Saturday, 16 March 2013

In defence of the stand-alone novel

I think I'm the only one.

Yes, I'm pretty sure I am.

I love stand-alone novels.

(Oh dear, what have I said?? I'm probably going to need to qualify this because almost all of my blogger friends are in the middle of writing some fantastic series, which I am reading! - Kyra Lennon, Elizabeth Seckman, M Pax, Alex et al, please forgive me.)

When I finish a book, I always spend a little time imagining what happens to those characters next. I enjoy that. My imagination runs wild. I think about where the author is going with the story and where I would go. And I want people to do that with my work. I purposely leave questions. The ending of Cat and The Dreamer has been interpreted in several ways, and I am not going to tell you what I think happens. And that's the fun of it for me, knowing that people may have a different plan for my characters. If I wrote a sequel, I think it would spoil the impact.

Looking at my bookshelves, there are no novels I'd want to have a sequel. (I've been tempted by Pride and Prejudice sequels, and learnt the hard way that I should not read them!) I love each of them for being what they are, and if I find I'm missing the characters then I simply read the book again.

It's not just books either. I'm a one series woman when it comes to major US TV programmes - Fringe, The 4400, some others I can't quite remember now, were really good for the first series and were complete stories that satisfied me. I just wasn't interested in the subsequent series. I was happy with what I'd seen. I love the way some British dramas tend to be short and only maybe two or three series long, six episodes each.

From a writing/professional point of view, I can completely understand the motivation to write a series. You're building your readership, taking them on the journey along with your characters, developing these two-dimensional jottings into rounded people that readers identify with. You're allowing the characters to grow. I get all that, I really do.

But one of the greatest pleasures I have is being enveloped by a story, getting to the end of the book and sighing happily that everything is right with the world. I hold the book in my hands, think over what I've just read, then search out something new and different. I have very few books by the same author - there are five authors who have the honour of being featured on my shelves more than once. I like new voices, new ways of looking at the world, new styles of writing.

The reason this post is defending stand-alone novels is because they seem to be a dying breed. I'm not saying that series are bad or wrong, just that they seem to be on the ascendence.

What do you think? Have I written something highly controversial, or do you agree with me?



55 comments:

  1. Both series and stand alone novels have advantages and disadvantages. I prefer to read stand alone crime/mystery/detective novels but I love love love fantastic, supernatural series.

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  2. I admit to being a fan of fantasy series, but I too am generally a lover of the stand-alone novel. I like the satisfying completeness of a stand-alone. I also forget stories easily and find the wait between books of a series too long! Not that fussy, though!

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  3. Oh interesting, Annalisa. I think the last series I read was the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series I read with my daughter-- many years ago. I always read stand-alones, so I didn't realize this was even in need of defense. Is it genre-driven? I don't read fantasy or romance or sci-fi. I love literary fiction and nonfiction-- maybe that's why?

    I've often wondered if it's the majority of blogs that I travel in but there seems to be so much YA, YA paranormal and fantasy out there, and yes, now that you mention it, series-driven.

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    1. I find the same with the blogs I follow - not that I'd swap them for the world, the bloggers I follow are amazing, but I sometimes don't feel I can relate to their books as much as they deserve. I'm a huge fan of literary fiction too, so maybe that's the angle I'm coming from (I just didn't realise it lol)

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  4. I love a good standalone! Love. Them. I like reading a story and getting the whole thing. In fact, I think I'm partial to stand alone books. There are a lot of series out there, though, you're right about that. For me, the best of both worlds is when series meets stand alone. Like Hardy Boys--loved those books growing up. Jim Butler puts out a few books like that.

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    1. There's a huge satisfaction in knowing you've read everything, and there's nothing more to know.

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  5. Very compelling argument, and there are definitely series where the author is just cashing in on the fact that the reader is hooked and "needs" the sequel. I have a hard time letting go of characters, and when I finish a book, there's always a period of mourning as I'll not see those friends again. Well, unless like you, I re-read it. Which I do from time to time.
    However, there are some series you never want to end, and JD Robb's ...in Death is one of them. I don't know how she manages to keep everything fresh, nor how she comes up with her completely intricate plots, but when I'm feeling stressed, I treat myself to some mind candy and escape to NYC in the 2060s and help Eve Dallas kick some ass on the bad guys.

    Love your new look. And my blog in your sidebar ;-) THANK YOU!


    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

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    1. "... in Death" sounds like an amazing title for anything - book, series, song, film... I love it.

