Point-Counterpoint with C.S. Boyack: Series vs Standalone #writing

Super Bowl Coin Toss

Super Bowl Coin Toss

(This is an experimental guest post style suggested by C.S. Boyack. We pick a topic, take a side, and do a back and forth over email.  Let’s see how it works.  FYI- We don’t know where the referee came from. He just kind of showed up in the kitchen and wouldn’t leave until we let him flip the coin.)

Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first edition of Point Counter-Point. A possibly recurring debate between authors about issues in the writing world. Prior to this show, each author mailed in their choice of heads or tails.

Our guests today are Charles Yallowitz and Craig Boyack. Today’s topic is series vs standalone novels. The winner of the coin toss can choose a side, and whether to have the first or last word.

Coin toss graphic

Charles, it appears you’ve won the coin toss. What is your pleasure?

“I’ll debate the merits of a series, and I’ll take the first word.”

“Very good, Charles. Take it away.

Charles:

Now I’ll admit to be biased here because I’m working on a lengthy series and predominantly read series.  The multi-book epic is practically a staple of the fantasy genre.  So this is where my mind goes for a story and I tend to follow many of the ideas for a character instead of choosing one plotline. To me, this allows a hero and/or villain to be grown to their full potential without rushing or missing a beat.  I’m not saying you can’t do this in a standalone, but you have more time and story to make it happen.  Less compact and more of a roller coaster style of evolution.

Character development is one of the bigger merits of a series because you can go up, down, and every which way without squishing the events.  Book 1 can be a rise that carries into 2 and then a fall in 3, which is steadied and recovered from in the final book.  Going beyond this means you can choose a variety of levels for the character’s progress, which I find to be fairly realistic.  Most people have had good and bad periods in their life, so you can create a connection with a reader who thinks ‘I remember when I had a bad time like that and it kept getting worse’.  If you play it right then you get the reader to follow along and be ready for more of the same character instead of them having to start again fresh.

Even better, you can use a series to evolve a bunch of characters and not have to focus only one or two mains.  For example, I have 6-7 main heroes in my series and certain books focus on different ones.  The others step back into the supporting roles with some small steps in evolution while the central ones get a bigger push.  This tends to go along with the main adventure of the book, which pushes the heroes as a team.  It is more complicated and requires constant note-taking, but none of it would work if crushed into a standalone. I’d have to eliminate characters or reduce them to a ghost of what they are supposed to be. So I would say the big merit that a series has is a longer time to accomplish a deep evolution.

Craig:

Good points, Charles. I prefer stand-alone novels. I read series, but I’m picky about which ones I start. It’s all a matter of time for me. I’d rather read multiple stories over the course of six months than dedicate that same time to one story line.

My own fiction reflects this, in that while everything is speculative, there is science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal in my catalog. Lately, I’ve even been writing short stories and micro-fiction.

Solo novels won’t be able to explore multiple leads in depth, but that’s never been a problem for me. Most of the time, the life of a character isn’t interesting from cradle to grave. They have that one moment of something extraordinary, and return to a normal life. There are plenty of fleshed out characters in my epic fantasy novel, but it’s the lead who goes on the hero’s journey.

Most solo stories still follow a three act structure without the need for a trilogy. Characters still go through hell in the middle of the story.

From an author’s position, I think starting over with new characters every time has made me a better writer. I could say the same thing about world building. I’ve forced myself through two of the most difficult parts of the writing process fresh each time out, and I’ve learned from that.

Charles:

I can definitely see how one can grow and evolve when they go from the end of one story to the beginning of another.  Almost like you have a blank slate that you can use your new knowledge on.  It’s very different than a series, especially with the setting where you continue building the world with new cultures, locations, and other pieces.  This part doesn’t really end until you finish the story even if the characters reach their top tier or are replaced by new ones.

One thing that I’ve seen done in series is having each book with a contained story while the big plot carries on in some form.  For example, my series has a new adventure in every volume that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.  The main plotline connects through villains, prophecy pieces, and the main characters evolving, but it doesn’t always take the center stage.  Going by my outlines, I use this method a lot.  So it’s have a BIG PLOT and then a series of smaller, contained stories.

