Hi, gang. Craig with you again, and it’s confession time. Sometimes I free write these posts and that’s what you’re getting today. I’ve just been on an extensive blog tour, (My third this year) and in writing those posts it occurred to me some things are relevant here.
First we need a caution. I’m a big believer in the rules. Character arc, interesting setting, three act structure. These are the staples of good fiction, and you’re well advised to stick with them… except when it’s time to break the rules. Since that is coming into play here, maybe this is a bit more advanced post, but we try to have something for everyone.
I’ve been promoting an open ended series. Some will call this a serial, but that doesn’t work for me. These are not one big book that’s been published in weekly sections. These are individual stories about the same main characters participating in new adventures.
You all know that I like film and television for my examples, so these might be more like Murder She Wrote, or the James Bond films.
Most of this didn’t occur to me until the third volume, and a few storyboards into the future, but some of the rules don’t apply here. In fact they can be detrimental.
Let’s start with setting. Since my series is kind of an urban fantasy, I don’t have to get too descriptive as compared to science fiction or fantasy. We’ve all seen a city or the country as the scene demands. I save my descriptive bits for specific places in the stories. It isn’t like I have two moons, or a low gravity planet here that might require a bit more. That’s fairly easy to address. Might work in your genres, too.
Three act structure is still my friend, with some limitations. This might be just me, but these stories are targeted to that no-man’s-land that I’ve named noveloids. Too short to be a novel, but too long to be a short story. Because of that, I’ve tried to shorten up the acts. This has been a learning curve, but it seems to be working. I still like a “day in the life” as my main characters appear, but I’m not delving into their deep history. My third act is shorter, but more high-octane, if you know what I mean.
The big one is character arc. This surprised me, because I love a good character arc. Conquering those inner demons in order to solve the major plot points really works for me. However, in this series, it’s almost a detriment.
Think about it. I need my characters to have ongoing adventures. Things like “Happily Every After,” will kill the series. I need them to be the same age, so romantic attachments and children would mess the future tales up. I don’t want eight-month pregnant Lizzie chasing an axe murderer through the graveyard. (Might be interesting, but think about how it changes future stories.)
I still want some emotional issues that anchor readers to the stories. I try to weave in more of the daily stress and the risk involved with being monster hunters in the first place. I have one storyboarded that will lead to a mental breakdown. Paying the bills, hangovers, and automotive upkeep are things my readers can relate to.
This doesn’t mean I can’t have a sexual encounter, a false pregnancy, or put someone on probation. This brings emotional stress for the characters to deal with, but doesn’t change the overall timbre (a word for Marcia to collect) of the stories.
There are successful projects without a character arc, but approach writing these with caution. If you think about Inspector Clouseau, he started out an idiot, remained an idiot, and was an idiot even in the denouement phase of the story. I admit his slapstick antics probably work better in film than on the page. With that in mind, I’ll note Conan the Barbarian. He’s always Conan and never really changes too much. Then again, Conan was an open ended series much like I’m writing.
These open ended series don’t get a lot of attention in writing blogs. I hope we remedied some of that today. They’re still writing, they apply to authors, but they differ from stand-alone books, trilogies, or close-ended series. In some ways, they’re more like comic books or soap operas. Some of those have earned a lot of money over the years.
I’m going back to the caution. Break the rules at your peril. If you do, make sure you have a good reason. There are reasons, but they deserve some deep thought before you get 50,000 words into your projects.
How about it, gang? Do you like open-ended series? Would you ever consider writing one yourself?