Hello My Imaginary Friends,
Do you like sequels? Do you like reading/watching something that is formulaic or predictable?
It’s okay, we all do. I’m of the opinion that it’s a form of intellectual snobbery to insist that people must only consume stories that challenge them emotionally. Just because something is hard to read or makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s good or good for you. (It also doesn’t mean it’s bad.)
The reason we love things like sequels and series is the emotional investment. That the energy (mental or emotional) that it takes for someone to read or watch something. It’s the reason that some of us find it easier to watch 6 episodes of a TV show than 1 new movie.
When starting something new as a reader or watcher, you need to invest energy into the characters, understanding how they interact, figuring out the setting, understanding the plot, and trying to figure out how it all goes together.
With a sequel or formula, you already know the characters and the setting which frees you to relax and enjoy the other aspects.
As a writer, you need to think about the amount of energy people will be willing to spend. Having lots of characters and complex settings mean more energy for a reader to get into the book. If the characters die a lot, especially POV, or the complex setting keeps shifting then readers might feel their energy was wasted and not want to continue.
The same goes with playing around with tropes and genres. You have to set up how your book and setting are different early enough that people won’t feel cheated.
Of course everyone’s Emotional Investment quotas are different, as is their cost. Some people are energized by multiple characters where half die in the second book. Some people don’t invest that much in characters while others don’t care about setting. Everyone’s different.
It’s important to keep it in mind but it’s impossible to tailor to everyone. (Just like everything in writing.)
So next time you find yourself exhausted and wanting to re-read a book or just watch a random episode of a police procedural, remind yourself that it’s okay.
What books do you find draining but worth it? Mine are The Malazan series by Stephen Erikson. They are so much work, but a lot of fun. I usually have give myself a big pep talk before starting.