So I guess you can see how some aspects of standalones can be used for a series.  Not sure if the opposite can happen though.

Craig:

I respect an author who can focus on an overarching plot along with the single book plot. Even television has moved to that point today.

I’m too worried that I’ll fall victim to one of two possibilities. Either my single book plot will become so much fluff to the main story, or my main story will feel shoehorned into my single book tale. I’ve seen both things happen, and think an impartial editor might have helped.

If the overarching story is the important one, maybe editing out the side adventures is the way to go. If individual stories are the better tales, maybe more of a serialized schedule is better. (More like James Bond or Sherlock Holmes.)

For me personally, I want to focus on telling one story to the best of my ability. I want to leave it all on the page, and never doubt whether I held something back for the overarching story. I also never want to worry if I’ve written one 900,000 word story and sold it in “fun size” portions.

***

Gentlemen, thank you for participating in Point Counter-point today. Both of you made some valid points, and now it’s time for our audience to weigh in.

As readers, do you prefer books in a series or a stand-alone format? Do you read both formats, or remain fiercely loyal to one over the other?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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110 Responses to Point-Counterpoint with C.S. Boyack: Series vs Standalone #writing

  1. I think it looks great. Let’s what kind of action we get.

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  2. I like both. IA series gives the comfort of knowing the landscape and a stand alone gives a complete story in one helping so to speak..

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  3. Pingback: A friendly debate | Entertaining Stories

  4. Coming at it from a different angle here but one of Joanna Penn’s video tutorials on self publishing suggests you are likely to be more successful with a series as it gains more momentum and fans. Stand alones may only appeal to one audience. One the other hand you’re also appealing to lots of different people with mutiple stand alones in different genres. From a writing point of view I love writing a series. I have a couole of stand alones I’d like to write but the series just keeps growing and grabbing my attention. At some point maybe the other stories will come to the top of the ideas pile. Interesting debate guys, thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting. One thing I’ve noticed as a series author is that many people don’t have the attention span that I remember from when I was younger. Books have to come out quicker or you need to do something to keep people interested. At least for a lengthy series. Trilogies might have the best luck.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely agree Charles. You need to turn out about three books a year to be really successful. I just can’t do that. I’ll keep plodding away though, chipping away at the rock face. I think the only real truth as a writer is, you’ve got to write what you love.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 3 books in the same series? I did that in 2013 and 2014 with a few small works in there. Not sure I’ll pull it off this year though. Do slightly related short stories count? :/

        Honestly, I’ve found that it’s hard to say what the perfect speed is. Every author, genre, and audience is different. I know some authors who are successful with 1-2 books a year and others that cranked out nearly 10 with not much success. Some days it feels like there are so many factors that my head is going to spin.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s good to know Charles. I think it’s easy to get caught up in what someone else is doing to be successful and not just concentrating on what you’re doing yourself. A quote I remind myself of at times like these is – ‘Lighthouses don’t go running around the island looking for people to save. They just stand there shining’ Anne Lammot 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good quote. I’ve seen that there’s a lot of bandwagon jumping at times. One author hits a nerve and rushes to success then you have an army doing the same thing. That ends up reducing the effectiveness and then the army starts wondering what went wrong. To be fair, there are only so many things you can do. Staying true to what you feel is the best path is probably the smartest method in the end.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That makes tons of sense, but what happens when you’re neck deep into writing #2 and #1 has only moved 50 copies? Forging ahead could draw more interest in both. Something fresh could pique more interest. There is no way of knowing for certain, and each story will perform differently here too. I believe the more prominent authors are better served with a series, because they have the fan base. It’s a topic with no correct answers.

      The readers side of his equation could be completely different. Some want the familiarity, others like to bounce around. I’m a bouncer when I read.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The other thing with a series, again mentioned by Joanna Penn and I have to agree from what I’ve seen, is that to gain any kind of traction you have to have three novels out there in the series. People want the next book and they want it quickly. If you’re still writing it, you run the risk of them losing interest. It’s a problem I’ve encountered.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a fresh point to our topic, and it makes a lot of sense.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll just keep writing the series with the hope that one day, when I’m famous, they’ll go mad for my back catalogue lol Well, I can dream can’t I?

