Series or stand alone?
I thought I'd share a post I did a while back for Totally Bound because it covers a topic I get asked about a lot - do I prefer to write stand alone stories or series?
As a reader, many of my favourite books are standalone novels, but there are also several that form part of a series. I’ve also written both, but I enjoy writing serials more. Serials also seem to sell better and I wondered what makes them appealing. I know they can also be frustrating, especially if an author enjoys cliffhangers!
Standalones can explore any theme or location to the very limit, knowing they or their characters will never go down this road again. The main characters can be led a merry dance, even to a fatal end. The reader is on edge because they know that the character they’ve related to and connected with could be done away with at any moment. The author is under no pressure to set threads running for future instalments. In lists of the greatest (or most popular) novels of all time, standalones are always there.
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Man… the list goes on. But imagine if Arthur Conan Doyle, having put his heart and soul into the creation of Sherlock Holmes, had left him after one story and moved on. I doubt we would have the modern day joy of watching Mr Cumberbatch interpret the role on screen. Standalones deny us the prospect of enjoying a protagonist taking on more challenges and allowing us to bond with them further.
Within the context of a series absorbing characters can be further enriched. There is plenty of room in standalones to develop and focus on characterisation (as there is setting and plot), but with a series we just get to spend more time with our heroes, or at least people we’re fascinated by and have formed a connection with.
The serials I’ve written have given me the opportunity to write on a theme rather than one principal character. In Tales from the Edge for example, each book is significantly different with minor characters becoming major ones in the next book. Readers seem to engage more over series and provide a lot more feedback, which is great.
The downside of an author under pressure to publish the next instalment of a long-running series is of course the danger that they end up just churning them out. I hope that never happens to me, but I’ve certainly got bored and abandoned series where the writing just doesn’t live up to its early promise.