Just Sign on the Dotted Line

You should always very carefully read any contract you are a party to, that goes without saying. These days it applies particularly to contracts with traditional publishing. In fact, you probably should get a lawyer, because trad pub has been learning their tricks from another gentleman who also offers amazing deals and smells ever so slightly of sulfur.

But more importantly, whether you’re indie or traditional, and whatever kind of book you write — with the possible exception of non-fic, because I haven’t really studied them enough to know the rules there — you should always be aware of the contracts you make with your readers.

And right now, you’re looking at the screen, with your eyebrows all scrunched up and those vertical wrinkles on either side of your nose we all get when reading the news these days, right?

And you’re going “Sarah, if you’re going around signing contracts with your readers, you’re working completely differently than most writers.”

Well, not really, not.

When you start a book, particularly in the first few pages, you’re signing an invisible contract with your readers.

This contract promises several things:

1- This book will be worth your money and more importantly your time.

2- I will amuse you, entertain you, and make you want more.

3- Whatever things I set you up to expect consciously or not, in the first chapter or two will be fulfilled.

Number three is essential to fulfilling the other ones. And it is something worth talking about, because if you’re at least my age or younger (and probably if you’re ten years older than I which would put you at near seventy) we were born into a profoundly broken world, when western culture had decided the knowledge, art and craft slowly learned over the last six thousand years meant nothing, and it all needed to be erased in favor of the new cool because we were so much smarter now. In their defense, at least in my field, a lot of them were doing heavy psychadelic drugs.

So a lot of us who were cursed with taking literature courses, or even just — being nerdy kids — read a lot of reviews and theorizing on story, got the idea that the important thing, in fact the only thing in the world was to SURPRISE the reader.

Which is why at near forty, with two books published and three proposals bought, I had to learn from Dave Freer that I didn’t have a problem with plotting. I had a problem with foreshadowing. That is, I was fulfilling what I thought was the promise to the reader. I was just playing keep away with what that promise was, because if I never made it explicit, I could still suckerpunch the reader at every turn, which in my head constituted high craft.

A minor digression here, to point out that I get characters and a lot of other stuff for free and words come easily, but in the thirteen years I spent throwing words into a void from which at regular intervals emerged a cryptic rejection slip, no one — no editor, assistant editor, or agent — ever said “You know, your problem is foreshadowing.” They usually said “Your book is plotless” leaving me completely baffled, as I’d carefully worked out a plot, studied every method of plotting (mostly because a lot of people told me I had issues with plot) and was, in any way, steeped in literary traditions from Greek plays onward. (Was Portugal. We had two TV channels and books were very, very expensive. So I read everything that was printed, including my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ libraries, and books on literary analysis, and history and…. Am ADD. Was bored. There’s nothing more horrible than boredom. Hell is an afternoon with nothing to read.) Others just said “you need to learn to plot” and a now-famous for how-to-write books agent bafflingly told me I’d never be published because I didn’t understand timing, and that was something that couldn’t be taught. (Years later he represented me briefly, and that was a mistake on my part.)
It took Dave Freer to read my book and say “Honey, you need to foreshadow.” And then explain the concept to me.

Foreshadowing is all tied up with the writers’ contract with the readers. In a way it is the bones of the contract. The book signals what the plot will be/where it’s going to go at many levels, conscious and not. The reader picks that up, gives you chicken money (Hey, a book should be the same cost as a fryer. The problem of most trad pub is making it the price of roasters. Organic roasters. For that it needs to be an amazing book, by an author who already has a name and whom you already have the other books in the series for.)

So, what is the writers contract?

Well, the first chapter (to be fair, the first page, but you can get away with taking a little longer than that if you have a cover that signals the genre, and maybe the pacing.) should make it clear, in no uncertain terms, three things:

1- What genre the book is.

2- Who the main character/s or type of main character/s are.

3- What the feel of the book is, including pacing, level of violence, etc.

