What Did You Learn?

September 2, 2010

General Writing: Standalone vs Series

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 2:58 pm

I was just reading an article about the trend for books to be parts of a series rather than standalone books. In the article, the writer complained about the trend (which I think Harry Potter bolstered, though did not create), preferring standalone books instead. His reasons:

  • If it’s a new book, he forgets the details by the time the next book comes out
  • If it’s an old book, then there are so many books out in the series that he feels too behind to catch up
  • Each book tends to feel drawn out and filled with “fluff”

I see his reasons, though I don’t agree completely. I personally prefer a series (assuming it is well executed), because I like being invested in characters and following them for a long time as they grow. If I like the characters and the story created, I love to stay there for longer. But for me, it comes down to how complete the stories are. I’m not a fan of series where one book doesn’t impact the next (think Babysitter’s Club or Nancy Drew), I prefer there to be a bigger storyline (like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson). I like the bigger mythology and mystery. Even better if I discover an already completed series that I have not read because then I can sit down and read them and not worrying about finding something else to interest me (I’ve recently discovered Tamora Pierce, who has multiple series out and many of them are connected to the the others by taking place in the same world and carrying over some of the main characters as side characters). For me reading (and writing) is a chance to see a new world, experience new things, so I like hearing all about the world and lives of the characters.

Clearly, there are pluses and minuses. You as the author have to consider the struggles involved (as the publisher has to consider the risks for themselves, which I won’t discuss here but will write a Getting Published post about at some point). So, when you’re thinking about whether or not to write a series, there are a number of things to consider:
1. Have you figured out how the entire will series will work? (plotting them out helps the publishers see where it is going)
2. Do you love your characters enough to invest that much time in them?
3. Is there enough to the story to stretch it out into multiple books (without “fluff”)?
4. Can you write a book in a year or two? (usually after the first book, the books are wanted out within a year or two so that readers don’t forget about it and move on)
5. How well can you keep track of all the details and facts? (readers notice when things don’t match up or make sense)

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