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a fun series. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re too kind Craig 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I like that dream and share it. Keep publishing until something strikes hot and then see the past works get a boost.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard that too. Though I’ve wondered if it’s three novels out or at least ready to go. I’ve seen backlash towards authors that push stuff out too quickly. People jump to the conclusion that they have low quality books. I kind of went another route and had the first three books written and edited (to the best of my ability) before publishing the first one. Then I put some time between them. So I guess I’m asking if you think writing ahead is just as effective as publishing quickly. Unless I’m misreading the belief.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No you’re not, it’s actually the conclusion I’ve come to and next year that’s exactly my aim: to get two or three books written in draft form and then publish in sequence.

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      • Good luck. I have found that some periods aren’t very busy, so other authors have warned me not to debut a book during that time. Then again, this year seemed exceptionally slow, especially during the summer. A lot of posts and articles about the ‘death of self-publishing’. Then again, I saw some of those last year too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • People are always going to say this. Pro-blogging’s big at the moment over here but I’m not s sure about it. It feels like you have to sell your soul if you actually want to make a living and there’s a lot of SEO rubbish that goes on, which brings us right on back to, do what you love and what your gut tells you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • A big thing I’m seeing are compilations and anthologies by multiple authors. I can see how that works, but I’m not very good at small things. That and I can’t figure out how the royalties are split. Maybe put entirely into marketing? I’ve worked with other authors before and that payment issue always took the entire project down.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Money’s always a tricky and icky subject and the old ‘It’s art, you’ll do it for the exposure’ just never goes out of fashion 😉

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      • There was an article written about that recently. Think it was Wil Wheaton who was saying exposure isn’t what it used to be or something. Need to find it again, but I think it revolved around that ‘do it for exposure’ has become a way for people to get artists to work for free.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ali Isaac says:

    If I love a book or a character within a book, I am seriously gutted if I cant immediately move onto another story about them.

    Having said that, a series has to have direction. The GoT book series turned me right off series… I committed to reading seven books, got invested in the main characters, but then he killed most of them off, and by the end, there was no sign of a resolution to the story. Oh but I could buy another 7 books of convoluted nothingness… no thanks! Pure money spinning on his and his publishers part.

    Some books need to be told in a series. They cant be contained in a single volume. Some, like my current wip, will probably only be 20 to 30k. Anything more would be filler or fluff, as Craig says. A story needs to be as long as it needs to be.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Shame that GoT turned you off to series. I do agree that it gets frustrating when an author seems to have lost direction or keeps killing off the main characters. That seems to be the new thing though. Not really sure why. Still there are series out there that manage to go the distance with the same characters. Drizzt from the Forgotten Realms has been in action since the 1980’s.

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      • Ali Isaac says:

        Well I wouldnt let his series put me off all other series… I’m not that judgemental! It ended up being a soap opera in book form with no ending in sight… you just lose sight of the story after a while. But the world building is great.

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      • I’m not really into the series, but I never get a straight answer on what the endgame is supposed to be. Defeat the ice zombies? Claim the pointy throne? Kill everyone? Maybe it depends on the reader.

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      • Kylie Betzner says:

        Personally, I enjoy GoT because the main characters are always changing. I get bored of the same characters in a series so this works more me. I also like examples like Drizzt where you have a series that splits off of a series and doesn’t “have” to be read with the series but it enhances it. Honestly, I prefer Drizzt’s series to the rest in that collection.

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      • I always found the Forgotten Realms stuff interesting because it was an umbrella for a ton of characters. I had a friend who followed one while I followed another. So we had some crossing over in our stories, but not by much.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kylie Betzner says:

        Ugh, I meant Dresden. Don’t know where my mind went. I was reading something Charles said and it really threw me off. haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry. *slips back to whence he came* 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kylie Betzner says:

        Haha!

