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Books in Series

Ross at Play

I started reading the second book in a high-scoring series in the Sci-fi/Fantasy genre.
In the opening two scenes, less than a thousand words, the author did a fantastic job of establishing a mystery some major characters needed to solve, and foreshadowing momentous events to come.
I was totally lost.
The names of many characters and groups were introduced but I had no context in which to place them.
It did not help that the names were all invented, but I would still have struggled if those were of the ilk, John Jones of the North Tribe.

REWIND! I just checked and the story description could not have been more explicit in its warning not to start reading at the second story. :-)

Still, I wonder, what do authors do to make it possible for later books in a series to be read as stand-alone stories?
That seems desirable, if only for the fact that some readers may have read earlier books some time ago.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

Still, I wonder, what do authors do to make it possible for later books in a series to be read as stand-alone stories?

I think that's the main question. Is it a story which can stand alone, or is it so deeply intertwined with events in prior books that it's impossible to follow the storyline without having read these books as well? You can recapture a few events for new readers, and to remind others who have read the earlier books, but too many recaps will become annoying for both, old and new readers.

Replies:   Ross at Play
red61544

I'm not sure it is possible. If you start read the Harry Potter series at "Deathly Hollows", you'll ask yourself "Who the hell are these people?" The same is true with the "Tales of Narnia". You probably could name any series of books or movies, eg. "Star Wars", and you won't be able to start any where but at the beginning if you want to understand the series. The beginning of the series is where most of the character development takes place. It also provides historical background for the series. Without those, any reader will be lost.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@red61544

All true. Then again there are serials with some sort of detective as main character, and every book solves a separate case or mystery. These kind of books can stand alone.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

Yes. With some stories starting at book two would be like reading The Two Towers without reading The Fellowship of the Ring first.
But for stories when it is possible for an author to write them so they could be read as stand-alone stories, what do good authors do?
My feeling is that a character list or anything external to the story would be a distraction.
And surely you're right that going too far with recaps will distract everybody.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

My feeling is that a character list or anything external to the story would be a distraction.

An elegant way is letting your characters talk about passed events you need in the new book. Dialogue doesn't have to be as boring as retelling of events. New perspectives can be introduced as well as new details.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

I started reading the second book in a high-scoring series


Is the first book still available? If so, why didn't you read it first?

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

If so, why didn't you read it first?

Why? I had the name of an author and wanted to look at their writing style. I selected the last post they'd made.
Their writing was very good, but I was struck by how confused I still was - which prompted my question about general strategies for writing series that can be read as stand-alone stories.
This author had been very clear in the story description that the first book must be read first.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

Still, I wonder, what do authors do to make it possible for later books in a series to be read as stand-alone stories?


That's where a Foreword or Prelude comes in handy to brief on what happened last book.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
docholladay

A time line listing might be helpful. But then again not all volumes in a series will be written according to the time line. The time line can and will let readers know which books or stories contain information which might relate to a given story.

StarFleet Carl

@Ross at Play

Still, I wonder, what do authors do to make it possible for later books in a series to be read as stand-alone stories?
That seems desirable, if only for the fact that some readers may have read earlier books some time ago.


I think you answered the question yourself - they're part of a serial. They're MEANT to be read that way and NOT as stand alone stories.

Go pick up 'A Mighty Fortress' by David Weber or 'Islands of Rage and Hope' by John Ringo. The first book in a serial is designed to set the universe and background, especially for the characters.

As for being desirable ... well, 'Monster Hunter Siege' by Larry Correia was recently released (book 6) and it should show up here tomorrow. In anticipation of that, I've done the same thing I always do when someone releases a new book in a serial - I re-read the previous books.

Now, if you're talking about something like the Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt series, what the author in those books did was set up an event and talk about it, make that event seem interesting. THEN he jumped into something modern day where the protagonist of the story got involved. He might have mentioned previous books, but they're basically designed to stand alone.

So it's just a definition thing.
SERIES - group of stand alone books using the same characters, but which don't need to be read in series
SERIAL - group of books that are dependent upon the first book to set up the rules and each successive book builds upon the first one.

