Stand Alones vs. Series

imageOften, I feel the first book of a series would’ve been a pretty good stand alone.

I will read either as long as they’re well-written, but I’m partial to stand alones because the narratives are tighter. Consider the shape of a story. We have a character who struggles to achieve a goal, passing through numerous obstacles that force that character to change (though not always–there are great literary examples that break the mold). We enjoy watching that character struggle because we are sick, sick monkeys.  But our characters reach the climax, their goal (or not) and there’s a quick race to the finish.

With a series, the author needs to set new goals and challenges before the character, forcing them to change EVEN MORE. This is difficult, especially when we’re talking about young adult literature. These stories are often (though not always) coming of age narratives. By the end of the book, a character has proven him or herself to be older, wiser–more of an adult. It is difficult to sustain that effect again and again over the course of several books. How much more does said character have to learn that he or she didn’t learn in the first book?

That said, there are several series books that have compelling enough characters, story worlds, etc. that most readers are comfortable–even excited–to follow them a little longer.

But let me ask you this: Are you usually satisfied with the ending of a series? Does it leave you disappointed because maybe it got to be like fast food and you just wanted more (not necessarily a bad thing, lol). Or do the endings to these extended narratives fail to live up to your expectations because you wanted something more for the characters? Did you really need to see every bit of their “happily ever after” or would it have been more satisfying to leave some of that up to the imagination?

Or maybe you like the way they end. 🙂 Would love to hear from you!!

Michelle Joyce Bond

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38 thoughts on “Stand Alones vs. Series

  1. I am partial to stand alones. I like a complete story and I believe this method best delivers. I toy with the idea of creating a series because that seems to be the trend, but even in a series I would want each book to be able to stand alone.

  2. This is something I am struggling with for my first novel. I have more than enough content for a trilogy but don’t want to draw it out too muh. Tough question and good post.

    • Something I forgot to mention was that a change in viewpoint from which the story is told can extend the life of a series. If we learn more about another character and watch them develop while encountering already well-loved (or hated) characters from the first book, it can be a lot of fun to read the next book!

      Is your story told from (or filtered through) one perspective, more than one, etc.? 🙂

  3. I prefer series. Usually no longer than six books. After about six I just get bored reading it. But one book never seems like enough. Hmmm… Though I will only read series that are complete. Maybe I just need a really long book! Hahaha great post!

    • You bring up a good point. A series may have a larger story arc that extends over the whole of it. Some of the endings of individual books might turn into cliff-hangers so that they don’t really stand on their own. A good example of this is Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I have yet to read the rest of the series, but I got to the end of the first book and was like, “What? That’s it??” Totally need to finish that! 🙂

      • Yeah… My OCD does not allow for cliff hangers at all! Lol I am a very impatient person as well. If I have to wait a year for a book I’d probably cry. Not to mention I would never remember what happened by the time the next book comes out no matter if there is a recap or not. I read Mortal Instruments years ago. Now, she has added to the already very much finished series. What happened? I had to reread the first three to continue on with the three she has added. Grrr I am not big on rereading, though the books I have read more than once I feel I liked better the second time. But, I am a junkie for that next new story. Obviously, I have issues hahaha

      • I totally get it. Something that bothers me about series, too is if I read it out of order. This doesn’t happen often, but once in a while, I’ll pick up a book (usually at random in the library) and later realize it belonged in the middle. Eek!

      • Omgoodness!! I have done that and it’s absolutely AWFUL! Lol I have learned and it has become an almost painful process, when selecting a series I do extensive research. Lol I check author website, goodreads, and anywhere else to make sure I get the reading order, its finished, and the ratings. I think I am a book snob!! Hahaha if the books after the first don’t have at least higher than a 4. On goodreads I pass it up o.0 I know I’m awful!! The first always has a lower rating because it’s the start and setting the story up, I look past it’s ratings. Geesh I never realized how bad I was till now hahaha

      • That’s not bad–it’s smart. 🙂 Usually I do a lot of research, too, but I have a long commute and sometimes just pick up random books on CD for the drive. Dumb of me, lol. But I find some cool/interesting stuff that way I wouldn’t have otherwise. Also…some really bad stuff that goes back in the case and thrown with all due immediacy into the back seat.

