I've had a few questions in the last week about writing series versus writing a stand alone book. The first writer asked, "How do you decide when to confine a story line to one book, or to have it span over a series?"
Well. I think sometimes it's just a feel. Some stories just seem to demand a series - like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Those are stories that just wouldn't be the same in a single volume. They are also series where each book (in my opinion) is wonderful and stands on its own merits. (I'm writing this with my husband sitting next to me, and he has pointed out to me that I've not read all three Lord of the Rings books. This is true. I've read the first and seen all three movies. Thanks, honey, for keeping me real.)
Some genres seem to be more series friendly. Fantasy, sci-fi, and historicals are the ones coming to mind right now. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's the intense world building required? The author has done extra work creating a world that the readers want to stay in?
And some writers seem more drawn to writing series. My critique partner, Roseanna, always seems to have her book ideas come to her as triplets, whereas my tendency is toward stand alone books. (Though it just struck me that currently the books Roseanna has out are all stand-alones, and my published books are a 3-book series...)
All that to say, there's no black and white answer on this. It'll depend on you, the size of your story idea, your genre, and your future publisher. Some editors absolutely love series and ask authors to always throw series ideas on their proposals. And other editors request that unpublished authors only pitch them single books since it can be easier to get the financial people to sign off on it.
Another writer asked, "My story idea has gotten so large that it's going to have to be a trilogy instead of a stand alone, which I don't mind at all, but it does make it hard to know where to end each book. If the story concept doesn't have logical finalizing breaks in it already how do I create or recognize them?"
Hmm, that's an interesting question. Each book will need to have its own beginning, middle, and end, but of course you'll also be working toward the resolution of the big issue as well. Like in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we're working toward Frodo getting the ring in Mordor.
The show Veronica Mars, which was about a teenage girl private investigator, did this really well. In a season, Veronica always had a big mystery she was trying to solve, but within each episode she had smaller mysteries she was solving as well. Like in the first episode of season two, there was a horrible bus crash. Veronica spent the entire season trying to figure out who caused that bus crash. But in episode four, she might also be helping someone find their lost dog.
And the same thing should happen within your series. There should be a big plot arc that encompasses all the books. There should also be an arc for each individual book as well. And ideally each book is going to grow in intensity as we move toward the climax of the big plot arc. The Harry Potter series is a phenomenal example of this. With each book, the stakes are raised and Harry's battles with Voldemort grow more intense.
It might be easier to figure out the series arc first - what the big final battle and resolution will involve - and then decide where you could split it up from there.
Anyone else have questions about stand-alone books versus series? What do you like to read better, or do you have a preference?
We have some teen writer friends who are celebrating book birthdays this month - sisters Abigail J. Hartman and Jennifer Frietag are having a blog party throughout November to celebrate that each of their books (The Soldier's Cross by Abigail and The Shadow Things by Jennifer) are turning 2 this year. For the month of November they're doing giveaways, Q&A sessions, and other writerly type things. You'll find more details at their blogs:
Abigail's Blog: Scribbles and Ink Stains
Jennifer's Blog: The Penslayer
Best of luck to everyone who started NaNo today!