Ross at Play

@StarFleet Carl

So it's just a definition thing.
SERIES - group of stand alone books using the same characters, but which don't need to be read in series
SERIAL - group of books that are dependent upon the first book to set up the rules and each successive book builds upon the first one.

Okay. So my question relates to series, but not serials. My question is what do authors do anything about the "problem" of what readers already know. It sounds like your answer is once they decide they're writing a series then they must be careful to avoid assuming anything. Then, any knowledge required from previous books must be explicitly retold, which is probably best done using dialogue.
It may have been a dumb question, but an answer of "nothing" tells me something new.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

Then, any knowledge required from previous books must be explicitly retold, which is probably best done using dialogue.
It may have been a dumb question, but an answer of "nothing" tells me something new.

As the saying goes, 'There ain't dumb questions, only dumb answers.'
Since you read the intro to my second book of a serial you have seen what I did. It's a summary of events that happened in the first book and a preview of what's to come in the second book. Also in a serial you can't assume the reader will remember everything you need him to remember following your story. The way I wrote it, is aimed to spare the reader of a lengthy retelling info dump. A short collection of multiple scenes happening simultaneously, and relevant to the future of the storyline.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

A short collection of multiple scenes happening simultaneously, and relevant to the future of the storyline.

And it worked.
I was drawn in by the establishing of a mystery to be solved and foreshadowing of momentous events to come in two short scenes. My only difficulty not having any context to place the characters - but you warned me of that very clearly.
But I take your point, "in a serial you can't assume the reader will remember everything you need him to."

richardshagrin

@StarFleet Carl

SERIES - group of stand alone books using the same characters, but which don't need to be read in series

SERIAL - group of books that are dependent upon the first book to set up the rules and each successive book builds upon the first one.


Lets switch to baseball. Based on these definitions is the culmination of a baseball season a World Series or a World Serial? If I had to guess, I would say World Serial.

Or is a serial killer really a series killer?

Replies:   Joe Long  Crumbly Writer
Joe Long

@richardshagrin

Lets switch to baseball. Based on these definitions is the culmination of a baseball season a World Series or a World Serial? If I had to guess, I would say World Serial.

Or is a serial killer really a series killer?


The World Series is a sequence of stand alone games between the same teams.

One doesn't become a serial killer unless there is a previous record of killings that is repeatedly built upon.

Ernest Bywater

@StarFleet Carl

SERIES - group of stand alone books using the same characters, but which don't need to be read in series
SERIAL - group of books that are dependent upon the first book to set up the rules and each successive book builds upon the first one.


I don't think these definitions work with written works. Most of what Charles Dickins wrote, and most of what Robert Heinlein wrote were originally published in newspapers as serials, and later put together as a book.

Most serials are actual just a small part of the story that make absolutely no sense by themselves, they only start to say something when you have several of them together. No single plot or sub-plot aspect is put forward and dealt with in a single episode, but are introduced in one, developed in a few, and then dealt with several episodes later - think of TV shows like General Hospital or Days of Our Lives - they're true serials.

A book series should be a stand alone story that also builds on the earlier stories, but each should have sufficient in them to enable a reader to pick any one book up and enjoy it without having to read the ones before that. Mind you, many an author breaks that, and they usually get away with it due to having built up a following who don't mind them not giving any of the history at all.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

That's where a Foreword or Prelude comes in handy to brief on what happened last book.

Those are extremely problematic for an ongoing series, as you don't want to TELL the readers what happened, as that will bore the regular readers, and you also don't want to entirely skip the recap, as even though regular readers won't remember what's going on.

I used to include those warnings "don't read unless ...", and it really don't change anything, as readers will still dive into the middle of a story and expect to follow along. And many times, they can, but you'll miss most of the context of the story.

The best summaries are a short recap, where two character reflect (in a prologue) about what they've already experienced and how it impacts their current mission. The back and forth dialogue helps prevent the 'summary' format, while also keeping it engaging for everyone. Still, sometimes it works, and sometimes it don't!

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

So it's just a definition thing.
SERIES - group of stand alone books using the same characters, but which don't need to be read in series
SERIAL - group of books that are dependent upon the first book to set up the rules and each successive book builds upon the first one.

