Jumping the Shark

Jumping the Shark
Pam Uphoff

“Wait! I know! I’ll write a mirror image story! On this world Ra’d will be a criminal . . . and his sweet little sister will be number one on the shoot-on-sight list! Yes!”

This is how you know you’ve used up all your ideas and need to back off.

Or, that you’ve made the main character of your series so powerful there are no challenges left. I mean, how many times can you save the world and then go off to explore a dinosaur world? Yeah, a couple of each and you find it hard to top it in the next book.

IMO, this is a sign that you need a break from the series. That you need to catch up on your reading, and doodle around with very different things. Maybe even . . . a new genre?

Yep. Another learning experience. It’ll be like vegetables, they’re good for you, and even taste good once you figure out the right spices. It’s the experiments that, umm, get tossed that are the nasty part. I’ve dug quite a rut for myself and I’ve nearly forgotten the basics of crafting an interesting story. So, back to review the notes from Creative Writing 101.

Let’s see . . . The major genres.

I’ve got SF/F covered, but not all subgenlawyers-smallres. Ahem, at least not in publishable form. My Urban Fantasy is pretty . . . amateurish. SF comedy? Got that.








Mystery? I read a whole bunch of mysteries, maybe I ought to try one. I’ve had mysteries inside my SF/F, but my amateur sleuth was rather incompetent. I can fix that. I think. It might require outlining for the proper placement of clues. But a bit of imposed order might help all of my work.




fancy-free-vibRomance? Umm . . . I have plenty of romance and sex in the SF/F. I suppose I could write something with the focus on the romance.

Western? However much I loved watching all the old westerns on TV, I haven’t actually read very many. Okay, this is a genre I ought to explore. Horses are familiar territory, after all. Just add cows and bandits or something, right? And avoid slipping into Cowboys vs Aliens. Plot. Must have plot. Must have story problem that matters to the MC. Must have the right equipment for the exact period of the book. I think there were a lot of weaponry development over the usual time frame of Westerns. Indian tribes and relations . . . This is going to take some research.

Christian? Probably a bad idea. Not having attended church as a child I’m “tone deaf” to the details and would probably mess up entirely.



I’ve written YA. Both Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy. Been accused of shoehorning a Girl-and-Horses story into my main SF/F series, so that’s not new ground.

Right. So there’s my plan. Bone up on Mysteries and Westerns. Think up some story problems. Pick a time and place for them to happen.

That’ll keep me out of trouble for awhile.

So, what genres do you write in . . . and which ones would challenge you?

65 thoughts on “Jumping the Shark

  1. I really didn’t want to admit that the last book in my first series was the last book. I tried to write a fifth book for a couple of months, trying different approaches and plotlines.

    Eventually, though, I realized that the reason I couldn’t come with any good ideas is that the overall story was finished. Although I hadn’t planned out any overall story arc I had nonetheless written one, and where I had ended “Gingerbread Wolves” left me with nowhere to go.

    I’ve had a number of people tell me that they are unhappy with that and they want more of James & Catskinner, but I’ve seen what happens to series that get pushed past their endings just because the books are still selling. I didn’t want to write “Catskinner Meets Abbot and Costello”.

    So I wrote short stories for a year and have now started an entirely new novel with brand new characters and a completely different world.

    As far as genres are concerned, I don’t use them. Too limiting. I just dump everything I can think of into a blender and see what comes out.

    1. Speaking as a reader, let me thank you for that. There’s nothing I find more painful than looking at a series that I used to love and thinking, “Oh no, not one of those again.” Better let it end with dignity rather than see it dragged on long past the point where the author has any good ideas for it.

      Recently, I came across a number of the later “Cat Who…” books, and it was painful to read what a once-great mystery series had devolved into.

      1. I heard someone say, about a TV show, once, it’s better to end it when people are saying “Why are you ending it this so soon?” than when they’re saying “What? Is that still on?”

        1. Main characters should never die more than twice. I _think_ Supernatural is still going, but I’m not sure and don’t care.

  2. Well, let’s see. I do mostly historicals, set in the 19th century, mostly the US far west, some in England. There was a discussion thread going among historical writers a few years ago about how we favored certain periods – mostly because we had done a vast amount of research on those periods and were comfortable and confident writing a story set in that time, Some of the other writers posited that expanding and doing stories set in another period could be an easy stretch: we already knew what we didn’t know about – say, Ancient Rome or Middle-Kingdom China – and would be systematic about nailing down the necessary details.

