Previously in this Novel . . .

I’m taking the Reality Truck stuff seriously. The old way I was doing things wasn’t working. So we’re trying new things. This morning I took out a wall with a sledge hammer and a crowbar:

DemoWall

I enjoyed it immensely.

But now I want to talk about writing. Structure. I’ve been cogitating on a new form for awhile,it’s been appealing to me for months, but I kept ignoring it because it’s not the way I’ve written in the past and I have to get a book done. Except I’m not writing. But I am thinking about this new structure (new for me, anyway). So I’ve been cogitating. Then I took out the wall and thought, “Fuck cogitating, this is the way I’m going to do it.” Every writer should have a sledgehammer and a crowbar.

It’s been a tense several months (hell, it’s been a tense several years) and one way I cope when it all gets too much is to crochet while watching TV series, all the episodes at once. I can see an entire series in a couple of weeks which makes it seem like a very long novel, divided into chapters. Anybody who’s ever heard me speak knows what I think of chapters–hate them because they’re not narrative units–but in a TV series, the chapters are episodes and they are narrative units. That is, depending on the series, they’re stories in and of themselves while exploring an overarching plot that lasts the entire season.

This appeals to me as a structure. I’ve been using the four act structure which has served me well, but now that seems overwhelming to me. I don’t want to write short stories, I like the depth and breadth of the novel, but watching all this episodic TV has given me a new appreciation for the little payoffs along the way. Another big plus for me in episodic plots: each episode moves the community closer together because each episode is a victory or a defeat for them all. And it gives me as a writer a lot of little victories along the way, places to stop and say, “Look! I ACCOMPLISHED something!”

Liz was already structured like this on the grand scale, each book a mystery episode in a four-book long love story. But when I looked at Lavender’s Blue again, I realized that I could restructure it so that each act was an episode. I’ve always seen each act as its own story, but one without a climax, just a turning point. If there’s a climax, there’s a danger that the reader will stop reading, but as long as the overall plot is strong, I think she’ll have to keep going. I think I can make that work.

I’d structured my solo FTL book as eight short stories that taken together made a novel, so that one’s already in place, but I’m looking at You Again now, and thinking hard about what happens to it if I turn it into four episodes. Structure is meaning; change the structure and you change everything about the story, but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing with You Again.

So I’m cogitating. I still have a lot of clapboard to knock off the house and there’s a closet upstairs that is definitely coming out, so I’ll have no shortage of sledgehammer time to think. I just have to figure out if an episodic approach is a creative sledgehammer. And if that’s a bad thing.

67 thoughts on “Previously in this Novel . . .

  1. I like this very much. It makes a lot of sense to me, and I don’t think you will have a problem with the Liz book, because the reader will want to solve the mystery.

    I know I’ll probably have an “oh, I knew that” moment, but what is a “solo FTL” book?

    Yay for sledgehammers, and thanks for the posts and pictures. _THAT_ is the way to spring clean! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Sorry. Lani, Krissie, and I are still brainstorming a book called Fairy Tale Lies that’s set in this mythical kingdom/alternate world. But I like the world so much that I keep thinking of stories to set in it. And the stories arranged themselves into a novel, so that worked out. Zo White and Five Orphants, Hansel and Gleep, The Frog Principle, The Goose Guy . . .

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      1. Thanks – all I could think was Faster Than Light, and I was wondering if you’d expanded into experimental space travel! Fairly Tale Lies sounds more sensible. And fun. I look forward it it ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. It could work.

    And if it doesn’t, you’ve learned something, and moved into a fresh perspective. Sounds like a win-win, to me. And I don’t think episodic writing would keep me from finishing the book. But then, I’m one of those people who has read your grocery list posts, simply because you wrote it, and I love your style. When I get the books with the previews in the back, I keep reading past the end of the story through the preview, then dig out the book, and finish that one. There must be a book I have without the sample chapter at the back, because otherwise I’d be stuck in an endless loop. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Comic book comic book comic book comic book GRAPHIC NOVEL OMG.

