January 11, 2011

Talk to Me Tuesday: Series or Stand-alone?

Talk to Me Tuesday is a great new weekly meme for bookish discussion, hosted by Melissa of I Swim For Oceans

This week's question: Do you prefer series or stand-alone novels and why?
Argh, I can never decide on this — I feel like it really depends. If there is discernible progression in the storylines and character development, then I don't mind if it's a series. But there has to be that sense of an overarching story arc that spans the series, and it has to feel like each book gets noticeably closer to culminating in the big climactic scene in the final book that will tie everything together. Furthermore, within each book in a series I like there to be some sense of resolution of a smaller storyline, so the reader isn't just left hanging. I think a good example of a well-done series story arc is the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld (just the first three, not Extras, which is, as it sounds, an extra book that doesn't fit in like the others do). Tally changes significantly through each of the 3 books, in a way that is memorable and distinctive and yet still retains the mystery of how she's going to survive the next book. 

This doesn't, however, mean that the book can't end in a cliffhanger. Catching Fire, for instance, had everyone holding their breath for Mockingjay. I think there's a lot of necessary progression in characters and storylines that goes on in Catching Fire. Mild spoiler alert: But Catching Fire doesn't just end in the middle of the arena with half a book's worth of plot still to go. The arena part of the storyline gets completed. 

I also think it can work when books are companion novels. Though the first in Shannon Hale's Bayern series (The Goose Girl) is still my favorite, all of these books have been quite successful and I think it is in part because each book gives a new character a chance to shine.
However, if making a book into a series means drawing everything out and leaving a book with not much of a plot just so you can set up the next one...I am not so much of a fan. Then it starts looking like the author just wants to have more books published so they can make more money, when really they could write the whole story in a single book. Another common scenario is that the first book works quite well as a stand-alone, but then everyone loves it so much they want a sequel. So the author writes an unnecessary sequel that flops, because there isn't a compelling reason for a continuation of these characters' lives.

Plus, sometimes I just want to be able to savor an entire story - beginning, middle, and satisfying ending - in one book. That means I don't have to haul a six-book series with me if I go somewhere, or wait impatiently for a year until the next book comes out. Delayed gratification is not always worth it!

So, in short, I guess I like both...as long as they're done right.


  1. I actually read a lot of series, I love following the characters and seeing how they grow.

  2. Thanks so much for participating, Danya! I have to agree with what you said...I think that companion novels are the exception to the rule - I think they have ability to work and enhance the individual books.

    Series, however, I feel are so overdone these days...I mean, they can work, but so many are truly too much (like Leaving Paradise).

  3. I think that you should read the Chaos Walking trilogy if you haven't yet. I reviewed the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and Patrick Ness really builds an new important element in each book. Yet on their own, the books, themselves are really exciting.

    There was one series that I read 2 of the 3 books last year. I really felt that the second was something written just to draw out the narrative further to make a trilogy. I know that not everyone thinks this, but it really dragged for me, so I know what you mean.

  4. I agree with you on all these points. This month, I had to decide whether to write a sequel to my upcoming novel, Witch Song, or leave it like it is.

    What decided it in the end was that I really wanted to know what happened next.

    But it's super intimidating. Of necessity, the book has to progress in tension, and subsequent books are often darker and meaner than previous ones.

    Doing it right takes an immense amount of skill. We'll see if I'm up to it. :)

  5. @Cheree: I do enjoy the fact that with a series, you can spend more time getting to know the characters you've grown to love :)

    @Melissa: Yes, companion novels really are a different type of series, and like you say can be very good at enhancing the world the author has created.

    @Melissa: Thanks for the recommendation! Sounds like the author captures the point of a series well :)

    @Amber Argyle: Well, if you wanted to know what happened next, there's probably a good chance the readers do too! :D I do see what you mean about it being intimidating, especially once you get feedback on your first book. Good luck!

  6. I completly agree with what you said about companion novels. They really are the exception :)

    Come check out my answer if you get a chance: http://blackfingernailedreviews.blogspot.com/2011/01/talk-to-me-tuesday-series-vs-stand.html

    New Follower! btw-your picture with the cat is really cute ^-^

  7. I'm always reluctant to start a series when the series isn't complete. I don't like having to wait for books.

    I also hate when a sequel isn't properly executed and ruins the first book to me. Then, I'd rather just wish that the book was a standalone.

    I find that there are so many sequels nowadays and its hard to find a standalone... I do like series though - but it takes a lot for me to become loyal to a series. It has to be phenomenal. AKA Hunger Games.

  8. Great topic! This has been on my mind a lot lately. I like your answer.

  9. Agree with you, as long as it is done right, it doesn't matter. I love companion books too. I think it is a great way of expanding on the amazing worlds and characters :)

  10. I agree about cliffhangers, even though I almost always dislike them. As long as the rest of the story progresses, a cliffhanger doesn't bother me as much.

  11. I couldn't agree with you more! You just outlined exactly what I would write about what I want and don't want out of a series and why.

  12. Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

    @Cialina: I totally know what you mean about a poor sequel ruining the first book. Sometimes I've read a sequel and then wished I hadn't afterwards :(

    @Small Review: Wow, thanks!

  13. This is a bit late but I completely agree with what you've said. I think that the best series are when the author set out writing the book with a series in mind or when there is sufficient reason to contnue the character's story. The Goose Girl companion books work really well together and I think that there should be more 'series' that take the companion books idea. Also, if every book you read was part of a series with characters you liked, then you'd never have time to discover anything new!


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