    I am pretty certain I can stretch myself in one direction historically, by doing one set in the American Revolution – with luck the next historical will be set in that time. I could definitely go in the other direction – WWI, or WWII. Some of my early unpublished stuff has that setting.

    I have a comic contemporary series, set in the modern day – which is fairly easy, as far as research goes – only small trifles, like what kind of stove does a working restaurant have, or when the first motorized fire engines were developed.

    I did scribble several science fiction adventures, early on – I can dig them out and see if there is anything salvageable there. For right now, I have enough to keep me busy and from going stale.

      1. I’ve been doing that, all the way along in the Western historicals. A main character in the first couple of books, is a secondary or tertiary character in subsequent ones – and a minor character wandering around in the background is the hero or romantic interest in the most recent. It’s fun, doing it that way, because people change and grow, develop other interests – I don’t have to be constantly hauling them out to run them through their paces, yet again.

      2. refocusing can help, but it does depend on the original story. was there enough background to plausibly move elsewhere? Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts suffered quite a bit from lack of history to make the Harry Potter world more expansive — Beasts less than Child because it did go on to use some of the hinted at vistas.

  3. Ehhh wants more Directorate stuff. Stomp stomp. Whine whine. Don’t do this to me.

    I think a classic locked room whodunnit would be a good change of genre

    1. Novella with a bonus short story next week. Two more shorts and a short novel in editing stages. Big novel sometime in the fall.

      In the mean time, I’m going to do something else.

      1. Starting with researching the FBI. Really. My entire experience with law enforcement is half a dozen speeding tickets and three rounds of not getting picked for jury duty. Writing a contemporary mystery? This is definitely starting from scratch.

  4. You know, your comment about Christian fiction fascinates me. It’s interesting because I would think that more “outside” perspective would be welcome. I tend to find that Christian books are better than Christian movies (like WAY better), but it’s still the ones that defy the genre that I like the most.

    1. The Christian genre is a niche market, and, really, one that’s squarely message fiction. I’ve thought about it, from time to time, since, as a niche market based on message fiction, there’s a low bar. But I’m more comfortable with characters who are Christians, since I couldn’t really pull off the message aspect and keep it readable. I’d have to have a John Newton character or some sort where the message happened to them, rather than something where there’s a lot of dialog about the message. And I have a strong resistance to trite fluffy messages, because the world is a hard place and Christianity has never been about trite fluffiness.

      Most Christian films really are low budget, mostly filled with actors who are amateurs, with spotty results. It’s interesting that one of the better actors in Facing the Giants, the one who played the coach of the opposing team, was the associate pastor of the church that made the film.

      1. Ran across some “Christian” mysteries recently. They basically consisted of having the main character talk about how she went to church every Sunday and how she always remembered to thank God every evening for the blessings He had given her. It felt very much like SJW fiction where we remember to talk about how diverse our group of heroes is and how, no matter what the villains have done, American capitalism is far worse. It’s meaningless virtue signalling that doesn’t really affect the story.

        To be fair, I don’t know how typical this is of the genre, and perhaps more stories focus on ways that a characters Christianity might help or hinder her in a particular situation. But in these books at least, I got the impression that Hercule Poirot’s belief in “le Bon Dieu” had more affect on his actions than this allegedly Christian character’s faith had on hers.

        1. The best ones I recall fall into the same category as G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries: A mystery where the central character is a Christian. The problems with message fiction of any sort is that it tends to be more word than deed, with cardboard characters. As with the Christian life, talking the walk is much easier than walking the talk.

          The same as writing it.

          The closest I’ve come is a story a certain editor suggested I take indy, before I ever considered indy. I haven’t because it doesn’t quite work. The change in the protagonist, as he realizes the difference between lip service and deed as well as coming to a different conclusion of those he’s hated isn’t handled well enough. I need to gather enough courage to revamp the story in that direction. But the focus, and the point of crises, is in the central character. That’s where it has to be to really make it work.

