May 1, 2023Liked 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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Ha, thanks, Caz! Really glad that I made it seem 'fun'. That wasn't deliberate, but I do find it hugely rewarding as a creative pursuit. When people talk about writing being an agonising process, I always think...."but it's so exciting!" I think a big part of that is the way in which I write and publish.

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May 1, 2023Liked by Simon K Jones

It's absolutely reflected in your fiction, the excitement and the joy of story telling, that's a talent in itself.

So is the fact that you have a whole schematic for how to make serialization work well. (I love the on and off ramp metaphor for readers, so apt.)

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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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That's an interesting conundrum, having to provide a definitive ending to what is primarily an anthology. Perhaps, as you say, a final story that binds them together in some way, or which exists slightly outside of the rules/structure of the rest of the series?

I find fanfiction interesting, especially when the source is something like a video game. Several times now I've almost dabbled in fan fiction, but based very specifically on games with a procedural element. The game FTL, for example, is a Star Trekkish strategy game with a fair amount of random events thrown in. There aren't any characters as such and the story is very light, but I've pondered making it into a short series with each episode dictated entirely by the random events of an ongoing playthrough - complete with crew dying, or being entirely defeated. I like the challenge of trying to construct a story around that unpredictable plot: a game delivering the main events, and me trying to make sense of it through character and narrative.

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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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Glad it's helpful! It's surprising how much you can figure out along the way.

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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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That sounds fantastic! As you say, there's no real reason to be limited to a traditional book length. And if you make it possible for readers to jump on at various points (Rather than having to go from the start), it should continue to build and build over time.

Something I've realised over the years is that every chapter of an online novel is potentially a mini-book launch, and another opportunity to reach new readers. With an ebook or paperback, you only get that chance once, really.

My only fear with a project of that magnitude would be the writer falling out of love with it. I loved every moment of writing The Mechanical Crown, which came to about 250,000 words, but I was also glad to be finished and able to start on something else.

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Yes I've been interested in your thoughts about how to make it possible for readers to jump on at various points. One thing you suggested is to not have numbers for the episodes. But I'm not sure how to do that now because my serial is also serialised as a podcast and the episode numbers are all recorded into those...

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May 1, 2023Liked 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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Only very roughly. I thought it'd be a bit shorter than it's turning out to be, I reckon. The unpredictable factor this time round was the procedural detective structure. The length of the book is partially dictated by how many of those individual stories I want to do, and that's where the phase 2 middle flexes a bit.

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Gotcha, makes sense. 🕵️‍♀️

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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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Yes, good point. A big part of me pivoting to writing novels (or serials) and moving away from filmmaking was precisely because of this. I needed a simpler medium that didn't require insanely complex logistical arrangements of cast and crew.

The cast always show up on time for Triverse, they know their lines, and they're not drunk.

Well, except Nisha.

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Yet Nisha still knows her lines or at least improvises in the bounds of the situation.

But I do getcha. A big part of my moving away from film and theater was increasing annoyance with others. Hell, for the last five years of my involvement in Orange County theater I was just audio design. I basically needed a director's meeting then I'd go do my own thing, but even getting the director's meeting was like pulling teeth.

Here I stress a point about Orange County black box theater. Almost no one made any money at all. I was one of the very few people in the entire community who was paid. Actors were free. I was $500 per show (boy, that month I did eight shows was good for my bank account! In theory. Read on.) Now, usually I'd donate most of that back to the theater. The pay was largely about establishing a pay scale for other work, but I'd still keep $100 to $200 or so, depending on how many CDs I needed to buy in the late 90's to 2005... Costume, set designers were volunteers only a few lighting guys could get paid. And me. This is setup.

I did a production of "The Importance of Being Ernest," where the script prepped for me was given to the costume designer. First, costumes can use any script while I need one with a matching page count to the Stage Manager. Second, costumes lived with one of the actors. "Just borrow Jason's script for a night, Darcy!"

We get to first tech.

"Sound is all ready to go, right?"

"No, Brian. I haven't started building yet."

"What? What are we paying you for?!"

"Well, Brian, you ditched on all our meetings and you gave my script to Darcy."

"Well you can use any script..."

"No. DARCY can use any script. I don't have your cuts and I need to match the Stage Manager so when she says, 'skip to page 30 where Mrs. Malaprop says..,' I am literally on the same page!"

"Well, I just have scene change music and a couple of spot cues."

"I don't know what the spot cues are. You haven't told me. Would you like to have a tone meeting, so I know the energy you want on the transitions?"

*Director grunts and gets me a script - DARCY'S - and we have a tone meeting and find out the spot cues (the show had been moved to the 1960's and door knocks had been replaced with doorbells, which would be impossible to anticipate without being TOLD! Plus, what kind of doorbell do you want? Something buzzy? A classic 'DING-dong?' something else? Knowing if the director wants something fast paced or slow paced AT MINIMUM for scene change music helps. Is everything 60's? Do you want 30's or 40's music for older characters? Instrumentals or tracks with vocals? Maybe there's a reason you meet with your audio designer. Especially if you're paying him. In this case, because I'd had no tone meetings I'd bought a hell of a lot more music than I normally would have to be prepared.*

(Director walks on stage) "Sorry for the delay guys, our sound designer is being unprofessional..."