    Sorry, I got a bit excited there.

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    1. I would love to do graphic novels, but that’s a completely different language I’d have to learn. I’m still planning to, but first I have to get the stuff that’s under contract done. I love the graphic novel form.

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      1. Yeah, I know. But when you get there, I can hook you up with artists, digital publishers, writers who can talk about software, whatever.

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        1. (Actually, I am not the most connected of the cherries in that respect, if I recall correctly. But still. Offer stands.)

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  4. You might have had a crappy few years, but damn you’re coming out on the other side!

    Loving the way you’re working stuff out. Ideas worth implementing to our own relative situations.

    Hi Argh people and Cherries.

    Congrats to Deborah re book!! Woohoo!

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  5. A number of self-published authors have been doing something like this, with serial (not “series”) stories of about 15-20K words each. Except they release the “episodes” separately, before combining them at the end into an “omnibus” edition, which would be comparable to a novel.

    At least in the digital publishing world, there seems to be a strong market for these short stories that link into a larger whole over time. Although, there’s also some pushback by some readers who feel they’re paying too much for too little, because of the separate releases, and readers who were disappointed when one particular set of serials “ended” in yet another cliffhanger, rather than actually concluding. There’s also some concern, because of the release schedule, as each part is completed, that the entire story won’t be finished. But there are other readers who don’t care, and enjoy having a short, inexpensive read for their e-readers, especially for times when they can’t settle down to read an entire novel, pretty much the reader equivalent of an author not having the wherewithal to WRITE an entire novel!

    They even call their releases “episodes,” at least when talking to other writers, rather than novellas (which is what they’re usually called when they’re selling to readers, but sometimes they do use the term “episodes”). Most of the successes, I believe, have been in erotic romance (check out Sara Fawkes, if you want to see an example). Hugh Howey’s Wool (not romance) is like that too, I believe, although I haven’t read it.

    You can find some interesting discussions on the pros and cons of serials at kboards (google for the url), in the writer’s cafe section. Or not. I over-think/over-study things. Someday I’ll learn to just jump in and do stuff.

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    1. That’s really interesting. I’m under contract so I couldn’t do it now, but it’s definitely something to think about.

      On getting your money’s worth:
      That last poll I put up a year (two years?) ago is still running there off to the left and it looks like the pricing tops out at about $7.99. So if you made the novellas complete episodes with a satisfying ending, and then did four of them at $1.99, would that still be too much? As far as perception goes, I mean.

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      1. Not if it was a Crusie. If it was a Crusie, I’d pay pretty much anything. I’d offer you my first-born child, but well, it would have fur on, and you already have plenty of that.

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        1. If I remember correctly, Stephen King did something like that with The Green Mile. He released one part per month (I think), and then when all the parts had been released, he re-released it as a complete volume.

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      2. No ~ I don’t think so. This “series” then the complete publication was how Dickens wrote his stuff. When we weren’t producing mass books and really the only way to get stories to the masses was in newsprint, this was one way for an author to do it.

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      3. Yes, episodes or short stories or novels I am quite willing to get for 1.99. In fact I have at least a dozen on the iPad I am typing on. I would pay more for a digital novel of an author I read regularly that normally comes out in hard cover, and then I wait a year for the PB. John scalzi has Been doing a digital episodic serial novel that is selling quite well. Diana Gabaldon has been selling novellas from her outlander series for about 1.99 as well. I think they are a natural by product of her writing style – that would probably drive you nuts as a reader – they are back story and out takes from her novels. I like them and have bought them. I particularly like them from her because her books are work to read. Sometimes it nice to just visit for a while…

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      4. What Deborah Said. For something you’ve written? I’d happily pay a lot more than that for a novella. I love how you’re looking at structure now – there’s a ton of room to play once you knock down some walls. Oh for a sledgehammer…

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    2. It’s tricky, because a certain segment of the digital reading population has gotten used to the 99-cent price point. And I believe from what I’ve seen that they’re among the biggest readers of serials, because, after all, it’s just a buck, and it’s a short read, so it’s small investment of both time and money, and if the story never ends, so what?