          A minister with a crises of faith. A vampire who wants to come to Christ but wonders if he can, or if he’s a demon who’s forgotten than he’s one, and will go straight to Hell the moment Jesus enters the picture (okay, so that’s a weird one that didn’t gel), and a minister who doesn’t have a definite answer. That sort of thing. And if there’s a staunch believer, one who appears to be unshakable, they must at some point be shaken and come to grips with it in regards to their belief. Otherwise, it’s just trite fluff, and Christianity has never been about trite fluff.

        2. WordPress appears to have swallowed my post. If it doesn’t show up, the short synopsis is that Christian lit should be character driven, which means the character has to deal with issues central to the Christian faith. And if the main character appears to be unshakable, at some point they must be or the tale is nothing more than trite fluff – and Christianity has never been about trite fluff.

        3. I’ve read Jewish-themed stories that were about as bad as your description. Then there were a few reasonably well-executed kids’ books with orthodox Jewish equivalents of Encyclopedia Brown: the mystery was solved by noticing a similarity to a story in the Bible or Talmud. (Gemarakup, Super Sleuth and the Devora Doresh Mysteries.)

          Western society is fundamentally Christian, so this may be harder to pull off, but you’ve got a character who’s different from mainstream in some way: make exactly that difference be the core of how this protagonist solves the plot dilemma.

    2. I think Pam could write Christians because she does research. Since she’s Indie, she could even publish it. But Christian, as a genre, is complicated. Most Christian Dresden Files fans would say that Michael is definitely a Christian. Does that make the series Christian? Well, in the sense of publishable in a Christian publishing line, no: extramarital sex, cussing, magic that works and isn’t demonic, just to name a few. There are a lot of books with Christians (Pam’s got some, minor, though I wonder about the Auld Wulf-from his Wolfgang days he was) that aren’t Christian in genre because they don’t fit that box.

      1. I got one review of the first book that ranted about my anti-Christian bias. Because no churches _ever_ would have an issue with genetically engineered lab animals with less than 10% human genes being sarcastically called gods.

        1. Well, if they considered themselves “gods”, I’d see the problem. 😉

          Otherwise, I’m sure I’m sure that many (even Conservative ones) Churches would accept them if they wished to become Christian.

          1. After the discovery of the Americas, we had a theological problem. After all, the reason why we were all humans together was that we all came from a common origin.

            When two Zunis, I have heard, convinced the Pope of the sincerity of their conversion to Christianity, he issued a Papal Bull recognizing their humanity and redefining the term human to mean “being capable of becoming a Christian.

            1. Vox Day’s *Summa Elvetica* is about that world’s Pope sending envoys to gather evidence about whether the elves of that world have souls. The chapter headings are lightly reworked sections of that Papal Bull. In Latin.

            2. Umm . . . I don’t think it was a real issue. Several hundred years earlier, even before the Roman Catholic – Eastern Orthodox division, it was essentially decided that aliens had souls and could become Christians. It was over the issue of legends of dog-headed men. If Christians ran into these being, could these being be saved*? The final view was yes, they could, and there was all sorts of legends about them.

              What I know for certain is that two Indian guides for the Hernando de Soto expedition were converted to Christianity and were baptized at (though maybe not in) the Ocmulgee River in Georgia in 1540. They were given Christian names, though whether it was prior to their conversion for ease of communication is an open question.

              *The word “saved” is a potential theological mine-field in that different denominations end up talking past each other. Some Roman Catholics see it as a Evangelical/Protestant term when ultimately both agree on the same point: Salvation through what Jesus Christ has done. I mention it because mixing denomination terms could throw someone out of a story.

              1. It was discussed, but it was, after all, hypothetical. Also, as Augustine pointed out, it was quite possible that dog-headed men were just plain human, and cites some “monstrous” births as examples of what could be born of humans.

        2. I think you can find at least one human who self-identifies as Christian who has a problem with any thing you care to pick. It’s a human thing.
          Honestly, I thought that was totally believable. My own mainline denomination is punting like mad hoping that a miracle will occur and they won’t have to vote about allowing clergy who are involved in relationships with the same sex.