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    • GOT has got to be the most controversial series of all time. I Dumped an historical series after the first volume, and I love history. It tried to cover the 20th century, and my era of interest was over. I’m also neck deep into the Dresden Files, and will keep reading them. I bounce around so much, I’m in no danger of reading them faster than Butcher writes them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jan Hawke says:

    Great debate guys – and very salient points! 😀
    I love variety especially in my reading so I like a mixture of stand alones and series. Ditto with genres as I read all sorts, although some of that’s do with RRBC and ‘making’ me read outside of my usual comfort zone – otherwise I’d never go near whodunnits or YA (and I’d have missed several unexpected and pleasant treats if I had!).
    For writing I’m much more comfortable with Sci-fi/Fantasy, but my first novel (a stand-alone) was contemporary fiction that to some extent defies genre categorisation as it had adventure, psychological horror, war, folklore and myth, some romance and wove around tough topics like genocide and eco-issues. My WiP is definitely fantasy with a small dash of genetic science and paleontology and Arthurian overtones – it’s a series of possibly 3 trilogies if I can just get the 1st one in the bag…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting concept. So it’s a long series that is split into 3 trilogies? That’s a smart idea since it can bring a conclusion to some of the story and keep momentum for the rest. I actually like doing a series where every book has a contained plot that connects to the main one. Kind of like a TV series where only the 1st, final, and maybe a few episodes in the middle connect solely to the big story.

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      • Jan Hawke says:

        I’m still catting around with ideas for the progression but yes, it’ll be approximately 9 books the centre around events or time scales. The first 3 books will be about the first generation and the 2nd is shaping up to be about the children and their upbringing/training with the 3rd possibly being a combo on prequel and bringing on the science/paleontology aspects that the ‘guardian race’ (of cyborgs) are responsible for – as with most plotting it makes sense in my head until I try and talk about it! 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      • So it’s a heroes then children of heroes then future type of set up. Those are fun, but you don’t see them often enough. It can really touch on how real events become legends and how future heroes deal with coming from famous families.

        Liked by 1 person

    • We sound like kindred spirits. I bounce around when I read, and my obligations at the club are pretty easy to meet. The stuff you’re working on sounds great.

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  7. I read series for years, then got hooked on Robert Jordan’s neverending Wheel of Time series. Need I say more? I’m in the middle of my own 3 book series: The Soiled Dove Sagas following two young prostitutes in the Old West. I’ve limited it to 3 books. The story would play out in 3 books and not go on forever. Book one The Ruby Queen is Mattie Wallace’s story. Book two The Queen of the Cow Towns is Roxie North’s story and Book three Crown Queens will be told from both points of view and bring them full circle and out of the life. It’s been interesting and one of these days I will pen my own epic fantasy. It’s been on the drawing board for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. L. Marie says:

    I’m so glad to finally be back online to read this post! Great idea for a post! I hope you’ll do more.

    I read series and standalone books. Love both actually. If I love the characters, I want to follow them in multiple books. Charles’s characters are good ones to follow in a series. Harry Potter of course is another great example of a character worthy of a series.

    But standalone books are great in that the adventure is contained in one book and I don’t have to wait a year or more to get the next one.

    The detriment I see to some series, like trilogies, is the lack of enough plot for three books. I’ve read many trilogies that only had enough plot for about 1-1/2 books. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trilogies and lengthy series do have that ‘gap’ problem. You get something in the middle that feels more like a bridge than a character or story building event. This is why I try to put a contained story in every book and make sure something changes by the end.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My mentor told me to write my series as three stand alones and that’s what I did with endings that hinted of more to come. Book three will be a true ending.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Cool. That’s a nice way of doing it too. There should be some level of beginning and closure with each book. Even if you end on a cliffhanger, you do need to solve something.

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      • L. Marie says:

        I’ve read some trilogies where the second book avoided the “bridge” issue and actually was better than the first book. And the third, in my opinion, was better than the second. That’s got to be hard to pull off. Interestingly, that trilogy was followed by three sequels. (I’m thinking of Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is a tough trick. Though not entirely hard to understand. #1 will always have the trouble of character introductions and world building that takes time. You fall into more info dumps during this period because you’re establishing things. Later works already have the groundwork set. For example, I no longer have to do lengthy intro paragraphs for Luke, Nyx, and the others because their physical appearance should be known for the most part.