      I don’t see four substantial episodes at 2 bucks being a problem (although there’s an issue with commission rates from a certain major online store for digital books, which takes a 70% commission for books priced less than $2.99, and only 30% from books priced at $2.99 and above). The resentment comes more when the serial episodes are closer to 10K than 20K, and are priced at $2.99 (b/c of the higher net profit for self-pubs at that price), and then there are twelve episodes with no end in sight. Or even if there’s a satisfying ending, there’s resentment over paying for six episodes ($18 total, for a total of 60K words, which of course you know is on the light end of a novel, but a premium price for a novel).

      Oh, almost forgot — check out John Scalzi’s The Human Division. It’s SF serial novellas & shorts that come together into a novel. It shows that the serial idea doesn’t have to be self-pub. The Human Division was published through Tor, and has done quite well, I gather, with the serial episodes released weekly (I think, maybe bi-weekly), and then the whole novel released together in paper and digital omnibus at the end of the installments. I don’t recall what the pricing was, and I believe there was some way you could buy the installments and get the omnibus for free (but not the paper version for free, of course). He’s written about the process at his blog: whatever.scalzi.com. He wrote the whole book before any part was released, which is different from how some self-pubs are doing it, writing the episodes as they go (which makes my organized brain hurt, because then there’s no chance to go back in time and fix an earlier episode for readers who’ve already read it when you realize you need to change something to make the ending fit).

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      1. I’ve been reading The Human Division. It’s one episode released each Tuesday, a total of 13, with the last one coming out this week. Each episode is a story in itself, but they tie together and create a much larger arc. Each episode is $.99; that means I’m paying more for the total book than I have for any others; but it’s spaced out so that it doesn’t hurt. And it’s like returning to the days of the serial novel when you had to wait for the next chapter–very different from my usual way of reading but I’ve enjoyed it. If I understood correctly, Tor wasn’t able to come up with a way that purchasers of all the episodes could get a pulled-together book at no charge, but we got to read it first and will still have the numbered episodes for rereads. One thing different from some of the serial novels: there’s not a cliff-hanger at the end of each episode, which I really appreciate.

        Kathy

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        1. I really hate cliff-hangers. I think they’re screwing with the reader. “I’m not going to end this story because I’m afraid you won’t come back.” That’s rude. Write the story well enough that they want to come back to see what you do next, not because you’re blackmailing them.

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          1. EXACTLY. I resent cliff-hangers so much. It makes watching any network TV show highly frustrating in May. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t common, so whenever a season of something ends without one, I’m always immensely pleased with the writers for not messing with me.

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          2. Intense,exaggerated-danger cliffhangers don’t have to be the only kind, do they? I like chapter or TV episode endings that kind of encapsulate the way the protagonist is torn between two possible courses of action, and leave her examining the facts or planning to go talk to someone who has more information than she has. You want to find out what she finds out, and you want to see which course of action she chooses and you hope it’s the one you want her to choose, so you’re ready to ponder her conflict and her choices on your own until you can dive back into the story with the next chapter.

            It’s less ‘will she be dashed to pieces on the rocks below?’ and more ‘why did that man rent out his house to her anyway, and will that really help her make The Decision?’

