Second Chances and Second Glances: Spin Offs

Posted September 16, 2015 by Cristina (Girl in the Pages) in Discussions / 17 Comments

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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!

Companion Novels

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!

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17 responses to “Second Chances and Second Glances: Spin Offs

  1. Great topic Cristina! Do I like spin-offs? Well, I am certainly looking forward to The Six of Crows! I do love a sequel from a minor character’s pov. I also enjoyed The Royal Wedding. I would love if Rowling did something like that. Honestly, if I love an author and I love a series of course I will read the spin-off. BUT, if the story seemed like it was done and what have you and then another book is published, the same book but by a different POV let’s say…then I feel like it is kinda done for money and I don’t read them. Just my opinion though. There are also some books that I would probably totally re-read in that case. So really I guess I support spin-offs etc, if I love the series. haha

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  2. I completely agree with you. I can’t really understand all the hate Cassandra Clare is getting for exploring her Shadowhunters world a little further, for example. When I love the concept of a fantasy world, I will always be glad for every book that comes out that takes place in that world. I especially love when there are references to my beloved characters from the original series, it makes everything so much better. The only thing I can imagine that I won’t like much is the ‘We’re Adults Now’ approach. For example, I haven’t read The Heir (even though I was so excited for its release) because I’m scared of how America and Maxon will be portrayed. I think it will be really hard to make me realize they’re adults now and I’m scared that I will just keep seeing them as the teenagers they were in the original series. That would kind of ruin the book for me but at the same time I wouldn’t want them to have completely changed. Great post, Cristina! 🙂

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    • Right? I live for the cameo moments across the series! I actually JUST finished the Heir, and I didn’t feel it was that jarring to read Maxon and America as adults. There presence was a good balance: enough that it was fun that they were included, but it was very much a book about their daughter. I really encourage you to pick it up!

    • I definitely encounter more spin-offs that I enjoy than the ones I don’t enjoy! I think the only instances where I don’t may be when they take place in the future and my favorite couples and friendships break up! It’s hard for me to accept those instances as canonical.

  3. This was a great post! I’ve never really thought in detail about spin-offs, or how many types there are, and I think you’ve summed it up really well here. I’m a big fan of spin-offs if they’re done well and add something new to the universe or more understanding to a central story or character. I have read ones however, that felt unnecessary where I felt I had wasted my money. It’s a tough balance! For the reader and author. Sometimes it’s good for an author to quit a series when the reader is still desperately wanting more, rather than making it longer but not as good leading to reader disappointment.

    • I definitely agree with you- there’s a large risk that a successful series will be somewhat “ruined” by a spin off, especially if the author breaks up relationships (both friendly and romantic) that were so integral to the original book series (sometimes it even gives it a fan-fiction feel!) It can also feel cheesy and inauthentic. I think I wouldn’t actually WANT a Harry Potter book about his kids’ generation because of how awkward I felt the epilogue was, and how “convenient” it felt. It sort of took away from the majesty of the original plot line.

  4. I love this topic! Some of my favorite books are spinoffs or companion novels. Fantasy is my number one genre and I feel that authors exploring a world fully comes with the territory. If I love a fantasy world, I totally want more stories set in that universe. I appreciated the nod to JK Rowling writing a Maruader’s story since everyone wants that. My most eagerly anticipated book of 2015 is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and I cannot wait until I return to the Grisha universe. So impatient to read it!

    • I think Fantasy allows the most room for spin-offs, especially without them feeling forced and awkward like contemporary spin offs sometimes can. Six of Crows is AMAZING and has just enough nods to the Grisha trilogy to be fun while still maintaining its integrity as a new story and series.

  5. I love spin-offs! I always think it’s fascinating and fun to spend more time in the worlds that authors have created (particularly fantasy ones), and it’s definitely cool to see the world (or the characters) expanded even more. Six of Crows is one we share an opinion on! I thought it was even better than the Grisha series, and I can happily say it’s my favorite from Bardugo now.

  6. Definitely team spin-offs! To all those haters: you don’t have to read them?? There are many people who ARE excited about it, so clearly the spin-offs are wanted. But oh well, haters gonna hate 😉
    I’m glad you liked Eadlyn, since I’ve only seen hate so far. Now I’m less scared to pick up The Heir 🙂
    Loved this post!

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    • What did you think of the initial Selection series? I personally felt that the Heir is even BETTER than the initial selection, and while still very “light” in terms of dystopian/political elements, it definitely did a better job than its predecessors. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that Eadlyn is bratty/entitled, and while she does have her moments I thought it was pretty realistic for the first born child of a monarch.

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