I read…a lot. Anyone who has happened upon my blog will know this. And since I read a lot, I start to notice patterns. I’ve done several other posts on things that I like or that bother me in literature, but today I’m going to compare two types of books: a standalone and a series. After reading many of both, I’ve noticed each have their strengths and weaknesses. As a writer as well as an active reader, it’s important for me to understand what I like about both to help me write and review books better.
Down in the comments, I’d love to hear whether you prefer reading a series or a standalone. So, let’s get into the benefits and negatives of both.
Whether it is three books long, or forty books+, a series can be so much more detailed than a standalone book. You can get into characters’ lives, seeing them change over years. In a standalone, you are limited to only three to five hundred pages (on average). In a series, you can introduce more characters and understand the world in more detail. You’re not limited by length.
However, length is also a double-edged sword. If, for example, you really want to get two characters together, in a series you may have to wait seven or more books. In a standalone, you know that the entire arch of their relationship will be finished in that one book. The foreshadowing and payoff is quicker in a standalone, making it ideal for people who don’t want to wait five books for the villain to be defeated.
This thought is gear more towards fantasy/sci-fi novels, but it could work for any genre. If you have an incredibly detailed world, it is difficult to get everything into one book without feeling like there are constant info dumps. A series gives you a chance to examine different parts of a world organically without putting too many things into the first book. That, and in a standalone novel, most aspects of the world have to be covered rather shallowly.
Saying that, if you are writing a pretty generic world and want to only detail a couple aspects of the world, than a standalone would be better. If you don’t have a compelling story to tell and an interesting world to examine, it’s just going to pull the series down. Having extra time world-building may be actually a bad thing, depending on what kind of writer is writing the series.
Again, this can be both good and bad. In a series, you can have a lot more characters because you have more time to develop them. However, it also means the readers have more to keep track of. You don’t know how many times I start reading a series, go away from it, and come back to one of the later books with no recollection of who is who.
In a standalone, you can’t add that many characters because it confuses the reader. However, you don’t have to worry about keeping track of a large cast of characters over several entries (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones) and you know every character’s arch begins and ends in that single book.
This is one of the biggest negatives of a series. In a standalone, you know what you’re getting into when you start. You have one book to read, from start to finish. When it comes to a series, only the first book may be out and you have no idea how long the series will be. You may read the first few books and then get bored.
This is that hardest part of writing a series. There is that constant pressure to make the next book better, raising expectations. It’s hard, if not impossible, to keep hype going forever. This works fine in series whose endings are planned or are shorter (like Lord of the Rings or any series planned as a trilogy). But for fantasy series that go on and on, it is impossible to keep readers engaged forever. In a standalone, you don’t have to worry about future engagement, just keeping readers engaged in one book.
The Big Plot and The Little Plot
In a single entry of a series, you must have two plots: the plot that encompasses that single book and the plot which carries through to the sequel. For example, in Harry Potter each book takes place over one year at school, dealing with the misadventures of Harry and his friends. But the big plot is figuring out how to defeat Voldemort. In this sense, there has to be a balance with plot progression for the sake of the big and the little story.
In a standalone, there is only the little plot. The plot that will start and finish in that one book. Not only is it easier for an author to write, but it is easier for the reader to keep track of.
As you can see by my list, there are positives and negatives to both series and standalones. I honestly prefer standalones myself, usually because I don’t want to get sucked into twenty+ books of one series. I will occasionally read a short series which is completed or some murder mysteries, but rarely do I read long series. But I can understand why so many people love them.
Which do you prefer? Did I miss any flaws or strengths of either? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,