1. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Stand alone books

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DBTate, Aug 22, 2011.

    Have read a lot on the forum about the need to write stand alone books, regardless of whether you intend / wish to write a series, if you hope to be published.

    My question is, how exactly do you write stand alone books if the story itself would work well as a series (or was simply too long to compress in to one)?

    Obviously you can't tie up all lose ends, otherwise it is a one book series, so do you have to pick up from the 'satisfying ending' of the previous book, use that as the 'happy / normal beginning', create more conflict, and end with another 'satisfying ending'?

    I'd love some insight, as this seems to pose a lot of problems for a series that flows from one book to the next.

    For example, Harry Potter is a 7 book series, though I assume JK would of had to of written a 'stand alone' in Philosopher's Stone. Would the ending to Philosopher's Stone be fitting had it of been a one off?

    I hope you understand my confusion, thanks in advance for your help.
     
  2. Laura Mae.
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    Laura Mae. Member

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    I've always had trouble with this, but I think you're right in that you need to pick up from the satisfying ending and turn it into a new beginning of conflict. In Harry Potter, the endings are kind of temporarily 'happy' or 'satisfying', as each new year brings new conflict and brings Harry closer to Voldemort. JK plays on the expectation of more conflict at the beginning of each new school year to make people want to read the next book, as they are reading Harry's journey through school and his battle with Voldemort.

    So I think you need to make people want to know 'that's great, but what happens next?' because if they are attached to the characters, they'll want to know what happens when John and Jane finally settle down and get married at the end, for example. They'll want to know what happens after the book, which sets the premise for a sequel, or the rest of the series.
     
  3. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Thanks for the reply!

    So, what I was essentially wondering I guess, is it ok to leave the ending of the book not quite fulfilling, not tying up all loose ends, leaving questions unanswered, or alluding to the possibility of a sequel, as long as it has some sort of relevant 'ending'?
     
  4. Laura Mae.
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    Laura Mae. Member

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    You're welcome. Yeah, leave things unanswered, but make it subtle. It's annoying as hell when the author deliberately leaves a massive indication as to what the next book is going to be about, like one of the main characters disappears at the last moment, or there's some much allusion to something that will happen in the next book, that you might as well skip the first hundred pages of it because you already know what it's going to be about. Just be subtle, a leave a few surprises, they're always great. :)
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I believe the first Potter book was sold as a single novel. Twilight, on the other hand, was sold as part of a three or four book deal (I can't remember which). Many first-time fantasy authors sell their first book as part of a series. But if the first book isn't good enough on its own to entice the publisher to buy it, then saying it is part of a series, as though that will remedy its shortcomings, is not going to help.

    You first book can certainly be part of a series if you are writing fantasy, and it doesn't have to wrap up all the loose ends. The overarching story line of the series can be left unresolved as would be fitting if the next book or two is going to resolve it. But the first one should be a satisfying read in and of itself and should make both publisher and reader want more.
     
  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Make the story complete by the end, but end with an implication that there will be more to come by playing up some background aspect mostly ignored in the first book, or by introducing a new conflict in the last few paragraphs. Have you read the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins? This does that perfectly -- Kat has completed the games safely by the end of book 1, but wouldn't she like to rebel against the system and get with Peeta? Hint, Sequel! Same with POTC - it's a movie, but the same techniques apply. The first one stood well on its own, while leaving a hint at the end that there would be more adventures to come (last line: "No, he's a pirate.")

    What you DON'T want to do is introduce some big long quest, but it's nowhere near done by the end (like Lord of the Rings) or anything equally incomplete.
     
  7. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Thanks for the input everyone!

    Let me first state that I am not someone who wants to write a series just because of books such as LotR and HP. It is a legitimate battle of being able to express everything I want to in the confines of a 'book'.

    The novel I'm writing at the moment has a basic main plot (good vs evil), though there are several different subplots and minor themes branching from the central conflict. For example, what defines good / evil, bit of love thrown in, dealing with racism, coming of age, fitting in, what defines a family (and for that, a mother / father)... I could go on.