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          3. I like everything resolved, stability. For a character like Buffy, even if she defeated that season’s Big Bad, there was always more evil out there. For a character like Brenda Leigh, even if she managed to fight off the lawsuit or catch the serial killer she’d been chasing the whole season, there were always more murders. And I was always going to come back for the next season because I loved those characters so much.
            The thing about endings that leave things up in the air is that they don’t satisfy the viewer. They’re just annoying as all hell. It was the only flaw in the first season of SHERLOCK, that stupid cliffhanger ending. And the really dumb thing about that is that if they’d just kept going and done the first scene in the next season, they’d have had a great ending. There was zero chance that Moriarty was going to kill Sherlock and Watson, so leaving them pointing guns at each other was stupid. But leaving them with the knowlege that Moriary would walk away from the fight because he got a phone call from a woman? That’s a tease, not a cliffhanger. Moffat’s a terrific writer, but he blew that one.

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          4. Cliffhangers are horrible! They make me go in the opposite direction Like this – “Oh, you’re manipulating me into reading your next book? Well, I won’t!”

            I particularly loathe those character-based cliffhanger that is written into the last chapter of a story. A character with some issue left unresolved that will set up the basis for another book in the series.

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          5. The cliff hanger thing is why I don’t watch those long-running dramas that are so popular on tv now. NCIS nearly lost me as a viewer when they dragged out the story line with Richard Schiff. I have a life. I can’t stick around forever waiting to see if the hero can finally get his act together and wrap this thing up. Books/tv/movies … for me they are about taking a break from the real world where things really do drag on forever so why would I watch a tv show like that? If it’s just like real life, I already have one of those.

            Okay, sorry for the rant, but this hit a nerve.

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          6. The cliff-hangers that I hate the most would have to be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Oh sure, each book (with one exception, come to think of it) finishes nicely, and really, I buy the next one (or borrow it from my dad for an indefinite period of time… ahem) because I love Jack Reacher as a character (haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know if you can judge based on that), so no, Lee Child isn’t blackmailing you to read the next book. No, Lee Child’s rudeness lies in his cliff-hanger chapter endings, which make you turn the page for one more chapter, just one more, until the next thing you know it’s five a.m. and the book is done and you bought it yesterday and didn’t start reading it until all your kids were in bed. Jerk.

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          7. Cliffhangers don’t make me want to come back to a series- I come back in spite of them because they annoy me. Although, that said, I’ve just finished “The Mark of Athena” from Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, and that cliffhanger has got me reading and re-reading the series so far and hanging out for October, so… there are always exceptions if they’re well done.

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      2. Watch out for TOR. The Foglios of Girl Genius are apparently having issues in getting TOR to respond to them. The topic they’re not answering is the 2nd volume of the color omnibus edition and if they’re putting it out or not.

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      3. Just curious, but is there any market for paper short stories in romance? In theory (and possibly in practice), there are still some paper sci fi magazines that could provide serialization. I think there’s mystery short story mags, too. Not sure what’s out there for romance, though.

        Also, I think SF mags tend to have romance cootie-itis. They don’t mind a “love interest” but they are very uncomfortable if the relationship is front and center, I think. I may be wrong. They are more about the community, or the political aspects of the community.

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        1. E-publishing breaks everything wide open, but the only market I know of for romance short stories is magazines, and I’m not sure anybody’s publishing in those any more. Plus romance short fiction is extremely difficult to write because of establishing the relationship. Novellas make me crazy; short stories with a complete romance are damn near impossible.

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  6. I know nothing about writing, but sounds good to me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And you’ve just written my christmas list this year- 1. Sledgehammer 2. Wall 3. New Crusie book coming soon. I can defintely get 1, and it sounds like there’s awesome hope for 3. Anyone want to volunteer 2? Because that looks like awesome fun.

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  7. Hey, I’m just happy to hear that you’re having revelations on Liz’s story, whether they involve a truck or not ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. You’re removing the clapboard on the outside of your house? What are you replacing it with? (Remember to watch out for load-bearing walls!) It looks like fun, all this deconstructing. Glad it is useful for you in more ways than one!