        Can I friend you on Goodreads? This is my link: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/20919527-michelle-joyce-bond

      • Wow.. Lol I think I got it after signing into every app and website known to man! Lol I have to say I don’t add books much and usually only use it to search for my next good read lol I really should update it… Oh geesh you have activated the OCD hahaha

      • How weird… I went to organize and make some updates and it seems as though the website and the app are not syncing very well and that the website is very much confused. I am pretty sure I have not read Charlotte’s Web as it claims I have. But my app is more updated than I thought. I am wondering what my friends see… The updated and correct goodreads or some weird generated one that makes my OCD tingle???

  4. So sick of drawn out series…. by the time the author gets around to publishing the next instalment I’ve usually completely forgotten what happened in the previous books. Sometimes feels like authors extend successful series well beyond their original plans so many books feel like fillers where nothing happens to move the plot forward…

  5. If someone writes a series such that each book functions as a stand-alone, then there will be the frequent need to reprise information from previous books. That said, I don’t care which approach is adopted so long as it works.

    • I’m happy you brought up recaps! I agree–authors need to recap essential information in series books so that they can either stand alone or remind us of what we read forever ago in the last book. This is an incredibly difficult operation depending on how complex the plot is. The worst example I can think of is the beginning of a book in a children’s series one of my students wanted to read. The series was over twenty books long (yeesh!) and the opening of what was–I researched later–a book that fell somewhere in the teens was half a chapter of the most dense backstory EVER.

  6. I’m partial to stand alone books. Too many series are designed to make me pay more money for the story. I like Cheri Priest’s steampunk series, because the main characters change from volume to volume. It’s like she recycled the setting, but each book is different.

    I write stand alones, and think this made me a better writer – faster. I have to world build quickly and get to the point.

  7. I used to love book series when I was in my teens and early twenties. I’m a lot more ambivalent about them these days. The wait between books is usually pretty painful for one, but I feel like authors lose themselves in a series and it can easily bloat out of control and they lose sight of the main narrative. If I read a series, the books within it are either relatively standalone stories in their own right, or I’ll wait until all the books are finished. Reading Harry Potter straight through, taking in all seven books for the first time all at once, was an extremely rewarding experience.

  8. I think the problem with series is that (especially when traditionally published) an author is under pressure to crank out the next installment as fast as possible, which waters it down. If enough time is taken, it could be good like the first book. I’m a series writer myself and can’t seem to focus on stand-alones 😀

  9. As a reader I like both a lot. Sometimes there’s more story there just below the surface waiting to jump out. If I take Jim Butcher’s Dresden books as an example I wouldn’t trade any of them for a stand alone. The Harry we have now is so much different than the one we started with.

    Honestly, I can’t even think of one book I wouldn’t love a sequel to.

    On writing them? I think it depends on your world and end goals. My trilogy where everyone dies at the end would be hard to write a fourth book for. (Take that grammar)

    Lillim, on the other hand, is episodic by nature. Writing for her just requires a “that’d be cool” idea.

    Series also allows you to form bonds over more books and can make actions hit the reader even harder. As a reader I love this.

    • Totally. I wrote this blog, and what’s the next thing I do? Pick up book two of INFERNAL DEVICES, lol. I’m trying to imagine while reading it how difficult it must’ve been to keep everything alive and fresh with the characters. So far, I’m impressed. 🙂

  10. I’m often disappointed with the last book in a series. I think many writers set out to write a series, where instead they should just write a story and if it ends up being to big to be in one book then divide. It was once the joke in the publishing world, because publishers were offering three book deals so writers wrote trilogies.

  11. I prefer stand-alone and I think Star Wars (the original run) is a great example of mixing stand-alone in a series – because each movie tells a complete adventurous journey, yet they still strung together to tell a larger cohesive story. I.e., you can watch Empire and not the other two and it’s still a damn good flick. Nothing annoys me more than when I finish a novel and it’s left hanging so I’ll be drawn back in for book two. Great post!

  12. I prefer stand-alones, and sometimes I’ll regret reading a sequel or series if it starts to disappoint me – I’ll wish I had stopped after that first awesome book. (Then again, if I love a character, it’s hard not to read on.)

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