Friday, December 16, 2022

Karen S Wiesner: Presentation is King, Part 3

A Reader's Commentary

Presentation is King, Part 3

by Karen S. Wiesner

In this final of a three-part commentary using author Christopher Paolini's two series, I talk about the conundrum of how important presentation is with massive sagas.

While I was reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, the first installment in Fractalverse, I started to ask myself why I've always had such trouble finishing--or frankly, even beginning--any of Christopher Paolini's books. Everything is in his favor: He's an excellent writer, no dispute there. Some of my favorite books are written in the fantasy genre, as his The Inheritance Cycle is. I adore dragons. I love science fiction, and, when combined with horror, it's a win-win for me. The bottom line is that I highly recommend the two series written by Paolini to any fantasy and sci-fi lover.

However, almost unconsciously while I worked to get through To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, my brain was analyzing my reactions to reading all of his offerings. I enjoyed the most the first parts of both his series. Then I got bogged down. In last week's commentary, we talked about three explanations for why this was the case. We also established that we live in a time in the publishing industry when there are fewer and fewer readers and almost nobody has an attention span that extends beyond a few hundred words. So what options are there for those of us who want to be die-hard readers but find the sheer size and complexity of many of the books and series published these days intimidating and overwhelming?

Potential Solutions

I'm absolutely sure that if the author and/or the publisher had presented the six individual parts of Christopher Paolini's To Sleep in a Sea of Stars in separate volumes instead of one massive book, I would have enjoyed them so much more. My silly brain would have accepted each was an installment of the whole and wouldn't have demanded I read through the ponderous tome in the way it was presented to ensure I got the scope of the story. I could have come back into each individual segment fresh, especially if they were published back-to-back over the course of a few months (in the case of To Sleep… maybe 3-6 months). I believe I would have been eager to devour each portion if they'd presented them in a different way that prevented my head from being overburdened by too much in one place at one time.

To keep costs down, one cover design could be created, possibly in different shades for each section (see below), with the part in the series highlighted on the front, as in To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Part I; To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Part II, and on through Part VI. To avoid losing readers who are cheap (and who can blame them?), each segment could have been priced at $1.99 to $2.99.


Can I also just interject here that reading physical copies of books as large as Paolini's are is an exercise in arthritis foreshadowing? Even the mass market paperback {mmp} of
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars was agony. My poor hands were cramping, holding up this unwieldly, bulky conveyance of words. Yes, maybe this is a good case for ebooks, and I know it compels a good many toward digital editions. That's great. I highly approve. But I've never loved ebooks. They give me a headache and, frankly, I'm still holding something fairly heavy despite that the device I use can actually contain thousands of books instead of one. For those of us who still love a printed edition, smaller volumes would be ideal.

Also, the recaps that tend to be in each subsequent book in a series needs to be minimalized. In other words, one page instead of five plus. I appreciate that refresher and believe it needs to be there, but distilling the story thus far down to the core elements is all that's truly needed. Maybe the author could have the full synopsis on their website in case readers want more detail.

Additionally, the appendices are fantastic. I love them myself. However, when they become compendiums on their own, they need to be published separately for avid fans of the series. Paolini's publisher actually did publish a 32-page supplement to The Inheritance Cycle, called Eragon's Guide to AlagaĆ«sia, providing a collection of information about the characters, settings, and objects referred to in the novels. It was published just prior to the fourth and final volume and hinted at the upcoming end of the series. However, when a book is already gigantic, appendices that are more of "series facts at your fingertips" entries might be unquestionably more useful to readers. As in, "Who or where or what is this again?" Glance in the back, where vital information is presented in a user-friendly way. "Ah-ha! Blank filled in. Now I can return to my immersive reading." 

Finally, I think die-hard and dabbling readers alike find it much easier to digest everything that's required of them in these labyrinthine sagas within film or TV series adaptations. Something about that visual medium allows for simpler absorption. So good news for fans of Paolini: In July 2022, it was announced that a TV adaptation of The Inheritance Cycle was in early development with Disney+. In August 2022, it was revealed that To Sleep in a Sea of Stars (and potentially the whole Fractalverse?) was being adapted as a television show by another production company.

While I'm sure the possible solutions to my conundrum about how so many massive sagas are presented and maybe should be presented instead could warrant full articles and certainly debates on their own, I bring us back to the point of this commentary:

Presentation is king!

Readers love series. That's not going away. But we're losing die-hard readers with every passing year and, as a result, more and more dabbling readers want shorter, easier to digest volumes, presented in a variety of creative ways that may be more appealing than holding something that's as thick as concrete block for long periods of times.

 Happy reading!

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her here:

1 comment:

  1. Lots of interesting ideas. However, I emphatically disagree about story details being easier to absorb in a visual medium. I like / need a printed version in which I can easily flip back and check on something I didn't catch the first time or don't quite remember. Of course, it all depends on the individual's personal learning style. Some people, I gather, do absorb material better if it's presented visually and/or audibly. I'm more likely to suffer many moments of, "Wait, what just happened?" in a film. I don't use audiobooks at all; they would be a last resort in case (1) I had to drive many hours in a week, or (2) God forbid, I went blind.