Carrying on from my previous posts regarding ‘book series’, it seems logical that the standalone comes next. Now, I admit, the term ‘standalone’ does sound rather contradictory when talking book series, but I guarantee you, this is a format. A format, I hasten to add, that is particular popular, ever so in the crime genre.
So what is a ‘standalone’? Unlike our previous ‘One piece of a whole’, where the book needs to be read in order, ‘standalone’ novels of a series means, well, exactly that – the book may belong to a particular series, but it can also be read a separate novel. The reason this works so well in Crime novels is that the main character/detective is the same, but the case/storyline is where it differs. There are no cliff-hangars, no loose ends that need to be tied up in subsequent novels. All of the twists and turns sort themselves out by the book’s end.
If we take a look at some well known examples, it is hard not to turn to Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels. There may be certain character traits that are revealed in the early Morse books, but as they tend to be specific, they can so easily be regurgitated and written in to the following books, by simply writing an extra sentence or so. The fact that he is usually unlucky in love, a lonely bachelor, who may love the attention of women is neither here nor there. It doesn’t usually form part of a continuing story arc, and so can just be referenced to – and the reader is up to speed.
Dan Brown’s infamous symbologist, Robert Langdon, also appears in standalone novels, yet also be part of a continuing series. Apart from Mr Langdon himself, there doesn’t seem to be anything else that is carried forward in the next novel – and that is why a lot of people came to Dan Brown’s work after reading The Da Vinci Code, which is in fact ‘Book 2’ in the series. ‘Book 1’ Angels and Demons actually didn’t become popular until after the success of its follow-up. Which goes to show that these types of books can be read in any order.
This makes it so much easier for the writer. They may have ideas for multiple books, but it doesn’t have to interfere with the book they are writing, which is most certainly a plus. It also means you can start to plan how far you want to take the series. It also centralises the protagonist as the main attraction, rather than the storyline. Different themes can also be explored in later novels that doesn’t need to be ‘started off’ in earlier books. But saying that, it also comes with its own downsides. Perhaps, the most obvious one is that characters can never really progress or grow, because if they do, well that means the reader can miss out on vital information / or a vital incident from previous books. Crime books have a huge following, and if you find you attach yourself onto a central lead, that means you come back for subsequent novels, but the compulsion to find out ‘what happens next’ is never there.
I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read many of these types of books. Of course, I’ve read all of the ‘Robert Langdon’ novels, but they are pretty much known all over the world. I generally just don’t read crime. There are no reasons in particular; it just seems that I’m taken to YA and Fantasy novels instead. Although, when I was a teenager, I read Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that in fact there are a further seven novels! I imagine that, even though it would be preferable to read them in order, you can in fact actually read them as separate novels due them concerning Adrian Mole going through a certain life event.
Would you class Autobiography’s part of the standalone series? I know it isn’t fiction, albeit I’m a little skeptical about the dramatisation of certain events contained within. Yet let’s take Sharon Osbourne as an example. Her first autobiography doesn’t contain a cliffhangar does it? You don’t have to read any of her books in order, surely? Yet, each book would pitch certain areas/years of her life, so it must certainly be a series.
Stay tuned for later posts where I talk about the exceptions to both formats revealed this week.
What are some of your favourite standalone book series?
Post 1 – What Exactly is a ‘Book Series’
Post 3 – Guest Post by Sharon Sant
Post 4 – What Exactly is a ‘Book Series’ – The Standalone
Post 6 – Guest List
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