Monday, August 15, 2011

Stand Alone vs. Series Novels

When I conceived the idea for my first mystery/suspense novel, Mixed Messages, my goal was to write a stand alone novel. I planned to introduce and develop my characters, tell their story and, by the end of the book, tie up any loose ends, leaving the reader satisfied. My plan is still basically the same but my goal has changed.

As I got further and further into writing my novel, I realized that, for various reasons, I didn't want to say "goodbye" to my characters; they had more to say and do. So, I decided to write a sequel, Unfinished Business. Surprise, surprise. I'm now in the early stages of plotting the third novel in the series. My characters refuse to let me go.

While I've read and enjoyed many stand alone novels, I've found that they often leave me wanting more; I want to know where the story and the characters go from there. I love reading mystery series because I like getting to know the characters and following them from book to book. For example, I eagerly await V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. I will be sad when I finish reading the last in the A-Z series because Kinsey Millhone has become almost like a friend to me, as have some of Sue's other characters. Also, I've recently read Scared Stiff by Annelise Ryan and I'm eager to read the other books in her series. Her main character, Mattie Winston, is absolutely hilarious; I laughed out loud as I read. And, there are so many others.

I realize that stating that my characters won't let me go may sound silly to anyone who doesn't write fiction but I'm convinced that other writers get it. The proof of that, I think, is in the publication of so many series. While authors like Sue Grafton sign on from the start to write a series, I believe that many others find themselves in the same position that I did. The first novel is finished but the characters are begging for a second book to be written. And a third. . . .


  1. Hi Patricia, this was a topic at last spring's Sleuthfest. Several authors, Meg Gardiner and Dennis LeHane to name two, started with a single book but had it evolve into a series.

    With a series, the writer benefits by not having to re-invent characters for each novel, and readers look forward to the next exploit. With singles books, you don't have to remember each and every little detail about your character, like what he drinks, the color car she drives, or his detest of Thai food. So there are pros and cons each way.

    In your case, there are things left undone that need to be taken care of. For me, my character started out one way and was transformed as the first story progressed. Once the process was complete, there was so much more to be done.

  2. Hey Pat. Glad to see you are doing what you love! Looks interesting so far, keep up the good work and just go with it!

  3. I think doing a series is a good idea. That way, if people read the first book and like it, they'll still have more to go to. Also, as a writer you can become more and more connected to your characters as you go and increasingly build depth.

  4. Patricia,

    I came to this blog from the Sue Grafton site that referred to your blog (from your post). I love series novels, mostly because the characters (for the most part) go on and continue with their story. It just seems to make them "a part of your life" and that is what is so fun about reading. For me, the books and characters are much more memorable than a story/novel that stands alone.

    Someday I may be brave enough to write, but I only manage to get so far and then stop.

  5. Everyone,
    Thanks for your comments. I love to hear what you have to say.
    I hope you'll read my next post on Monday, August 29th, because it addresses the last sentence of your comment, "Someday I may be brave enough to write but I only manage to get so far and then stop." I have some thoughts on that subject.