From the author to the reader, there are thousands of different opinions on what the best type of book is out there. Some love the standalone quick read. Some love the idea of trilogies and series. There’s no right answer to which is better as a whole, but there is an answer to which is better for your individual story.
As a reader, I hate when a story is drawn out. So when should you just do a standalone, trilogy, or even a series? That’s sometimes a tough question to answer. You love your story and your characters, but just like when you edit, it’s time to show tough love.
I will first warn you that I am someone with a strong dislike for long series. I love watching Kdramas because they have a set end. I loved that the writers of the Good Place said they had a set end. So if you love writing long series or if your fanfiction writings go on for hundreds of chapters, stop now. Go about your lovely day and forget I ever wrote anything.
Benefits of a Standalone
I love standalone books. They tend to be the gateway into me finding new authors, or a quick way to know that this author isn’t for me without the commitment of reading more books. Do you know how many books I’ve read because it was a trilogy but I still hated the story? Too many (and that’s on me).
But I like when a story ends. When you get your full beginning, middle, and end. Standalone novels tend to be the most satisfying when I read them. They make me want more, for sure, but without giving me the more that tends to be disappointing. Just like when movies make sequels, second and third novels can be a risk.
It also might be the best bet for you if you have a thousand other ideas bouncing around in your head. It allows you to put the idea down on paper and move on to the next. You can feel out an audience even better with standalones, but then you risk wanting to write a series (trust me I know the urge is strong).
The biggest indication that you might want to write a standalone novel but just be your genre. Romance, horror, suspense lend themselves great to a standalone novel. In romance, you want them to live happily ever after, not to restart drama all over again in the next book. Horror and suspense can lose some of their edge if it ramps up again in a second novel.
Standalone novels definitely have benefits for a story, just like a trilogy, and this is why outlining can be your greatest ally (even if you’re a pantser).
Benefits of a Trilogy
Longer story but with a definitive end. My favorite television show to do this is The Good Place. Yes, they did four seasons, but like a trilogy of books, there was a set end. They gave a satisfying end to boot, and they knew that ending from the beginning.
Trilogies tend to have the same momentum. When plotting, a good method is to plot the big points of your story through the entire trilogy. Unlike a series, you can do this pretty succinctly before (or as) you publish. The ending can feel more satisfying because this is what you’ve been planning all along, unlike with a series where your ending might still be ambiguous while you publish your sixth, seventh, eighth book.
I find when writing, fantasy is great for a trilogy. In fact, I’m plotting out a fantasy that I’ve created into a trilogy. I still hesitate and ask myself is the second book important? Is the third? I, like many authors, get excited about my characters and my world and think up crazy fourth, fifth, and sixth book ideas…but I must admit, they aren’t as strong as my first novel plot, and they dilute the conflict I’ve set.
Why I Shy Away from a Series
It’s too long! That’s the short of it. Just like a show that ran it’s course a long time ago (I’m talking about you Supernatural), a series can overstay it’s welcome.
Some series are fun, don’t get me wrong. I get suckered into them all the time (Bridgerton might be the most recent). But there can be a drop off in readership and the stakes end up being high when you do finally end it (once again I’m talking about you Supernatural). You don’t want to put your energy into crafting a story that people aren’t reading anymore (if your goal is to make money, if it’s not go hog wild).
There’s also a chance you might just find the story isn’t something you love anymore and that’ll show. If you’re struggling with writing or caring about your series to the point you don’t even like it, how are your readers going to like it?
I’m not saying series are bad (for everything), but sometimes it’s just drawn out. Fantasy and sci-fi are the genres that work best for a series. And YA novels in those genres tend to go on the longest. My least favorite genre that can use a series tends to be contemporary. It reminds me too much of overrun television shows.
The glaring exception to my distain for series (okay that sounds more dramatic than it really is) are novels set in a universe with very different stories. Hence why Bridgerton sucked me in. The stories are different in form of who the main characters are and the direction of plot. Detective and mystery novels do something similar and create a serial drama like a lot of television shows. These types of books can create fantastic series, but they also can be drawn out.
In the case of Bridgerton, the author had a set end. There are eight siblings, so there are eight stories. She has since written companion stories, but I can almost bet there is a drop off in readership in those. Even with all the hype and craze.
My recommendation is to think critically about why you want a series. Could this be written in less books? Could these plots be a different story all together? Make sure you thoroughly map out your series and don’t just add books because oh! readers loved it. Write the story for yourself and readers will understand when it ends.
The Almost Perfect Middle Ground
Lately, my favorite form of storytelling is the duology. A story done in two parts. These are like the Goldilocks of novels for me as a reader. It gives me just a little bit more than a standalone without a huge commitment.
An author that did this well is Elizabeth Lim with The Blood of Stars duology. It’s a fantasy epic in two parts. Will she write more? Maybe. But as a writer I think it let’s her explore more of her world she’s created without going overboard. She can now move on to another story and I’ll follow because I loved the duology so much.
Of course, all of this is just opinion of someone that’s been burned by television shows and book series over the years. It’s also someone who has plotted novels and found series just draw out too much. If you love series works, write them. If you hate series works, don’t write them. I just put the advice out there to know when it’s time to stop writing about that story and move on to the next great idea of yours.
Let me know in the comments below what your opinion is of standalone, trilogy, and series. Are you writing a series? What are your plotting methods to keep the story fresh and something your readers will enjoy? Are there formats you hate like maybe standalone? I’d love to hear from you.