And the Beat (story-arc) Goes On
This article is mainly about the New Wave of novel series which are planned from the outset as complete multi-book arcs. In other words, NOT started as Stand-Alone books.
I also touch on the Super Long Novel movement; writing one series on the coat-tails of a different—extremely popular—series; and killing opening book characters; as well as a slight bit on the power of one writer to change the way the world writes...forever.
In the "Behind The Words" writing series, at behindthewords-bluesun.com, one of their instructional series is called, "Writing A Series Part One: Is Your
Novel A Stand Alone Or A Series?"
Here there was no mention that it might be both. But that's because this
particular series of articles are focused on writing something that is
designed from the outset as a series, not something that MIGHT become a
series IF the first book sells.
They mention the Star Wars movie franchise. They state that because the
first movie was intended as a stand-alone, and later turned into a series,
that there are stupid-level inconsistencies in the story itself, which would
not have occurred if Lucas had designed it from the outset as a series. They
give the example that in Jedi, Leia describes her mother as "...very
beautiful. Kind, but sad.” whereas in Movie Six, the mother dies giving
birth to the twins. I will add that Luke's mother dying giving birth was
also laid out in Movie One, Star Wars, hence Luke was raised by his Uncle
and Aunt. (And just to clear my Geek-Street-Cred with my fellow TRUE SW Geeks: YES, I KNOW that Lucas claimed that Leia actually remembered all this from the mere moments after birth that all three of them were alive together. This is a ridiculous retro-writing based explanation which is irrelevant to the point.)
And while (having been made in the early 70's) Star Wars itself was a BIT
of a stand-alone story (there was some kind of conclusion with the
destruction of the Death Star) there are a couple of relevant points I would
like to add to their article.
Number one, whilst Star Wars can be considered a stand-alone, it's
immediate sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" certainly cannot. Empire has no
real conclusion whatsoever, no win for any of the heroes (beyond escaping
their hide-away on Hoth and fleeing into deep space with their tails between
Empire had three points; none of which were conclusions of any
kind. One, Luke finds Yoda and begins to acquire at least some Jedi skills.
Two, Luke discovers and accepts that Vader IS his father...but no denouement
to their relationship occurs. And three, the entire story is basically a
prologue for Movie Three, Jedi. It was definitely the return of the serial-
cliff-hangar movie series from the Forties. No-one can remotely argue that
Empire is in any way a stand-alone.
Secondly, Star Wars is actually a great example of a series designed to be a
series, not a series of Stand-Alones. For instance, does anyone understand the significance of calling the first movie Episode IV? There was no Episode One (until 30 years later). Even though he was expected (by the studio which paid for it) to be making a low-budget stand-alone B-rated sci-fi flick, George decided to buck ALL conventions (until "The Adventures of Leonard Part 6" twelve years later) and start with Story Number FOUR.
The young and virtually nascent writer/director Lucas was obviously bringing the audience in, in the middle of a series. The truth of it (as we learned later in rare interviews) was that Lucas had nine stories written (or at least sketched out) way before-hand, and if he was going to have the opportunity to make just one, he chose to go with Episode Four, because of the nine, it was the MOST stand-alone-ish story.
The Proof of the Pudding is that--in order to get the studio to green-light
the movie budget--George told them NOT to pay him the traditional Director's Fee. That's right, he worked for free. Why on Earth would someone do that on something he expected to be a one-shot stand-alone? Conclusion: He did not expect it to be a one-shot stand-alone whatsoever. He knew it was a series...even if TCF didn't at the time.
I think it's safe to say that he chose wisely. Who'd'a thunk a B-sci-fi-
flick would win Best Picture, and revolutionize Hollywood, science fiction,
and modern myth-making?
And that's all I am want to do with Nightsong! I freely--and proudly--admit
that I am walking a road cut by George Lucas before me, just as he later
admitted to walking trails left for him by Greek myth, and Joseph Campbell.
But I digress as I digest (sry, jst 8 dinner =) We were talking 'Created As A Series.'
On the website "The Compulsive Reader" the article entitled "Reading Rants: Series or Standalone" pretty well sums up my position on the subject.
The Compulsive Reader said:
"Some stories need to be told in multiple books. It allows you to get into the details and really go in-depth into the story, the characters, the conflict. Some conflicts are so huge and the solutions so extensive, they can't be contained in one book."
I could not agree more.
On the Wikipedia site for Peter F Hamilton (science fiction multi-best-seller) they state:
"Hamilton wrote a space opera in three volumes, known collectively as The Night's Dawn Trilogy. The three books are each well over a thousand pages long and are not standalone novels, totaling 1.2 million words."
