Rant over modern series writing

(Sarah is a cuckoo—a breed of human-looking cryptid that’s biologically more like a giant wasp than any sort of primate, and telepathic to boot. Evolution is funky sometimes.)

Excerpt From: Seanan McGuire. “Midnight Blue-Light Special.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/midnight-blue-light-special/id592216584?mt=11

So, at the moment, I’m rereading Midnight Blue-Light Special.  And it made me have to say something about why I don’t read a lot of newer series.

There are 3 fundamental approaches to series.

The Discworld Model:

This is for series like Bernie Rhodenbarr, the Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown mysteries, Discworld, Mithgar, and similar.  In these (and Mithgar is, quite possibly, the most amazingly perfect example) the books stand alone.  There’s little reference to the prior events, or they’re referenced in off-hand manner if relevant to the moment in the same way you or I will make off-hand references to our own pasts.  Other than that the book of the moment is pretty thoroughly divorced from the books before and after.  You can literally pick up at any point in the series and not be missing anything besides the fun of the other books … which you can just pick up and enjoy as you go.

The Serial Model:

This is the classic Book 1, Book 2, etc model.  This is Now & Forever, this is Harry Potter, this is – frankly – most series.  This is “To Be Continued” through to “The End”.  Sometimes you can muddle through if you pick up part way in.  Harry PotterLittle House, and others aren’t nonsense if you pick up later than the beginning, but it helps.  Well … Little House might be more of a Discworld Model, now I think of it, but humour me.

The thing with these is that you write them assuming that the person reading book 2 read book 1.  If you write something that was explained in book 1 you don’t explain it again, you move on because you’re not worried about confusing anyone because they read book 1 or bloody well best have done.

The Modern Model:

This is one I really don’t like.  I’ve read things, namely InCryptid, that use it.  But it annoys the hell out of me and the stories have to be very good for me to let it slide and keep going … or you have to not do a very good job of it, thus begging the question of why the author bothered instead of sticking with the Serial Model (possibly the actual case with InCryptid … I’m not actually 100% certain).

In this you try to do the bastardisation of the Discworld Model and the Serial Model.  Your books are very “to be continued”, and rely heavily on what came before, but you try to accommodate the ones who are coming in a bit late.  Now, some series are a blending of these. Mithgar has Serials (duologies, trilogies, etc) tossed in amongst the larger tapestry of things.  Shannara too.  But series of Serials is a whole other kettle of popcorn.

I don’t like this one as a reader, nor as a writer.  It’s this philosophy that your Serial should be accessible to any and sundry who walk in 5min before the closing credits.  That really doesn’t work.  You have to insert little obnoxious infodumps that irritate those who have been there since the curtain went up, and unless you want to make your books exponentially thicker by basically reprinting the prior book into the following books –building them into an omnibus edition as you go – you’re going to annoy the mid-streamer who is like “well, she explained this, but why doesn’t she explain that?!”

There.  Was I going anywhere with this?

No, not especially.  Just saying that I don’t grok the modern method of serialising and it irritates me when I encounter it.  All the other crap about the other 2 methods was to illustrate what I meant.  Now, back to the book; it has Aeslin Mice in 😍

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Goodbye Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett enjoying a Guinness at honorar...I honestly don’t know what to say about Terry Pratchett‘s death.  So much for he and Neil ever getting together and doing a Good Omens sequel.  No more Rincewind, no more Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching.  The Luggage has moved on, and so many more.

Scott Lynch managed something articulate and good to say.  I’ll settle for reblogging that here:

I was surprised by my own mild reaction when I woke today and saw the first of many subtle tweets about Terry, though I guessed immediately what they meant. I was surprised by just how many of those tweets were also some flavor of subtle or mild or restrained. I didn’t see many all-caps primal screams or 140-character duets for Emoji and exclamation point.

Of course, I peer out at the universe through a knothole as tiny as anyone else’s and the plural of “Twitter stream anecdote” is surely not “data,” nor even a distant relation to data, nor even a part-time and barely convincing cosplay of data.

And yet I think there’s something natural and inevitable about this quiet reaction. It’s not merely that we’ve all known for some time that Terry had to be passing soon, that we’ve been forced to think about it, that he had the chance to say so much about it.

