Can TV or Books Survive Without the Long Story Arc?
Sometime, back in the Black-and-White ages of television, viewers got hooked on shows, and watched each episode like opening a new bottle of beer (no one cares what order you drink a six-pack!). And in the days before video recorders, TiVo, and the DVD hard drive, it was essential that the television production companies keep each episode free-standing, so that if we missed one, it didn’t matter; we didn’t actually miss anything important.
In books, we more or less did the same, many authors had series of books about the same character, yes, but mostly they were essentially stand-alone volumes, single stories. They were written that way, meant to be read, and passed on to friends. Yes, you could be pedantic, and read them in the correct order, but mostly it didn’t matter. You enjoyed the characters, and you were enthralled by the stories, no matter what order you got them in. Let’s face it, in those days many of us got our books from the library, school, or friends, and we couldn’t guarantee them in any order anyway.
Then, in the dawn of the video recorder, around 1971, things began to change, people could record episodes when they were out, on vacation etc, and TV series began to have two part stories, and include details from previous episodes. The beginning of the long arc had surfaced.
In books too, writers had made the trilogy the mainstay of the long-arc novel, and it took guts to extend the series beyond that iconic number three. But again, mirroring television, the novel was about to change.
With the advent of increased cable television stations, the need to draw an audience grew, but a loftier goal was the keeping of an audience, and for that the television companies needed a hook to draw you back to a certain channel on a certain day at a specific time.
The long plot arc was born through necessity, and it’s here to stay.
Today, we cannot imagine a television series without a long-arc plot. In fact, if the long arc is not presented quickly in the series, therefore giving us something to get our collective teeth into, we swiftly turn off, and watch somewhere else. There is a burning need to have a mystery behind every show, whether it be science fiction, horror, or soap opera.
In books today, we have so many series available in every genre that it is difficult to conceive of a single standalone novel anymore. Some authors do not even publish until they’ve completed at least two connected books. The age of the series is firmly upon us, and I for one am all in favor.
So, in summary, I ask the question.
Do you, the book reader, read single books anymore, or do you hone in on a series?
In either case, tell me about your best stand-alone, your best series, the one of which you cannot wait on the next volume.