Sunday, April 21, 2013

Series vs. Standalone


There's nothing (well, almost nothing) more frustrating than getting to the end of what you thought was a really great standalone novel and running face first into the words "END OF BOOK ONE." You stand there, agape, like you just ran into a brick wall.

Then there are the moments where you reach the end of a standalone, and the ending can either be perfect and tidy make your heart swell with joy... or you're like a cake addict and someone has just taken away your cake. "MORE!" you demand. "How am I supposed to live without these characters? What happens next?! How could the gods be so cruel?"

Which begs the questions: Series or Standalones?

Sometimes suffering through a loooong, drawn-out series, waiting waiting waiting for the final installment, can feel like this:

http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mea9l2rlZb1qhkp1k.gif

Or sometimes it's just too much. A plot that could have easily been handled in one or two books is stretched out to three or five or some other heinous number. The characters regress and relearn lessons that were taught to them in earlier books. Characters stagnate. They get repetitive. You get bored. You get frustrated. You forget to stay dedicated to your series, and you miss the next installment, or you pick it up and realize you've forgotten everything that happened previously.

OR... you get to know these characters so deeply and so well they feel like your best friends. As always, I'm going to cite Harry Potter. Being with those characters through so much and for so long makes me feel like I know every facet of them. I'm even more invested in them than I would be in characters in a standalone. They've lived inside me for years, after all, and I've experienced the process with them.

It's a tough call, series vs. standalones. I think it depends on the book, myself. I know a lot of bloggers who lately are SICK TO DEATH of series, and just want to read a book with some damn resolution in it, because everything is a series nowadays and it would be nice to read a book with a real ending. Which is totally true. There's something so lovely about a book that opens, has dramatical excitements, and then closes just as it ought. It's so satisfying, and you shut the book with a sigh and lean back and say

http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lj7atwlYTm1qafrh6.gif

I mean, books aren't like TV shows. You don't get the next episode a week later. The season finale and season premiere are not just a summer apart. You have to wait usually a year. A full year. (Sherlock fans understand that kind of pain.)

But there's something to be said about leaving you wanting more, more, more. Some stories can't be told in one volume. Some stories are all the better for being extended. And in the end, it's just a matter of preference. ETA: For me, for example, I usually like my genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and dystopia) to be series, because that lends itself to better world-building and more epic plot lines. For contemporary fiction, I'm usually more than satisfied with a standalone.

So which do you prefer: Series or Standalones? Sound off!

23 comments:

  1. I usually prefer YA as standalones (non-YA I could go either way), partly because a lot of current YA tends to use really flowery, ornate language, which is all fine and good and I appreciate the pretty, but it feels like it sometimes draws out stories to an unnecessary length.
    Also, I hate starting series and not finishing them, and YA in general (and YA sequels in particular) tend to be really hit-or-miss for me, so I'm sometimes stuck reading the rest of a series that I don't actually like because of REASONS.

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    1. Just like you, I hate not finishing stories. I've plowed through a lot of series I no longer enjoyed just so I could see how it ended.

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  2. Great post. I think it depends. Like you said, Harry Potter, which was a well planned out 7 books from the beginning, was an epic series that will always be amazing.

    That said, recently, I've run into the very problem that you so perfectly uttered in your opening lines. Gah! It's only BOOK ONE?! I also almost freaked out when Stephenie Meyer implied in an interview that she was thinking of making The Host into a trilogy-- WAAAAHT? I'm so glad that hasn't happened... yet.

    Don't even get me started on all of the third books of trilogies that I have been so supremely disappointed in (ahem, Requiem!) or the third book in the Birthmarked trilogy, don't even remember what it was called. Then you feel like, I stuck around for THREE YEARS... for THIS???

    Christina @ Ensconced in YA
    http://cahreviews.blogspot.com

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    1. Exactlyyyy. I love everything you just said!

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  3. I can't say I ALWAYS want one vs. the other. But I'm getting very, very sick of series, especially trilogies. I often feel like authors are holding out, keeping back information to use in a sequel when the dang story could have been finished and done in one! Trilogies are the worst because of the Middle Book Syndrome. With some exceptions, the second books always seem to draaaaag.

    On the other hand, I have read a few books that would have been GLORIOUS as a series, and some stories do need more than one book to breathe.

    What I like best is when, A) a book is set up as a standalone, written as a standalone, and then is later turned into a series (a la A.C. Gaughen's SCARLET) or written as a standalone though a sequel is waiting in the wings, or B) the book is a duology. I love duologies. They're brilliant. They're series without the dreaded middle book. One good example is Tamora Pierce's Trickster books. I'd love to find more duologies, but the only one I've heard of lately is the OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW (which I desperately want to read).

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    1. Middle book syndrome is definitely a problem. I love when that's not the case. CATCHING FIRE, for instance, was possibly my favorite of the three, though mostly because of the second half of the book.

      SCARLET is a brilliant example. Such an awesome standalone that left me shrieking MORE MORE MORE, and now we're GETTING more! AND DUOLOGIES. Yes. I freaking love the Trickster books.

