Series vs Serials

Over the last few days I have read several new releases by authors I enjoy. Auryn Hadley’s second iliri book is out and really good. TS Joyce’s second story for the Bloodrunner crew is out and decent. And I’m eagerly awaiting a new series starter from Anna Hackett to drop.

I am a big fan of good series books like these, but nine times out of ten I hate serials. I’m not sure that all authors and readers understand the differences between series and serials. I keep seeing serials listed as series and the reviews on those generally have a large number of peeved readers who bought it expecting an ending and instead received a cliffhanger with the ~if you’d like to see what’s next, purchase ~ line. So, in my own opinion, what are the differences between series books and serial stories?

Well, in a series each book has at least one self-contained plotline. It will have a beginning, middle, and clear ending to that plot. What makes it a series is having something tangible in common with the books that follow whether it’s common characters, a common world, a common continuing problem that needs a bigger resolution or any combination of these things.

On the other hand, a serial story is going to introduce you to your characters, their world and their issues and then actively leave the plot threads dangling when you read the last printed word. There will be no firm resolution to whatever had you turning the pages in the first place and if you decide to continue with the story, you can be dragged along through innumerable books until you either get fed up, or the author finally figures out how to resolve whatever they thought up in the first place. Did I mention I’m not the biggest fan of serials?

Authors who write trilogies and tell you from the beginning that it’s part of a trilogy don’t fall into the serial or series category for me. If I know it’s a trilogy, then I expect I’ll be following the same characters for 3 books while they try to accomplish whatever task is set out; whether there is a clear resolution at the end of books 1 and 2 or not.

I’ve read so many series, by so many authors, that it’s difficult to pick just one for an example. So I’ll use Christine Feehan, who writes several series that I enjoy but I think I’ll focus on Ghostwalkers. Please note that I won’t be posting any spoilers.

Ghostwalkers follows a group of enhanced military men, the doctor that enhanced them, the military superiors who have become wary of them, and the women who complement them. They have unique abilities due to the enhancements and it causes some problems in unforeseen ways. Now, each story in the series focuses on a single soldier and his journey, but it also shows the characters in his group, new characters introduced along the way and the overlying issue of ~how are we going to deal with the bigger picture/problem~. The bigger problem isn’t solved by the end of story 1 or 2. Instead it spans the series, but that one soldier is in a far better head space by the end of his book and has his act together to be able to help with the bigger problem as the books move along. Each new book shows measurable movement toward solving the bigger problem in the future.

Anna Hackett and Auryn Hadley both have a few different series out currently that work in a similar way. Family by birth or circumstance moving through individual trials to be in a better position to contribute to the larger challenge they all will  eventually have to face down. I enjoy seeing the growth of individual characters and the relationships those characters have built as a series continues.

The problem with serials is that they are too much like day time soaps. Lots of drama and angst with very little growth or movement and no payoff of closure at the end.

So please, if you are the one labeling whether a story is a stand alone, part of a series or part of a serial – please – label them honestly and correctly. If you’re the one reading and the book title says part 1 or volume 1 anywhere on the cover, it’s a good bet that it’s a serial. If in the 1 or 2 star rated reviews you see someone saying, “Warning – Cliffhanger ahead,” yea – that’s a serial. Know the difference and save yourself the frustration of finding out on the last page.

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