As everyone knows, time flies when you’re having fun. And also when you’re writing a novel (which can sometimes be fun as well). So this video from 2013 of Kevin Spacey giving a speech about the importance of good storytelling has now become an “oldie but a goodie”. It recently popped back into my mind because I finished watching the third season of House of Cards on Netflix, in which Spacey stars as Machiavellian US president Frank Underwood. That, by the way, is a fantastic name for his character. He seems frank, while Underwood is a white-bread Anglo-Saxon surname that matches Frank’s down-home public persona. But on a subconscious level, the “underwood” is a dark place where things crawl, scuttle and lurk. This is the seedy underbelly of Frank’s political trajectory – the rotten roots of a gnarled tree that he and his wife Claire have watered with murder, deceit, sex, and drugs. Come to think of it, House of Cards is basically a Shakespearean supervillain tag team featuring Richard III and Lady MacBeth.
Click on the photo to hear about storytelling, Spacey-style.
All this to say, storytelling is the currency of great entertainment, whether it appears on the small screen(s), big screen or the pages of a book. Just as television series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards are now arguably more artistically and culturally relevant than motion pictures, multi-novel book series have also increased in readership, relevance, and publishing income over recent years. Was the trend started by Harry Potter or the Twilight series? In Young Adult fiction, series have certainly become the norm, with subject matter varying from the Hunger Games to Mara Dyer and pretty much everything in-between.
The opportunity for an author is to do what Kevin Spacey describes in his speech: weave a storytelling web over literally years that features characters who change, grow, love, and sometimes unexpectedly die, leaving fangirls and boys wringing their hands and cursing the authors (all the while secretly loving the epic level of emotion, or as the parlance has it, the “feels”).
If done badly, a series of YA books becomes nothing more than a constant re-hashing of the storyline from book one. That’s just lazy. It means the author realized he or she had a cash cow and then milked it dry. The other option is to create a fictional world then keep expanding it in every direction. That’s keeping the cow and building a farm around it. And that’s what keeps readers coming b