Sorry, but there's really no such distinction. A SERIES is either numbered or unnumbered. If it's numbered, it's always best to read in order, as each story will introduce elements which will continue through to the others. A non-ordered series is like Perry Mason or Law & Order episodes, you can dive into any single chapter, and it's as if the entire story started from scratch. Once you figure out who the good guys are, you're set.

"Serials", however, are typically stories sold on a 'chapter' by chapter basis, with each ending on a cliff-hanger, and are generally despised nowadays.

Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

Or is a serial killer really a series killer?

If he kills the protagonist, he is! 'D

StarFleet Carl

@Crumbly Writer

Sorry, but there's really no such distinction


Just curious, have you read the Raymond Feist Crydee series, starting with Magician:Apprentice? Or all of the books in the Honorverse, by David Weber? Maybe the 1632 books by Eric Flint?

Actually, if you read this:
http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/03/07/series-vs-serials/

He basically says the same thing I did - and I didn't even look him up until just now.

I like to try to make the distinction that a series is a set of books with the same main character or characters, with each book representing a self-contained story. With a series, it doesn't matter much whether you read the books in order. There is no over-arching story. Nothing carries from one book to the next. The characters may not even age. My favorite example of a series is the Doc Savage books.

I see a serial as a story told in several installments. There may be a single epic adventure playing out, or it may be merely the chronicles of one hero, or even a generational dynasty. A serial contains a story line that connects and weaves through the books. There is some risk of becoming confused, or at least not realizing the importance of a certain turn of events, if you read them out of order. Hunger Games, A Game of Thrones, and Twilight might fall into this category. With a serial, it's not so much that you must read them in order, but there is at least a marginal utility in doing so. Even though each story may be self-contained, each is only part of a larger story.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
AmigaClone

@Crumbly Writer

I personally view the distinction between "Series" and "Serial" on a sliding scale.

At the "Series" extreme the stories are so independent that it does not matter in which order they are read.

Between the "Series" and "Serials" come those that Crumbly Writer referred to as "numbered series" where it's best to read them in the order presented but not essential.

The "Serials" depend heavily on prior books to the point that in some cases the serial as a whole can be considered to be a single novel, even though it might be found (or sold) as several stories.

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

Just curious, have you read the Raymond Feist Crydee series, starting with Magician:Apprentice? Or all of the books in the Honorverse, by David Weber? Maybe the 1632 books by Eric Flint?

He basically says the same thing I did - and I didn't even look him up until just now.

My point, and I did have one, was that those distinctions date back to the 1800s and early 1900s, but the entire idea of 'serials' (in anything but TV episodes) fell out of favor and are almost NEVER used anymore.

In book publishing, you'll rarely find anything that someone might qualify as a "serial" (although most current TV episodes in recent years certainly qualify, since if you miss an episode or two, you might as well quit the entire show because you'll never be able to figure out what's happening). Again, those are outdated concepts as most readers won't accept anything which isn't answered immediately (a week or even the next season isn't that long to wait, whereas 2, 3 or 5 years IS!)

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

Again, those are outdated concepts as most readers won't accept anything which isn't answered immediately (a week or even the next season isn't that long to wait, whereas 2, 3 or 5 years IS!)

That reminds me on something.

George RR Martin: 'I think Winds of Winter will be out this year.'

I'm still waiting, six years meanwhile.

docholladay

I think the decision of whether the stories are a series or a serial will always reside in the writer's choice option. As far as I can see from this topic's debate among other topics. There are arguments for both viewpoints. So until someone or group makes it a forced option, that decision will always be based on the writer's personal interpretation of the option.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

I think the decision of whether the stories are a series or a serial will always reside in the writer's choice option. As far as I can see from this topic's debate among other topics. There are arguments for both viewpoints. So until someone or group makes it a forced option, that decision will always be based on the writer's personal interpretation of the option.

That's true, but as an author, I prefer sticking to the established publishing standards (as long as it don't come from no damn Style Guide!!!) I don't see many books on Amazon listed as "serials".

Replies:   REP
REP

@Crumbly Writer

I don't see many books on Amazon listed as "serials".


Except for those plagiarized from SOL. :(

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