Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Standalone VS The Series

If you read YA or MG (and I'm going to assume that you do if you're reading my blog), then you've probably noticed the same things I have. First (not really, that's just where I'm going to start) there were vampires, so many in fact that lots of people, and the market in general, became overwhelmed by them. I am going to call this the Twilight Effect.

The Twilight Effect kicked off a big trend in publishing not unlike dominoes falling. We saw a fixation on a new paranormal creature that resulted in an abundance of, for instance, werewolves. Like the vampires before them, they were suddenly everywhere, flooding the shelves at bookstores, becoming many teenagers' new obsession.

But this is not the aspect of the Twilight Effect I want to talk about. Not because it isn't worth talking about, simply because everyone else already has, and we all know that it will continue. People will fixate on one creature or genre until the 'next big thing' comes out. Rinse. Repeat.

The thing that has my attention these days is the abundance of series we have on our hands. It's almost like an epidemic in the fantasy and science fiction genres of YA. While we could blame this bit on JK Rowling, the Harry Potter books have been out for years without inspiring this mass desire for sequels. We can, however, thank Rowling for kicking authors everywhere into gear and bringing children's literature to a new level.

Now then: the series, and more specifically the trilogy. A good series is fantastic. It takes a lot of skill to craft multiple books with a self-contained plot and give each book a portion of an overlying plot arc. There are lots of characters to take into consideration, not to mention the MC's growth over, not just one book, but sometimes five or more. That being said, you can see how there can easily be a lot of problems with a series. They can go on too long, they can get saggy and dull in the middle, they can lose focus of what is important. They can stop being true to the characters.

And because of this, as a writer, you have to ask yourself if your story really has to be part of a series. Not all books do. If you're writing a trilogy because they're hot right now, and they are, then you're writing it that way for the wrong reason. You need to take a look at your story and decide if multiple books are necessary to tell the tale that you want to write, because if it's not then it's okay for your book to be a standalone novel. Really, it is.

In fact, as a reader, I'm getting tired of series. I'm not going to stop reading them any time soon (most of my favorite books are part of a trilogy right now or a longer series anyway), but I would like to read a nice paranormal YA that ties everything up and ENDS. I would like to not have to wait a year or longer for the next installment of a story (Hi there, Sookie.). I would like to be in the position of yearning for more of a character and NOT GETTING IT. Why? Because sometimes it's nice to just wonder.

At the end of Z by Michael Thomas Ford (my review here), something BIG happens and you want to know more. You want to know what the character does next, how he will react, but the author deliberately chose to leave his readers in the dark. And I kind of love him for it. I can imagine a hundred different scenarios now of how his story played out, and none of them have to be wrong. I can get to know that character on a more personal level because of that ending, specifically because it's left open.

I think authors (mostly in the science fiction/fantasy genres) have begun to turn their backs on the standalone novel in hopes of big book deals and huge sales numbers, but there is power in a single book. You can write a series, and you SHOULD if that's what your story NEEDS to be complete, to get all the details out there, but you really shouldn't be writing a trilogy (or any other kind of series) unless it's vital to your plot.

Just because there's a trend bandwagon, doesn't mean you have to jump on it.

What do you think? Are trilogies and longer series over done? Would you like to see more single title books?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't read young adult, but I do read your blog!
It seems all books come in a series. I wrote a sequel to mine, which was supposed to be just one book, because fans wanted it. Now everyone is saying trilogy, but I really can't think where else I'd want to take the story. I don't want to write a lame story just to make a trilogy.

Brooke Johnson said...

I honestly prefer series, even though it may take 5 years or more to read them. When I fall in love with a character or world, I want to stay with that character or world as long as absolutely possible. Take Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series and the sequel series The Heroes of Olympus... Yes, it sucks having to wait another year for the next book, but at the same time, they have plots and characters that I love. And I will continue to love them.

That said. You're right. Some books shouldn't be series. I recently read DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver, and I thought it was a standalone novel. It WORKS as a standalone novel. But no. It's a trilogy. Will I read the next book? Probably not. I'm content with the ending of the first book, and I don't see the need to keep the story going.

But as far as writing goes, I think I prefer standalone novels. They're a lot easier to manage. Right now, I'm working on a series (3-4 books; not sure), and it's really difficult making sure that there is an overarching plot for the series as well as a strong plot for each novel. If I could, I would make the book a stand alone, but I can't without writing a 300,000 word tome. I hate long books. Long, wordy, winding books. I like short books. Short chapters. To the point. Series tend to do the opposite. I'm reading A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE right now, and though I burned through the first three books like it was nothing... the fourth is really slow and tedious. A very saggy middle. A lot of times, middle novels tend to be set up for the next novel, and they don't really have their own plot.

Most of my other novel ideas are standalone. Much easier to work with :)

Amanda J. said...

Alex, LOL. You and I both write scifi/fantasy though, so it works. :) And I know a lot of it has to do with readers and/or publishers demanding more, but it still comes down to what you as an author think is best for your book. Good luck!

Brooke, I don't necessarily prefer stand alone novels in general, I could just really use more of them right now. I LOVED the Percy Jackson books, but that's an example of them being done well. There were supposed to be more books. I'm talking about authors that wrote one book and hadn't planned on it being more than one going back and changing it to make it work as a trilogy. I love a good series, I just think we need more single titles to balance out the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Marc Johnson said...

I like the trend fantasy is doing in that it's leaning towards trilogies. Those tend to get finished as opposed to the long series. Of course, I do get annoyed when said trilogy suddenly has a 4th book or 2nd trilogy.

On the other hand, my book's part of a six book series. So I can't say I dislike them.

The reason there aren't many stand alone titles are it's a hard sell. Publishers and agents don't want a one and done, they want a career. And like American TV shows dragging on too long, series do sell. Brandon Sanderson is the only recent author I read, where he wrote a stand alone book.

Amanda J. said...

Marc, I know publishers want series in fantasy, but I'm talking things like Twilight, where things are set in this world with a supernatural element to it. You don't need to have a series to have a simple ghost story. This isn't Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, I'm talking about. Standalone novels are very possible; it just feels like everyone is turning their single titles into series and trilogies to get a bigger pay check.

Like I said, I love series and think that you should write one if that's what your story IS. But not every book needs to have a sequel.

Jaimie said...

I tend to not want to read series at this point in history. It depends on the series though. If it's an episodic series, like say X-Files "monster of the week" stuff (Percy Jackson being a good example), then no. If it's something where the storyline and characters are growing and changing, not simply repeating themselves, then okay.

Jaimie said...

PS. I read the comments and saw 2 people listed Percy Jackson as a good example of a series. I wanted to clarify: I'm not knocking those books. I read 3 of them, so obviously I enjoyed them. But I was fatigued by the time the 4th hit. In that way I compare it to the X-Files because, while being excellent, I get burned out after a while. I love the X-Files but feel absolutely no desire to see every episode. It's an episodic show. Like House.

The type of series I like, since I'm using TV shows as an example... Mad Men. Not episodic.


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