Monday, November 18, 2013

TOTW: Why is there far more speculative fiction in YA series than straight up contemporary situations?

Hi, Everyone! It's Martina with a new Topic of the Week. And the topic today is series fiction.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about series lately. I have a trilogy launching in 2014, for one thing, but I'm also part of a group of authors who are starting up a new blog devoted to YA series, YA Series Insiders. And of course, I read series. Since I mostly read what I like to write, and visa versa, it means I'm primarily reading speculative fiction series, but I also throw in historicals and series about worlds so far removed from mine that they may as well be speculative fiction. That got me thinking about how few series there really are that don't include huge elements of world-building. And being that I have a group of experts to draw from, I figured I would ask my fellow YASI authors why that is--and then throw the question open to the speculative fiction authors and readers here on the Enchanted Inkpot.

Here is what our YASI members said:

Jennifer Armentrout

To me, it's the escape that speculative fiction provides. You can fall into a new world, a new society, meet new creatures, and experience the impossible. Who can't resist that.

Nina Berry

When the genre allows the writer to change the rules of the world, as speculative fiction does, they can allow teens to have more agency, to free them from adult authority to be the heroes of the story. When you leap beyond the ordinary world, you give the reader permission to believe a teen protagonist could have many adventures. As the series continues, you can expand on the fantasy setting to give your protagonist more stories to star in.

Which isn't to say you can't have contemporary (or historical) series, because of course you can. I do! But in a realistic setting, teens have a harder time flouting the rules and avoiding adult intervention. So you have to be very creative and careful to justify the teen's ongoing adventures or your audience won't believe them.

Anne Blankman

I think many of us read to escape. We want our characters to have problems, but not necessarily our kinds of problems. Reading about characters struggling with weighty life-or-death issues, but in a world unlike ours, lets us slip away from our own lives for awhile.

Martina Boone

I think that teen readers these days have so much pressure and so many challenges facing them every day that it is nice to plunge into a world that's completely different from their own. I know *I* I feel like that. And whether a series is straight up fantasy, or dystopian, or paranormal, or historical, or contemporary about super wealthy characters or art thieves or girl spies, what all these series share is a depth of world building that allows readers to become immersed in that world, to fall in love with characters whose way of life is very different, and to feel like they have stepped out of their own worlds for a while to become part of something bigger, greater, more exciting. That can happen in single titles, too, of course. But with a series, anyone who is that invested in the book's world can simply pick up the next book in the series and be back in that magical place again. How wonderful is that?

Lee Bross (Lanie Bross)

Escapism. I think maybe sometimes, contemporary hits too close to home. It's real in a sense. But when you read speculative fiction, you get to go to other worlds, fantastical places, or even stay in your own world but with cool powers or creatures or something that takes you outside what you normally live. And let's face it, there is always a chance that the world will be overrun by zombies or werewolves or vampires, so maybe speculative fiction is our way of knowing what to do if that happens!

Tracy Clark

I think it’s difficult—not impossible—for a contemporary story to have a unique hook, especially one that will carry through an entire series. In my mind, contemporaries are one slice of life’s loaf, if you get me. They are often “quiet” but powerful books that can be told as a stand-alone.

Bree Despain

I love both speculative and contemporary fiction equally. But I think the reason there are more successful speculative series than contemporary is because there are simply MORE speculative fiction series. The scope of contemporary story-lines often lend themselves to stand-alone novels, were speculative fiction often has so much going on with the mythology and world building, that there are more story avenues, characters, and larger scale issues to be delved into over the course of several books. Often it takes more than one book just to be able to properly tell the full story when dealing with speculative fiction, and in the meantime, readers become involved in the story-line and characters and eagerly snap up the next installment.

Claudia Gray

There are of course fantastic contemporary series - Gayle Forman, hello! -- but I think speculative fiction lends itself beautifully to series because the worlds and mythologies get more room to expand. In a series, the author can introduce new elements of their mythology or created society, allowing the reader to learn more in every installment. IMO, Suzanne Collins handled this beautifully in "The Hunger Games." The original book taught us about District 12, the Capitol and the Games themselves. In "Catching Fire," we got a larger look at Panem and its power structure, and finally, in "Mockingjay, we learned what might lie beyond Panem's power. Speculative fiction sometimes needs that room to fully explore a brand new world.

S.E. Green (Shannon Greenland)

Because it's an escape from reality. The chance to leave this world and enter some place new. It allows the imagination free reign.

Kimberley Griffiths Little
Teens love being able to read about their favorite characters beyond the pages of a single book. How often do we wish for more beyond The End? And how often do these speculative books feed a teens (or our!) need to vicariously *become* Princess of the Vampires or Lord of the Zombies?
When it come to speculative vs contemporary, YAs want escape from the real world and, with no offense to contemporary literature, they get more of an escape in a speculative world. They want to be able to visualize and pretend that they can be part of a newer, bigger world. They want the possibility of their childhood fairytales coming to life. They want the possibility of a romance that no one else could possibly have. One that is unique and special and fantastical. That’s the main reason I think Twilight was such a big seller; because Bella had a dangerous relationship with a vampire, and readers wanted to experience that themselves.

Sara Raasch

Wow, good question! I, for one, love the escapism that comes through speculative fiction, and I've never felt that same result from contemporary (not that contemporary isn't good, it just provides a different type of release). I think that's why many other people turn to speculative more frequently too -- to get a break from this oft-intense world in a completely unique way.

What do YOU think?

What kinds of series do you like, and why do you think the number of realistic stories made into series is so relatively small? Do you always finish a series if you liked the first book? Or do you find yourself moving on before the next book is published?


  1. Great question, Martina. I agree with you and the others that speculative fiction is a great way to escape into a new world. Like you said, life is so stressful and reading a fantasy, dystopian, etc. is a great way to escape that reality.

  2. I love fantasy series. If I like the first book, I always finish! I love the escapism, too -- but there is often bigger issues in speculative fiction -- the fate of the world, or a changing world. It makes the regular day to day problems seem insignificant in comparison. Thanks for such a thought provoking post, Martina!

  3. If there's a series I really want to read, I try to wait until at least 2 are out because if I read the first one and have to wait a year for the second one, I probably won't pick it up (b/c I will have forgotten too much from the 1st book). I love speculative fiction A LOT but a good contemporary will really make me fall in love too. not sure contemporary leads itself as well to series though... they tend to have good resolution and not be a series of adventures.

  4. I love all types of series- mostly because I enjoy following characters I fall in love with and finding out more about them. I don't mind waiting a little while, but for most books I don't want to wait too long (years and years). Of course, for Harry Potter I was willing to wait in lines at midnight every few years. :)


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