f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Series vs. Stand-Alone: Part II

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Series vs. Stand-Alone: Part II

To begin this conversation I think we need to define some terms.

Stand-alone - This one is self-explanatory, hopefully. Sure, in theory, every book could have a sequel. Nearly all never receive them. (Or prequels.)

Serialized series - You need to read the books in order for them to really make sense at all. Harry Potter is the current king. Left Behind. Series of Unfortunate Events. Patti Hill has written a serialized three book series with us. The other important thing to note here is that, to me, this is truly "one" story. Multiple books but one story. Lord of the Rings is the archetype. Tolkien never viewed it as a series. He viewed it as one story. But you can't just dump 1700 pages on people. So his publisher (as far as I know) helped him split it. And then named the parts (including The Return of the King which in Tolkien's opinion seemed to give away the ending.)

The scope is important here. Fantasy novels have that scope. Historical novels can have that scope. To me it's hard to imagine a character-driven family drama as a seven part series.

Formula series - I've spoken about these before. Character-led mysteries, to me, are a great example of forumula series. (And I'm trying to use formula in a non-perjorative way.) Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels are formulaic in a sense that each presents a new mystery that follows a structure we grow to recognize and expect. Same with CJ Box's Joe Pickett books. There is often a small amount of serialization to the novels. Continuity is watched but isn't crucial. You can read The Closers or Black Ice and enjoy either as much. If you read them all in order (as I've done with Box) you'll probably get a little more. But it isn't crucial.

Here, readers are drawn by something other a long running story. They're not out to find out what happens next...but rather because they want another great mystery. It's a genre dominated form. And they main key is that the stories and plots need to be unique and compelling and non-formulaic from book to book. (Except for children's fiction--Hardy Boys, etc--where the stories are all so similar. The sophistication isn't there to discern that plots are the same. Though perhaps that's a poor excuse.)

I think the Shopoholic books fall into this category. Mitford, perhaps? I'm unsure if people need to completely read these in order.

Linked series - An odd-duck arrangement, these are mostly stand-alone novels that have (usually) a fairly tenuous connection or link. And yet they're grouped together. Often more by design and format than by content. The notion here is that there is something about the notion of a series where readers want to know that what they're going to read is similar to what they've read before. But if the characters are mostly different and the story is different...what do you do?

Well, you can repeat setting. You can have minor characters become major characters. You can find a theme that repeats. There are a number of historical fiction series by authors like Tracie Peterson and Janette Oke we publish that use this.

I need to stop. We'll revisit this again. You can let me know if I've missed any kind of series.

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Got to Part III in our discussion of series.