Series, Serials, Sequels and Spin-Offs — A Guest Post by Sandra Haven
Do you know the difference between a series, serials, sequels and spin-offs? Often people (including writers) don’t, it seems.
Does it matter?
It sure does, because understanding what readers expect in each form of series helps writers satisfy their fans. And a series is a natural outgrowth of a book for many writers.
For instance, I’ve been working with Terrye on her fantasy book for over a year and she mentioned that she found she liked her characters so well that she now has a series in mind!
So it was only natural for me to ask for her help when I had questions about her series writing experiences. You see, I have been planning a course to help series writers and I was looking for feedback from Terrye and others about their own struggles on that issue.
It turns out, there is little online about the complexities of writing a series — or even the definitions!
So here is a quick primer on these popular forms of writing and how writers can make their readers smile at “The End” of each one in their bundle of books:
A Series vs. Serial
Actually these two story forms are often just referred to as a series, so don’t let the terms confuse you. But DO understand that these are two very different book forms.
A Series is a group of independent stories. They DO have something in common, like a main character, the setting, or timeline. But they can be read in any order; you don’t need to read Book 1 to enjoy Book 2, etc. Think of these as episodes and you get the picture. Each book is a separate episode in the lives of (usually) the same set of characters.
A Serial isn’t like that — you really need to read each book in order to understand the plot overall. A serial leaves readers without a final ending until the very last book of the serial. There is a conflict, what I call the Big Conflict, that overshadows all the books in the serial and sometimes each of these books feels a bit like a really long chapter of a single book.
The Pros and Cons
Actually both series and serials have great advantages — and similar cons.
First, they both allow readers to nestle into a place, characters or world that they enjoy — and can enjoy again and again!
The same goes for the writer who, once they find themselves fond of their characters (like Terrye with her characters), want to enjoy those same people in more adventures.
Unless … an author quits writing for some reason.
Why would they? Lots of reasons.
It seems logical that if a book series is popular that the writer would want to continue writing more. But that isn’t always the case. For instance, by some accounts, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle despised his character, Sherlock Holmes, and wrote his later books with no enthusiasm. Lucky for us he did!
That is where a serial has an advantage: there is no limit to how many books you write when each is a stand-alone episode. If they become popular, you write more. If not, or if you bore of them, you can quit at any time. Each book has solved the crime or triumphed in some way — great reader satisfaction.
A series isn’t as easy. For instance, if you plan the popular trilogy format (three books in a serial), it is disheartening and irritating for readers who read Books 1 and 2 only to find out the author didn’t write Book 3. You can be sure that readers will not want to buy any other books by that author.
So if you write in a serial format, building to a final Big Conflict in the last book, you pretty much better plan to write every one of the books. But also be sure there is at least SOME satisfying reward or conclusion at the end of each book along the way.
Sequels and Spin-offs
Ah, then comes the sequels and spin-offs. These are fun forms for both writer and reader. For instance, say you first write a single stand-alone book. And fans love it!
But wait! Your stand-alone book had a definite and final conclusion.
What to do?
Write a sequel that takes the same beloved characters and puts them in a new adventure. This might turn into an actual series. Or it could be just a “years later” book about what happened after that happy ending in Book 1.
Spin-offs are even more fun! Remember “The Wizard of Oz”? A great spin-off was “Wicked” which was the same place, but written from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, starting in her childhood. Dorothy doesn’t show up until near the end and the author, using the witch’s point of view, sees her in an entirely different light!
An author can do a spin-off on their own stand-alone book, using a different perspective altogether.
So, Terrye, if you later decide Prince Brian is your favorite character (I rather favor him myself), you just might want to spin-off a new tale altogether. You might be surprised at what he is like under a different light!
What should YOU write? The choice is yours. Just keep in mind that readers love continuity and knowing characters intimately, even if sometimes in different ways.
Most important: we all want that “happy ending” at some point … but we love the many adventures of getting there!
NOTE: I am currently offering a BETA course specifically for series writers about how to “Create a Protagonist Who Thrives in a Series.” I’m thrilled to have Terrye joining me. It will be open to only a few writers because I’ll be providing lots of hands-on assessments of each student’s specific book as it applies to the course. Want to join Terrye in this writing adventure? Click here where you can read all about it. Then sign up!
Originally published at tmtoombs.com on July 27, 2016.