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Booking Through Thursday: Series or Standalones

July 19, 2012

Today’s Booking Through Thursday asks: Series or Stand-alone?

As someone who reads a lot of mysteries, young adult lit, and some science fiction and fantasy, I encounter series books, more often than not. Sometimes I feel like I’m having series fatigue. It feels sometimes like books are being written as series and trilogies to satisfying a marketing department rather than being the organic way to tell a story across multiple books, because the story needs that kind of space.

When the series is well-crafted, to work as a whole as well as paced well within individual books, it becomes a natural extension of the story to put it together as a series. And one of my favorite books Blackout/All Clear, by Connie Willis, tells the story across two books, stopping rather abruptly at the end of the first. This was a rude surprise when I read it the first time. But I would much rather have that than the feeling that a story has been artificially stretched to extend into a second and third book. I feel like this happens a lot in young adult literature, where stories that could have ended in a single book, and worked as a standalone, veer off in the last quarter to a new complication that sets up a second and third book.

And why is it always a trilogy anyway?

As much as I really loved A Discovery of Witches, finding out in the last few moments of the story that it was heading into a sequel, and trilogy felt like a bit of a letdown. I’ll read the next book as soon as I can get my hands on it, and decide then whether it works for me as a continued story or whether I would’ve been happy to have it self-contained in the first book.

My favorite kind of series is one that returns to the same setting, and maybe some of the same characters, but uses them to tell different stories that are variations on a theme, rather than a continuation of a larger story. That feels more like visiting old friends, or a way to capture the possibility of reading a good story again for the first time. Here, what I have in mind in particular is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. She does that well. Rick Riordan does both kinds of series, the plot continuing across books, and similar universes with self-contained plots, rather well. On the other end of the spectrum is Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden books, which are among my favorite space opera guilty pleasures. If you read too many in quick succession, the plot feels like it’s repeating with a weird sort of internal amnesia among the recurring characters. The forbidden love plot between alien and human species keeps coming up, and characters reacting to it appear to be scandalized like it’s the first time.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristin permalink
    July 19, 2012 12:56 pm

    Great response and I definitely understand your point about series sometimes seeming like they were only created to make more money then actually being important for the story itself.

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