I’m Dying To Know!

I’m sitting here wondering what to blog of next that I’m excited about, but all I can focus on are these damn questions. Inquiries, issues, wonderings, spinning around in my head, turning my thought-factory to neuron sludge. Before they burst out of my forehead and ruin a perfectly good electronic equipment, I’m handing them over to qualified folks who know their stuff.

So here’s to you awesome guys and gals. What say you?

 

Nummer eins

1. What do you prefer in trilogies or series — if the books are stand-alones with common elements (such as some characters or the setting), or if they’re parts of an overall plot, individual stories that work together to form a bigger picture?

I’ve read both kinds, and am pretty much fond of both, but I find that as I get close to the ending of my WIP (which is book nรบmero uno in a trilogy) I’m increasingly preoccupied with the number and size of the threads I have to link it to the next book. How many of them is too few, how many too many, what’s a decent thread size, and why is there no simple answer? Hah. But really, I’d love to know how you guys feel about this issue in genre series, since my current desires in this matter cloud my objectivity.

 

Numรฃrul doi

2. What’s your take on chapter titles? When and why do they work, or ruin the story? Do you use them yourself?

I wrote a lotta poetry before I started writing prose, so I see titles as somewhat of an art. But I’ve read novels where the titles were more or less spoilers of the chapters to come and completely ruined the tension. Or they were so damn silly they ripped me right out of the story. Novels with awesome chapter titles are fairly rare. On the other hand, a novel’s table of contents reading Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Fifty… isn’t particularly helpful or aesthetic either.

Based on your reading experiences, what did you enjoy more, no titles or which titles?

 

And ultimately, Nรบmero tres

3. Do you wish you were your protagonist?

I’m dying to know this bit of info about you and your work. All and any possible answers will soothe my curiosity.

And not to be selfish, here’s my own answer: No. I don’t wish I were my protagonist, not the least bit, not in a thousand years. I would love to watch her story in a huge 5D IMAX cinema though. Or download it into my brain to replay at will. With a huge panic button, and serious amounts of ice cream within reach.

 

So what’s your opinion, your advice, your thoughts on these matters? Send me your intricate brainwaves! Or, you know, post them in the comments. Which ever is easier.

 

18 Replies to “I’m Dying To Know!”

  1. I’m clearly all of my characters. No question. Glad I am.

    I love chapter titles. I think the trick is to keep them ambiguous. My examples are song titles. They represent the song and add a layer to the song but the song stands on its own. Same for chapters. Imagine if the song titles on an album were song 1, song 2, song 3, song 4, etc, etc. I think the same for chapter titles.

    Oh, and as far as the trilogy or series question, I really think the first book should bleed into the second and then the third has to restart and, not stand alone, but there has to be a real reason for it. Maybe it’s told in the same tone but in a slightly different way. Maybe the characters have changed so much from the beginning of the first book to the end of the second that you have to simply tell the story differently. That’s what I prefer.

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    1. Thanks for your answers, Aronald!

      Yup, chapter titles do sound / look way better than numbers, but I wonder… won’t they maybe be distracting if the chapters are short, for example?

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  2. My favorite type of trilogy/series is one where each novel has it’s own plot and feels like a stand-alone, but when the whole series is read, larger themes and character arcs emerge so that each novel in the series/each resolved main conflict contributes to the whole in a way which isn’t immediately obvious to someone who hasn’t read all of the novels. Does that make sense? The Dresden Files are a perfect example of what I mean ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. That makes perfect sense, A.K., thanks!

      I think that’s also the toughest type of series to write, where readers can just read any of the books and it makes sense, but reading the whole series makes another, bigger sense as well.

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  3. 1. I like both kind of series – though I feel more freedom NOT to have to keep reading with companion type books.

    2. I only like chapter headings when they weave their own type of story. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    3. No, I don’t want to be my protagonist – she’s a teenager and I never want to go back to that time in my life. I’d rather write for teens than be a teen.

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    1. Headings, titles, maybe quotes at the start of each chapter or additional information… all those snippets spinning their own story, or an extra layer… that’s a really awesome device. It can be a powerful tool, but it’s not easy to get that right. There’s always the risk of annoying with too much info.

      Thanks a lot for the comment, Jaye! I don’t think they invented time machines yet, so no worries, you won’t have to go through the trials and tribulations of adolescence again. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Then again, you’re a writer, each novel feels very much like it.

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  4. Fun post, Vero! Thanks! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Let’s see, #1: Both work for me, but I think it’s best when the book can stand alone. In other words, if a reader doesn’t want to read the first 10 books, she shouldn’t have to before picking up number 11. Having said that, readers of 1 – 10 should be able to find continuous themes woven into number 11. It’s a bit of a reward. BUT, these are just my preferences. I do tend to read series, and only a couple I’ve shrugged off toward the end if the author couldn’t keep me engaged over the years.

