The last time we discussed fantasy fiction, I detailed the merits of book series, in comparison to standalone novels.
After writing that article, I introduced the discussion in a few forums on the internet out of curiosity. It never hurts to expose your opinions.
I expected the majority of respondents to side with my point of view, which did not happen. The number of people that rose to defend standalone novels surprised me. I can’t say that they made compelling arguments. I have not read a standalone novel in a long time, so I can’t exactly invalidate any of the points they raised.
Still, I decided to revisit my opinions on the subject after those discussions came to end. But the more thought I give the issue, the more difficult it becomes for me to understand the allure of standalone novels.
This is what I’ve noticed. Many proponents of standalone novels take issue with the cliffhangers that are so rife in fantasy fiction. Standalone novels are supposedly superior because they tell self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
True, cliffhangers are annoying. They are designed to keep you hooked. Unfortunately, the best novels always generate a sense of attachment in readers. If you spend enough time following a particular protagonist’s journey, it eventually becomes all but impossible for you to find peace until you learn their fate.
This is one of the building blocks of a page-turner; a novel so engrossing you can’t stop reading. So, I understand the quarrel against cliffhangers, and I don’t necessarily appreciate them.
That being said, standalone novels don’t fare any better in this area. The advantage of a book series is that it guarantees answers. Authors have all the time they need to resolve all the mysteries and loopholes at the heart of their stories.
Standalone novels are constrained by the fact that they have to explore all the aspects of their story within the confines of a single book. When a question goes unanswered in a standalone novel, that is it. The story is over. The only thing that can fill in the gaps left by the author is your imagination.
A book series gives you the option of digging further. Yes, sometimes, this means waiting for years (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin). But if you wait long enough, and if the author lives long enough, the answers you want will eventually come.
That alone is worth all the annoying cliffhangers. Also, a good cliffhanger can make the publication of a long-awaited sequel all the sweeter.