One of the best books for making a deal with the writer upfront is Monster Hunter International. It starts with the title: What is the book about? Well, monster hunting, right? But it doesn’t tell you quite enough. I mean, I have a series plotted (yes, time is being a big issue right now. And The Trouble with Time would make a great pulp novel title, yes.) called Alien Hunter, and while it has mayhem and death and stuff, it is not the point of the series. The point of the series is a chick who is the mental twin of Dyce Dare in the furniture refinishing mysteries, and who gets recruited into an organization that hunts hidden aliens on Earth. So, zany, light, fun, where even the violence manages to be somehow hilarious.

However Larry Correia makes it obvious from page one that his will be a violent, fast page turner. Which is important, since I hate horror books, but Larry’s books, though the horror is fairly horrific are not about that, but the fight back. I had avoided them out of a perception they were horror, but my kids made me read them. And once I read the first chapter I was hooked. And I knew exactly what I was getting into, because it’s right there, in the first chapter.

The hidden part of the first chapter is that, after reading about Owen’s upbringing and his father, no matter how vaguely, we know there is something special about Owen, and that his specialness (supernatural, from the nature of the book) will come through throughout the series.

That too is the contract.

Now imagine Larry had that first chapter, but the rest of the book was about Owen wooing Julie by teaching her ballroom dancing, and the only references to monster hunting were her asking him for help in straightening out the company’s books. How fast would you wall that book?

Or take the Prince Roger series, which I took far too long to read, because from the Baen slide shows at cons, I’d got the impression it was a completely different thing. (Don’t ask. I’m a dumbass, okay?) and which has become one of my main stay through 2020 and sequels, because I can put it on audio while cleaning house, and it’s fun even on tenth re-listen.

In the first chapter, the Empress sends her useless clothes horse of a third son out to a ceremony on a planet of no importance. From the fact he’s sent on a military vessel, and we see his military bodyguards pov, we know this is going to be mil sf (It kind of is, just not standard) and probably have fights. From his utterly useless, slightly crazed attitude and the fact his relationship with his mom sucks, and that he’s the third son, with no hope of inheriting, you — the experienced reader — know he’s going to end up as Emperor. You know it, because otherwise why are we following him? And from knowing that, you know that he’ll have to be made worthy. Which means you should buckle your seat belt, and bring your reading seat to its upright and locked position, because it’s going to be a wild ride and this guy is going to be put through hell, by his heels, sideways and upside down, in a spiny infested with hostile aliens.

Now suppose after that opening, the book was all about the ceremony in the nowhere planet, how the prince botched it, and how angry the natives were. And then suddenly at the end of the book, his entire family died in a spaceship crash and he’s the emperor. Tada! Aren’t you happy? Put down that knife. That’s not what the authors did, and you’re not allowed to gut my friends, anyway.

You’d be amazed how many writers do exactly the bad examples above. Some of them I intuit (I don’t usually read them) are the darlings of the ahem more conventional trad pub. A lot are indie writers without a clue. I read a lot of those, because my stress reads are Jane Austen fanfic on kindle unlimited. (Look, my depression reads are true crime. And my utter bottom of the barrel can’t even function are dinosaur books. Below that is just hanging out in weird websites reading about the aliens among us, which is my REM state. (Not because I believe them, but because I find them funny. Though in 2022, I disbelieve them slightly less. Which is still a lot of disbelief.))

There was for instance the notable book whose description says that Mr. Bennet had improved the family fortunes, and so Lizzy and Darcy met on equal footing, which I stopped reading halfway through.

It wasn’t because our protagonists had not yet met. Yes, sure, the promise of any Jane Austen fanfic is that the couple will meet and have a happy ever after. I could have stayed with it, if they were having adventures leading up to “Everything between them changed in these ways.” It was that with that premise, the writer proceeded to give us exactly how Mr. Bennet improved family fortunes. To do her credit, she’d researched regency money and investment structures, and landowning, and how to improve land, and the price of cereals and….. Did I just fall asleep and drool on the table?

Yeah, after a first chapter that introduces the Bennet family, the author decided she’d suffered for her knowledge and we should too. When I got to the actual calculations pages, I gave up and hied to easier pastures. To be charitable, perhaps she’d been driven insane by the people who write regencies that assume that noblemen are businessmen, doctor is a revered status, and some dukes are accountants. It was still a major welshing on her contract with the reader.