    By the way, I think it’s okay to leave some loose threads. In real life, there are plenty of them that never get addressed or brought up again. I think when writing, that can be done too. Of course picking the “right threads” to let go… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    #2: I think I’m odd-man-out here. I actually prefer Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 22, etc. In fact, most of the books I read number the chapters and skip naming. Although, I do like it when some writers use a famous quote before starting a chapter. Not necessary, but sometimes a nice touch.

    #3: LOL… I don’t ALWAYS wish I could be the protag… In my current (on the shelf) WIP, I do wish it a bit. There is some of me in her, but not much. I wouldn’t want her responsibility. Although, I would like to have her waistline. ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Not that I tell the reader about her waistline, mind you. I just know what I picture in my head. Ha!)

    Have a happy, Fab Vero! ๐Ÿ˜€

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    1. I must agree with you when it comes to longer series, meaning more than 4-5 books. If they’re not self-contained, one runs the risk of not making new potential readers because of the intimidating load of necessary reading to catch up.

      LOL @ the unmentioned waistline! I’ve never thought about wanting to have a character’s figure… To be honest, I haven’t really spent any time imagining and constructing my characters in physical detail… except the aliens of course. *grin*

      Thanks for the wishes, Tracy! Wish you a great day too! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. For number one, I honestly enjoy both, but self-contained stories are certainly easier to digest as a reader. Not that I don’t love long, epic tales that can’t be contained in one novel, but sometimes I just want to find out what happens without having to put the story aside for a long period of time while the conclusion is written. For instance, my favorite fantasy series are probably GRRM’s Song of Ice & Fire and Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. But holy gods, it is brutal waiting three to five years to find out what happens next. Rothfuss is a little easier on us in the sense that he mostly wraps the immediate threads up, only leaving the really big ones hanging. Martin on the other hand will end on the most torturous of cliff hangers, leaving you without even knowing if a character lives or dies until the next book. I’ve never simultaneously loved and hated an author so much as GRRM!

    On number two, I’m torn. I do enjoy clever chapter titles, but I can’t say it’s ever really bothered me when I’ve read a book that just used numbers. And like you mentioned, it really sucks when a chapter title actually contains a spoiler. Since I’m thinking about Game of Thrones so much now, I should mention (in case you haven’t read it) that GRRM simply titles all of his chapters in those books with the name of the POV character in that chapter, which was interesting. At first I didn’t like it much (the TOC can get spoilerish since it’s basically just a list of all the POVs in the book), but it really grew on me as the series went on. I found it increased my desire to read on when I reached the end of the current chapter and saw that I’d be with one of my favorite characters in the next one. I don’t think it’s a system I’d ever use, since I don’t think I could actually pull off such an enormous cast of characters in one novel to begin with, but it’s an interesting way of approaching chapter titles.

    As for number three, considering how I usually treat my protagonists, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be one, although I’ve certainly written a few with lots of me in them whether I wanted it or not. Sometimes I don’t even realize how much of myself is in a character until months or years after I’ve written it. Not too long ago, I drudged up some old unfinished stuff from years ago, just for fun, and my first reaction was, “Wow, this whole damned thing is a metaphor for the silly shit I was going through back then and I didn’t even realize it!” But like I said, I’m pretty rough on my characters, so I don’t think I’d ever want to be in their shoes.

    Awesome post!

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    1. Ouch, ending a book with a cliffhanger is sadistic! Not that I didn’t consider it… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Your explanation really fits what I chose to do with my story, namely to tie up the immediate threads, answer the hottest questions in the book’s ending, but leave the overarching ones open (of course), since the book is really just a big first act to the trilogy. I want every book to be more or less self-contained, but I can’t break them apart too much. The overall time-span of the entire trilogy is only a handful of years. It was initially a single book, but then came worldbuilding… and my creativity went haywire and started sprouting plots and characters that couldn’t be wedged together into a single book.

      Using POV character names as chapter titles can work very well if the cast is big and the POVs are balanced. I have 5 POVs, but the protagonist takes up 60% of the book. It would annoy even me to see her name as a title so often. Ha ha!

      Surprisingly (!) I feel the same about my characters. There’s something of me in each of them, but greater and bolder and much more immediate, and I wouldn’t want to be in their place when their worlds start crumbling…

      Thanks for the great and elaborate answers, James. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. 1. I had to think about this one a bit and I’m surprised to admit that I think I prefer the “stand alone” style of series. Most of my favorite series (McCaffrey’s “Dragon Riders of Pern”, Salvadores “Dritz Chronicles”, etc.) have included elements of both styles but have leaned more toward stand alone rather than carry over.

    2. Chapter titles rarely work for me because they are rarely done well. It’s very hard to give a title that peaks interest without revealing anything.

