The act of writing may be a masturbatory experience (or so I’ve heard it said), so introducing a reader into the mix makes the reading experience analagous to sex, right? If you’re the reader, the question becomes: do you prefer to get your thrills in a one-night stand or in a relationship?Read More...
Posts in the "Series vs. Standalone" Category
There’s something to be said for a kickass stand-alone novel. It’s self-contained—you can judge it for what it is, not for what it aspires to be. The narrative arc works or it doesn’t; the resolution is satisfying or it isn’t; the character development is either compelling or you’re left scratching your head, saying, “Does she make the safe choice and marry the accountant, or does she run away with the circus geek? You’re going to leave me hanging? For real?! You bastard!” If there are flashes of promise, or hints that the writer has better in store in the next book, that’s all well and good, but that’s about the potential of the writer, not the story in front of you—you can always evaluate the stand-alone and make some kind of determination: it’s awesome; it’s hackneyed; it almost made your orgasm; it made you puke in your mouth a little bit and throw it across the room. Unless it’s in your Kindle. Then hopefully not.
Plus, if you’re short on reading time, it’s obviously a lot easier to invest in a stand-alone than an ongoing series that’s hit seven books and shows no signs of reaching anything approaching a climax anytime soon.
That said, I’ve always been drawn to a good series, both as a reader and a writer. If I love reading about the characters, I want to really spend some watching them grow or shrink, develop in interesting and unexpected ways, find some redeeming humanity or go batshit crazy. Obviously, you can do this in a single volume, but I like the big canvas. Ditto for a well-thought out and constructed world—I don’t want a three-day vacation that’s over before it hardly gets started. I want to tour, enjoy the spectacle, explore, ruminate. Go big or go home. (more…)Read More...
This week we’re blogging about series vs. stand-alones, but I already weighed in on series a couple of weeks ago (they’re awesome). Last week we were writing about time management; marketing vs. writing time vs. real life. I started mine in the afternoon, and then went off to teach my last writing class up at the Willow Bridge Book Store in Oakhurst, and then came back and worked away on the blog into the night. When I went to publish, I realized I’d written the entire blog on everything I’ve learned about how to manage my time efficiently so I can write, and nothing about marketing. This pretty much sums up what I know about marketing. I thought I’d finish it on Thursday, but on Thursday I still didn’t know anything about marketing, so I went back to work on the preview I was making for Summoning.
I have a Livejournal, which two people read. I have a website, a twitter account, and two facebook accounts. I have two because when I tried to get back on to Facebook one time, I inadvertently created a second account instead. I have two sets of friends . . . I’m one of them, just for ease of going from one Facebook account to the other, without getting lost again.Read More...
Well, after saying goodbye last week, here I am again. Turns out that Night Shade had a wee bit more free space for my compatriots and I to share our thoughts, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to talk about this week’s topic of writing stand-alone books vs. writing a series. It’s something that’s been heavily on my mind as I consider how I’d like the path of my career to evolve, and it’s a monstrously huge decision.
Let’s make up a series, here, for the benefit of this post. Maybe something with a werewolf. A female werewolf. In Regency times. A lesser noblewoman with a curse. Okay… the Hirsute Heiress. Boom. We’ve got our book. Now, as I plot out the adventures of the Hirsute Heiress, I’m envisioning an arc that lasts between five to seven books. The first book will be of how she’s sold into a form of slavery with a traveling carnival, and then how she grows to command them into an underground army of thieves and ne’er-do-wells. In the second book she tries to regain her family fortune, but the criminal Jonathan Wild has cheated them into the poorhouse. It’s time for a Newgate prison break! This will be great… I could write on this for years.
But… should I?Read More...
For me, the question of whether to write series or standalone novels within science fiction, fantasy or horror has never been that much of a question — because, while I love reading science fiction, I’ve never been a very good science fiction writer. I also can’t write, at novel length, the brand of horror novel that was big when I was younger — where everyone gets killed at the end and everything’s suffused with creeping evil. Ramsey Campbell is a master of this style, and I admire those books greatly, but I can’t seem to do it.
Science fiction and straight-up leave-em-screaming horror both lend themselves somewhat to standalone books. I find that fantasy and “dark fantasy,” which I’ll use for the time being as a shorthand for horror with a potentially epic scope, really don’t.
To me, investing the time to create an internally consistent epic fantasy or dark fantasy world sounds like holy hell to me if I know I’ve got to do it all over again next week. I know the same is true of many types of science fiction, but my own science fiction worlds seem to have grown out of my interest in horror and fantasy, not vice-versa. What I write within speculative genres doesn’t really lend itself to creating a tightly-plotted arc that’s wrapped up at the end of a book. I always want to explore more fandangos on the far side, to the point that I often do more planning and world-building than I do writing — which is, you know, a potential problem. (more…)Read More...
I’m not sure at what point God’s War became a series book.
I’d originally written it as a stand-alone, but kept a bit of an open ending that implied there could be more books if they sold well. But the original story, as conceived, was just one book about one crazy bounty hunter in one crazy world.
It must have been about the time I signed on with my agent that the subject of a series came up. See, single books are fine and all, but if you want to make any money, you write series books. That’s just kinda how it is. You double down. The reason you double down is because that makes your publisher double down – suddenly they have a lot more invested in your first book doing well if they know you have another book or two in the same series that they will be carrying.