Also in my own defense, my problems with foreshadowing were never as bad as the bad examples above. I just failed to establish the “range of the possible” in a book, and then had things happen that — to the reader — amounted to dropping an elephant from the ceiling onto the main character, with no warning.

So, say that Monster Hunter started with Owen being in trouble for computing interest wrong for a client, and we get the feeling that this will be one of those “in the corridors of power” corporate things, and we’ll find out there’s corruption everywhere, including the white house. And then in the second chapter, his boss turns into a werewolf. And you sit there, stunned, feeling like you were hit on the head with a brick. Even if the first chapter mentions the company he made the mistake on was a monster hunting firm. That is the level of mistake i was making, in the belief that it was clever and edgy and interesting to ambush your reader out of nowhere and scream “Surprise! Now everything changes.”

Fortunately my first three books were literary fantasy with Ace. If I’d done that sh*t to the type of readers I have now, I’d have been shot in the face.

Anyway, be aware of what promises you’re making in your first chapter, as to genre, pacing, level of violence, and what’s possible in that world. (Even if it’s technically our world, you’re still recreating the world for your readers. For instance, I get away with having Dyce Dare‘s parents being crazy enough in any sane universe they’ve locked up for good, because we’re inside her head and her voice and way of relating to the world is zany enough that you know insanity will follow, and it’s not to be taken seriously.) And make sure you realize what the implied promises you’re making are. If you devote a lot of time to a gun, or inheritance to a throne, say, we will expect the end to relate to that.

Go forth and re-read your favorites, and study how the contract is made, and the foreshadowing done. (No, foreshadowing doesn’t destroy the surprise for books that need it, like mysteries. It will instead have the ending so cleverly suggested that when you come to it it’s both a complete surprise and you know you should have seen it coming.)

And if you already have some in mind, feel free to share examples in the comments.

Happy contracting.

post photo Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

77 comments

  1. Chuckle Chuckle

    Holly Chism had the Devil sign a contract without reading it with the said contract written by a very sneaky lawyer. IE It didn’t say what the Devil assumed it said.

    What’s worse from the Devil’s point of view, the sneaky lawyer now knew about the Devil and knew the Devil’s opponent existed. IE The sneaky lawyer might not “end up in Hell”. [Crazy Grin]

  2. I believe foreshadowing is going to be a problem in the current WIP. The cover screams “I am hard sci-fi!” The titles says “silly YA sci-fi!” The prologue says “survival mystery!” And the rest of the story is pretty much just adventure sci-fi with slight tones of hero’s journey/bildungroman (at his age!) Aesop.

    All my story ideas seem to be all sorts of complicated.

    The premise I start with, “escape the dying station because the power’s about to fail!” Isn’t what the focus is by chapter 23. It isn’t really by chapter 11. Now it’s grown to “save as many humans as possible, then (mumble mumble).” My other comments on Royal Road are more the complaint that there’s no character development because he has no one to talk to, essentially.

    While there *is* character development, he really does have no one to talk to. It takes around half the book for him to actually speak out loud. Right now I’m trying to figure out if I’ve lied to the readers about the initial premise (which changes again somewhere in the middle of act II or so), or if the monologuing mess is throwing people off.

    Well that, and manage the flaws. Those will have to be emphasized a bit in rewrite to show the internal conflict as plot driving element alongside the external stuff: the zombies, the actions of dead humans (that’s a story hidden inside the story), the ticking of the clock until power failure, and so on. I cheated the survival aspect by giving the guy a bunch of supplies early on, but that might not last.

    The constant questions he asks himself also (I hope) count as part of the mystery. Some of those have been informed (not completely answered) by the middle of the book. There are a couple of revelations in mid act II that tidy things up a bit, but the main mysteries will have to wait for the Big Deal.

    Seems like every time I learn something new about this writing thing something else comes along to keep me humble. Entertaining folks is more complicated than it looks!

    1. If he’s talking to himself and has nobody to talk to, then either he needs an AI chat program, or a teddy bear/tool/vehicle/Deity that he talks to, or he needs an imaginary friend/delusion/hallucination to talk to.

      I mean, yes, it’s arty, but it also works.

