It’s one of those apples or oranges sort of things: stand alone or series? After nine years (eleven years if we count back to when I first started writing Pink I– how scary is that?) of working on the same series, I’m in the odd position of working on both at once. Right now, I’m in a series/stand alone/series sandwich: revisions for Pink X, writing the new stand alone, and a proposal for Pink XI. It’s going to be a busy November.
The plus side of this cognitive dissonance is that it provides an interesting opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of stand alone versus series writing.
Series: There’s the comfort of coming home to a familiar world. It’s like a great big Thanksgiving dinner, greeting old characters, finding out what they’ve been up to, learning things you didn’t know about characters you’ve known forever.
It’s not just a familiar world vis a vis characters and setting; there’s a familiarity of tone as well. When you write that first book, you’re committing yourself to a particular style and form as well as to those characters.
The down side to this? It can feel limiting at times. And there’s always the worry that you might start to repeat yourself.
Stand Alone: There’s something terribly freeing about writing about characters you’re never going to meet again. You can set the book anywhere you like, explore new places, new time periods, take risks. You’re not tied down by something you might have thoughtlessly mentioned in a prior book. There’s the joy of discovery.
Of course, there’s also a lot of uncertainty. As I work on my second stand alone, both the joy and the curse is that it’s a whole new learning curve. Writing one stand alone doesn’t necessarily prepare you for writing another: unlike a series, the tone, the characters, the place are all different and must be explored from scratch. The Ashford Affair and this new stand alone have some superficial similarities– both have thirty-something modern protagonists, both narratives go back and forth in time, exploring two sets of characters– but otherwise, they’re entirely different. Ashford dashes from London to Kenya to New York over a multi-generational time span; this new one clings very closely to the London suburb in which it’s set, both in 1849 and 2009.
Writers, do you think you’re a series writer or a stand alone writer? Readers, which do you prefer to read?