Monday, 22 August 2011

Series formats: Which do you prefer?

YA has a lot of series. Some say too many, but it's always been this way and I don't think it's likely to change soon. When I look over my wishlist of upcoming books, almost all are part of a series; so instead of debating series vs. standalones, I've been thinking about the different formats a series can take.

Type 1:
In all the series I read when I was a teen, the individual books were basically standalones. The info you needed to know about Sweet Valley High was given in a expository paragraph and then it was straight into a single story, which was wrapped up in one book and had little to do with what came before or after. It didn't matter if you read one SVH or a 100, or if you read them out of order - you got a complete story in one book. And the series could continue indefinitely, as the characters would always end up back where they started, ready for the next adventure.

I may be wrong, but I think this is the rarest kind of YA or Adult series today. This format may still be popular in Middle Grade (and some argue that the SVH books were MG but I don't agree with that. Remember all the attempted date rape, people!), but the only series I've encountered like this in recent years are the Stephanie Plum books and The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency. If the books are good stories and well-written then I can enjoy this kind of series, but I find it difficult to get fully invested in them. Because it doesn't matter if I read every book, I tend not to. There's no urgency to find out what happens in the end (because there is no end), so it's more likely I'll let my commitment to the series slide and let years go by before I pick up the next book - if I pick it up at all.

Type 2:
The most popular series of the last few years have been the kind which do contain individual plots, but there is a long-running main plot that stretches across the series, and builds with each instalment. If a new reader were to pick up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, they could, perhaps, just enjoy a story where a boy wizard finds a mysterious book by the Prince and learns new spells from it, before discovering to his horror that the Prince is his enemy. But, for those of us who followed the series from book one, there are subplots to do with Voldemort and the preparation for the final battle we know is coming. And most importantly for me, every scene in the book has more emotional weight if you know the history between the characters.

Series like Harry Potter, Vampire Academy and Twilight appeal to me more because there is emotional continuity between books. A newbie could follow the plot of Shadow Kiss or New Moon as well, but you get more out of it by knowing the history of Rose/Dimitri and Bella/Edward. Series that follow this format are my favourites - I'm usually invested in the characters and want to see their story develop and know each book will give me a new development. However, as each book also tells a complete story, I feel satisfied after reading each one and it's my choice whether I want to finish my journey with the characters there or carry on. A great example of this is The Hunger Games: In the first book, you get the story of Katniss' first Games. There are threads you can choose to follow to the 2nd and 3rd books, but you can read only book one if you wish.

Type 3:
My least favourite type of series is the kind I seem to be encountering more and more in YA. In many reviews, I find myself reading/writing "Maybe this will be explained in the second book" or "We'll have to wait for the next book to find out what happens". The Demon Trappers and XVI were 2 series I started this year, where not much happened in the first instalment and it seems we'll have to wait for further instalments if we want to see the story take off. I understand some authors are telling stories that are too big for one book. And the continuity across books should make me happy. But if I don't get a complete experience in one novel (a beginning, a climax, a resolution), I can't help it - I feel cheated. Like I've been given a meal that consists only of starters, with no main and no dessert - I have to go back to the restaurant in a year's time if I want those. Some series that start out as Type 2, end up becoming a Type 3 later on. The Hunger Games can be read on its own, but there was no point to reading Catching Fire if you weren't going to read Mockingjay. I found Hush, Hush to be an enjoyable dark Paranormal Romance, but Crescendo made little sense and probably won't until I read Silence.

It's true that I'm likely to finish these series through to the end because I hate being left hanging. So in that sense, it's a win for the authors/publishers. But it also runs the risk that I'll stop enjoying the books and thinking of them fondly - if the series stretches on too long, it can become more like a burden, having to read so many books just to find out what happens.

So ideally, I'd like to read mostly Type 2s, with a few Type 1s and only very, very, rarely take on a Type 3. What about the rest of you? Do you agree that Harry Potter and Vampire Academy can work as standalones? Does that make them stronger or weaker for you? Do you prefer series that are episodic or can you not wait to dive into a long, complex story stretching over 7 books?


  1. So true! I hate it when a book series is type 3 because I might have only midly enjoyed it....until there is a huge cliffhanger at the end...and then I have to decide whether or not I want to put the cash and reading time into finding out what happens next. I kind of feel guilty for not giving the series another chance by reading the second one in case it gets frustrating! And I think Harry Potter could potentially be read as a standalone....but it is much much better by reading it in sequential order

  2. Cool post! ^_^

    I was big on SVH and Baby Sitters Club. I always thought they were great because there were so many more stories I could experience after I finished one. It was nice that you could read those out of order. I wish they made a series like that these days.

    As far as reading the type 2's out of order, I just personally can't. Kind of an OCD thing for me, I have to read it in order. I can see though how you could read some of them as standalone.

    I have mixed feelings about type 3--there are some I love and am glad for a cliffhanger because it keeps me interested. Others, if I can't get into it, I get irritated with cliffhangers because part of me wants to know, the other part could care less.

  3. I have a love / hate relationship with Type 3. The cliffhanger ending is good and bad. It's okay if I have the next book near me or it's coming out within a decent amount of time, but I lack patience and they annoy me. I try to hold off on series like that until they're out. I'm also forgetful, so a lot of times it's easier for me to do them in one go. My real big issue with Type 3 is that lately I've noticed a lot of them that are sloppy and not wrapped up well enough or there was not enough character growth.

  4. Interesting post. I'm not sure which I'd pick. If I didn't want to get into a series, I'd probably pick option 1, where if it was still part of a series, I could still enjoy the book as a stand alone. But every time I see a book that's part of a series, I still always want to pick up the first book, just so I don't miss anything. But you're right, there are a lot of series with option 3 involved.
    Anyway, thanks for stopping by my blog and giving your input on the situation :)

    Happy Monday,

    Livin' Life Through Books

  5. Type 2 is my favorite as well. I like to find characters and a storyline that I want more of, while having some bits and pieces or smaller storylines solved by the end of each book. The Sookie Stackhouse are a prime example of my favorite series.

  6. Natalie: Yes! The worst is when you only mildly enjoy a book - I probably torture myself decided whether or not to read on. If it was outright bad or outright good, the decision would be so much easier.

    Liza: Forgetfulness is an issue for me, too. Some people hate that the Sookie Stackhouse books recap information, but I always appreciate it, as I've usually forgotten a lot of stuff. I hate when the Type 3 series aren't well-written as it sometimes feels like I'm being tricked into buying the next one.

    Thanks to everyone for the great comments!

  7. I think I could like all three types. Like you, I read books like SVH and Babysitter's Club and enjoyed those. I also love HP & VA, but on the other hand, I don't mind the cliffhanger books if they engage me enough. Like The Hunger Games. I haven't been very helpful in this comment have I?


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