      1. In a way, he’s talking to himself constantly. He questions bloody everything, just not out loud. How do zombies manage to eat through solid armor glass? How did the virus manage to propagate so swiftly that humanity couldn’t get ahead? What kind of moron thinks skipping escape pod maintenance is a cost cutting measure on a space station? Stuff like that.

        Adding in something like that for the previous twenty-three chapters would be changing things a lot, but it is doable. Later chapters will have actual dialogue (probably, assuming enough people survive), but the beginning is very lonely, last man on Earth stuff. That’s something of a zombie apocalypse trope.

        I’ll give it a think. Part of the Doc’s character growth is realizing that he’s been an asocial, judgy ass. He’s coming to terms with his faults and trying to do better. Reinforcing that internal struggle is going to be part of the big edit once the story reaches its conclusion. Maybe a mentor figure or something, someone that makes him think “what would wise old mentor dude do?” Or maybe not. Got to think about that stuff.

        Either way, depending on how upcoming chapters are received, that might make people view the earlier chapters in a new light. Just got to keep putting those words onna page.

        1. I have a male character going through something of the same arc in the Luna City chronicles: a basically very immature guy who has been stuck in early teenagerhood well into his thirties. Spoiled, self-centered, self-indulgent, irresponsible, to the exasperation of the few (like his parents) who genuinely love him, but had no real clue as to how he ought be steered to grow out of it. So, over the course of the chronicles, he’s been carp-slapped by reality and responsibility, and is very gradually becoming a mature human being – mostly by the examples provided by the characters around him.

      2. He’s a scientist. It all very much comes across as ‘scientist poking a problem with a mental stick’ vs. actually talking to himself.

    2. If I may offer a countervailing opinion as a reader. I’ve been trying not to speculate too hard on your story mostly because I wanted to avoid you changing thing because of what I say, but I think you ARE telegraphing what it is. The whole thing very much comes across as Mr. Baggins having his adventure and learning many thing about himself.

      You were surprised when you discovered he was on a Hero’s Journey… I wasn’t. I figured that out when you first vingetted it here. There’s a reason I’ve been paraphrasing the Hobbit about Dr. Z… There’s been a lot of character development, it’s just not in the vein most people are used to seeing anymore. Dr. Z is learning more and more about himself and the situation. And he doesn’t have a handy wizard to get him out of trouble with trolls and goblins. (or in this case Zombies and Power Failures.)

      You establish that he’s been writing up his findings for the net and that he downloads the new information at least once more after leaving his lab. It all flows. I don’t think he’s needed anyone to talk to (story wise), honestly.

      1. Concur on early outright talking not being strictly necessary for Dr. Z. I can’t say that I’m picking up on the subtleties that Wrydbard is.

        1. I’m weird. This is part of why I am very puzzled when people talk about needing to not see the ending coming to be able to read a book. It’s a rare book that actually leaves me going ‘well didn’t see THAT ONE’ coming. It’s a rarer book where that’s a good thing.

  3. Sometimes when I am pantsing a story, and have a wild new notion of a key development, I do have to go back to what I had written already and sneak in little hits, clues and mentions … rather like hiding Easter eggs, but in plain sight.

    1. This. I had to go and add two more references to the Polish heavy cavalry into a certain book, because two readers didn’t catch the other two nods and winks. Apparently my subtle was too subtle.

    2. Remember to keep track. Sometimes I found, on re-read, that I put in the necessary thing three times, when one would have sufficed.

  4. Could you teach Mary Shelly how to write? She violates the first three and second three with her latest book. Yes I am trying to reread Frankenstein.

    1. Mm, maybe and maybe not. I mean, there was a lot longer expectation of introducing the plot after introducing the characters. Like a movie that starts with a long, long, long shot showing the entire town, while the credits are rolling. Annoying Mad Scientist Guy is basically introducing his stupid idea in a really long shot disguised as a letter.

  5. It wasn’t because our protagonists had not yet met. Yes, sure, the promise of any Jane Austen fanfic is that the couple will meet and have a happy ever after. I could have stayed with it, if they were having adventures leading up to “Everything between them changed in these ways.” It was that with that premise, the writer proceeded to give us exactly how Mr. Bennet improved family fortunes. To do her credit, she’d researched regency money and investment structures, and landowning, and how to improve land, and the price of cereals and….. Did I just fall asleep and drool on the table?

