Sarah Avery has a long and fascinating essay at Black Gate about serial novels and why. It’s one of those essays that I hope will become a classic, because it names something that is definitely out there but I haven’t before seen clearly identified; the community-driven novel and its delights.
She puts her finger right on what I value most in a novel, and even why I write novels. The multiplicity of characters. The way they see things differently, get along in little ways and irritate each other in little ways, come at problems from different perspectives, fit their strengths together and make up for each other’s weaknesses. This is one of the great pleasures of reading and of life, and I’ve never seen it directly addressed before.
To what extent have genre authors been steered away from this just because it wasn’t a recognized category? How many community-driven genre novels have been reshaped to meet publishers’ and editors’ criteria for something else?
I have to admit, I don’t think of most genre epics – even series – as community novels. The ones I’ve read seem more focused on one character, or on one set of events in which all the characters are involved. My experience of real-world communities is that while one or two characters may be engrossed in putting the fire out, at least as many others are looking for the marshmallows, or haven’t noticed the fire at all, or realize they need the details of an article about combustion and are back in their offices googling it when the building finally falls down on top of them.
And that’s what I love about community novels.