    3. No, I don’t want to be my protagonist. If you want to be your protagonist then you’re probably not torturing your characters enough. I put my characters through hell.

    I wouldn’t mind having some of his toys (weapons) though…

    Great post!

    PS – One thing I’m dying to know is what it’s like for a Romanian writer to blog to a largely American audience. I’m requesting that post.

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    1. Indeed, series are more fun if the books are mostly self-contained. I’d love to be able to write a longer series one day… For the time being I’m very much content with a trilogy.

      You’re right, it’s hard to peak the reader’s interest with a chapter title without giving information away. And if the author tries too hard, he can go overboard in that as well, and put up strange riddles as titles which break the reader’s attention. Big no-no.

      Yup. Cruelty to one’s protagonist is a must. It’s in our job description! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thank you very much for your straightforward answers, Adam!

      As to what it feels like for a Romanian writer… not sure if I can say enough about it for an entire post. To be honest, I don’t really identify myself with the literary culture (or any part of the culture) of my country of origin. My experience in that respect is mostly negative. I agree much more with the American attitude regarding fiction, at least from the point of view of the writer. And I feel very much at home in the awesome and multi-cultural online environment. I’ve met the most amazing writers from all over the world via the internet, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. 1. If one is making a trilogy, it has to have an overall structure, even though each book should be able to be read alone.

    2. Chapter titles… they work, but only when they hide more than they let on. They should make the reader want to find out why they were written.

    3. (In the few texts I wrote, and in the few I am writing) Somehow I “am” my protagonists good, bad, human or other if only because I tend to “act” (as in “talk with feeling”) the scenes I imagine.

    (Say, what kind of spider is it?)

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    1. Thank you very much for your answers, Albert! You’re spot on with all three. Acting out one’s scenes can be an awesome way to spot problems and make them stronger.

      The beautiful arachnid on top of my post is a Daring Jumping Spider, a Phidippus audax to be more exact. Beautiful creature!

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  8. I think if a series is a trilogy, I do like the idea of a monstrous arc spanning the three books. If I pick up a trilogy, then I’m going to read them in order.

    But for a longer series, I enjoy stand alones. If a series has 10, 15, 20 books, I want to be able to pick up any one book and still get it. These ginourmous series can be read out of order just fine, and each book is it’s own little episode.

    I enjoy putting my protagonist through hell and back, and then back down to hell. So in no way would I want to be my protagonist.

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    1. Monstrous arc spanning a trilogy—check. Series of 20 books? My head starts spinning just thinking about that. I must say that’s too much for me as a writer and reader as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Back down to hell after a painful recovery from hell? You’re evil. #highfive

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  9. 1. I am with a bunch of the others here in outcome, but for slightly different reasons. I like reading series for the same reason I like reading very long books – if I Iike the characters/world, I want to have more. So I not only don’t mind if I learn about a series at book 10, I kind of like it because I know I will have lots of opportunities to read… That said, it’s rare for an author to keep me interested for series for much over 5-6 books – I think it’s just tough to keep coming up with fresh directions to take the same characters, when the series is a continuing story. That’s why I like when the books have common themes and plot lines that build over time, but can still be more or less read independently. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with throwing in a page/two of “remember…” to let readers know what happened before if it’s critical to the current book. I’d rather have that then two chapters of text I read in every book before that one…

    2. On titles, I’m all over the place. I am with you on word play and the craft of titling – I like clever chapter titles that make me wonder what’s to come. I also like quotes that do the same thing. “Chapter 1” doesn’t bother me either, altho I often wonder why authors bother – if there isn’t some clue/hint/meaning to the chaptering, why even bother putting it in? I don’t mind books that don’t break out into chapters either, just have some sort of “***” or visual cue that the author is changing tack.

    3. I think I can safely say I am all of my protags, in part. They all have bits of me in them because I’m the person/personality I know best. Maybe there’s also a teensy bit of ego there (teehee), but whatever. I’m ok with that. That said, I am with you – I don’t want to live all their adventures. EEK! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great post and lots of good food for thought, both in your questions and the comments!

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    1. You’re definitely right, Jill, it’s out of love for the characters that most series are popular. And there’s nothing wrong with wrapping things up in a book, and insert a quick summary of the highlights in the next one, disguised in a flashback or dialog, of course. Come to think of it, I don’t know of any longer series that is done differently.

      Hm… a novel without chapters, only with separators? I don’t think I’d be able to do that with my story. Chapters not only feed the story progression to the reader in manageable chunks, which is great if there are subplots, but they are very effective pacing and suspense devices, like in the case of cliffhangers.

      We’re lucky we’re on this side of the pen when it comes to our protagonists’ adventures, right? ๐Ÿ˜€

      Thank you very much for your answers Jill! I’m glad you like it here. ๐Ÿ™‚

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