Binging is big business. Series are HOT, HOT, HOT! As in hotter than ever in the history of fiction. Granted, humans have always had a proclivity for gluttony. It’s just that, until very recently, we were limited. We simply didn’t have so much content and instant availability.
This said, series have always been popular. When I was growing up (back in the B. Dalton days) I’d deliberately look for authors who’d published multiple books—series in particular—because if I liked the first book?
Let the BINGING commence!
Readers have gravitated heavily to series in all sorts of genres for decades. From Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series, to Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee series, to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and beyond, the trend is clear.
Humans LOVE stories that can go the distance. We can’t resist a good story, and once we’re transported into a world we LOVE? It’s next to impossible to kick us out.
This is true with books as well as film.
Filmmakers count on our propensity to gobble up all we can. This is why Netflix, HBO, Amazon and more have taken to translating popular novels (series in particular) from the page to the screen. Hallmark is actively looking for books to make into films.
Because they NEED CONTENT to keep an entire channel dedicated to love thriving. They need to feed viewers all the romance, HEAs (happily-ever-afters) and HFNs (happily-for-nows) their audience can stand.
Now, more than ever, series are HUGE. Why? We’re still dealing with COVID. People aren’t traveling, a lot of folks are staying home, and daily patterns have changed. We might be far more isolated and solitary, but that doesn’t stop us from craving emotional connection…even if that connection is to imaginary people.
Audiences that once spent the weekends at events or wandering malls are now binging podcasts, audio books, novels, Netflix and more.
Series are GOLD…or Crack
I know this blog mostly focuses on the publishing industry, but, as we’ve talked about before, Hollywood was one of the giants to collapse under the digital tsunami. Publishing wasn’t alone in getting a tail-kicking.
Hollywood lost its lock on the industry for a number of reasons, even before COVID-19 shut down sets.
First of all, location, special effects experts, and stunt people not as important when you have computers and software. Low-cost computers and software. Also, Hollywood (much like the Big Six Publishers) lost their virtual monopoly on distribution.
Then, add to this that audience preferences have been progressively changing, and BOOM.
*sounds of sinkhole appearing beneath Hollywood*
We’re less likely to go to a movie theater, and more likely to stay home. Again, COVID anyone? That, and since Hollywood seems to think we need Transformers 23 and Smurfs 17, and every movie REMADE over and over (unimaginatively), the big screen lost much of its appeal even before everyone walked around dressed as if they were about to perform emergency surgery.
I honestly wonder if Hollywood would even be around if Marvel didn’t exist to keep them on life support.
Binging as Business Model
Amazon was among the first to add film-making to their repertoire. Love them or hate them, they DO tend to work smarter not harder. Amazon was also among the first to aggressively solicit rights from authors who’d already penned successful series (e.g. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series).
The networks, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Cinemax, Showtime, HBO, scads of micro-channels and YES even AT&T are ALL now in the film business. Unlike Hollywood, these folks aren’t looking for a ninety-minute blowout blockbuster cast with overpaid, prima donna megastars.
They’re on the HUNT for print series that already have captured audience imaginations and come with a ready-made fanbase. Why? Because then they can turn these books into season after season of binging happy-watching joy. The small screen also makes room for filmmakers to cast unknown or lesser known actors, giving them a place to shine and win our hearts.
Unlike Hollywood, those vested in the small screen series aren’t in the business of serving up microwaved leftovers. They understand there are more stories out there that could be just as fabulous in a different medium.
With lower production costs, audiences who CRAVE series, and their own lock on distribution? Series are a solid bet almost every time.
The 21st Century Soap
Why are series SO popular, aside from the lower risk and higher odds of profit?
Audiences have changed. The 21st century is a very different world…especially after 2020.
*plays Twilight Zone theme song*
Many of us grew up with daytime television, where the major networks were king. Soap operas held strong appeal because many women still stayed home and college kids had time to kill between classes.
Cable was expensive and we had to pay actual money to rent movies or go to a theater.
These days? Pretty much everyone works and television has a TON of competition, from social media to video games. While soaps are still around, the viewing audience these days is looking for a way to unwind at the end of the day or on the weekends.
Series have proven to be one of the best ways to captivate a massive reading/viewing audience because they have a unique capacity to go viral, and in doing that, to become woven into the very fabric of popular culture (e.g. Game of Thrones).
As I write about in my branding book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, stories are a different product. Lower prices and traditional advertising and marketing won’t sell books. Never have and never will. Why? Because a book is an emotion-driven purchase.
***NEWS FLASH! Most regular people don’t consider themselves readers. It is peer pressure that converts non-readers into evangelical fans (e.g. Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Grey, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.).
Peer pressure is essential for any book (or series’) success. If a series can take hold and enough people read/watch? Others, who maybe normally would never have read/watched a ‘high fantasy’ series, join in because they feel ‘left out.’
They want to be IN on the jokes, the discussions, arguments, and memes.
Now that I’ve made my case in favor of series, what can we do if we want to write a series?
How can we make our series addictive? For the record, I will mention newer series, but I want to really focus on book series that have been remade into film, particularly series that have become pop culture phenomena.
