Monday, June 27, 2011

On unnecessary characters

I just finished reading Book 2 from a bestselling author who broke into the business in the last five years.  I enjoyed Book 1: lots of meat on the main character, lots of moral dilemma, a rich tapestry of choices for the man to make, a writer who could string together a plot as well as an intriguing sentence from time to time.  It was a no-brainer to pick up Book 2 at the library. 

I should be a raving fan right now, right?  Instead my impression is 'interesting.' I have previously commented on what I think 'interesting' means in terms of a book (it's not good). It took me a while to figure out my reaction. 

Almost nothing that I admired about Book 1 reemerged in Book 2: sure all the same characters were there (at least in name, if not in depth), it was a situation that mattered, and it should have thrummed with energy.  But it read as flat and weak.

I think what happened was this: he spent a considerable amount of time, and all his best ideas, constructing Book 1 and collapsed on the finish line.  Then he re-read his publishing contract to determine he had to put out a Book 2 (and maybe even a Book 3).  He'd created a great character with a whole bunch of qualities that made him ideal for the plot of Book 1, but left him ill-prepared to venture out again as an undercover spy (he became quite famous as a result of the plotline of Book 1, not so good for working incognito).  The author either chose to keep the series character or had it written into his contract that he had to do so.  With no ideas left, at least nothing on par with what got Book 1 published, he had a deadline and a character fleshed out in Book 1.  He had three weak ideas and hoped they would carry him.

No dice.

The test: if I removed the main 'series character' from Book 2, would anything change?  If he was in a coma from page one, would the world go up in smoke?  Nope.  Looking back at it, the main series character did nothing except scrape together a couple of facts in far flung places.  The plot existed independent of him, started because of a villain who gets handled independent of the main character, and he adds nothing to the story from a formal perspective.  Serendipity saved the day, almost a deus ex machina, the midnight sweats of a novelist who can't solve the plot problems.  The writer should have tucked his 'series character' in the drawer and written a standalone tale.  Because that's what he did, in execution.

Created as it was, as a brand extension to launch a 'big' writerly career, even though it wound up being a poor book, I realize there was no reason to write the book, save that the writer had a contract obligating him to do so.  There was no reason for me to read the book, other than the hope it would live up to Book 1.  Take the time to make the follow-up better the first in the series.  That's all I ask.  Learn and improve.

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