I have seen this issue raised regularly by other authors, and stumbled on it again yesterday, so I thought I’d clarify my own choice here. Assuming you are employing the same main character(s), should you pen novels that are “stand alone” tales? Or is a series in rolling sequel format – essentially a continuing story – a better way to go?
There’s no perfect answer. Everyone has an opinion and I know some readers like one way and others like the other. As a writer, you have to choose what your outlook and tale seems to demand.
I didn’t actually know for sure what I would do as I began Passports, because at the outset I didn’t know there would absolutely ever be a second novel, much less a third one. But as I wrote and came to realize I “enjoyed” doing this and that there would be more of these books, the idea of “stand alone” books with the same characters didn’t really appeal to me. So I went for the second option.
Why? I liked the notion of an ongoing story with the same core characters. First, I didn’t want to have to repeat too much background in the future, which I feel is to some extent cheating readers. Second, I believed it would allow greater freedom to develop the characters as “individuals.”
I came to that conclusion because as I was writing Passports I also realized its characters were what the tale was going to be primarily about, and filling out the characters as I wanted simply wouldn’t have been as possible in “self-contained” books. I wanted a reader to get to know them progressively better in a “real-time” manner, and to see them mature and change. I sought to aim to recreate aspects of what we all often experience in growing closer with those we meet in real-life.
I wanted a reader eventually to be able to think to him/herself, “I know her.” So that became my approach. You can delve into the three books from the beginning as one MASSIVE novel.
Yes, of course one could also pick up just one of the novels and read only that book – especially, naturally, only the first one.
And, yes, the novels may also theoretically be read out of order. There are enough “background” references in the second and third to allow that. However, reading them that way is likely to leave you somewhat confused and feeling like you’ve walked into a party where everyone else already knows each other really well, but you don’t.
Which is why the novels are best read by year: 1994, 1995, 1996. 🙂