Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Standalone vs. Series

Ask any reader what they prefer: stand-alone or series and you are likely to get a wide variety of responses. A series is a banquet for an author. They have plenty of time to prepare a wide variety of viewpoints, character development and story to suit all the characters on their canvas. But a standalone is a once in a lifetime opportunity to tell the story or not.

In other words, the sun rises and sets on the world created within a standalone between the front and back covers. Arguably, a sequel can take readers back to world of the standalone, but a standalone by its nature does not need a sequel to answer any questions or tie off any storylines. The standalone itself delivers the complete tale.

The Nature of the Romance Novel

Most romance novels are designed to be standalones. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl overcome obstacles. Boy and girl live happily ever after. The HEA is somewhat indicative of the story's self-encapsulation. Yet, in many paranormal romances, the series is the thing. You see characters again, their love story is complete, they've found their other half, but they are still fundamental in future tales.

In Nora Roberts' Sign of Seven trilogy, she told a three part story with six people who are all present from the beginning of the first book to the end of the last, but the focus tightens on each individual couple for each book. In many ways, their love stories are interwoven through the larger tale that encompasses the town and the lives of all the characters.

This type of serialized storytelling is becoming more and more popular in both urban fantasy and paranomral romance. It's actually quite hard to find a standalone or even sell one anymore.

The Best Standalone Novels

I can rattle off a list of great series in nothing flat (I'm sure you can too). In fact, most anyone who is a fan of the two genres mentioned will recognize a wide variety of series that are available. So I thought I would try to list off the best standalones (Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance) I could think of and here they are, in no particular order.

1. The Stand (Stephen King)
2. Firestarter (Stephen King)
3. War For the Oaks (Emma Bull)
4. Lightning (Dean Koontz)
5. Stardust (Neil Gaiman)
6. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
7. Sacred Ground (Mercedes Lackey)

I know there must be more, but those are the seven I can think of. I went and scanned my bookshelves, then my TBR and nearly all the books fall into a series of some kind, some loose, some tight, some the same narrator, some not. Standalones are a rare beast in these genres.

Arguably, most Stephen King novels are standalones, but he is more a horror/thriller writer than a paranormal or urban fantasy. I think The Stand qualifies as dark urban fantasy while Firestarter is definitely urban fantasy or at least a little bit steampunk. The same can be said for Dean Koontz. I chose Lightning because it's probably one of the best time travel tales, I've ever read.

I have to wonder, is the business aspect hurting the storytelling aspect? Food for thought.

What standalones can you think of?

6 comments:

  1. Great points, Heather! I do think the standalone, as far as one story that is completed in one book, has fallen from fashion. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, comes to mind, however, as a current bestselling standalone.
    I don't think the idea of a standalone does a disservice to the readers. If a story is well told and captivating, readers don't want it to end. Of course, we all want resolution to some extent. But I think that even series books must function individually as "standalones." If the author does her job, she will arc the narrative while seamlessly supplying any back story that may have come before.
    I try to do that in all my genie tales. Each book can be read as a standalone, but the themes and sometimes the characters are linked, like sprinkling chocolate chips through many different recipes.
    A tale that continues across books benefits the readers, the author, and the publisher. And if done well, can occur without compromising story.

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  2. I think your right, I'm sitting here thinking about standalones but I can't really think of any in PNR and UF genres. *scratches head, drinks some more coffee* I'd need to run through my shelves to double check but the only ones that comes mind are the horror or thriller novels.

    I love reading series, especially the really good ones because I keep getting glimpses back into the characters I liked from previous books.

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  3. Within the PNR/UF genre it is really hard to come up with any stand-alone novels *glances at shelves* No, I found not one, but I only read the genre for like three years.

    I love reading a series but sometimes I just want one book, one story and that be it. On the other hand, PNR/UF is known for its extensive world building and can this be done is just one book?

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  4. PS: I also notice that if there is a stand-alone that sells good the publisher requests to turn it in to a series.Or a trilogy gets a spin off or is also extended in to a series.

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  5. I love both but it's getting harder and harder to find a true stand alone. As Leontine said, if a stand alone is successful, it suddenly becomes the first of a series.

    I love Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series and the KMM Fever and Highlander series.

    Fav all time would still have to be Anne of Green Gables series from when I was a teen.

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  6. Hmm, it is really hard to think of standalones in those genres. Did The Neverending Story have a sequel? I also thought of Stephen King's It and Carrie, but that's more horror.

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