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    1. No, there’s an enclosed sunporch that somebody added to the house about forty years ago. I’ll do a better explanation on Cottage Saturday, but that end of the sunporch is going to be my bedroom and the room on the other side (which had been walled off so I could have a wall in the living room without a door) is going to be a bathroom/closet/laundry room. I just needed a way in and the clapboard had to go. I didn’t take out any studs, just clapboard and tar paper, so the roof stays up.

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      1. When I bought my little 100+ year old farmhouse 11 years ago and had to redo the horrid kitchen, the electrician tore a huge chunk of wall out…and there was clapboard behind it. The kitchen wall that backed up to the dining room & stairs upstairs apparently used to be the outside wall. They just covered it up with drywall. Old houses…always full of surprises.

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  9. One thing for sure – if it gets you writing – it’s working. I wonder if it would work for me. And in the meantime – house progress. I’m thinking win – win.

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  10. John Scalzi is doing something like this with The Human Division. It’s a serial, basically. It’s what Hugh Howey did with Wool, too — first he wrote a short story, but when his readers asked for more, he kept writing. The Wool Omnibus is actually five short stories that are linked together.

    When I started writing for fun again, I was writing fanfiction for the television show Eureka. I’d fallen in love with the show and discovered fanfiction when I was looking for information about it. I read the stories other people had written and thought, “nope, I don’t think it’ll happen that way,” so started writing Eureka stories of my own. I wrote them like episodes of the show — down to vast quantities of science babble — and linked the episodes together. Even though every time I finished a story, I thought it was my last story, I somehow kept going. Mostly I think it was because every story had at least one review that said something along the lines of “but what happens next?” Every story wound up with more reviews than the one before it, which is a pretty good indicator that people didn’t stop reading just because the story had reached one climax. And it’s a really fun way to write.

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    1. The possibilities in Eureka would be endless.
      I’ve never wanted to write fan fiction although I love it when others write it. I think I’m too much of a control freak to play in anybody else’s world.
      I do love the idea of “What happens next?” though.

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  11. That’s a great analogy. Just like the tearing apart of your house to make it much better and workable for you, the love story is the load bearing wall or beam holding up the structure of the story? Without the loading bearing wall holding up the house it will eventually collapse (I’m cogitating here thinking about the whole structure of story), the house needs to have posts to hold up the second floor so…the episodes or chapters where the love story, mystery gets solved, etc., are like space between the post strengthening the whole structure. Kind of like the tent poles in the story structure you taught before. Right?

    Wow, the light will just flood into your house. Love a bright light filled house. Lucky you.

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  12. I’m so grateful for your posts on writing. I always find them helpful and they always get me thinking – plus they’re inspiring. When things are flowing for you, I get excited and want to sit down and work right then. When things aren’t flowing so much (and you’re so honest about that), that’s also helpful information about the writing process. Thank you.

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  13. Hmm…If I were cogitating while wielding a sledgehammer, I’d probably hurt myself. I tend to lose focus on the outside world when lost in my inner world. My daughter (12) always asks “Mommy, what are you staring at?” LOL

    Sledgehammers to walls reminds me of Cathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. I love that scene. It’s right up there with the parking lot rage scene. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. I am looking forward to another Cruise novel, grocery list, or letter to a soldier. ANYTHING! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve “yelled” at so many books that are supposed to be good, but take forever to get going. Or, they say the same thing over and over. Or, you want to take a sledgehammer to the simpering characters.
    It’s bad to throw your iPad across the room in disgust, so I’ve decided to order paperbacks for new authors. They are easier to give away to the used book store.
    You have really spoiled us for good writing. I just re-read yours and all’s right with my world.

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    1. LOL, you should keep a good (I mean baaaad), heavy novel next to your reading spot, and hurl that instead. That’s the problem with e-reading, isn’t it? Even a vicious delete can harm the thing (-:.

