying to figure themselves out as they fight for truth and justice. Yum.

    The problem I have with the Stephanie Plum books, ultimately, is that I keep *expecting* Stephanie to grow/learn a lesson and apply it the next time out. She doesn't.

    This is classic Stout and Christie territory - stories where the plot is more important than the character. But there's enough of a romance feeling to the Plum world that I, as a romance reader, want to see a classic character arc. Which means if I read too many in a row, I wind up frustrated.

    Great post, Mx. Lots to think about!!

  5. Marjanna, I had laugh out loud at your descriptions of the Buffy series. Great post. I have to reach back for on of my favorite book series - Johanna Lindsey's Malory family. She does a great job of reintroducing characters throughout the books. She seems to really love the world she created and this makes for good reading. Her favorite hero seems to be James (my favorite, too) followed by his brother Tony as a close second (mine as well) since both get a lot of screen time in several books. She shows a lot of growth in her characters which I like as well.