Let us review that tid-bit. A single overall plot of 1.2 MILLION words, broken into three books, none of which are stand-alone stories.
Hamilton repeated that same feat with the Void series, later on, another 1 million word trilogy, none of those three books standing on their own as stories, either. The first two books are not concluded in any way, and the second two do not give the back-story one actually needs to understand the whole plot. These are all best-sellers. He is being compared with classic Silver-Age science fiction writers.
A few years back, to try to get a sense of what I was missing in the very popular "Wheel of Time" fantasy series by Robert Jordan, I picked one of the books up. It was Number Seven of what came to be the fourteen-book series.
This book had no traditional starting point, and no explanation of what had gone before. We take up one set of characters on the campaign trail, and another on a secretive trip fleeing a hostile power. They just start up right where they had apparently left off in Book Six. Both story-lines just run on and on, with no discernible plot-conclusions whatsoever in either plot-line. Sure, some obstacles are overcome, some relationships slightly evolve...but there is in no way any kind of denouement to any plot-line in this book.
Well, this is one of the most popular fantasy series of all-time, selling 14 million copies according to Amazon (no freebies, either). And judging by how Book Seven was written, I highly doubt that Book One was in any way stand-alone, either.
((***GAME OF THRONES SPOILER ALERT***))
The series currently so popular that HBO had to make it into a TV series, before all the books were even released by the publisher, is Game of Thrones. This is another great example of an arc-based, non-stand-alone series.
George RR Martin was called "One of the 100-most influential people in the world" by Time magazine. A fantasy novel writer getting on the same list as Oprah, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg. Why? I think it's because he revolutionized prose-writing for fantasy, for America, and for the world. This is not an overstatement.
Not ONE of the Seven GOT books is stand-alone. There is NO plot conclusion at the end of any of them (except-possibly-for the last one, which has not been released at the time of this posting). Quite the opposite, part of their success is that they are cliff-hangars.
((***GAME OF THRONES extreme SPOILER ALERT***))
And the way he completely disregards any and all traditional roles of Main Characters is also revolutionary. The first three characters introduced in the Prologue are all killed by the beginning of Chapter one. The closest thing to a Main Character is killed off with absolutely no adieu whatsoever 3/4 of the way through Book One. Those that replace the Main Character as the new Main Characters are also later killed in the course of the series.
Martin even disregards the traditional notion of Good Guys and Bad Guys, to a large degree.
GOT was definitely pitched as a book deal, with absolutely no chance that ANYONE ever thought that Book One would have any possibility of Standing Alone. It is simply ONE story, only told in 7 parts because a single hard-back book would have been 14" thick!
((** Spoiler Alert Ended**))
All this (plus a Google search on "novel series that do not stand alone" revealing some 68 million hits) leads me to believe that there is a new kind of story gripping the world. A movement made-up of multi-book stories which were never intended to be stand-alone books that might go series if they sold well. As one of those 86 million sites pointed out, when an "old-school" style series was created out of a stand-alone book, the sequel was released an average of eight years later. When the series was intended as a muilti-book series, the first sequel released an average of 9 months after Book One. These also tend to have better plotted overall arc-stories, and fewer inconsistencies and less retro-writing (changing the story after the fact).
I am in no way saying that the stand-alone book is dead. By no means. But it does have a very popular new kid on the block to contend with for popularity.
Nightsong—as I believe I have mentioned a time or two before--is definitely meant to be a multi-book series. Not a book that stands alone which might have spawned a misbegotten sequel if things had gone right, sometime in the future.
When I first realized I was dealing with a multi-book story, I was enthralled. Okay, I admit, that sounds a bit Oedipal, as the writer. But, it was a big deal for me to realize I was writing a monster series. Of course, I then realized it was a series of multi-arc series. 15 books in all (in three series of five) planned so far. I even impressed myself with the brilliance of such fore-planning.
With the dawning of the age of the Super-Long Novel (see Hamilton's works mentioned above) books of 400,000 words each currently being VERY popular (Baen Book's submission guidelines state that if your work is under 100k words, don't bother submitting it, and that over 120k is preferred) I am presently considering lengthening each Nightsong novel, which would boil down what I planned as a 5-book series into a more traditional trilogy (a trilogy of trilogies, counting all three series).
On the other hand, I might simply serialize and self-pub, perhaps turning the first series of five books into 10 e-book releases of around 75k each.
This site offers an e-mail link directly to me. Let me know what you think I should do with Nightsong? Should I go Supernovel Series, and try to pitch to Dell, or Baen? Should I self-pub and serialize (at, say 4.99 each novella?)
Let me know!