This is especially true, I think, if you’re a new writer. Unless you write the next Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (which, let’s face it, had the word count of three books), folks are likely going to be more interested in a series from a new author. Or at least, “So, what do you have next?” That goes for publishers and agents. One-off’s are fine, but the odds of a one-book author making anybody any money (including the author!) are generally very slim. Did you know that Chuck Palahniuk initially sold Fight Club for a $2,000 advance? Yes, fate stepped in, but it does show just how much his publisher was willing to gamble on a one-off from a weird writer. (more…)Read More...
When I write a story, I usually set it in an alternate world of some kind. Even with short stories, I tend to spend a ton of time working out the world, its politics, how the magic works, and so on, and when I say I spend a lot of time on it, I spend a lot of time on it. This is one reason that I prefer series over standalone.
But I think we need to differentiate here a bit. There’s a difference between a trilogy (or four-book or five-book series) and an ongoing, open-ended series. For the purpose of this post, I’m just going to call these types of series trilogies. K? K.
The trilogy is typically more of a longer arc story, but one that has a pretty distinct beginning, middle, and end. Whereas serial fiction is a different beast. Open-ended series tend to have characters that are largely the same from book to book; they just come across new things that challenge them. Sure, there can be arcs of sorts, but these stories tend to be more about reliving the experience found in Book 1 over and over again, with different trimmings.Read More...
DEUCEY: Harry Potter your ass? Wow. Anyway, sometimes it’s not that simple. I write a book, and every part of me as an author wants for THAT book to be a satisfying experience, right? It should stand on its own as a great reading experience. But…
ACEY: But what, man? (more…)Read More...
I’m a fast reader and, when the kids aren’t showing their love for me by screaming in my face 24/7 for months on end, I can tear through five or six books a week. So volume is important to me. Generally if I find an author I even mildly enjoy, I’ll read everything they’ve written. It doesn’t so much matter to me if it’s a serial or a stand alone. I guess I lean towards stand-alones. Because the main drawback to a stand alone is that you loved it so much you want to read more and there isn’t more. But there could be someday. I’d rather be teased than disappointed. But that’s just me.
Serials have a few pitfalls, though so they are harder to write well. Some common scenarios seem to be:
- My big complaint with serials is that it’s too easy to have a character that, by the third book or so, is no longer remotely relatable as a human being. The fifth time they get wrongfully imprisoned and gang-raped, I just don’t want to read any more about them. Once or twice could happen to anyone. Five times seems like maybe they should move to another country, change their name to Carl and open a bike-rental shop. Then I’m thinking the main character is an idiot and I’m reading to see how much of an idiot this character is instead of listening to the story. Then I get bored. I am surrounded by idiots in my normal life and I don’t want to spend my free time reading about them. (more…)
Series. For some folks it’s a dirty word. For me… well. I hate saying goodbye. I’ve been that way since I was, like, six.* I form strong attachments, see. Particularly if it’s a good book (or film) with great characters. I do like stand-alone books. Most of my favorites of all time are stand-alones. But we have a different relationship. Those books are more like meals — tasty, tasty meals. Series? Those are for the long haul, baby.
Largely because a series is so hard for writers to manage, they’re easy to mess up. I have a tough time when it isn’t done well, and I usually have to have some other brave reader guide me over the bump if the next book in the series is good enough to continue on. I think it’s important for characters to grow over time. (Because real people change over time.) I also think that this is what signifies a good series. Change can be tough on a writer and a reader too because there’s always that risk that however the character changes, they might change into something neither likes.
But risk is the point, isn’t it? See, that’s where the story is. Change. Danger. Conflict. If these things stop happening, if the POV character doesn’t change in any way, then, they’re ossifying and chances are, so is the story. Change doesn’t have to be negative in order to make the story interesting. It can be positive too because big positive changes can be equally scary in real life. Take the Samuel Vimes character in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for instance. He wins the marriage lotto. He marries up. Big time. For most writers that would signal the end of that character’s story arch. Not Terry Pratchett. Vimes struggles with his happily ever after — and not in a “Oh, my. The relationship is going to tank.” way. Nope. His working class background clashes with his wife’s upper class/noble background. He struggles with the difference in cultures exactly like any real person would. (Ah, how much do I love the phrase “gilt-y armor”?) So, the story remains gripping. (And I’m thankful that Pratchett doesn’t take the thumbscrews to the relationship because I do believe committed relationships can work. Hell, mine does.) Vimes is one of my favorite characters in all of literature because he’s so real. And Harry Dresden? Jim Butcher risked everything in that last book. Seriously. That took guts. It also pays off. Large.
I come from the gaming world, see, and I can’t help thinking that the relationship between a Reader (and the characters) and the Author is much like a Dungeon Master (Storyteller Referee) and their players. Readers should only trust Authors within certain bounds. Readers need the excitement of not knowing what will happen next. (Authors do too to a degree.) Comfortable eventually becomes dull if you’re not careful. It’s just how human beings are wired.
* I distinctly remember my Grandmother talking to me about how leaving in tears was a bad thing, since it meant that this was the image you left people with. Thus, ended my temper tantrums on the issue. That is, until I hit college. But hey, we don’t talk of my freshman year. Well, not much. On Tuesdays.Read More...