Binging Series: Addicted to a Unique Character
This is where we need to dig deep and use our imagination. Whose story can we tell? What sort of ‘person’ would possess a story that’s wholly unique?
Can we create a character who is SO larger than life, that audiences can’t get enough?
Jeff Lindsey’s Dexter series is a superlative example. Dexter Morgan is a serial killer…who only kills BAD people. Audiences get a front-row seat in the mind of a pure apex predator and a high-stakes ride-along with a sociopath who’s faking being fully ‘human.’
Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series is now on Cinemax as C.B. Strike. Cormoran Strike who is a) the illegitimate son of a rockstar father and super-groupie mom b) is former Royal Military Police c) a decorated war hero who lost his leg in an IED explosion d) who then turned private detective who e) has an unusual attraction to unstable and dangerous women.
I’ve read almost the entire series, and a main character THIS colorful was always begging to be put on the screen.
Series: Addicted to a WORLD
Regardless of the genre, there is always a degree of world-building even if it’s the world of being a P.I., a homicide detective, or an intelligence agent.
This said, obviously there are other genres that require a MUCH higher degree of world-building. Do this well and your series world becomes a holodeck audiences never want to leave… these days more than ever.
The challenge is to create a world where audiences connect via familiar turf presented in new and fresh ways.
This series hit us in the feels of what we once knew…but in a far grittier and vastly more dangerous form.
Throw in The Shannara Chronicles which already has three seasons, Stranger Things the MEGA POPULAR show that finally has a season 4 update, and The Witcher (which has SECOND season coming soon) and fantasy is bigger than it’s been since the 70s. These are only a handful of shows and many of the popular shows, perfect for binging, originated as novels.
I believe this at least shows that talented storytellers are in high demand.
Because it is SO over the TOP. Great fiction is just that…GREAT (more on this in a bit).
Graphic Novel Gorging
Finally, I’ll mention an old favorite of mine…iZombie. Though our cultural obsession with zombies has tapered off a little, we still love the undead. But what can make audiences devour episodes faster than zombies binging on brains? Make them interesting.
Chris Roberson and Michael Allred reimagined what exactly a zombie WAS.
Instead of the mindless mob/pure monster, Liv Moore (who gets infected) realizes she’s technically dead, her appearance has changed (pale skin and hair) and she craves human brains. But, so long as she feeds she doesn’t go ‘full Romero’ (a.k.a. mindless monster). Which is WHY she gets a job in the morgue.
This way, she can feed in an ethical way…but there’s a catch.
Upon consuming a corpse’s brain, Liv can see glimpses of that person’s memories from when they were alive. She also picks up abilities from the brains she eats…which makes her ideal for solving murders.
Granted, Liv totally qualifies as a character addiction, but don’t be too surprised when the world around these zombies and the tough moral questions hook you and you can’t let go.
Series: Addicted to a CAST
HBO’s super successful True Blood also began as Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. Harris, much like Roberson and Allred, reinvented the vampire for a modern generation. It was the perfect storm for book binging as well as series binging.
Back in the day when True Blood was at it’s height, I just wasn’t terribly interested. But, over time, I kept hearing about it and… *peer pressure steps in*
Yes, I was definitely late to the True Blood banquet, but after Hubby and I inhaled every season from HBO, I THEN read every Sookie Stackhouse book. Granted the books were different from the series, but that only made it better. I was enjoying something new and fresh that I already had enjoyed in another medium.
It was a fantastic concept with a ton of depth, dimensional characters, and a thematic layers and subtext for days...or rather years.
With the invention of synthetic blood—True Blood-–vampires finally had an opportunity to ‘come out of the casket.’
This series posited a lot of intriguing and challenging questions. Can predator and prey ever truly coexist? What’s required of all parties involved? How do we (humans) overcome superstition, fear, intolerance, etc.? All these themes, btw, were also addressed in iZombie.
These series gave us complex questions with no simple answers and that, in large measure, is why we kept going back.
But not the ONLY reason. The Sookie Stackhouse series offered a wonderful, colorful cast. It was hard not to fall in love or in hate with one or more of the characters.
If we think about favorite series (in print or on screen) we can frequently see there’s a passionate devotion to more than the MC.
Whether this is Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, or Rizzoli and Isles, we frequently connect to the group as a whole…but we can also find those series where we passionately root for OUR team (e.g. Harry Potter and yes, I am a Griffendork).
Series: Crosshatching Meets Binging
I will say this about series, regardless of whether we’re talking about books or ‘film.’ Characters are critical for binging. The reason? Characters are the connection point that makes us care about any particular world.
This is especially important in those genres with more complex world-building like science fiction or fantasy. It is easy to let magic and gizmos and gadgets and portals eclipse the story.
Audiences cannot connect with a sonic screwdriver unless they connect FIRST with The Doctor. It is critical we create characters audiences love, hate, love to hate, root for, root against, characters the audience can identify with on some primal level.
Ultimately, series will hook audiences in any of these three ways I mentioned above (or all).
This said, character is critical to make them care.
