Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Time For a Return of the Stand Alone Novel?

I love series fiction; I always have. There's nothing better than spending more time with characters you've grown to love over the course of 3 or 4 or 10 books.

But when is enough enough?

I just looked at my TBR pile and I think the number of stand-along novels is less than 1 in 10 of the whole collection.

I gotta be honest. I'm getting too old for this. When I was younger I could keep track of long, meandering stories much better than I can now. But then, my only responsibilities back then were going to school and cleaning my room-- and I never kept up on my room. Now I'm far too preoccupied by a much busier life to keep up with the gazillion books (yes, that's an exact number) that land on my doorstep.

Don't get me wrong-- I want to read everything I see. I just don't have the memory, or the energy to to keep it all straight anymore; and I certainly don't have the time reread everything. No. I need to conserve my brain cells when possible so, inevitably, more books drop off my radar unless I'm really attached to the series. Old favorites like Charlaine Harris and Patricia Briggs languish on the shelf, sometimes because they're just not that good anymore (not naming names)-- but mostly because I forgot what the heck was going on.

I think I understand why series fiction is so prevalent these days. What better way to ensure a steady paycheck than to come up with a ongoing (and hopefully popular) cast of characters? Some authors seem to have this down to a science. I notice favorite authors of mine branching out in to YA and paranormal fiction all the time: But I admit I'm getting mistrustful of the trend because it seems like the books get formulaic and rushed as the authors push to publish so many books in a row.

The stand-alone novel is starting to look really good right now. I have a few hefty volumes on the shelf written by people like Dan Simmons and Guy Gavriel Kay and I'm thinking it would be a real breath of fresh air to read a story the ends with final page.

Who's with me?

29 comments:

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I'm in more or less the same predicament as you. Add to that an absolute refusal to start reading a series unless it is the first book in that series (unless I'm sent a review copy of a sequel, in which case it migrates to the back of the pile until I can get my hands on the first novel).

Stand alones are looking mighty tempting right now, but I adore series fiction - I like to invest time in a world and its characters, and it's a good feeling when that investment is paid off.

SQT said...

It's so hard sometimes. I tried to keep this a short post (I get long winded sometimes) but I really like series fiction too. But there's no way I can read everything and I have no choice but to drop authors that I like, but aren't on my say, top-20 list.

There are some authors I'll always set aside time for. Right now writers like Patrick Rothfuss are high on my list, even if I have to read 1000 pages just to get to the sequel. I'd really like to dig into some David Anthony Durham too, but I don't know that I have the time to devote to it right now.

Ken in Irvine said...

This is why I only read WW2 books. I know all the characters, everyone's back story, who is mad at who, what is at stake, etc. At this point in my life, it's too much effort to learn yet another universe.

Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

I totally agree. Nothing wrong with a series but really there aren't nearly enough of stand alones. It's all series now which is really a pain. I have to read the first to start then waiting for the others to come is also a drag who wants to wait years before the final book in the series comes out. Hell I could be dead by then.

Hannah said...

I get you entirely. Sometimes I love a good series and don't want it to end, but really I'm wayyy behind on my reading and the prospect of starting Terry Brooks and The Wheel of Time is positively daunting! Not to mention expensive :/

Sally Sapphire said...

I couldn't agree more. After a few entirely dissapointing series entries this year, I went back and dived into some Guy Gavriel Kay novels I had missed and really enjoyed them.

There's just something so satisfying about a self-contained story, with no threads left dangling. A trilogy is one thing (I don't mind waiting for the next book when I know there's a definite end coming), but all these open-ended series are daunting, especially when you have no assurance the series will ever end.

TheMoose65 said...

As much fun as it can be following similar characters, series can also be draining. It's easier when they're limited to trilogies.

One thing I think works really well are the stand-alones that are connected. Joe Abercrombie's novels for instance. He has a trilogy, and as of now two stand-alones with a third on the way. They all take place in the same world, and they all feature characters in common.
It's a lot of fun reading a stand-alone that features a cameo by a character who was earlier a main character, or that features a main character who earlier had a smaller role.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree. The Talera books are my only novel series. Everything else is stand alone, Cold in the Light, Under the Ember Star, and most of what I'm working on. At some point series have become cash cows for some writers and that troubles me, as well as it effecting the final product.

Budd said...

