Recently, literary critic Jeffro Johnson, author of Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons and Dragons, did an interview with Jon Del Arroz about how RPGs ruined speculative fiction. In this interview, Jeffro explains how modern authors rarely bring their stories to a close, rely too much on origin stories, as well as over-explaining everything. Listening to it actually made me think on a few things.
First off, it’s easy to explain why the stories don’t come to an end: money. The author wants to continue profiting off of that universe and those characters, so they never close it off and bring it to a definitive end. It’s the entire reason Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (part of the Harry Potter universe) exists at all — you think J. K. Rowling is not addicted to the feel of cold hard cash?
On that note, it also explains the prequels. To keep making money for the creator, the series must go on. And on. And on. Even if the creator must bend over backwards in time. Even if every new entry becomes increasingly mediocre. TV Tropes calls this a “Franchise Zombie,” and it usually spells the creative death of a story.
Lastly, origin stories exist so that writers can explain where everything came from. Writers often become obsessed with their creations, so they want to show all of their work. Showing off a character’s motivation is similar; they think a hero just going out and doing something is boring or shallow. They deconstruct the character to be seen as Real Writers who write Important Stuff, not “hacks.” Of course, such things aren’t always needed for a good story — Appendix N is instructive here.
While a lot of trends in modern culture have affected speculative fiction, the problems Jeffro highlights come mostly from financial motivations. As always, follow the money.