Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Series vs. Ology vs. Stand-Alone; Writing Differences (pt 1)

Earlier, Lyda and I both talked a bit about our preferences as far as writing and reading series books vs stand-alones, but it occurs to me that there's something to be said about the writing mechanics as well. This is something I've had to think about with the WebMage books. Originally WebMage was a stand-alone. I was done and I moved on to the next book. But when it sold it became a duology with an opening to become a series if the first two did well.

Writing the three different kinds of books makes for a different process.

WebMage the stand-alone: I originally tried to tie up all the loose ends. Since there wasn't going to be any more story, I owed it to my readers to leave them at a stopping place where they could imagine more stuff happening to the characters, but they wouldn't be worried about them. Really, I think that last is a big part of the essence of successfully concluding a story. It doesn't have to be happily ever after, but the road to the light at the end of the tunnel has to be visible.

WebMage the duology: One of the biggest and smartest suggestions my editor (the wonderful Anne Sowards) made when she bought the pair of books from me was to telescope the romance, so that it's not happily ever after at the end of book one, which is more or less where I left it originally. The romantic tension between Cerice and Ravirn is a significant driver of Ravirn's internal story and that would have been lost for book two if I'd ignored Anne's suggestion. That tension also gave me a good place to open Cybermancy, of which I will say no more before its release.

I'm going to break the post here because the stuff on WebMage the series is easily as long as all of this combined. I'll leave you with a couple of paraphrased quotes. My friend Dave beta-read CodeSpell (III) for me. At the end he asked me "What's the purpose of the epilogue?" I was just opening my mouth to expound on that when his daughter cut in with "Dad, duh. It depends on what you're writing. If its the last book in the story it's to wrap up loose ends. If there are more, it's to set up the next book." To which I responded, "What she said."

Updated to reflect a correction to the epilogue exchange-see comments. Thanks for the heads-up, Dave and my apologies for the error.
Update P.S. Dave's comment has convinced me that I'm going to have to write a front page post in defense of epilogues.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? What is the purpose of an Epilogue?


Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, the question I asked before getting abused by a smart-assed little girl, was: "What's the purpose of THE epilogue?" referring specifically to the one you included in CodeSpell. It was a hostile question, meant to convince you to remove the thing.

I felt my job as a reader, was to evaluate and respond to the novel at hand, and I don't think that any book is made better by the inclusion of an epilogue. Either its nothing more than a marketing tool for the next book (smart-ass scenario #2)which destroys whatever resolution you've just created.

Or, in the context of an ongoing series, the need to "wrap up the loose ends" seems more a result of careless writing. Shit, hopefully your careful beta-readers would point out your loose ends for you to either include in the story, if they are important, or excise, if they aren't worth including.

Either way, the epilogue is a distraction. And for some of us, an irritation.


Kelly McCullough said...

Mea Culpa, Dave. You always provide me with a fabulous beta-read and no dissing was intended. Apparently I misunderstood you at the time. That may in part be because of the interjection of said smart-assed and smart daughter. I still think she had a point. I personally like epilogues. I think that in both situations they can be quite good for a novel, allowing the reader to get a view of the story from beyond the veil of the pellmell climax. Actually, now that I start thinking about it, I guess I'm going to have to write a much more extensive response and front page it. If you want to write a counter-post to show me the error of my ways, I'd be happy to front page that as well.

Tim Susman said...

I had a discussion on epilogues with someone, or read it somewhere... anyway, I like epilogues too. I think an epilogue shouldn't be used to wrap up plot points (and if they are, then whatever it is that is called an "epilogue" isn't--that's another matter), but I do think they give the reader a sense of the place of the story in the larger world. The end of the story should be the end of the plot and character arc, but allowing the reader to see the characters relaxing when the hurly-burly's done really gives them a sense that life goes on beyond the story they've just read. (I think I read someone's take on it as giving the reader a chance to catch his/her breath with the characters.) A lot of people (me included) like that feeling, because it implies that the world doesn't end with the story. And yes, you can use it to set up the next story, but often just extending the world allows more stories to flow naturally.

So in a technical sense, yeah, usually an epilogue is distracting fluff, unnecessary when the story's done. But I like that kind of fluff sometimes, both in my reading and in my writing.

ryan v said...

I've never thought too much about epilogues. I haven't found too many of them in a while, except in McAuley's Eternal Light, and I'm not sure if that book included one of them, either. :D

Prologues often irritate me way more. ;)

Calenhíril said...

The organizer of my writing group adamantly detests prologues and epilogues. He considers them a waste of writing and usually not necessary. And if they are necessary, the prologue should be a chapter and not something tacked onto the beginning, same with an epilogue.

I don't mind them, myself. Sometimes they feel like a cop-out, like the author didn't have time to actually write out the ending or a stellar first chapter and they just summarized a bit or did an info dump. But there are a couple of series where the ending is always an epilogue, setting up a cliffhanger that makes me close the book and say, wow. I love those books.

And Kelly, I just want to say, I attended one of your panels at Archon and finally found myself a copy of WebMage, and I really like it. Congrats on a great book and a nifty premise. Can't wait to see what's next!

MariAdkins said...

"Dad, duh. It depends on what you're writing. If its the last book in the story it's to wrap up loose ends. If there are more, it's to set up the next book." To which I responded, "What she said."

:snicker: I like that.

In all four of my Harlan books, I have both prologues and epilogues. I've not had one complaint about them, either - I've even had readers tell me, "But they belong there!" The prologues provide valuable backstory, and the epilogues act as bridges between the stories...

Kelly McCullough said...

Calenhíril, first, thanks for the kind words on WebMage. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Also thanks for stopping by. I'm going into epilogues and prologues in greater detail over the next couple of days, so I won't hit them too much here but I will say two things.

1. Hard rules about writing are generally a bad idea–note how I didn't make that a hard rule ;-). The process of interaction with story works differently for every writer and every reader, so saying something of the nature of x=bad is a great way to deny oneself a potentially valuable writing tool. I think your organizer may be pointing a gun at his own foot with that.

2. I use prologues quite often. I just tend to write them in the same style as the main book and label them "chapter one" so that those who have a knee-jerk anti-prologue reaction don't end up complaining on principal rather than merit.

MariAdkins said...

label them "chapter one"


Kelly McCullough said...

It's amazing how well this has worked on a couple of occasions. I usually do it because important information about the story happens in significant detail outside the main time sequence. For example, with the Black School I had a very short first chapter set a number of years before the action of the book which takes place over about a week. It was all information that was critical to understanding the world and the story and it was all shown from the main character's point of view. I could have sprinkled all the information from the scene into the book in flashback, but would taken three times the text and it would have robbed it of the impact of immediacy.

MariAdkins said...

That's how I feel about my prologues -- I don't want to info dump or sprinkle the information that's there elsewhere...

I usually do it because important information about the story happens in significant detail outside the main time sequence.

Exactly. For example, the events in my fourth prologue all take place over a 64 year period...:headwall: