I have no idea when the concept of writing several books around the same set of characters first came into being, pretty much replacing the family saga or the juicy mega-novel à la James Michener. I’m fairly sure it must have been some ‘suit’ in the back room of one of the big New York publishers who thought of this as an ingenious way to garner more money from the unsuspecting reader. Or perhaps it was a reader who made the suggestion pointing out his limited attention span? I personally came across this innovation when I wanted to read the work of an award-winning author and discovered that his romantic opus on the west was to cover seven volumes; I bought the first one out of curiosity and stopped. Maybe series are good in that, if you can’t stand the writing, you don’t have to go on?
At the moment I’m judging a competition and, out of five books I’ve been given, four are in series. This is a very telling experience because, of those four, only one is the first book in its series. So here comes problem Number One with the others: does the book stand alone? IMHO, it should. A reader should be able to pick up a book she thinks may be interesting to read and get the full story, not have constant referrals back to characters and/or situations she doesn’t know. If she wants to go back because she’s enjoyed the book, that’s one thing, but to force her to go back because the book doesn’t make sense is quite another. The ‘who the hell is this person?’ situation just doesn’t sit well with me; neither does the ‘when did they attend THAT party?’
Then, of course, there’s the start of the second couple’s relationship when the series is built around several different people. I don’t mind the introduction of these characters–of course not. But to suddenly be switched into their POV and have them canoodling, before we’re switched back into the current story, takes me right out of the book with a resounding, WHAT? Not only that, it leaves certain situations unresolved; you get the HEA but as a bonus, you get other factors leaving you wondering.
I have read series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed; Julie Garwood’s Claybornes’ Brides/Rosehill series comes to mind. And I was brought up on Little House on the Prairie, and Nancy Drew, the Bobbsy Twins, and so on. But each of their books could be read independently and still give enjoyment. Some authors may be fearful of the repetition needed to re-identify characters and situations and, perhaps, the fervent follower of a series will get annoyed with so much duplication. But my own gut feeling is that the individual reader who likes the sound of, say, book two, should be able to enjoy that book without feeling left out or forced into a possibly unwanted purchase.
Now, before all the series writers start calling for my blood, let me also say I envy series writers. Authors have a right to earn from their craft, and if writing a series brings you more readers, well done. And if you can keep up the momentum of writing about the same characters in several books without it feeling like the story is dragging on, go for it. All I’m saying here is that each book should be enjoyable in its own right and, sadly, that isn’t always the case. I’d love to be able to tell the full story of all the characters in my first book, Loveland, and even my latest, Dances of the Heart, could have a Book Two. But if I go that route, you can be certain I’ll make sure it can stand on its own.
Dances of the Heart
Blurb: Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé.
Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name.
On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover.
Excerpt: Ray pointed to his pickup, smirking slightly with the knowledge of what her reaction would probably be.
“You must be joking.”
He could hardly hear the mumbled comment, but it was exactly what he’d been expecting.
She glowered, a brow definitively arched in query. “What year is this thing?”
He attempted to wipe the amusement away from his face with a hand that rubbed his stubble in a satisfying scrape. “Sorry, I left the Cadillac at home this time.” A raised brow questioned if she took him seriously. “It’s an ’89, and still runs as smooth as the day I got it.”
“Which was, what? Last year?”
Ray shook his head and proceeded to the passenger door. “You have the key, sweetheart,” he said, patiently standing and waiting.
“Listen!” Carrie put her hands out as if to stop any further conversation. “First off, I am not your sweetheart. And second, if by any chance you think you just may have gotten lucky tonight–”
“Whoa, whoa now.” Ray was truly mystified at the turn events were taking. “Not that I wouldn’t be honored and damn well pleased, but I sure as heck wasn’t thinkin’ along those lines…and truth be told, you know, I’m hardly up to it.” He considered this for a second, a fog clearing for a moment’s view of the road. “And I don’t mean I need Viagra either.” He noted her staring at the key as if it might turn into something else. “No, it doesn’t open automatically,” he informed her at last.
She shoved the key into the handle and got the door open, climbed up into the cab and reached across to unlock the door for him. Her gaze ran over the dashboard, uncertainty scrunching her face like a bitter fruit.
Ray folded himself into the passenger seat and slouched back, tipping his hat over his eyes. “Just let me know when you give up. I’ll be right here, darl…” Yeah, better not. He could almost feel her indignation, listening as she squirmed around and adjusted the seat.
“It’ll be a cold day in hell, mister, before I give up!” The key turned and the truck sputtered to life, then died again.
“You ever drive manual before?” he mumbled from under his Stetson, and sensed Carrie eyeing him. “That’s what I thought,” he answered to her lack of response. “Put your foot on the clutch, move her into first, release the brake, and get goin’, slowly releasing the clutch.”
“Who the hell drives stick shift anymore?” she muttered as she followed his terse instructions. The truck lurched forward as she spun it off the grass toward the road.
“Right,” Ray directed, feeling suddenly nauseous with the pitch of the car. Bile rising, he opened the door and spat before yanking it shut again. “Can you get the damn thing into second? Foot on the clutch, move the shift and let’s go if we’re going.”
“Fine! You don’t have to yell at me.”
Ray sat up, shoved his hat back from his eyes and glared at her, reining in his frustration and anger. “I was not yelling at you, but you know dang well we’d be far safer with me drivin’. As it is, I’m gonna need a new transmission.”
The truck staggered again. “I know no such thing.” She bent forward to swipe at the windscreen to clear it. “We haven’t got seatbelts on,” she murmured.
“We’re not going fast enough to need them.”
Carrie ignored his last remark and appeared to concentrate on keeping the truck moving. It sputtered again, and Ray let out a sigh of resignation just as flashing blue lights appeared in the side mirror. She pulled over, and the motor unceremoniously died.
