Defining “Series”

The term ‘series’ I suppose is mostly self explanatory, and family sagas are the first novels that come to mind, at least for me. However, if the plot dynamics are dissimilar and only one character is from the preceding novel, does this fit within the term ‘series’. Lee Child’s Reacher is an example. But is Nelson DeMille with his returning John and Kate Corey as FBI and NYPD agents (The Panther is his latest)? And if the novels have stand-alone storylines–again Lee Child’s are good examples, are they really ‘series’ novels?

I never thought to define the term series before. What’s interesting about this question is how it got me thinking about all of the different types of series there really are.

As you mentioned, there’s the family saga type series that might have a continuing plot line of sorts from book to book, often following generations of families. I haven’t read a book like this in eons so this one would never have even come to mind.

Mystery and suspense series usually have a protagonist (and her posse) as continuing characters in a series of stand alone novels. Usually the books completely stand alone, but there are often some plot lines or aspects of an earlier plot that will carry through. For example, each book might stand alone, but there might be a romance that continues throughout the series or an injury the protagonist receives in one book might plague him in later books.

Romance series tend to be set in a similar location, but tend to follow a new couple in each book. Occasionally, characters from other books will make appearances, but not always. Of course, there have been romance series that follow one couple and their adventures through the course of a number of books. There are no rules.

There’s a real definition of what makes a series, but I think readers usually attach themselves to something or someone and want to keep coming back to read more in that world. Whatever that world is makes a series.

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5 comments

  1. It should be noted that Fantasy (and to a slightly lesser extent SF) is notorious for series. Game of Thrones, anyone?

    I personally think a series is any set of books (usually by the same author) with a repeating element that brings readers back for more. Usually this element is one or more characters, but sometimes it’s the story line, setting, or over-arching concept. Series are a little bit like chain restaurants–you know what to expect when you come in.

  2. I wonder if trilogy (for lack or a better classification) is also a series?

    Stories like the Hunger Games or Lord of the Rings where books one and two end with cliffhangers yet the story arch is not complete until the final book.

    I ask because my current project is a trilogy like those just mentioned. I’ve thought of it as a series, but with this post I wonder if this is the proper nomenclature. My story has a definite end because someone, maybe even the protagonist, will die.

  3. I once came across a series that to the best of my knowledge was linked by genre, or author.
    They were the only connections, I found other than publisher and even then the books came under different imprints. Each seemed to be set on a different planet, in a different time. I didn’t find a common character or theme.
    Don’t get me wrong they were good books, but the wonder about the connection was part of the appeal.

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