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  6. Blast you!!
    Just kidding.
    I like both. Sorry, my first book was going to be the only one, but everyone wanted a sequel.
    Movies tend to over-sequel though. I'm all right with just one, great film.

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  7. I agree, but my exception is the Donna Leon mysteries set in Venice. Her main character, Commissario Brunetti and his family, his co-workers are so well described that you want to read more about them. She also has an issue in each of the books, pollution, corruption, blood diamonds, etc. are some of the issues,plus Brunetti is a good and decent man trying very hard to bring justice to his cases where many times the odds are against him. You don't want the stories to end, so having more books to read is wonderful.

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    1. Every good argument has a good exception :-)

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  8. I think I prefer stand-alone novels, but actually I've hardly read any series so I can't really judge. I have been editing a series that I fell in love with, but in that series, although characters return, each book can be read alone.

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    1. Part of the problem I have is when it's done badly the author seems to just repeat all the important information from the last book(s) - it feels too much like an info-dump.

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    2. Right. This author (David Rory O'Neill) manages to repeat information in an entertaining way, so it doesn't feel at all like an info-dump.

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  9. I totally like stand alone novels! It's nice not to have to commit to a long series sometimes. I don't agree with you on watching only one season of Fringe though, cause they're all good! ;)

    Allison (Geek Banter)

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    1. Hubby watched Fringe to the end. I sometimes sat in the same room long enough to be intrigued, but not enough to want to watch it all. If he ever buys the boxset I'll probably watch that.

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  10. I prefer a complete novel. Beginning to end. When you've read the closing lines, that's it, over and done with! Immediate closure.
    I don't go out of my way to look for books that form part of a series.

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    1. Hmm, that's a point - it might be that I'm just too impatient to wait for the next instalment.

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  11. I don't mind books that are part of a series - as long as each works on its own too.

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    1. Fair enough, Patsy, covering all the bases - it just means you have more to choose from :-)

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  12. I read and enjoy both. I loved the Harry Potter series, and also Hunger Games. As I wrote on a blog post - I enjoy Sue Grafton's A to Z series. It's nice to visit an old friend so to speak. But indeed, a standalone book does let you imagine what could happen later. Having just finished Richard Ford's Canada - I do wonder how Dell does later in life. And again - with writing, I think you have to write what you like and enjoy and let your writing shine through. If you write a series just because that's the marketing way to go these days, the strain of it could show. Good post.

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    1. Thanks Joanne. Good comment :-) I'm keen to read Canada.

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  13. I love stand-alones. I love series, too. It depends on the book/topic. I wrote PODs intending it to be a stand alone. I never thought it would have a sequel...until the characters told me they weren't done telling their story. I wrote the sequel, but didn't intend to submit it anywhere, because, like I mentioned, PODs was a stand-alone. My publisher and I agreed on that (although we both relented and the sequel releases next year). So I have to say I'm on the fence. I love them both. I'd love to write a hugely popular series, like Jennifer Armentrout's Lux or Covenant series or Cassandra Clare's series.

    But I'm happy with a stand-alone. One of my favorite books I read last year (Easy, by Tammara Webber) is a stand-alone. Most of my new WIP will be stand-alones.

    Michelle :)
    Author, PODs available June 4th
    Visit Me!

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    1. Congratulations on the sequel! If I ever considered writing a sequel it would have to be part of the original plan - I have a tendency to kill off far too many characters :-)

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  14. I'm a stand-alone fan. Three or four books in a series is about my limit.

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    1. I'm really surprised at how many people are agreeing with me... it doesn't happen often :-)

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  15. Not controversial at all! And I too love a stand alone. But here's a secret...I am a control freak. I want to be master of my characters from cradle to grave. I have other stories sitting in the edit pile that stand alone. So, whichever way works best is the way the writer should go.

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    1. I find it's more fun to create characters and let them fly off on their own. But of course, we're all different, aren't we? :-)

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  16. I have written two books which are definite stand-alones. And they happen to be the first two books that got published (or will get published, because one is due out in 2 months), even if that's not the order I wrote them in. I have a couple other manuscripts that were meant to be part of a series, and one that could go either way.

    I also have two ideas for future manuscripts that are definitely stand-alones, seeing as they are either thrillers or mysteries.

    Sometimes it feels like the stand-alone is a lost gem, but I know they're still out there AND still appreciated by readers.