Amen, sister. preach it. I have long advocated that a series is not so bad as long as all the novels can be read as stand alone. Although, that would reduce the use of cliffhangers that bring readers back for the next in the series.

Generally, I think stand alone books are written better. There are exceptions, but that seems to be the rule.

Bush League Critic said...

Shhhh. You had me at stand alone.

SQT said...

@Ken, I'm sure I should broaden my horizons and read about the real world, but fake tragedies are much less depressing.

@Jessica, No kidding. There are so many series' that I thought would be done by now. After awhile I get tired of convincing myself that I'm still interested in what happens.

@Hannah, I tried to reread WoT a few years ago and I think I got about 6 books in before I got burnt out.

@Sally, That's the thing-- how many books are enough in a series? I can't hang in for 20 books.

@TheMoose, Trilogies are absolutely doable. I admit I get burnt out on Abercrombie because his style is so in-your-face all the time. But once a year is good.

@Charles, Cash cow is a good term. I think that's the driving force behind all the series fiction anymore.

@Budd, I love it when an author will have a stand-alone that ties into a series. Brandon Sanderson is doing that with his Mistborn trilogy with "Alloy of Law" and I'm looking forward to it.

@Bush League, That is my laugh-out-loud comment of the day.

Blodeuedd said...

I love a series, but I also hate them! So I want them, and I do not want them. But honestly I have started to feel that more than 6 and no way, it just drags out

SQT said...

@Blodeuedd, After awhile it feels like the characters are just running around doing nothing but trying to prop up a series that doesn't have any gas left in it.

Linds said...

I think authors can be in a bit of a bind over this. I do get how writing a series is beguiling, and It seems that publishers really like series too (and may push them/pick them over stand alone novels).

Terry Pratchett is one of the few I've found that created a happy medium between stand alone novels and a series by creating a world rather than a 'character' to follow.

I have an odd dislike of trilogies over series actually. I find most books in a series tend to be fairly contained, barring one or two subplots. While trilogies (unless they're done well), often leaving you hanging between books. I don't mind this if all the books exist - but a part of me grumbles whenever I stumble upon the first book of many.

SQT said...

@Linds, Yeah, cliff-hangers are always irritating. I like series' that are loosely tied together with different characters. Mercedes Lackey did that with her Valdemar series and I think it worked well. Same with McCaffrey's Pern series.

Whenever you see the first book in a new series it's hard to pick up the book. I will wait until there are two or three unless I'm really curious; or bored. I can't stand loooong waits between books. Kristen Britain is killing me with her Green Rider series. I got the fourth book awhile ago but haven't read it because I have to have time to read all four books again.

Elfy said...

I'm kind of torn. On the one hand it's always nice to have something long running and meaty to get your hooks into, but the downside is the wait between volumes. Of course there are long running series that are standalone books that just happen to feature some of the same characters like Pratchett's Discworld or Butcher's Dresden Files, although Butcher did recently do a cliffhanger with Changes. I think there will always be a place with readers for both honestly.

SQT said...

@Elfy, I think there's room for both. I just wish there were more stand-alone novels so we'd have more choice.

xenophon38 said...

I read allot of older paperbacks from the 60's and 70's along with more recent series that are out now.

What impresses me the most, is not only were many stand-alone novels,(Though a few were set in an ongoing settings or universes.) was how much the author could accomplish is around 300 pages.

I think that takes much more talent to not only do world and character building, but have a cogent plot develop, climax, and conclude that succinctly. Of course books like this always leave you wanting more, but is that necessarily a bad thing. Especially when you compare it to something like Erickson's Book of the Fallen Series, that for me, just seemed to go on and on with all sorts of unnecessary detail and short story arcs that really didn't add to the main plot.

Marty said...

I'm with you. Bring on more stand-alones. I understand what the publishers are doing, but it does have a negative side too. There have been numerous times when I've picked up a book that caught my eye and then I put it back because it's #6 in a series. Hard to get newbies hooked when you're that far along... and who has time to play catch-up?

Fingers crossed that the standalone makes a comeback.

Pabkins said...