When some people die, they leave the rest of us with a sense that they’ve packed their words and warmth and hauled them along like luggage for the trip, that we can never hear from them again. Terry gave us so much of himself, though, so damned MUCH– seventy books, just for starters, and a world and its inhabitants that might as well be a religion for millions. A good religion, a useful religion. The sort where there’s always a little golden light flickering behind one of the church windows at any hour of the night, so you know there’s someone there to talk to you about anything, and they won’t have locked the doors. They won’t even have put locks on the doors. Some asshole suggested putting locks on the doors once, many years ago, and everyone else in the church carried that person out of town and threw them into a pond. That’s a Terry Pratchett sort of church. That’s a Terry Pratchett book. And he walled us in with them. He stacked them high all around us, and they’re all him, they’re all still here, and they’re going to be here so very long after you and I and everyone else reading this have gone off for a last walk WITH THE ONLY PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE WHO SPEAKS NATURALLY IN ALL CAPS AND WE DON’T REALLY MIND AT ALL, IT’S JUST THE WAY THINGS HAVE TO BE.

Terry Pratchett can die, and fuck everything for that sentence. Fuck those four words. I am feeling the cracks starting to appear in me now. I’ve lost the mildness and quiet I had this morning. But here’s the point. Terry Pratchett can die, but he can never go away. (Continued here)

Chapters

Well, another topic that interested me turned up.  So, here we go.

Chapters.  How long should they be?

Oh my, oh honey, no.  That would be one of those silly “writing rules” that are such a terrible travesty of the creative process.  Forget should.

Now, that said, I’m going to tell you how long a chapter should be:  as long as it needs to be.

I say that a lot, don’t I?  Should a character be gay?  If they’re gay, yes.  Should I write in English or French?  Which do you prefer?

The only rule of writing is:

a) write
b) use proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, and so forth except when you need not to.  Never ignore them out of laziness or ignorance.
c) openly, deliberately, and consciously violate the laws of reality.  Doing so out of ignorance won’t do.  That’s not to say you should become a master locksmith to make up a lock for your burglar series, but rather that you should realise you know nothing of locks and thus deliberately make it up.  Know thyself whenst thou writeth.

What does this have to do with how long to make a chapter?  That’s the point.  How long a chapter is is only as relevant as it needs to be, as with most aspects of writing.

Really, just ask the lovely gentlemen of Oxford:

noun

  • 1a main division of a book, typically with a number or title:we will deal with this in chapter eleven
  •  an Act of Parliament numbered as part of a session’s proceedings.
  •  a section of a treaty:a majority voted for the inclusion of the social chapter in the treaty
  • 2a distinctive period in history or in a person’s life:the people are about to begin a new chapter in their history
  •  a series or sequence:the latest episode in a chapter of problems
  • 3the governing body of a religious community or knightly order:land granted by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

See?  No defined length.  

There’s nothing even dictating one must have chapters.  Look at the fantastic Sir Terry Pratchett.  True, his YA Discworld books have chapters, but that’s at the behest of his YA publisher.  He’d not have them otherwise and has said so.

Oh, but Jaye, you’re one to talk your own chapters are absurdly long!  Well, okay, yes they are.  I have my methods.  I seriously considered not using chapters, but I decided that they made the story more manageable for both writing and reading if it had chapters and I agonised, at times, over where to break them.  I hope that, by and large, I’ve done well on that point.

Still, as with any aspect of storytelling, the length of a chapter should be natural.  Don’t put parameters of word count or page count to it or you’ll find yourself breaking your parameters often in order not to break in awkward places — or, worse, following them too rigidly indeed and breaking in those terribly awkward places.  A chapter break goes where a chapter break goes to you — where you feel is a good place to close this, oh look a cliché (actually an idiom, but too many authors and readers alike are fuzzy on the distinction), chapter of the plot (expression seem familiar?  “This chapter of my life” help?).  When in doubt, ask yourself where, in a movie, there would be a nice dissolve, or in TV where a commercial break would fit comfortably and you’ll be on a fair track.