Go BIG or GO HOME
Remember, everything in great fiction is…GREAT. It’s BIG! This is true in a variety of ways, depending on genre. With our science fiction, fantasy, thrillers and the like, we want expansive stories, MASSIVE problems and dimensional, complex villains and antagonists.
Yet, I understand not everyone writes in these genres. We (the audience) don’t want the mundane everyday life, because we already live the mundane everyday life. So even if one writes romance, sweet romance, general fiction (anything sans monsters, serial killers, magic, terrorists, etc.) these ‘small’ stories can still ROAR!
If one looks to iconic authors like Debbie Macomber, she doesn’t write about alien invasions or portals to other dimensions. In a sense, she does write about ‘everyday life’ but she condenses it to the knottiest problems where there are no easy answers.
She doesn’t pen ‘scene’ after ‘scene’ of baking, shopping, eating and talking. Instead, she has characters facing tough personal problems we can all relate to (taken to a far more intense level) and she weaves a series where everyone’s personal demons impact those around them. Her ‘worlds’ might be a small town, but the world is so visceral it becomes a character in and of itself.
During a time we are all psychically raw, stories are the balm to soothe the soul.
Between global problems, politics, on-line trolls, and all the general @$$hattery on social media (really, it IS possible to talk about more than politics), a lot of us are retreating into fiction. There is a place for every genre and every kind of story so long as it has the chops to hook. Give that story some teeth, and binging is almost a given.
Everything in a series is bigger. It is life…in distillate form.
One of the most common problems I see with new writers is they hold back. Their characters make good/sound/adult decisions. They’re too self-actualized. The problems are rarely enough to support a novel, so forget about a series.
Remember series—like skyscrapers—are massive structures that require massive foundations. This means the characters, the problems, the world all have to be larger than life…and these days? That is friggin’ HUGE.
In the new digital world we are surrounded by extremes—the most beautiful people, the richest, the most famous, the most talented as well as the most horrific of crimes, the most dire of problems, the most world-ending crises. Day after day after day.
This is NOT the 1950s so we have to UP OUR GAME. Bad decisions make for the best of stories.
With Binging, Even Everyday is LARGER than LARGE
When a depressed high school chemistry teacher (common person with a common job) gets a diagnosis of Stage 3 lung cancer (a common disease), he realizes his family is likely to end up financially destitute upon his death (a common problem).
That’s when this dying teacher decides to use his chemistry skills (NOT exactly a super power) to cook crystal meth for distribution and sale in the underground criminal world.
BACK THE TRAIN UP! WHAHHH???
In story, especially series, even the everyday mundane must become MASSIVE. Otherwise? Who cares?
Everything about Breaking Bad is common as clay until Walter White turns that corner. It is Walter’s very unconventional decision about precisely how to solve a ridiculously common problem (no money) that changes what wouldn’t even be worth a short story into an absurdly successful television show.
Think about your favorite series—in print or on screen—and you’ll see what I am talking about. Whether it is a world so vast we’d need lifetimes to plumb its depths, characters we cannot bear to let go, mysteries unsolved, questions unanswered, or ends not neatly tied off…
All these comprise the very essence of why we (the audience) keep coming back and binging again and again. We don’t want to leave, and can’t bear to let go. It’s like that bad relationship you barely escaped—the highs and lows and thrills and chills only WAY BETTER…because your stuff doesn’t end up in your driveway on fire.
This, my author friends, is how to hook an audience into your series and never, ever let go 😉 .
Sorry for the delay. Event Espresso took a couple days to get back to us and this was a known bug *great gnashing of teeth*. Apologies for any inconvenience, but I am offering an additional DISCOUNT for the log-lone classes, $10 off using Pitch10 and extending the deadline for the discount of Binge20, $20 off for the plotting class.
Practice Your Pitch: Master the Log-Line THIS THURSDAY 9/16/21
Register HERE and use Pitch10 for $10 off if register by 9/15
Practice Your Pitch: Master the Log-Line 9/14/21
Register HERE and use Pitch10 for $10 off if register by 10/1/21
Bring on the Binge: How to Plot & Write a Series 9/30/21
Register HERE and use Binge 20 for $20 off until 9/21/21
What are your thoughts?
Does this get you a tiny bit excited about writing again? The pandemic has changed our world forever, whether we like it or not. But we can fixate on the problem or see the solution. Have you binged book series or television series more than ever since 2020? What are some of your favorites? Why?
I, personally, am SO happy I have Kindle Unlimited, which also allows me to binge on audio books and discover new authors/series. I have gorged on so many series I’ve lost count. I’ve read everything from classic books to modern series.
I read ALL of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, at least a a dozen mystery series, read all of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, every Robert Galbraith novel, virtually all of C.S. Lewis’s works, Ambrose Ibsen’s The Afterlife Investigations, most of Maria Grace’s Jane Austen’s Dragons (I let up on the throttle so she could publish more books), and I’m now eating my way through Daniel Arenson’s Earthrise series. And this is only a fraction of the books I’ve churned through.
***I listen to a ton of audio books while I cook, clean and do laundry, and I read a lot of genres to help me be the best instructor I can be.
I will be uploading classes, so, again, any suggestions for what classes you’d like me to offer?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).