A trend in the YA community that I’ve seen gaining more and more traction is spin off series and stand alones, with several well-known authors choosing to continue a peripheral character’s story or expounding upon other elements of their fictional universe with a new cast of characters. It’s familiar to readers, and many readers find the prospect of getting to see a secondary character they loved have their story continued a wonderful treat. I’m personally on team pro-spin offs, as I’ve not only read many spin offs, but oftentimes I’ve enjoyed such spin offs even more than the actual series they’ve stemmed from. Sometimes a spin off series is a chance for an author to impress me more than their original work did, while still maintaining familiarity with world building and characterization.
However, critics cite a lack of creativity and a drive for money as the main motivators for authors choosing to write spin off series. I personally don’t understand this cynical attitude. If I was an author, especially a fantasy author, and I had spent so much time dreaming up an elaborate creative universe, I could definitely see myself writing spin offs in that universe that I’d already put so much effort into. I see no shame in that. I mean, hasn’t every one of us at one point or another secretly hoped and dreamed that JKR would announce a spin off series set in the Marauder’s time?
There are 4 major categories that I’ve seen spin offs fall into:
Set in the Same Universe
This is perhaps the most common sort of spin off when it comes to fantasy novels, as authors choose to flesh our their created universe even more through a new set of characters as either a “prequel” or “sequel” series. The most obvious choice is Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, which features The Infernal Devices as a prequel to The Mortal Instruments, and The Dark Artifices as a sequel series (which hasn’t been release yet, but you can bet I’m excited about it). Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is set in the same universe and time as her Grisha trilogy, although in countries other than Ravka. Six of Crows is an instance of a spin off series where I was much more impressed than the author’s original work, as it took a lot of the core fantasy elements from Bardugo’s first series and made them more nuanced, exploring the political turmoil and corruption in the universe in much more maturity and depth.
Peripheral Characters to Protagonist
This is perhaps one of my favorite spin off techniques, when an author takes a secondary character and explores their own story. The It Girl series (a spin off of Gossip Girl featuring Jenny Humphrey as the main character) was the first series I read that developed a minor character’s own story, and I loved the subtle references to things that happened in the original series. Just a few weeks ago a highly anticipated spin-off was released, Huntley Fitzpatrick’s The Boy Most Likely To, which focuses on Tim, Sam’s, the protagonist from My Life Next Door, best friend’s twin brother. I love when side characters get their own story, because it’s a whole new perspective of a story you thought you already knew via another character’s experiences.
We’re All Adults Now
Ah, one of my favorite categories of spin-offs. The “all grown up” approach. I think this can often bring a fresh perspective to well-loved characters, especially by appealing to a fan group that may have grown up with the original series. Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot, published almost 15 years since the original Princess Diaries, is proof of such a phenomenon working. It literally felt like I was revisiting very dear friends who I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Sometimes revisiting characters when they’re older- or getting a glimpse of their adult selves while following the plot lines of their offspring- can be more enjoyable than their own stories, such as is the case with The Heir by Kiera Cass. While I liked the premise of The original Selection series, I never quite liked America. Contrary to popular opinion, I found myself liking Eadlyn much more!
For those who aren’t the biggest fan of spin-offs, companion novels may be the least offensive because they most resemble actual sequels, while not being obligatory. They fit together nice and neatly without really being NECESSARY to read. Such is the case with Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss series. You can enjoy Anna, Lola, or Isla individually or you can read them in conjunction and follow the running threads between them. The Just One Day duology by Gayle Forman likewise focuses on specific characters and their personal journeys and can hold their own, while connecting to a larger plot line. Companion novels offer a lot of enjoyment with a minimal amount of commitment.
Are you on board with spin offs? Or are you ready to move on?
Do you think spin offs are a lack of creativity? Or do they give the author a chance to do things right the second time around? What spin offs have impressed you or fell flat with you? Have you ever had a work in progress that stemmed as a spin off from a previous idea? What is the NUMBER ONE spin off you want to see? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!