"EXCUSE ME!" *Here was a profane rant from the sound designer, at volume, detailing all of the above, ending with* "Unprofessional is leaving your sound designer hanging then blaming him for your incompetence! You will FUCKING apologize right now and I will have your design built before tonight's rehearsal ends, or I will quit the show RIGHT now and pull the mixer, minidisc decks, CD player, PCM mics, cables, stands and speakers I have donated to this production without charge and refund your money, or leave the gear, which is $500 to rent. Your choice."

And THAT, my friend, was the second to last time I did anything in Orange County theater. From that point my demand was" $1000, and I'm keeping it," to deliberately price myself out of being asked.

The last time was a fundraiser 18 months later doing semi staged readings of the first radio series of "The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy." I absolutely LOVE H2G2 and volunteered to the relief of the theater, who's producer said to me, "Thank God you volunteered. After what happened at 'The Muck' (Ernest), we didn't think we could get you, and I dont really know anyone else who could pull this off."

But, yeah, that was my final theater straw. Since 2005 I've done all of two short films involving others and shifted into event video and post work.

It's a bit of a shame because sound design work - getting to create and mix new sounds or soundscapes from scratch, not just pulling elements from CDs or digital downloads - is actually a lot of fun. But, damn, other people can be annoying. I have much of the actual work from 20-30 years ago and I'm still happy with most of my results. PROUD of a lot of it, but when I think back to the actual productions most of my memories of being on site and dealing with actors and directors are of being annoyed and pissed off. Except for Jessica Beane who was the only director in eight years who got me my script 8 weeks ahead of tech, had an immediate and thorough tone/cue meeting and scheduled follow ups during the process, so I had time to refine things rather than having to go with a first draft design. "Wuthering Heights" is a LOT of rain, but it was very nuanced rain by mood and location.

Wow, this comment digressed. I throw Laura under the bus. If I'm commenting and she asks me to do things for her mid-type, my brain keeps mulling things which come out of my thumbs.

Anyways, the Wuthering Heights was a pain for music until, driving home one night listening to NPR radio at 2am this beautiful piece of music comes on. I'm entranced. This will be my Heathcliffe/Catherine theme! I'm driving, muttering, "please let this be the last song before the break and the DJ tells me what this is. It was, he did. Four Ann Trio CDs became my soundtrack, and the director, Heathcliffe and Catherine loved this music as much as I did. It literally changed their performances in tech week - for the better...

Years later I discovered this was a cover of a David Bowie song. Here's five minutes of beauty to reward you for getting to the end of the comment.


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A few days ago our discussion veered into audio work I'd done on Henry V and Dracula - and them using B5/Crusade music.

Dracula was another Jessica Beane directed show while Henry V was her husband John Beane. The two directors who CONSISTENTLY got me scripts early and had tone meetings months before tech. They got my best work.

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Bringing up Abrams and Star Wars in the same comment makes me think about the Star Wars sequel trilogy and how badly that ended up going in my opinion. Felt like each movie was fighting against the last one. It's important to actually build up on what is in the story, not effectively apologize for half of the prior narrative.

Your point about Tartuffe makes me think of A Doll's House by Ibsen, where he had to write an alternate ending that undercut the whole story due to outrage.

Few things are more sad writing wise than sequel hooks and cliffhangers for sequels that never happen.

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The Star Wars sequels are an interesting example. I'd say they actually did Phase 1 and Phase 2 pretty well, relating them back to my post. It's Phase 3 where it went really wrong. Not so much in its specific execution - the production quality is top notch and it's generally entertaining - but in its core structure. The Emperor's return was the ultimate Chekhov's Gun, and they forgot to mention it at any point.

The Mandalorian is attempting to retroactively introduce the Gun, but it feels very forced and after-the-fact.

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There are only THREE Star Wars movies and only ONE Highlander film!

In seriousness, while it's arguable the core issue in the Star Wars sequels was the utter lack of a plan going in, it's also true that, despite Lucas's claims, there was no plan for the original trilogy, either. I had the original 1977 Star Wars trading cards. Luke was 18, Leia was 21. Not twins.

Lucas was just able to fake it better because he held control over the the story and didn't let Richard Marquand decide to spend half of ROTJ undoing what Kirchner did in ESB.

For Disney's vaunted "corporate oversight," they don't actually do a good job.

Except canning Lindelof. That's always a winning move.

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Yeah, the sequels feel like different creatives having a scrap, rather than a single creator changing their mind a bit.

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They were! Rian Johnson was open about his desire to move in a different direction than Abrams and Abrams was just as open saying he was trying to undo changes Johnson made.

Nothing like a $300 million dollar slap-fight! Only in Hollywood...

Never did see "Rise of Skywalker." After reading spoilers I'm glad. I made the right choice. Johnson's movie was bad enough, but at least it was a bold failure. I mean bringing Phaama back from the dead to kill her off one minute later... Classic! Making Finn unlikeable? Brilliant! Chewie and the Porgs? My GOD what a masterclass in pandering to soft toy manufacturers!

"The Last Jedi" was good for Ireland. County Kerry brings in cash from all the Star Wars tourists heading to Skellig Michael.

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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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