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  15. Maybe what you’re discovering is that crotchet and TV is too passive for your action stories, and that sledgehammering gets you in the right mood. Somewhere between the two is a sweet spot, I think. I’ve been in rewrites this past week or so and finally dug out my old collage and notes (some from you, some from Lani) and am trying to figure out if this old story is worth saving. Have to cut 12K and have succeeded with 8K. Remember that article in a woman’s magazine: Is This Marriage Worth Saving? It’s kind of like that. I might have to use the sledgehammer approach and just bash this rewrite into shape and then take another closer look.

    So glad you’re writing. Or thinking about story as you work. Looking forward to reading whatever style you choose. ; )

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  16. It’s an interesting idea to publish some of your own books digitally. Then you could write whatever you want and experiment all you want.

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    1. Actually, Jen Enderlin and St Martin’s Press are terrific at letting me write whatever I want and experiment all I want. Jen’s requirements are “Write me a good book.” After that, she’s completely open-minded.
      I have I mentioned that Jennifer Enderlin is the best editor in the business. There’s a reason her nickname is St. Jenderin.

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  17. I write a continuing series–the Esther Diamond urban fantasy series, for which you kindly cover-quoted the first book, back when it was at Luna, which tried to kill my career. I’m on book #6 of the series at DAW Books, all 5 previous books are on the stands (including the one that we rescued from Luna) and have recently submitted a proposal to DAW for more. So I think a LOT about things like series arc, multi-book story structure, the endings of individual volumes in a multi-volume series, what needs to be closed at the end of a novel and what can carry over, etc.

    So far, I’ve written all the books as stand-alone plots. So far, my goal is that you can pick up any of the 6 books in random order and understand what’s going on. (After all, =I= am not organized enough to read a series in perfect chronological order, and I often discover a series by starting with book 3 or 9. So I cater to readers like me.) The story problem concludes in each book, but series-arc issues carry over book to book. Ex. There’s an ongoing love interest, so far unresolved. There’s also ongoing indication (also so far unresolved) that Esther’s would-be-lover, a skeptic, has supernatural abilities of which he’s completely unaware.

    And at the end of book #6, the story problem for book #7 drops into Esther’s lap in the final pages–this is a structural choice I made because it was a lot neater and tighter than the alternative. To introduce the story problem for #7 in #7, I’d have to spend a chapter or two creating a laborious excuse to get Esther somewhere near the evidence; whereas at the end of book #6, the evidence of a new story problem is right in front of her. So practicality and flow–what makes Esther Diamond’s unnatural misadventures proceed naturally, what makes her narrative flow smoothly–takes precedence over abstract principle. Unfolding the book #7 story smoothly matters more to me than a structural principle of every story problem being completely self-contained. OTOH, I still intend to writ #7 so that it makes sense to someone picking up the book for the first time by opening #7.

    That said, I’m thinking very seriously about writing cliffhanger endings for one or two Esther Diamond books up the road, because I envision a couple of stories in this series as having a two book structure–a place where closing the door on the original story problem (i.e. resolving that plot) has the unforeseen consequence of opening another door (introducing a new story problem).

    I loved cliffhanger endings back when they were an occasional and well-done thing. But then they became overdone, done to undeath, done to the point of nauseating predictability. These days, everything but coffee commercials has a cliffhanger ending, so I can’t stand them. Everything is designed to “force” the viewer to come back for the next season or “force” the reader to buy the next book, every lead character “dies” at the end of the season, blah blah blah. YAWN. (Hey, what if you told told a good enough story that I -want- to come back for the next book or next season? Now THERE’S a thought!) I like a cliffhanger as a great structure for the individual story where it works well, such a situation where the characters themselves are experiencing a cliff (some examples: the end of Gabaldon’s DRAGONFLY IN AMBER; Jennifer Roberson’s 2nd or 3rd (I forget which one had the cliffhanger) Sword Dancer book; THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK). I hate a cliffhanger as what it has become, though–a commercially REQUIRED clichรฉ.