    You should check out Icey Books's Standalone Reading Challenge: http://www.iceybooks.com/2012/11/2013SARC.html

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    1. Thanks Dianne, I'll definitely check out that link :-)

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  17. I understand what you're saying about reaching the end of a book and it's THE END and you feel satisfied and happy and whatever. But I also have to say that I LOVE reading (and writing) series! Characters can go through so much growth when you get to know them over several books, and the story itself can be a lot more complex with more depth and details. But there ARE stand alone novels that I've really enjoyed. And I do plan to write a few. So I like both :-)

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    1. As I said above, my characters tend to die rather than grow... I'm not sure I'll ever fully be able to stop myself killing them off! If you've planned the series from the start - I guess the award for most planned series goes to J.K. Rowling - then you can see how the ideas developed.(And I am a Harry Potter fan, so there's a least one series I enjoyed.)

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  18. You are definitely not the only one, Annalisa. I prefer standalones, too. Not that I don't mind a good series, I do. However, the key is they have to be good. Last year, I gave up on a series after trudging through the second book and decided not to read the third. A series has to be well-plotted to carry a reader through more than one book. I find it frustrating when let down by a weak sequel. But like others have said, when you find a really good one, it's fun to be totally immersed in that author's world.

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    1. I've read a couple of stand-alones that I haven't been able to finish - I imagine the disappointment would be greater a couple of books in.

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  19. Hi Annalisa .. I can see both points of view - personally I hate being tied in to watching series after series and won't do it .... I didn't watch Forsyte Saga the first time around, but was totally hooked second time around. Books now-a-days I probably wouldn't get hooked into a series - lots I'd love to read .. so I'd rather read a selection ... but way back when - growing up I'd read book after book ... Agatha Christie, Bond books etc etc ..

    But some people are avid readers -

    Good luck with reeling them in with Cat and the Dreamer - I must read it a.s.a.p. .... Cheers Hilary

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    1. Thanks Hilary. It's been really interesting how many people agree with me - for at least part of it :-)

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  20. Aha! An ally!
    I've had this argument about books with so many people. I love that 'sigh of satisfaction' moment at the end of a standalone. I might buy a same author more than once, but it usually tends to be their stand alone titles rather than their series...
    ... with some blogger friends as notable exceptions :)

    Laura x

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    1. Yes, blogger friends are a definite, and wonderful, exception!

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  21. ...p.s. casablanca sequel... WHY?!

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    1. Speed 2, Miss Congeniality 2, 3 Men and a Little Lady, Grease 2... help, I've got myself trapped in a sequel-naming loop!

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  22. A very relevant post - I think a lot of the trend for series, especially trilogies, is marketing driven more than anything. I'm not judging here - I have a trilogy out there! I think the motivation for series is a key point. As a reader, I enjoy both. As a writer, I enjoy both, but I do especially like writing a complete, one-off novel. But I have also been persuaded by a publisher that if Book 1 does well, it would be great to have a follow up/s. This creates interesting challenges for the writer (especially if you killed off one of the main characters in Book 1!

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    1. Hmm, a follow-up after Book 1 has been accepted... yes, I can see how your mind would be working overtime!

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  23. I know exactly what you mean about that feeling when you've finished a novel and you still have their lives in your head. I find some sequels to be forced and lacking in passion and I wonder if this is because an agent/publisher has insisted on a two or three book deal for financial reasons.

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  24. I prefer stand-alone novels as well. Perhaps not in every case as of course there are many series that I do enjoy and truly love, but overall a single novel is what I really like. Letting your own mind run wild wondering what happens next is part of the fun.

    And you know, I have the opposite problem when it comes to TV shows. I actually get frustrated at the comparatively short life of British dramas that I've watched!

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  25. I enjoy stand-alone novels as much as series and sequels. If it's a good story, it doesn't really matter to me:) My next three will probably be stand alone ones with the option of perhaps expanding in the future:)

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  26. I enjoy Stand Alones because you can have the complete story all in one sitting. But I do enjoy series as well bec. I get to follow these characters I fell in love with on another adventure. Maybe I just love books in general. haha.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  27. I'll be honest - I MUCH prefer stand alone novels myself!

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  28. I'm kind of lame because I can't pick a side LOL. I honestly love both. I love discovering a new series and knowing I have lots of books to look forward to, but then I also love a great stand alone where I am left wanting more and can imagine for myself what happened to the characters I've fallen for. I truly can't pick a favorite.

    Interesting to think about!

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  29. One of these days, I'll write a stand alone and leave it alone. They tend to grow beyond what I first imagined. :)

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  30. I've written a stand-alone novel, and one with a sequel, and a series, so I have to agree with you, don't I?

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  31. I find it weird for anyone to choose either series or stand-alones and shun the other. I love anything that's good!

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Please comment - I love a good chat!