    Basically, there is no way I am fitting everything I have planned for my MC and co in to one novel. So, if I am to have any hope of being published, essentially I will have to write a first novel that will be acceptable as 'the end of the story'.

    My problem is that I do not want (nor is it currently fessible) for my antagonist to die / be killed in this novel. Also, the love interest will be essential to the story, and I do not want there to be a 'happy ending' in the first book.

    So would I essentially have to

    A) Have the antagonist be beaten, but not defeated

    B) Have the lovers, say, get together and then be torn apart in the next book

    C) Leave my MC in a 'happy medium', where he could easily stay and forget the troubles of his journey, but in the second book decide he will keep at it?

    Any help is greatly appreciated :)
     
  8. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    All of the Harry Potter novels are capable of standing alone as well as fitting together to create a series as they each tell a story with a beginning, a middle and a satisfying conclusion. However, the film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 1, does not stand alone well at all as it is not telling the whole story (which is why I dislike this film - I didn't even read the book yet it still felt incomplete).
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    DBTate,

    I had to work through this situation. My novel, Flank Hawk, is part of the First Civilization's Legacy series. The sequel, Blood Sword should be released late Fall 2011.

    I wrote Flank Hawk as a standalone novel, knowing that if it found a publisher, that there was more to follow. Actually, writing the first novel was easier than the second, because I wanted to write the second as a standalone novel, so that a reader could pick it (Blood Sword) up and read it without having to have read Flank Hawk, yet those who have read Flank Hawk would find it added to the developing story and world without being in any way redundant.

    All of that said, to write a stand alone, even when there is more story to tell afterwards, you have to have a complete story arc. Although there may be a larger backdrop conflict, the main focus or struggle in the first novel is what matters most and is the focus. The goal should be that when the reader reads "The End" on the last page, they should be satisfied--not a cliffhanger where they have to get the next novel.

    Really, there isn't a short answer. I read and studied how published authors did it. How they wrote the first novel that stood alone, and then sequels that also stood alone.

    It's really hard to tell a writer, for example, if the bad guy must be defeated but not killed in the first book so that the struggle can carry over to the next. Some authors do that. Others have a henchman that serves 'the main bad guy' be the antagonist who the protagonist mainly confronts in an initial novel. Or the use of a 'stalking horse' by the bad guy. It all depends on the story to be told and how it's structured.

    One suggestion that is a little beyond this topic but I think will be relevant in the future with respect to your efforts on their project: When you get to the end of the first novel and type" The End" go ahead and begin writing the second novel, getting maybe two or three chapters into it.

    Why?

    1. It will help you keep the pacing and tone and characters on the right trajectory and path. The same voice will ring through it.

    2. Sometimes after having been away from a project for a while, it is difficult to pick back up where you left off. This will allow you to hit the ground running, so to speak.

    Neither of those may seem like concerns, but once you finish your novel and begin the submission process (seeking a publisher/agent), it's a long process--and even if a novel is accepted, say within the first 3 months you have it out on submission (very unlikely but not necessarily impossible) it will still be months if not well over a year before the first novel makes it to print, and you'll want to be able to have the second one in the pipeline.

    That being said, if the first novel is part of a series, it may not be a good idea to write the second until the first is sold/finds a publisher. It'd be better, in my opinion, to write another totally different story. If you cannot sell the first in the series, what are the odds of selling the second? But if you sell the first, one thing publishers ask is what are you working on now? You'll have an answer, a whole new track available. And if you sell the second novel (unrelated to the first series) you'll have that available if your second writing project comes through.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Good luck moving forward, and if you ever want care for some thoughts on writing the sequel that stands alone, let me know.

    Terry
     
  10. chronicler
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    chronicler Member

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    Take a look at the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. Pay particular attention to the first book (obviously thats what we're discussing here) and note the ending. If there were no other books (he finished the series with 13 and has just released another) that would still be a complete story.