    Yeah, after a first chapter that introduces the Bennet family, the author decided she’d suffered for her knowledge and we should too. When I got to the actual calculations pages, I gave up and hied to easier pastures. To be charitable, perhaps she’d been driven insane by the people who write regencies that assume that noblemen are businessmen, doctor is a revered status, and some dukes are accountants. It was still a major welshing on her contract with the reader.

    To be honest that sounds like an awesome premise for a reference work on Regency economics. Pull in all the financial worry snippets from P&P as chapter headers, lay out the basic premise that you’re (rhetorical you) using Mr. Bennet’s situation as a test case, work your way through the implications over a series of short chapters, end each chapter with story snippets about the impact of his improved finances on the family, and every Regency romance novelist out there and a decent percentage of the Janeites would be buying it. Wouldn’t sell as much as a “normal” P&P variation, but it would probably get more sales than any “serious” work on economics of the period could expect.

    1. I suspect you could even make it work if the initial take is that the story is about how Bennett fixes the family finances, with the motivation that his daughters can meet men on equal footing.

      Sounds like the real problem is it advertises itself as being about what happens when the girl is on that equal footing and hanes off into something completely different.

  6. I remember an Andre Norton book that started as one type of story and halfway through switched to a completely different kind of story. I was really annoyed by that.

    And I still want an explanation for the vampires in David Weber’s “Out of the Dark”. It doesn’t even have to be a *good* explaination.

    1. The Explanation is in “Into The Light” and its the best sort of explanation.

      IE The Explanation causes Most Questions.

      Should I or shouldn’t I say more?

      1. Not yet. I’m going to start reading that one next week, if all cooperates. *glares at the all that is currently not cooperating*

        1. Puzzled Look

          But “Into The Light” has been out for a couple of years. How could any Weber fan miss it? [Crazy Grin]

          By the way, there is talk about a third book in that universe.

          1. I’ve missed it.

            Not surprised that I’ve missed it.

            Been a bit too far down to want to read the newer mainline honorverse.

    2. Just finished “Into the Light.” It answers the question and sets up for a third volume while being a fun read. Biggest weakness is the eleventy-hundred characters.

  7. *look of dismay*
    The current WIP might have some issues with this. No surprise there; this is the story that doesn’t know what it wants to be, and keeps making abrupt left-hand turns every time I’ve pinned down a bit of the plot. The first chapter starts with the main character getting fired (along with everyone else at the office) and ends with an unrelated shootout.
    Yeah, it needs some work.

    1. Ckk Francis wrote a story called Proof which had a terrible event in the first chpter that looked unrelated and in some sense was unrelated to the arc of te story. It might be worthy looking at to see what he was doing. It was a great story.

  8. It’s the reason I use prologues in the first two books of my series. Somehow I need to let my reader know that HEY, THIS IS SUPERNATURAL! even if the detective doesn’t figure it out until Chapter 7. It may be a clumsy way to do it, but clumsy is better than letting the reader think this is a straight mystery for a third of the book, then hurling it across the room when I throw in the fairies.

    It’s also worth pointing out that for trad published authors, the contract can be set up by whoever is making decisions about the cover art and back cover copy. I don’t want to bring up bad memories for Sarah by discussing the original cover of Draw One in the Dark, but, well…the original cover of Draw One in the Dark does rather set up a different contract from the one Sarah meant to draw up.

  9. I know when you made this off handed comment a while back, something went ‘ka-ching’ in my brain. Suddenly the wildly chaotic critiques I’d get made sense. I’d get critiques on how my writing was good, and the world-building was amazingly inserted in, without info dumps. But the follow up would be, it’s all crap and I needed to scrap everything and do something else. Over and over again, story after story. As I said, I got so used to watching people frothing at the mouth mad, but they were unable to actually articulate what was wrong.

    Now have to figure out how to fix it. :/

      1. Hmm, I’d have to think about that. I’m guessing this is why in horror, the prologue has an innocent character, the reader is supposed to sympathize with, and then is immediately killed.

