Series vs. Stand Alone Novels
25 March, 2012 38 Comments
Hollywood isn’t the only industry about to be scrutinized for its sequels. Let’s take a look at how books deal with the standalone vs series approach to story telling in this week’s Sunday Versus.
Whether you feel it while you’re writing or not, there is a pressure when publishing to separate a long story into a series. Famously JRR Tolkien never intended to publish The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy. And we were lead to believe that the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini was to be a trilogy, but upon the announcement of the third book, it was also revealed that there would be a fourth. (And to be honest, I only read the first book and a half of that series.)
But you know what? Fantasy isn’t the only genre taken over by series. What about The Millennium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & sequels for those unfamiliar with the formal series title), or Dan Brown’s novels with Robert Langdon? Well, let’s not limit ourselves to fantasy and thrillers. I for one have not forgotten the Little House on the Prairie series or Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
In fact, sometimes I feel like stand alone novels can be so short in comparison, that I hardly remember what happens in them. They’re like a small blip on my reader’s radar when larger series take up the majority of my attention. And most of the series, I admit, are deserved to be so.
However, I think there comes a point when even we have to set the books down and ask ourselves if it’s really a good story, or if we’re just attached to the characters at some point. I like to think of it as the Jack Sparrow effect. I’m not entirely sure the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie would have been made if Johnny Depp hadn’t been so in love with playing Jack Sparrow.
A prime example, for me personally, is the Anne of Green Gables series. Now, the first two-three books were some of my favorites as a school-girl. And I was in love with Anne Shirley! But by the time I got to the fourth, fifth, and sixth, I was about done with her shenanigans. And from what I hear, there’s a seventh, eighth, and ninth book as well. I think, when one has literally written and chronicled a character from the ages of 10-50 or so, it’s about time to end it, unless you plan on doing it in one novel.
One factor that can weigh in on this, is whether or not a book is character or plot driven. I realize there’s a huge grey area between the two, but for the sake of this topic I’m willing to find a split in them. I tend to feel that character driven novels should be singular. Mostly because the point of the story is watching the character grow and change, and although people are never done growing, if a character isn’t wrapped up by the end of the novel, then I’m not very likely to keep reading another. However, with plot driven novels I’m more invested in the actual story and what happens. I’m compelled to keep reading because I want to know how things are resolved, and I surely won’t be satisfied if they’re rushed through in one small novel!
Overall I’m not opposed to series, but I do think if a writer is considering a sequel, especially a previously unplanned sequel, they should ask themselves if it’s really necessary. Do they really need to use the same characters? Are there loose strings to tie up, and how can they develop the characters more? Will people still care after an already resolved story line? Just some things to consider before venturing past a novel. Sometimes I feel like a stand alone novel can be a bit underrated, especially the shorter ones. If someone can tell a compelling and powerful story in a 120 page book, then more power to them! Stories don’t have to be long to be good.
Have you guys ever read a series that should have stopped after the first book? Or perhaps there’s a standalone novel that would serve as a great beginning to a killer series? Let me know what you think!