    I think a good cliffhanger changes the story problem–very often in the act of closing/resolving the original story problem. So you can get the satisfaction of the resolved story or revealed solution, but with unforeseen consequences that start a new story. In a way, it’s a plot reversal–but one that takes place during or because of a story conclusion, rather than somewhere in the middle of the story.

    It’s always a question of what does THIS particular story call for? How can THIS particular story best told? There are some stories where a cliffhanger works; but cliffhangers work in far, far fewer stories than they’re USED.

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  18. Jenny wrote: ” the really dumb thing about that is that if theyโ€™d just kept going and done the first scene in the next season, theyโ€™d have had a great ending. “”

    I agree. Bad cliffhangers are such a commercial cliche, I didn’t even think of this–I just thought, “Oh, a CLIFFHANGER. =YAWN.= I really enjoyed this show until that predictably stupid commercially-required moment.”

    But, you’re right. It would have been a GREAT ending if instead of the tedious “is Moriarty going to kill Holmes?” so-called cliffhanger (and is the sun going to rise in the WEST, folks? not so much, really)… if instead… we had been left wondering for a whole off-season who the hell was the woman whose phone call was more interesting to Moriarity than killing his arch nemesis? What the hell did she tell him?? I’d want to know! I’d definitely come back to find OUT!

    So that’s a great example of how an easy adjustment can totally change (and drastically improve) the ending of an installment in an ongoing series. Or how the wrong choice (ending the scene 60 seconds sooner than it should have ended) can hurt/damage an ending.

    I also think another reason to be very sparing with cliffhangers is that context is so important. When I read Gabaldon’s DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, which I read the week it was first released, I had no idea that there would eventually be a 3rd book (let alone MANY more books) about the same two characters. When reading DRAGONFLY, I thought I was reading a book that -concluded- their story… So I never saw the cliffhanger in that book coming (one which introduces a new story problem) and it was like being knocked off my feed. (In a good way.) But, of course, that cliffhanger’s effect on me was =heavily= influenced by context. If I were instead reading it now, 20+ years later, knowing there’ve been half a dozen more books about thse two characters couple since DRAGONFLY… the cliffhanger that startled me 20+ years ago would be predictable now–perhaps even tedious.

    Context is always going to make a difference with a cliffhanger. If we know the story or the character goes on for 3 more seasons or 8 more books, etc., then we know this situation gets sorted out when we insert the next DVD or open the next book. Which is another reason to use cliffhangers sparingly.

    And a cliffhanger that opens a new story problem will always wear better over time than a “gotcha!” cliffhanger will. Moriarty didn’t kill Sherlock, of course, so that’s just a stupid “gotcha!” at the end of SHERLOCK S1. But if S1 had ended with Moriarity walking away from the stand-off because of the phone call, that would still be a good cliffhanger ending now (albeit no longer tense and mysterious), because it was the start of opening a new story problem (with Irene Adler), one where the ante went very high for Sherlock.

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    1. Absolutely.
      Plus, I maintain that if you’ve done your characters properly, people want to read another book even if you’ve tied off all the ends. They don’t come back to see what happens, they come back to see the characters again.

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    2. You see, I forgave them for the cliffhanger in Sherlock because Doyle did the same when he was trying to kill Holmes off; it seemed true to the original material. We know Moriarty won’t succeed if they’re following the canon, but we know the attempt should lead to a hiatus.

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      1. I think Doyle wanted out of writing Sherlock altogether when he wrote the Falls story, so it’s not exactly a cliffhanger. It’s supposed to be a complete and definite finish. Poor, weak Doyle! Lucky, lucky Sherlock fans (-:.

        But, the cliffhanger in S1 of Sherlock (the BBC TV show) was a terrible cliff-hanger. I was so happy I’d bought both seasons, because that’s a terrible place to leave a reader, and I agree with Laura that they should have wrapped up the story. It was so traumatic, I didn’t watch S2 E3. I’ll wait until S3 comes out (and AFAIK, they aren’t even filming season three yet. Or maybe they just started).