    3. Hmmm. . . and what makes a book Christian?

      I’ve written A Diabolical Bargain and Winter’s Curse where the characters discuss the theological implications of their wizardry (with careful note that you want to avoid demons) and act from Christian assumptions. And Madeleine and the Mists where it’s a Christian background that characters take seriously. My short stories range from ones where the religious background is not mentioned (and “Free Passage” is set in a Greek pagan one, though the mention there is minimal), to ones like “Mermaids’ Song” and “One Name”, where the Christian background is significant but not in the way I see in most “Christian fiction.”

      (All of which can be found here. 0:)

      1. They are, at least, Christian enough that my online critique group of the time criticized it. One person said that I should try polytheism instead, it has more possibilities — without, mind you, mentioning any flaws in the story cause by any such lack of possibilities.

        And the person who suggested that I rename the not even specifically Christian spring festivities in “Dragonfire and Time” to Beltane. Thus showing a grievous lack of research. Beltane was a fire festival. What I had was a flower festival, and it was crucial for the plot that it be so. (If anyone ever tells you that May Poles stem from Beltane, point out that we know for a fact that no region with May Poles ever celebrated Beltane, and vice versa; the regional overlap was zero.)

  5. I do urban fantasy, alt-history (Europe), mil-sci-fi (Europe and Spaaaaaace). Steampunk (in review at moment).

    What would challenge me: Mysteries, westerns (because I do that for my day job and trying to keep one from leaking into the other . . .), romance, paranormal romance, literary fiction, family sagas. Anything in a Far Eastern or African setting, because I just . . . don’t . . .know . . . Down Muse! Noooo!!

  6. One interesting suggestion I’ve heard is: Pick something that doesn’t interest you, and do some deep research on it. You’re likely to find a whole lot of interesting ideas and new perspectives, once you get into it.

    Not just meant for genre, but for things like: Native politics and wars in the Southwest (did you know they used chemical warfare? Chili peppers dropped in the enemy’s campfires…) or ecology of Australia, or the history of the steppe migrations, or species spread after the last ice age, or the
    Teapot Dome scandal…

    And if you do research a new-to-you genre, don’t just read the current most popular and the classics: read the things that the writers of those classics were reading, even if they’re outside the genre. Especially if they’re outside the genre.

    By the time you’re done, you not only have some new story ideas, but more background, too!

    1. My favorite bit of wackiness from Teapot Dome was that the Secretary of the Navy was convicted of accepting a bribe from a man who was acquitted of paying the bribe. WTF?

      1. As Law and Order said:

        “It doesn’t stand up to logic.”
        “Welcome to the judicial system.”

        1. It was during the Harding Administration, likely before any of our times.

          1. The man acquitted was Edward Doheny, the great-grandfather of Larry Niven and of singer-songwriter Ned Doheny.
          2. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, the fourth of five members of that family to serve in that position during the 39 year period 1897-1936.

      2. IIRC some evidence was usable against one but not the other.

        FOR AUTHORS, if, as in many states, a wife may not be a compellable witness against her husband, her testimony could convict the non-spouse but her refusal would make it unavailable against her husband.

      1. The History Channel said that in the American Civil War, the Confederacy didn’t have the technical capability to spin a copper case for the Spencer rifle’s self-contained cartridge. This mattered because the North’s repeating Spencer rifle (which was awesome) could be captured by the South, but the South also had to capture ammo to use it. What interested me, however, was the question of what was meant by “technical capability.” Did this mean that a smith at his forge couldn’t spin a copper case? Like, at all? Or, that the South, being agrarian as it was, didn’t have the industrial capacity, which is different than the technical capacity?
        Basically, if you were a starship crew setting up some capacity for your underpopulated colony that was going to be killing itself wresting a living from alien soil, you wouldn’t set things up so that they couldn’t make things that required mass production or that would be too hard for an individual smith to achieve. I’m feeling secure about the barrels (thank you Colonial Gunsmith and FireArmHistory website), and the rifling, but would breech-loading be something you’d bequeath your descendants. Clearly, you’d want to, but would it be too hard to maintain on a smith by smith basis? A Queen Anne pistol looks way worse to fuss with than a Baker rifle.
        As someone who knows absolutely zero about guns outside of research, I fret.

        1. Without research of my own, I can only speculate, but I suspect the latter. (re Civil War, that is).

          Think of all the copper and brass items from antiquity. And the first breech loading cartridges had to be handmade. But making thousands of them at jeweler’s benches? And the whole point of a Spencer or Henry was the ability to fill the air with lead.