OH you are a lady after my own heart. I used to love series fiction. I still have so much of it on my shelf. But I've gotten to the point where I don't even want to start a series fiction book that sounds interesting because I don't want to wait for the next one, I don't like the idea of the long rereads (just finished a long 8 book reread argh) and quite frankly you don't get enough satisfaction and closure. I love Jim Butcher but I'm ready for him to be done. I think if they carry the series on too long it just dries out. I have been on the hunt more and more lately for stand alones or trilogies that are complete and all already published. I also love duologies. I loved the two duologies that Patricia Briggs wrote. I hope this big fad of the series writing starts to tone done soon because its just too much. If you know any good stand alones you want to recommend us please do so. With all that said I know I'll continue to read them - but I have taken to buying a few and shelving them for "years later" when the series is finished...if that ever happens. Oh and I love Brandon Sanderson. I remember reading Elantris and being so happy because it was light and refreshing and oo by golly it was done in one sitting. Sometimes that is just exactly what you need! In fact - I think I'll make a new shelf on my good reads. "Stand alones" haha

SQT said...

@Xenophon, I agree, it's gotta be a lot harder to tell the whole story you want to tell in 300 pages. I think we're so used to reading about a lot of pointless action. I read a book recently that was basically 300 pages of set-up. I felt like I wasted my time and was kind of irritated by the whole thing.

@Marty, That happens to me a lot. I get a lot of books for review-- for which I'm grateful-- but if it's somewhere around the third book in a series I haven't read, there's very little chance I'm going to get to it.

@Pabkins, I really loved "Elantris." I've already read it twice-- and I hardly ever get to reread anything anymore. And that's a good idea for your Goodreads page. We all need to encourage more stand alone novels.

animewookie said...

I do enjoy a stand alone. I get tired of being left hanging. Closure is a gooood thing...lol TY fabulous post :D

SQT said...

@Animewookie, Closure-- exactly. All we're asking for is an honest-to-goodness ending.

mostraum said...

I totally agree.
I like reading series, but I also like reading stand alone novels and short stories. Not every story worth telling belongs in a long winded series.

Nick @ Lions and Men said...

I completely agree. Some series are so long and complex that I find myself forgetting smaller characters half way through, only to be punished for it when the author digs them out of the past and plops them right back into the story.

I think writing a stand alone novel is in some ways more of an art than expanding your universe into countless volumes.

To be able to set up your characters, provide enough plot, and finish with a satisfying conclusion within a few hundred pages is becoming more and more rare, and the readers are the ones missing out.

M. McGriff said...

This is soo interesting to read, especially as an author who is writing a series of books. I think the trend is growing because of the business aspect of it. As a new author you really don't make any money until your third book and from a business aspect it makes sense to have a series as opposed to three stand alone books.

As a writer, I have plenty of stand alone book ideas but to even get me on the radar I'm better going in with a series than a stand alone.

As a reader, I do miss those standalone books and like you, I don't have a lot time to keep up with a 100 book series (My cut off is five! LOL)

David Anthony Durham said...

SQT,

Thanks for the mention early on in the comments! Glad to see I'm still of interest to you, even if the series thing is a problem.

It's tough for the writers, too, though. I have written three standalone novels (all historical), but the Acacia idea came as a multi-book vision. I couldn't help it. If I was going to write it at all it needed to be that. And it was risky...

When a series is really successful it can become a cash machine, yes, but for most of us that's not the case. I've never felt more at peril in my relationship with my publisher as I have writing the Acacia trilogy. It's been filled with such highs and lows. All the highs are quickly forgotten, but any low is reason for them to get worried.

I'm pleased to have gotten through it, and happy to say that - as I intended all along - the series is concluded in the third book - The Sacred Band. Finished. Ended. Wrapped up.

Now on to the next standalone...

SQT said...

@David-- Thanks for stopping by!

I think I look at cash-cow series' in a different way than the ones you write. I'm thinking more of the light, paranormal-fiction type books when I say that. These are the ones where you have 15 books in a series that could have been tied up in two or three. The characters are kind of thinly drawn and there's a lot of pointless action.

I put you and Patrick Rothfuss together in that earlier comment intentionally because I think of your work (and his) in a different way. It doesn't come across as something you just hammered out. It's thoughtful and has some heft to it.

Now I have to go back and finish the trilogy...

David Anthony Durham said...

Yes, you HAVE to! That would be great. It really, really is complete.

Not that this means that much, but the pre-pub reviews have been terrific. Stars from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and love from Library Journal too. So... at least some folks feel the series has finished well. I hope you will to...