Series vs. Stand Alone Novels

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!

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Paige and the Craigslist Ad

This is the second little short for my ongoing writings on Paige Macintosh.  You can read the first installment here.  I’m writing these out of chronological order, there will be gaps, but I hope you enjoy the mini-stories of Paige regardless.  I also hope you have as much fun reading this one as I did writing it!  As always, comments and insights are very welcome here.

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Paige’s phone vibrated on the pillow next to her. She looked up from her book, eyeing her phone with suspicion. A minute of silence followed before it vibrated again. Sighing, she grabbed her phone and checked her messages.

Lacey: Heyyy girl! You coming out or what?
Lacey: Imma take the silence as a no, slut. Your missin out!

“I told you I wasn’t going to go anyways,” Paige said to no one in particular.  She tossed her phone back on the bed without replying back.

It was the first Friday of the month, marking Lacey and her roommate’s monthly party. This month’s theme was CEO’s & Office Ho’s. Paige didn’t actually enjoy these parties, but she had considered attending this one just to get out of the apartment. However, after a close inspection of her closet she determined she didn’t own anything slutty or suity enough to wear.

So instead of being ground on by drunken suit-donning guys, she was at home in her pajamas, attempting to take her mind off of matters by reading. It was working well at first, but then Lacey texted her, and a heavy bass line kicked up in the apartment above. Of course there would be no peace for her on Friday.

Paige eventually gave up on reading and walked out into the living room.  A loud thud followed by yells filtered through the ceiling.  She glanced up, bemused.  Unable to decipher their words, she turned away and shook her head.

“Must be some party,” she said, walking over to her stack of DVD’s.  Paige sat down on the floor, trying to decide what she was in the mood to watch.  Moulin Rouge?  Too sad.  The Boondock Saints?  Too violent.  I Heart Huckabees?  Too existential.  She paused as she came across the last movie in the pile.  A smile spread across her face.  The Princess Bride?  Just right, as always.

Another wave of exclamations floated down to her from above.  “Ugh, I’m probably the only person not doing anything tonight. I need different friends,” she muttered as she turned on the PS3.  She put the DVD in, frowning as the console made a loud whirring noise in protest.  A steady round of clicking noises sounded.  “That’s definitely not good,” she said.  There was a final click before the PS3 shut itself off.  Paige blinked in disbelief.

“No, don’t do this to me!” Paige pleaded to the console.  She turned it back on, trying again.  Despite her efforts, the PS3 refused to cooperate.  “I just can’t win!” She cried.  Pouting, she put the DVD back and resigned herself to the couch.

She picked up her laptop and mindlessly started browsing the internet.  After an hour of Facebook and StumbleUpon Paige eventually found herself on Craigslist.  The cursor hovered over the usual ‘jobs’ category.  Before she clicked, something on the left caught her eye.  It was the first line under the Personals section.  Strictly Platonic.  Is that a fancy way of saying ‘looking for friends’?  

Paige shrugged and clicked the link anyways.  Her head tilted as she read the titles.

Just looking for some fun  m4w – 24
Hella bored, some1 hit me up!  m4mw  19
Looking for a gal pal to chill with!
new 2 town lets hang out, 420 friendly  21
Workout Buddy!  w4w –  26

She rolled her eyes.  “I can’t believe people actually respond to these!  Aren’t there any intelligent people who post here?”  She questioned.  Scanning the Ads, she finally found a decent title.

I’m just looking for someone nice to talk to.  m4w  – 23

“Hmm, he doesn’t seem so bad,” she remarked.  “Oh! There’s even a picture!  Maybe he’s cute,” Paige said excitedly.  She clicked the link and read the description.

Just looking for a girl to talk to and chill with, maybe watch some movies together or what not.  Hopefully it can lead to something more.  Hit me up if you like my pic.  Reply with your fav color so I know youre real.

She scrolled down, expecting a generic Facebook photo.  What she got, however, was a good dose of erect penis in her face.

Paige reeled back, her eyes wide.  He wasn’t even trying to hide anything, not that he needed to, she observed.  She quickly exited the browser, feeling dirty.  “Oh that was so not platonic!”  She exclaimed.  “It probably wasn’t even his!”

Slowly she started to smile, then laugh.  Paige sat there for several minutes, not even trying to suppress her giggles.

“I think I deserved that,” she said to herself, still cackling.

Book-based Movies vs Movie-based Books

Has anyone else noticed that there are a plethora of movies based on well written(or not) novels, while the number of well written books based on movies is disappointingly small?  Then again is there ANY new movie these days that isn’t based on a book or play, or heaven forbid, another movie?

I wouldn’t mind reading a book based on another form of media.  In fact, I’ve considered searching out the books based on the video game Assassin’s Creed, most people play that game for the story anyways.  What’s stopping me though, is that the very few books I’ve picked up that were based on movies, have either been mediocre or down right terrible.

I believe there are several main reasons that all contribute to these mediocre re-tellings.  And honestly, I think they could easily be overcome if a bit more hard work is applied.

First off, I don’t think companies spend enough time looking for an author. Perhaps they think any old writer will do, or they don’t want to shell out the money for an outstanding author, or maybe the writers they approach refuse the job because they aren’t inspired enough by the story.  You have to find someone who’s really passionate about the story.  It’s like the difference between Peter Jackson’s take on The Lord of the Rings, vs the terrible rendition of Eragon.  The same in writing, you need to feel the passion for the story from the author- something that goes way beyond hiring a decent writer.  A good writer doesn’t always make a good story.

Secondly, readers prefer novels because they have the ability to go more in depth into the story and the characters.  Movies have a lot of material to work with, and they don’t have to spend time describing the details of the world-because we see them visually.  That’s not at all the case in books though.  And somewhere along the line, lost in translation, is all that flavor and depth that books have.  Most books based on other media are flat and dull, the world/scenes just don’t jump off the page because they’re more focused on the plot than the world building.

Lastly, I think the book versions generally try to take the story too literally. (This excludes the series of Star Wars, Star Trek, and the like which expand on the original source.)  In movies dialogue is mostly re-written, plots are changed, and in some cases a character is left out/merged with another character.  What I notice about direct movie to book writing, is that they try to perfectly emulate the movie.  There’s hardly any deviation from the source material, and although that can be seen as dedication, it can really water down the representation of the source when switching mediums.  More time should be spent on figuring out how to create the story as a great novel, as opposed a screenplay without parentheses and brackets.

It takes a lot of work for a movie to come together to represent a book.  If only the same amount of time and work went into translating a movie into a book.   Although, thinking about it, maybe as writers it would be a great exercise to re-tell a story from a game/movie/tv series.   I think we could learn a lot about the craft and how we write by attempting to translate into writing a story we’ve visually taken in.

Why do you think there’s such a difference between translating the two mediums?  And what are some of the books you’ve read that are based on other media?  If any of them were good, please send me in their direction!

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