“Damn!” she cursed, reaching down for her bag at Ray’s feet. “Let me get my license.”
You Can Buy Dances of the Heart at:
Amazon | The Wild Rose Press | Barnes and Noble
Bio: Andrea Downing likes to say that when she decided to do a Masters Degree, she made the mistake of turning left out of New York, where she was born, instead of right to the west, and ended up in the UK. She eventually married there, raising a beautiful daughter and staying for longer than she cares to admit. Teaching, editing a poetry magazine, writing travel articles, and a short stint in Nigeria filled those years until in 2008 she returned to NYC. She now divides her time between the city and the shore, and often trades the canyons of New York for the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Family vacations are often out west and, to date, she and her daughter have been to some 20 ranches throughout the west. Loveland, her first book, was a finalist for Best American Historical at the 2013 RONE Awards. Lawless Love, a short story, part of The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series, was a finalist for Best Historical Novella at the RONE Awards and placed in the 2014 International Digital Awards Historical Short contest. Dearest Darling, a novella, is part of The Wild Rose Press Love Letters series, and came out Oct. 8th, 2014, and Dances of the Heart, her first contemporary novel, came out in February, 2015.
You can find Andrea at:
Website and Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads |
Linkedin | Amazon Author Page
16 thoughts on “Why I Dislike Novel Series – Guest Post by Andrea Downing, Author of Dances of the Heart”
Hi Andrea, Excellent post! I also believe that each book in a series should stand alone. When the characters refer to past events or relationships, I feel like I’ve missed the party. Two series I love–Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series and Ken Follett’s Century trilogy. Joanne 🙂
Joann,e I also feel that when the same characters are carried over in a continuing story like that, the character arc is stretched so that each book is somehow missing something. I have no problem with different stories with, say, the same Private Eye as the protagonist in each.
Many thanks, Babette, for letting me air my grievances here 😉 It’s good to let loose!
Great post. Oddly enough I’ve never been a reader of series, but as a writer I’ve found myself wanting to giving characters introduced in one of my books, a story of their own. I guess I’m not ready to let them go yet. LOL! However I’m in full agreement that any book in the series should be able to be read as a standalone without leaving the new reader confused and continuing reader bored.
Well Ruby, I feel exactly the same. I know what happens to my character Cal, for instance, in LOVELAND; he’s the best friend of the hero Jesse. But so far I’ve withheld doing that because I feel readers might be forced to read LOVELAND (ok, so that may not be a bad thing ;-)–for me at least, but unfair to the readers).
Interesting and timely post for me, Andrea! I’m working on a second book in my Rhythm of the Moon Series, and your post is a great reminder for me to make sure a reader can escape into the story and stay there, without going, “What the devil?”
Glad to be of help, Jennifer–and I’m glad to know you’ll be conscientious about it, too!
I enjoy series novels a lot, but I have to admit that on more than one occasion I’ve come across book two in a series and have been annoyed that I’m in the dark about what happened in book one. But saying that, I still like series. As a reader I’m happy to go back to a world that I’ve become invested in. As a writer, writing a series is a challenge that gives me the opportunity to flesh out secondary characters and give them their HEA, and stay a little longer in a community I’ve created.
That’s a really interesting ‘take’ on the reader’s side, Jana. When I told one reader who raved about LOVELAND that I knew what happened to them all right up to the moment of death, she begged me to tell her. It’s obviously a very personal thing, whether someone feels they are so invested in that world they don’t mind continually going back to it OR whether they feel they might be taken for a ride because it wasn’t all in one book.
I’m currently working on my third series of books. Yep, every book stands alone. The heroes or heroines in the next books have supporting roles in the original. But their stories never begin there. My hope is the reader will like these characters and be interested enough to want to read their stand alone stories, too. But it isn’t ever mandatory to feel satisfied with the first book. The original h&h play a supporting role in subsequent books, a little glimpse into their HEA. But no rehash of the original plot. I agree with all your points about what makes a series irritating. When done correctly, though, I enjoy both reading and writing them!
That’s a very interesting point about getting a little glimpse into the HEA of the original couple. I often wonder if we like romances because they stop at the HEA before things/life gets messy! So I’ll have to read one of your series now and see how you handle that…
Great post with a lot of great points. I’m a lover (and writer) of series myself. However, I absolutely agree that each book should stand alone. My love for series started with Harlequin believe it or not. Every once in a while an author would do a series on a set of characters and I always love it. By 3rd and 4th books they became like old friends I was visiting. But each book stands alone with a separate romance. I much prefer that over reading 3 books for one couple.
That’s exactly my point: I don’t mind at all the series where each book is a separate stand-alone couple; it’s more the ‘serial’ (I guess that’s a better word for this) of one couple I dislike. One of the books I had to judge was the latter, apparently spread over 3 books. In book two, the couple were very on-again-off-again but, of course, ended on a high point. So what would Book Three be like? More on again off again? How boring is that?
Yes, I like stand-alones, although they can be loosely connected like through families or brothers, etc. Good post!
Thanks Barb! I think if you write something that’s even ‘loosely connected’ it’s still considered a series and will be marketed as such. But, in my mind, as long as they’d stand alone, that’s good.
Great post. I love reading a series, especially when the characters are well developed. They become old friends in the next books to come out. I also love writing a series for the same reason. and for a writer, it’s practical, especially if there is a lot of reserarch involved. It makes sense to get your milage out of it and even without research, why waste all those great characters. I do agree that each book has to stand alone. I read one 2 book series once where I loved the first book. Still have it. When a second book came out, I jumped on it. And felt cheated. It was the same book as the first, just different viewpoints of the same EXACT events. In my opinion, it was not well done and needed a whole lot of fresh materal added, not just rewriting what was previously written..