        1. Even a not-so-innocent character being killed is enough to let the reader know that this is a horror story. 😉

          1. True horror differentiates itself from gorefest by creating sympathy in the mind of the reader for the about-to-be-sacrificed. Horror flicks can shortcut this with attractive women (often scantily clad) in the early parts. Even just being under threat works decently well enough for the visual media.

            Us writers need to get dirty when writing horror. Blood and gore and violence don’t quite manage it. You have to start with something normal- something pure and innocent is even better- and then slowly dribble in the horror. Or go straight to the slasher scene.

            The two parts, horror and hope, *have* to exist in the story, otherwise it’s going to suck. There have to be moments where the story (metaphorically) takes a breath. Horror treads a fine line between that bright hope and dark awfulness. That’s why there is so much *bad* horror out there.

            The pacing style is actually good practice for other genres, I think. You can’t write good horror with crap pacing and balance- it will only be crap horror, campy, or boring. You can write decent fantasy adventure with pretty crap pacing, but it will be much better if you do it right the first time.

            1. Well, IMO if the writer wants to “sacrifice” a bit character in a prologue in order to establish that the story is a horror story, the bit character doesn’t have to be a sympathetic one. The writer doesn’t have to go into detail about how the “bum”, “burglar”, etc died. Just has to establish the “strangeness” of his death.

              The main characters can be very sympathetic as the “doom” creeps around them.

              Of course, the reader knowing that something strange has already happened can feel the tension as the main characters notice the “odd” events happening.

              1. Indeed. The early deaths are hard to generate much immediate sympathy for, and suspense is a powerful tool when used properly. The big thing about sympathy and hope is that the evil doesn’t get quite as dark without the good to contrast it against.

                It’s my argument against grey goo crapsack worlds as well. In general they suck because there’s no bright hope to contrast the dim and the dark to.

                The hope/despair duality is a horror genre trope. You can use it poorly or well. Lavishing detail on the gorey bits is another horror trope so common I think it is a subgenre. Some writers- and some readers- just really like the bloody bits. In a way, it is its own kind of fan service.

            2. The pacing style is actually good practice for other genres, I think. You can’t write good horror with crap pacing and balance- it will only be crap horror, campy, or boring. You can write decent fantasy adventure with pretty crap pacing, but it will be much better if you do it right the first time.

              I suddenly feel validated in my decision to read nearly everything Dean Koontz ever wrote, while not having the slightest intention of writing in his genres. (I think he’s the last traditionally published author I still pre-order.)

              1. Koontz is good. I’ve read his Odd Thomas books and enjoyed them immensely, even the prequel comic thing that happened. There are tools and tricks that can be learned from all over. I think Heyer for romance, not a genre I have any intention of ever writing, can teach you several things as well. About character interaction and motivation and suchlike.

  10. So, my stress reading is often not ‘old favorites’. Seems to be a personal oddness.

    Last year, I’ve been in and out of something called Memories of the Fall.

    Half a year ago or so, the author decided that he had to rewrite the first portion of it.

    REwrite chapter one does a lot better job of establishing exactly what the apparent contract is with the reader.

    Original one, introduced a major character, Jun Arai, and introduces her current occupation (something like a forest ranger, with extra body recovery), and some of the local politics and setting.

    Rewrite one, introduces Arai, her occupation,and several other new things. First, it establishes the magical system (it is a cultivation novel), and that she is deeply interested in lucky breaks that could shortcut her progress. Second, it goes pretty quickly into a sudden attack by a dangerous monster. Both of these are pretty important hints about later, and were a bit lacking from the first version. It’s not a /random/ monster attack, but pretty directly tied to the plot of the rewrite, and subtly to the over all story. The magic system, and the action, make up a lot of the later story content.

  11. …and smells ever so slightly of sulfur.

    Now I wonder if next time I have to sign anything, how I can manage to show up with a whiff of brimstone to put the other party(-eis) off and maybe make them think on things.

