Booking Through Thursday: Serial

Series? Or Stand-alone books?

Oh, series. I was organizing my Review Directory by series yesterday, and I’d just like to take a moment to tell non-speculative fiction authors that a snappy title for a series works wonders; compare and contrast His Dark Materials and The Karen Vail Novels. If it has an internal chronology, it’s a series; own it! Love it!

But the thing is, series are hard to do, and many authors screw it up. Ideally, each installment in a series ought to be a standalone novel—yeah, it makes more sense and works better when read as part as the series, but you should be able to pick up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and be able to follow along and enjoy that novel’s story. The novel is the basic unit of a series, and it irritates me to no end to see authors think that splitting manuscripts in two is how you do it. It’s not—the only author I’ve see pull this off successfully is Jacqueline Carey in The Sundering, and she paid attention to pacing and structure to pull it off. I was hugely disappointed when The Innocent Mage and Pegasus pulled this. On her website, Robin McKinley called the sequel to Pegasusa sequel like THE RETURN OF THE KING is a sequel to THE TWO TOWERS“, which I’ve always found flippant, considering The Lord of the Rings is a single novel. In fact, with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien does a series right—they’re richer in tandem, but aren’t required to understand each other.

I guess I do prefer standalone novels—in series or one-shots.

11 thoughts on “Booking Through Thursday: Serial

  1. oooh, interesting. I do like series that continue the story line. I like the feeling of wondering what is going to happen next.

    Having read your post though has made me really think about it. There are actually more series that I currently enjoy that you could read as stand alones. There would be maybe the occasional reference to something but it doesn’t detract from the story and I think I enjoy these more. Plus if one of the books isn’t that great the next one still might be. When the story is continuous through the series you have more of an investment in it and there is nothing worse when one of them (especially the last) turns out to be poor.

  2. You made some excellent points. I like series where I can accidentally pick up a book in the middle of the series (which with speculative fiction I do all the time) and still able to follow along with the story. Not every author can pull this off, but some do it and do it fairly well.

  3. I have a great appreciation of the books written by the team of Stephen King and Peter Straub. Both The Talisman and Black House feature Jack Sawyer, the first as a child, the second as an adult. These books are interesting fantasy stories and serve as a two book series, but also as a street level note on Stephen King’s Dark Tower mythology. They can be read as stand alone stories, a two book series, or part of the greater Dark Tower tapestry.

    All approaches are right and that’s why I like these books.

  4. I read a lot more standalone novels than series books, of course, but I love a series when it’s done well. Like Harry Potter. That was marvelous. One book came out every few years, and we all got to speculate, and it was a really nice thing to occur during my childhood. The thing about a series of books is that I want the authors to have an Endgame, and they frequently do not, or if they do it is not exciting. I like it when there are dozens of little plot threads and they all tie in together. Like Kage Baker and JK Rowling did.

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