    Now look at real life. One thing happens, like say we loose our job but then we find another one and everything is normal again. But life doesn't end there, a baby on the way, a sick parent etc. all play on the same plot but are different parts of it.

    yes, your bad guy might not be completely dead at the end of the first novel, but it doesn't mean you can't make it look that way (again look at the series above, the author works the original bad guy into each book)

    hopefully that made sense
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is the kind of thing that will get you into trouble. Just how unresolved can your first novel be to lead into the next volume before you make your first novel's ending weak?

    I recommend you don't even try. Not for the first novel you publish. The publisher will see what you are trying to do, count on it. And publishers do not want to be committed to following up on an author until they see how the initial offering is received. On top of that, they need to know the author won't decide the entire process was too much work to go through for a subsequent volume.

    You need to give the publisher a basis for trust.

    Now perhaps, you can see an entire new story that arises from where things left off in the first novel. More power to you! Because that doesn't require you to leave anything hanging in the first novel.

    But then you encounter the second challenge. You cannot assume the reader has read the first novel, either. So you have a lot of background from the first novel that you unconsciously feel the reader knows also. So you fail to drop in enough information for the reader to understand the second story. Or you bore the reader who HAS read the first volume by providing a recap that doesn't provide anything new.

    I discovered the latter pitfall when I wrote a short story sequel. Readers commented that there was a lot missing that they needed to know.

    So really, avoid the temptation to create a series if you have never published. You're hobbling yourself more than you know.
     
  12. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Thanks, this was great.

    I guess what is most important is to first and foremost write, and deal with things such as this in revision / editing. The idea of a series is one I will have to shake, and just focus on one novel.

    I guess in this sense, you could consider a possible series as lots of ups and downs, rather than a progressive arch from book one to book 'insert series length'. Correct?
     
  13. The-Joker
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    I have to say that this is incorrect. Google "top ten YA fantasy by debut authors" and see how many of these first books are part of a series. Yes, you guessed it. All of them. Now I'm sure there must be some pure stand-alones out there, but they are few and far apart, and certainly not the standard mode of entry for a new author in fantasy.

    Fantasy books are being marketed as series because series sell. Readers don't want to visit a new world simply to have their stay terminated at the end of one book. They want to begin the adventure with the foreknowledge that this is the start of a grand voyage, that the ultimate story is bigger than one mere novel.

    So writing the first book in a YA fantasy series won't hurt your chances. However, there must be a satisfying conclusion to book one. The main conflict(the key problem the MC faces in this book) must be resolved, but the overarching one which runs in the background can be left open. If your book ends with the promise for more there's nothing wrong with that.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think this is absolutely correct.

    And the trend to series in Fantasy isn't limited to YA. In another thread in the Publishers forum I posted a list of debut Fantasy works to demonstrate that Fantasy novels are generally accepted to have a higher word count than other fiction you're trying to sell. In looking back at that list (all of which is non-YA), the other thing they all have in common, with the exception of Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson, is that all of those debuts by first-time authors are the first book in a series.
     
  15. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I guess the important thing to remember, as with most topics covered on the forum, is that whatever problem you might face can be easily solved through good writing.

    Am I wrong to believe that if your writing was great, and publishers recognised that, and saw potential etc, they would not care about the fact you intended to write a series? Would they not jump at that opportunity?
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Honestly, it becomes difficult to know what to think. There is no magic formula, and I doubt either is absolutely right or wrong. Someone mentioned in another thread advice from a book on writing that suggested you mention your series. I've read similar advice from established authors in science fiction and fantasy, going under the theory that it takes a few books before the publisher is making much on you and they want to invest in a writer who is going to write a series because those tend to do well over time.

    By the same token, I've read advice from established writers that follows more of what you are seeing here - don't mention it.

    So what you gonna do?
     
  17. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    That's the way things work though really isn't it. No matter what the subject, there will typically be those who swear by it / against it.

    It will all come with the experience I suppose.

    Thanks for the feedback guys.
     

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