          So you could build breech loaders on a forge, and buy cartridges from a tinker or coppersmith, but you couldn’t equip an army with them. That would require a factory.

          Your colonists could have breech loading hunting arms, no trouble. Military class repeaters *might* be another matter.

          Better opinions from wiser heads? Anyone?

        2. Honestly? I’d give them a low-pressure rifle design that meant the case could be reused as many times as possible.

            1. Modern rifle rounds (as in anything that was designed to use smokeless powder- anything designed since the 1890s really) are pretty high pressure rounds and that effectively limits the number of time a brass case can be reused. A round designed to operate at lower pressure- like most blackpowder rifle rounds- the brass can be reused more. Also, the tooling necessary to make brass for such a round is going to last a long time, but they wouldn’t be able to make the long-lasting version of these tools locally. I’m not talking fancy sci-fi tools, i’m talkign reasonable current day tools like titanium nitride brass extruders and (re) loading dies. hey could locally make the tools to do this as well, but they would be inferior and not last as long. The thing is, assume that if they have the technology to be able to manufacture something like a Remington Rolling Block or Spenser Carbine, they have the tech to make the tools to create the brass. Or, TBH, paper cartridges.

      1. Thanks. That’s good to know because I’m relying on him. The level of detail and his logic had me thinking he was decent, but one never knows when reading outside of one’s field.

  7. well, lets see, i write a mystery and its going to be how the criminal is getting away with it because of some obscure firearm setup and intelligence agencies are going to be going “dude shut up”

  8. Happen to be watching TV right now, and they are showing pongashi (puffed rice) being made the traditional way. Fill a cast iron chamber with rice, close the cap and fasten the catch, tilt it over so it is a drum, heat it with a gas burner underneath while rotating it, then hit the cap with a hammer to release the catch, and BANG! let the rice explode into a large wire cage. Now — your challenge, should you chose to accept it, is to use that gadget in a story.

      1. Maybe a foot across? Smaller foot and top, swelled out in the middle. Longer than it was wide. Think two inches of six inch pipe, a slanted shoulder, then four inches of the 12 inch pipe, slanted shoulder, and another two inches of six inch pipe, maybe. The cap was thick, too. Maybe an inch thick?

    1. Does the chamber have a handle? If it rotates fully, how is it mounted?

      Is the banging with a hammer in line with the axis of rotation?

      Those materials sound recent. How far back is traditional?

      1. This one did not have a handle. I’m suspicious that what it was resting on were rollers, perhaps with a motor? It rotated relatively slowly.

        The hammer — the guy hit the catch as it was turning! I think he had lots of practice, because doing it wrong would just mean he missed the catch. He looked as if he was bringing it down across the axis, but he might have had an angle on it?

        No idea how far this goes back. Although I’m told that this kind of puffed rice treat is edo era? Basically they seem to be heating rice in a pressure chamber, then releasing the pressure suddenly, and the rice blows out. I kind of wonder if the first time was a mistake? Someone overheated their rice pot and it blew up? Then they decided that was cool, so they made a gadget to do it on purpose.

    2. Steve looked over the mess regretfully. “I guess we shouldn’t have put Corn in the pongashi machine afterall.” said Jill.

    3. The original Quaker Puffed (cereal) cannon — I think it was rice, but I have seen it in operation — are a large diameter mortar. There were mods at the top end.

    4. First thought – it’s being used in a folk-life festival. Someone gets shot. No one hears the shot. Why? (Timed with demonstration of rice popper.)

    1. Looks like that type of machine can handle popcorn after all. Thanks. Considering my interest in manufacturing, I need to spend more time watching such things on youtube.

      1. I’m not sure how popcorn would react to being pressurized? I mean, it pops itself, when the internal pressure is great enough. Although I suppose if it were pressurized externally, it might keep it from popping until the pressure is released, at which point it would all pop together? Don’t know. Something to experiment with, if I had the machine. I’ll bet my wife would object to me trying to cook popcorn in the pressure cooker (I think we have one). Interesting idea!

        1. Somebody makes such a machine that is supposed to work on corn and a bunch of other grains.

      1. Hey, you never know until you try it! Puffed beans or peas might be the next taste treat! Sure, pour some in, hold my beer, and let’s give it a shot!

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