        The more delicious the problem, the more shocking and agonizing it is to be left hanging . . . .

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        1. I must be an outlier. Not cliffhanger tolerant in general, but this one didn’t have me rolling my eyes.

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        2. The cliffhanger in Episode 3, Season 2 wasn’t as bad, but that whole episode broke my heart.
          I want another “Scandal in Belgravia.” That’s amazing storytelling.

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      2. I don’t think Holmes’ death was a cliffhanger. Doyle killed him so he wouldn’t have to write any more stories about him.

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  19. I’m liking this episode idea. And serial stories seem like a win-win for author and reader.

    If you do decide to release your own serials, my vote is for stories that feature the guy in the couch in MTT. He could be the recurrent character with others changing–like if the couch ended up in a B&B or something so there’d be room for some other constant characters but lots of ones just passing through. Could be super fun.

    But I’ve had very similar thoughts about writing. And completely agree re novels. I’m drawn to writing that form too but it can be a long haul and viewing the process in bits can really help. I don’t actually chapter my books until they’re finished. It’s the last step for me. I work well with the three-act movie structure (which I know could be argued is really the four-act one) and pay attention to that rather than chapters. But I see each act as an accomplishment on its own and that helps. Kind of like how you’re taking out walls, one by one. Eventually, it all comes together but it’s a process.

    Also love your distinction between a cliff hanger and a teaser. Exactly right.

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  20. “They donโ€™t come back to see what happens, they come back to see the characters again.”

    I agree with that, too. This is so much the front-and-center reason for the success of most series (not all, but most) that I’m always puzzled by how anyone (writer, editor, producer, marketer) could be so dense as to miss that core issue: Readers (or viewers) get wrapped up in the CHARACTERS.

    This is also at the core of the drive to produce series in fiction now. LOTs of people love a stand-alone book… but don’t remember the author’s name, and/or never try another book by that author, and/or don’t like another book they try by that author and never try him/her again. Because they didn’t get invested in the author when they liked that book, they got invested in the characters in that book.

    Series eliminate a lot of that crap shoot and keep the reader coming back again and again. Because many of them aren’t actually coming back to that author, they’re coming back to those characters. Lots of people aren’t reading Evanovich, Hamilton, Harris, or Gabaldon, they’re reading Stephanie Plum, Anita Blake, Sookie Stackhouse, or Jamie-and-Claire (and those readers also complain if/when these authors write something else, such as a second series, because they’re not reading the author–they’re reading the particular set of characters they’ve become invested in, and they don’t want the author “wasting time” on other characters).

    So, yeah, I think above all, readers come back because they care about the characters, much more than they are about this-or-that clever (or much less-than-clever) cliffhanger.

    In a similar vein, many years ago I read a reprint novel by Ken Follet, of an early book in his career when he’d written a number of little-known suspense novels prior to becoming a bestseller (starting with THE MAN FROM ST PETERSBURG). In the reprint intro, Follet, now a major bestseller, anaylzed why his early books hadn’t done well, despite being, he thought, very cleverly plotted. Looking back, he realized that people didn’t read a novel for clever plotting. Readers don’t MIND clever plotting (and many require it before they’ll declare a novel “good” or recommend it to others), but that’s not what makes a novel work. Readers read to get engaged in the characters, and getting people engaged in the characters is what makes a novel work. His early books, he said, though cleverly plotted, had thin characterization and nothing to make you care about the protagonist. (I read the book, thought he was right, and didn’t bother to read any of the other early works after that, despite being a big Follet fan at the time.)

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  21. Wow! I have that itch in the back of my spine that needs a breakthrough — the sledgehammer kind, or the writing kind. I just want to throw myself into something!

    It’s got to be more fun to play with your book than to rely on the old structures every time. I really need to stop thinking, and start playing (or maybe just taking a good whack or two at things. Angry, furious, pent-up-writing-released).

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