May 1Liked by Simon K Jones

A clear and generous guideline for anyone undertaking serialization or thinking of heading down that path.

You even make it sound like a great deal of fun, for the writer and the readers.

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Serial endings are an interesting topic for me right now because my current project has a lot of starts and endings, with each potential main character having a distinct and complete story. So in effect I've dealt with the whole process in miniature, things are a lot simpler with only six chapters or so though.

But when I think about ending the project in relation to this post, it does feel like closing off on the story that happened to be published last would be a little anti-climatic for how long of a journey it will be. I do like the idea of some sort of little bonus for seeing every story that could work as a grand finale, but it'd have to be in line with fourteen different versions of events. Maybe if it was set just far enough in the future where nobody would mention their placing in their tournament.

There's also the Smash Bros fanfiction I've left abandoned for a while as multi chapter fanfiction tend to end up. On the side I've been working on finally giving it an ending and I have a somewhat clear idea of it, complete with the final scene and line. Just need to get there so people can finally have some closure, I recently got a like on it despite it being dormant for what must be over a year or two at this point.

That fanfiction was an interesting serialization process actually, because it's based around new characters for the latest Smash Bros game, which I started when the game was first announced. So I very much have written around things out of my control. Gives DLC announcements a new tension when you know you're going to have to write a chapter for whoever the new character is, and potentially have to do research on yet another game series you haven't played.

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This is wonderful, thank you! I've been thinking about starting a serial, but haven't worked out all the kinks for writing a successful one. Plenty of guidance here!

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Very interesting. Thank you. On the 'dark dismal middle', as she calls it, I find Deborah Chester in THE FANTASY FICTION FORMULA to be very helpful.

Here's how I do it (since you asked!): I think I am going for the long game with my serial! I have 100,000 words currently published online, which is my season/volume 1, and also effectively my rising action (though it has its own subplot with its own smaller rising action, naturally).

I have recently finished drafting season/volume 2, and that ran to about 120,000 words so I have about 220,000 words total so far. This is the start of the dark dismal middle. But actually I am loving it, so really it is the bright, wonderful middle (at least to me. But certainly not for the characters)!

At the moment, I have plans for 10 seasons total, so that would hit about 1,000,000 words if I keep going at this ratio. In fact my whole serial was partly started in response to reading a line in an intro to a book of famous short stories that in the digital age there is nothing to stop someone releasing a million word novel! Why not?

I could even go to 12 seasons I reckon if my serial ever picked up popularity and was enjoyed by someone other than myself, like a very successful TV show!

Or maybe this is all hubris and I will crash out and burn by book 4, or something!

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May 1Liked by Simon K Jones

Great tips, Simon.

Did you already have a feel for how long Triverse would be before you started?

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Never apologize for your word count.

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Sticking the landing is always the hardest bit. So far you're three for three on bringing good closure. Heavy praise, indeed. Even our beloved Babylon 5 stumbled in s5... Of course JMS had to compress some of s4 to wrap up the Earth Civil War, but that meant he had to stretch s5 and we get too much Byron and FOUR episodes of characters saying goodbye... But, man, that section up to and around "The Fall of Centauri Prime" is good!

You have an advantage as a writer over the TV shows you used as a point of comparison. You don't have to deal with actors. Maybe an actor quits or dies or is fired... Well, that's a re-jigger.

"How I Met your Mother" is a unique example. EVERYONE hated the ending, but the problem was it had been plotted out and committed to during the first two season of the show and the kids bits were all filmed in advance so they didn't age a decade while Ted rambled on and on. There was no way for the writers to change the ending! (Of course in 2023 with AI face replacement and voices today they actually could - if it was in the budget...)

Still. Planning is certainly key. We'll look at "Lost" for a minute. After the episode about how some guy got his tattoos the writers arranged a set amount of episodes so they could start wrapping things up. They still crashed and burned... Now, this is because of Damon Lindelof. He's terrible. I heard a radio interview with JJ Abrams during Lost s3 where he mentioned he'd written a five-year plan (and consulted JMS). Abrams noted when Lindelof became showrunner he tossed Abrams plan and started doing his own thing. Abrams said of s3 LOST, "I have no idea what's going on or where it's headed, but I'm having fun watching."

But it's Lindelof - you know he was fired from his Star Wars project? I wonder why. Let's quote him:

“[Star Wars] was the alpha and the omega. It’s the first movie I saw in a movie theater. I love all of the storytelling in that world. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Or again, again, try, as Yoda would say.”

Um. Damon, the quote is "Do, or do not. There is no 'try.'"

Yeah, when you don't know the basics about your "alpha and omega" of storytelling, you need to find another career.

Anyway, enough slagging on the no-talent guy whose entire career is a mystery. Back to structuring an ending.

The problems with endings often come down to audience expectations. Phase 1 gives a new playground Phase 2, if it's done right, leads to speculation - on Triverse you're getting public guesses from me, because it's genuinely among the best feedback I can give. You get a sample pool of one (hopefully growing now comments are opened up) to see if hints, foreshadowing or misdirections are landing. Things which should feed back into the writing process and allow you to adjust if something isn't working or grin if it is.

But Phase 3 - the ending - has to tie off enough threads for a conclusion. Hopefully you've lead the audience where you want them. An ending that's too obvious from ten chapters out is unsatisfying for a reader - why stick with it if you've got it all figured out? Last minute twists can lose the audience. Introducing a new character or wrinkle in the endgame can "WTF?" the ending.

Let's look at "Tartuffe, here." Moliare's biting satire is utterly neutered by his politically expedient ending of, "Also the King is awesome, very smart, knew what was going on the entire time, and this asshole is under arrest." If the playwright didn't have a real worry of being arrested I'm sure Tartuffe would have gotten away with everything and the play would end with a sad family.

Crap, I showed my literary roots there.

The there's the danger of going so far off audience expectations they feel betrayed by the ending. Again, "How I Met your Mother." The Ted/Robin relationship became toxic and the late season decision to pair Robin with Barney was a surprise hit. So breaking up Robin and Barney for Robin and Ted, offscreen, in the last five minutes of ten seasons just pissed off the audience.

Gotta be careful with the ambiguous ending. "Sopranos," anyone?

The final advantage you have over other serialized entertainment - TV and comics - is YOU CAN'T BE CANCELLED. That can lead to the rushed/desperation ending if you find out you're cancelled near the end of your season. The final episode of the original "Quantum Leap" wasn't intended as a series ender. They tried... There was a last minute reshoot to have Sam leap back and fix things so Al's true love doesn't think he's dead. It's a fantastic effort, but it changes the Al we'd known for five years. If Beth never moves on while Al is POW in 'Nam, then Al never becomes a heavy drinking womanizer. We get the "awww" but never see how it plays out... Just some text cards, ending with "Doctor Beckett never returned home."

Could be worse. Cancelation between seasons leads to NO ending. In the age of streaming its made it harder to find an audience, both from the sheer volume of shows and the high probability one will fizzle and die.

Anyways, after the last three I have high confidence you'll bring Triverse to a satisfying conclusion. You may not tie off every thread with a bow, but you'll resolve the big things.

As long as there's a Sally epilog. 😏

Finally, there's the George Carlin. As he once said:

"I don't have an ending for this bit, so instead I'll take a small bow.(1)

(1) this was a lot of words. Sorry about that.

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Just finished watching all seasons of How I Met Your Mother. One episode a night, 3-5 a week. Took a long time, maybe a year. It’s phase 3 is a good counter-example capped by a final show that’s an exclamation point.

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