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  4. I really think it depends on the plot-line, and usually if I think the characters are worth continuing on with and investing time into their story. Sometimes I just like the first or second book in a series, usually it's because I did not like the next book and would not continue with that series. I think I would prefer books in a series to a stand alone though, so that if I grow to love the book there is something more for me to read, and if I did not love it I can just end it right there, no more wondering what happened and being disappointed with only a single stand-alone.

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    1. That's totally how I feel. I tend to read mostly series, because that's mostly what's out there, but I love following characters I love for as long as possible.

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  5. For the most part, I prefer standalones because it's difficult for an author to continue a series and still be true to the characters you met in the first book. That being said, I do have a few series favorites. What I don't like are forced books. I know there's an author who refused to write book 3 in his two book series and all of sudden because of pressure by the readers, he wrote book 3. I've read the synopsis and I keep thinking "why?" It makes me angry. Then there's the series that you love, but the books aren't selling so the author / publisher put the series on hold and five years later there's a new book and it doesn't wrap up loose ends and the series is canceled. It's a no/win situation.

    Series can be too drawn out. I really enjoyed Amanda Quick's Arcane series, but once she started giving second / third characters books, it just became too much and I stopped reading. I think that's where some authors get lost. There is a thing as too many books in a series (I'm thinking primarily of Stephanie Laurens and her Cynster series which now on its 20th book).

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    1. Yeah, I hate it when the author starts to get away from the characters in the later parts of series. And I HATE when authors force out series books because of popular demand. Just because the readers what it doesn't mean the story warrants it.

      Also, if there's a series with too many books in it that have already been published, often I get intimidated and don't start.

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  6. It totally depends on the book! I think that people who actually have enough to continue a story should do so and if they are a master of the cliffhanger, more power to them. But I hate series books that you know could have been one book and they just keep dragging on. Like you said sometimes they just keep learning the same things over and over and there is nothing fun about that. Honestly, I like a good standalone! But a well written series is a joy to read!

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    1. Exactly, it depends on the book. It depends on what the author intends and the author is capable of pulling off and how the story demands to be written.

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  7. I consider myself dedicated to both standalones as well as series books (like you said, Harry Potter!), but I can totally understand the frustration in seriality in regards to current fiction, with YA in particular. I honestly haven't read a standalone book in a while that wasn't written over forty years ago: the classics and adult fiction are the only bookshelves I can think of that would carry books with a complete and definite story arc taking place between two covers alone. I think it's partially owed to the industry: if a book sells really well, then obviously publishers will try to get more out of that story, right? If publishing heads think that something suited a specific purpose, then they'll try to find more ways to get things to suit that purpose, and what more obvious pathway than extending the story line?

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    1. Series are definitely the predominate trend in YA, and while I don't have a problem with that--like you, I'm really dedicated to a couple series-- standalones are nice every now and then from a narrative perspective. But like you said, if I were in publishing and a book did really well, why WOULDN'T I make it a series? Or why wouldn't I option a writer intending to a successful series?

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  8. I enjoy series, but it's nice to just read a standalone once in a while. There's no wait between books, which is always great! At the same time, I feel that standalones can end too abruptly sometimes, and I want them to have a sequel. Great post!

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    1. I agree with that abrupt ending. Particularly if it's genre fiction. Those are the instances where I like having multiple books. For contemporary, though, I'm usually satisfied with standalones.

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  9. I agree with you that sometimes series make you go crazy because they are so stretched out. Pretty Little Liars series anyone? I enjoy standalone a lot more because I think you get a complete story more or less. :D

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    1. Yeah, Pretty Little Liars. I've never gotten the courage to read those because there are SO MANY OF THEM.

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  10. I definitely agree with my sister ^ I can't always say that I like one over the other, but I do wish not every book was made into a series (especially a trilogy). I feel as if authors are holding out. Sometimes I want series because I'm so invested in the characters. Other times, I want to find out what happens but I do NOT want to wait another year to find out. Great post, Gil!

    Sunny @ Blue Sky Bookshelf

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    1. Perfectly said. Everything you just said underlined and bolded.

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  11. This post is going to generate such a fun discussion! I think, for me, it's also something that depends on the book. If I love the character and world enough to really desire more, then a series is absolutely fantastic. If I feel like it can be summed up in one book, then that's what I look for. I honestly have the same opinions as you genre-wise! I prefer my sci-fi, dystopian and fantasy to be series (if necessary) and my contemporary to be stand alone.

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  12. This is really good question, yet hard to answer.

    I like both series and stand-alone novels. Although I love my series where I get so much more time with the world and characters, it is frustrating to have to wait a year before the next book comes out! Also, there are some series (Such as the House of Night series) that gets dragged on way too long and becomes annoying.

    I hate when I pick up a book read it and then realize at the end that it is part of a trilogy or series. SIGH.

    I wouldn't mind some more Young Adult stand alone novels, but I feel like sometimes they are hard to find.

    Great post!

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