Series v. standalone, part 2
I am currently thinking about the differences between the standalone and the series novel because although Iâ€™ve been touring, and hence talking about, TOUCHSTONE, at the same time Iâ€™m beginning a new Russell novel, the first time Iâ€™ve written her since LOCKED ROOMS, four years ago.
THE LANGUAGE OF BEES (the new bookâ€™s name, for the moment anyway) drops straight into the world of Russell and Holmes, without explanation of who this narrator is and why she’s on a train with Sherlock Holmes. Of course, we pick that up as we go along, so those new to the conceit arenâ€™t completely befuddled.
Looking at my series novels, it occurs to me that each one has certain elements that stand alone. Each of the Martinelli novels, for example, features one (sometimes two) main characters in addition to the cast: in A GRAVE TALENT, itâ€™s the artist Vaun Adams; followed by Brother Erasmus, the Holy Fool, in TO PLAY THE FOOL; Jules and her friend Dio in WITH CHILD; Roz Hall in NIGHT WORK; and of course THE ART OF DETECTION turns around Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his modern-day devotees.
The Russell tend to books find their distinction in place rather than person: Sussex and Oxford in THE BEEKEEPERâ€™S APPRENTICE; MONSTROUS REGIMENTâ€™s London; LETTER OF MARY Sussex again and London; THE MOOR in Dartmoor; O JERUSALEM in what was then Palestine; JUSTICE HALL centers around a ducal manor house in the English countryside; THE GAME takes place in India; and LOCKED ROOMS San Francisco. In some cases, the locations act almost as a character in the plot, but in all of the books, the disparate settings give their stories different flavors, even personalities.
But in every one of those books (well, with one exception) I write in the full awareness that this is but a slice in the life of these characters. That individual book may have to stand on its own, but it does so while fully aware that it doesn’t have to shoulder the entire story of these characters all on its lonesome.
Which has made it slightly odd both times Iâ€™ve written what I intended as a standalone, only to have it later become the first of a series. A GRAVE TALENT was written as a novel, period. Only after it was sold did it become a) a mystery novel and b) the first in the Kate Martinelli series. And now TOUCHSTONE, envisioned and written as a one-off, is now growing on me as the start of another seriesâ€”a brief one, I think, perhaps a trilogy spanning the late Twenties and early Thirties.
Would there have been any difference, if Iâ€™d known from the start that both those books would go further?
I think soâ€”subtle differences, perhaps discernable only by the author herself, but there. Because the focus of a standalone is necessarily tighter, more intense, than a series novel. The entire existence of these characters, past and future, lies in these few hundred pages, and the awareness of their mortality, their evanescence, permeates every scene.
This intense focus is why I write standalones.