by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
If you're committed to writing a series, congratulations. If you're committed to writing stand-alones, good for you. If you could see yourself doing either a series or a stand-alone, welcome to the club! There are so many advantages, and so many disadvantages, to writing a series that it can be hard to decide how you'd rather tell your stories.
Stand-Alone vs. Series
Let’s look at some of the up-sides and down-sides for each option:
Readers who enjoy one book in a series are likely to stay loyal and keep reading the rest as long as you keep writing ‘em. You’re pretty well guaranteed a Repeat Buyer (or at least a Repeat Reader) all the way through to the end of the series.
On the other hand, that can be confining. You might have a story idea you’re dying to write, but it doesn’t fit in with the characters or setting or genre of your series in progress. When will you ever find a break from your current project for creating the next?
Then again, it could be easier to write faster because you don’t need to come up with completely new people and places for each book in the series -- you already know how your main characters think and talk and feel; you already know where they live and work and play.
Although, that kind of knowledge might be considered boring. If you stay focused on the same leading character/s in the same setting, it means you’re missing out on the fun of creating new people, new situations, and new worlds for any stand-alone stories you might want to tell.
How Can You Decide?
One way to determine whether you’ll be more satisfied as a series writer or a stand-alone writer (although nothing says you can’t do some of each):
Think about the authors whose books you’ve enjoyed most. It’s a pretty safe bet that some of those books were single-titles, and others were part of a series. But when you think about your top five or ten favorite writers, which category do their books appear in more often?
Sure, some authors are wonderfully prolific in both areas. Nora Roberts’ romantic stand-alones and trilogies appear as often as her alter-ego J.D. Robb’s suspense titles in the Eve Dallas series.
Michael Connolly alternates between two criminal-justice series and books that stand on their own. But most of the world’s celebrated writers are known more for their work in one neighborhood or the other.
- J.K. Rowling
- Robert Ludlum
- Agatha Christie
- George R.R. Martin
- Debbie Macomber
- Walter Mosely
- Philippa Gregory
- James Patterson
- Stephen King
- Danielle Steel
- John Grisham
- Elizabeth Berg
- Michael Crichton
- Jane Austen
- Ken Follett
- Gillian Flynn
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Choosing Your Preference
If your taste in reading leans more heavily toward one side or the other, that may be a good clue to which storytelling style you find most appealing.
You can also look at other areas of your life for clues to that same question.
Would you rather stay at the same tried-and-true hotel when you visit a familiar city, or choose a new location each time?
Do you prefer binge-watching favorite shows straight through, or watching several different shows in the same week?
When you find the Best Shoes Ever, do you buy more pairs in different colors or treat them as a one-of-a-kind delight?
There’s no wrong answer to any of those questions, nor to the question of whether you’re better off writing stand-alone books or series.
If you opt for a series, there are a few things to keep in mind about the biggest bugaboo:
The Story Arc
Of course, every story has its own arc. A single book has its arc. So does each book in your series. And so does the series as a whole.
You already know how to figure out the story arc in a single novel, right? (If you don’t, ask me about my class, Plotting via Motivation.) But as important as that individual arc is to every book in your series, you also need an arc that spans from Book One to the final novel.
How do you know which book is the final novel?
If you’re happy to continue writing an open-ended series, like those featuring Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes or Stephanie Plum, that can be whenever you decide to call it quits.
If you’re planning a trilogy, or an opening-plus-sequel, or a five-book series about five siblings each finding their own success, it’s likely you know what the last one will contain. And you also know how important it is to wrap up with a satisfying arc that concludes not just that final book, but your series as a whole.
Wrapping It Up
How to "wrap things up" is one of the important topics covered in my “Writing A Series” workshop that starts next Monday. One lucky commenter will win a free registration to that two-week class!
Here is my question:
When you think about the author whose books have most consistently delighted you, at any time during your life as a reader, do you think of someone whose books are primarily grouped into a series or whose books primarily stand alone?
Is it someone you discovered as a child or as an adult?
And if you remember this compelling writer’s name (plus the name of their series if that’s applicable), please mention that as well!
Note: We'll announce the free-class winner TONIGHT. (If it’s someone who’s already registered, your $40 will be refunded.)
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After winning Romantic Times' “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular novel in her classes. So far there are 48 titles -- will yours be next?