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    • You’ll find the same problems in solo stories. That dark night of the soul can last several chapters and kill momentum. Still a great tool, but needs an extra look during the editing phase.

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  9. Kylie Betzner says:

    Great debate you guys! I loved this. My sister and I were actually talking about starting a series like this where we talk together in our blog posts. Glad to see it works!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems to be garnering a lot of comments. I like comments, so it’s a winner for me.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely working out and building a good discussion. Think the hardest part was choosing a topic. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Kylie Betzner says:

        Agreed. My sister and I have been debating a lot of stuff but we weren’t sure people would be interested in that format or how it would function. Glad to see you guy shave generated a lot of interest. You should do more of these. I liked seeing both your POVs and since I know both of you and your work it made sense why you chose your sides. I’m actually torn between stand alone and series myself. Didn’t come to a conclusion at the end.

        Liked by 1 person

      • To be honest, we’re rather torn ourselves. We have preferences as authors, but the truth is that we gravitate toward a good story regardless of length when readers. That’s probably the ‘best’ way to be a reader. Opens a lot of doors.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Kylie Betzner says:

        Couldn’t have said it better.

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  10. joey says:

    I don’t love series. I’ve read many and they were wonderful, but then, they were also already completed. I do not like to be held emotional hostage by books. I won’t touch them until the final book is available. I like to binge anyway 🙂
    I can see that series do well, in terms of maintaining attention and selling, but there are plenty of single works to enjoy in the meantime.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mae Clair says:

    Great idea for a post, and the topic is a good one. Most of the time I prefer stand-alone novels, but I make exceptions when I stumble across a phenomenal series. BUT–and this is a big one–I like each novel in the story to have it’s own conclusion with only a few threads carrying over.

    As an example I ADORE the Pendergast series of novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. With the exception of two mini-series within the bigger series, I know that each novel is going to wrap. The characters continue from book to book and encounter new circumstances, and some threads repeat, but I can enjoy a full story with a beginning and an end. At the same time I have the plus of hanging around with characters I love.

    Preston & Child just released book 15 in this series, and I’m as addicted to the novels as I was when I read my first one (which happened to be #4).So, I guess I prefer stand alones for most of my reading, but give me a good character and don’t end things on a cliff-hanger and I’ll happily become a series fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sue Coletta says:

    You both make valid arguments. Before I weigh in let me say that this was a fabulous idea. Bravo! In my experience with the crime genre it’s difficult to have the type of series like Charles writes (one long storyline). Rather, each book is a stand-alone with the same characters solving a new mystery. So, guys, I’m smack dab in the middle on this one. How’s that for a non-answer?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly, it’s probably the best path to take in some fashion. You can keep things fresh and give the character longevity if he/she is the only constant. I’m thinking of how there are so many James Bond and Temperance Brennan books.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I call those serials. It may not be the right description, but that’s the word I use. Harry Dresden is really more of a serial than a series in my mind. Serials fit your favorite genre very well.

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  14. noelleg44 says:

    Great discussion with good points on both sides. I have to say I straddle the issue – love reading stand-alones but am the author of a series. I think for the writer, the chance to develop characters and let them evolve, bring in new characters and change the scenery is challenging, stretching and fun. For the reader, perhaps the completeness of a stand alone is more satisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point. Time that one has to put toward both activities might factor in too. Though I always seem to gravitate toward series for some reason. I think I like the cast of characters that evolve throughout multiple adventures.

      Like

    • It’s a personal choice. Some readers like to bounce around. I might read a western, then a murder mystery, a fantasy, or science fiction piece. Others find their true love and never leave. Series will appeal more to one type than another, but i think all of us read a series from time to time.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. This was fun; like sitting at a cafe and watching an interesting conversation between my favorite authors.

    As for me, I’ll read anything under the sun, including the shampoo ingredients while showering.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Helen Jones says:

    I read both, and I write both. I love a good series, revisiting worlds and characters. Yet I also love a book that takes you on a complete journey, leaving you with a satisfying feeling of resolution as you turn the last page.

    Liked by 1 person

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