  12. You forgot another part of the contract with the reader. Sarah. If you start a series, you’ll FUCKING FINISH IT! [barring the publisher refusing to give you a contract to because the last book didn’t sell as well and that’s just a matter of waiting til rights revert back to you. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.] Ahh Prince Roger. I’d REALLY like David and John to continue that one. Because for my money it’s NOT finished. Not until that fucker Jackson is dead, anyone who supported him is dead and his power base is destroyed. Which could probably be done in one book. maybe two.
    I want the last book of Paladins by Joel Rosenberg. Joel never finished it because #2 didn’t sell as well and baen didn’t give him a contract for the 3rd. Sigh…then he went and left us. If only he was still here in the time of the HUGE rise of self publishing, he might have. or been talked into it.
    Then there is the artistes and blowhard elitists like GRRM. Or my personal foil. Patrick ‘I don’t owe you anything’ Rothfuss. Yes Patrick. YES YOU DO. FINISH. THE. FUCKING. TRILOGY! See he doesn’t fall into the ‘doesn’t sell as well’ or they NEVER would have released the special edition hard cover they did for The Name of the Wind.[which by the by I own. I hope to get it signed before I drop dead or he does]The only reason it’s not finished is because he’s being an ass. I could understand if he’d said “I’ve got a block I can’t get passed to finish it. I want to but can’t get passed it.” I’d have hated it, but I’d have understood. That’s never been his answer as to why though. not that I cna find. only ‘I don’t owe the reader anything’
    I won’t even condescend to discuss that jackass, David Gerrold.

      1. I have my theory on Martin:

        Back when I was a pantser, I would write enthusiastically for about the first half of the novel. Then things would get harder, and I would invent subplots to try to force myself to keep going. But eventually even those would peter out and I’d be left with 2/3rds of a novel with no plan to ever write more. Well, in Books 4 and 5, which would be about the halfway point of a 7-book series, we got a whole bunch of random subplots about characters wandering around. And now, after Book 5, it looks like nothing is ever going to be written again. Five-sevenths isn’t quite two-thirds, but it’s close. I look at this and think, “I know this pattern….”

        Martin also has the complication that, thanks to the TV series, people know his planned end…and they HATE it. (We can argue about just how much Martin gave the producers and how much they made up on their own, but I’m pretty sure the “Dany goes nuts/Jon kills her/Bran ends up king” bit was the idea from the beginning.) So not only would he have to keep pushing on a story where there was no inspiration, but he’d have to turn away from even the vague destination that he’d been moving towards.

        Yeah, pretty sure that Winds of Winter is never coming out. I could be wrong, but it seems that Martin has gotten what he wanted from this series and has no motive to continue.

      1. 5 books minimum for what Mama Taz? burn out on a series? How many total the Kvothe series would realistically run?

        1. Five books to finish Prince Roger. Seriously. I have a feel for plot arcs and these authors. Five books. (Or it could be wishful thinking, of course.)

    1. I do wonder if those like Martin and Rothfuss are going to end up killing the epic fantasy genre. You’re right, the implicit contract with the readers was, “Pay me now for the beginning of the story, and I’ll keep writing to the end.” If it becomes acceptable to say, “Ah, never mind. I’ve got all the money I need now, and I don’t feel like writing anymore. See ya, suckers!” then I have no reason to honor my part of the contract and pay for the beginning of the series. But if no one buys the first couple of books, the author and publisher have no reason to continue to throw good money after bad…

      It’s a pity, because I LIKE epic fantasy, but I don’t see how this keeps working if the authors keep failing to finish.

      1. At least Sanderson is still chugging along. And Larry has a fantasy series as well.

          1. He knew he was running out of time – and he left lots of notes for Brandon Sanderson to do so! So it wasn’t like he wasn’t working on it til the end. That, I can respect. Mad props to him and his widow. Magnificently handled IP, there.

  13. Weird epiphany of the day: The problem with writing a story for yourself is that you’re not writing for the people who are ultimately going to consume it- the readers. So you don’t really have a ‘contract’ with those readers, and they assume you do, so when you ‘break’ the contract, they’re not going to react well.

    This popped into my head because the current WIP is ‘for me’. I started it because I needed a reason to keep going, and it served its purpose. But now I’m in a bind, because I have a story that will be hard to finish and market, and yet, if I call it quits and move on to something else, I’ll have wasted a year and a half of work.

    1. No you won’t. Blake, I had EIGHT BOOKS written “for me” before I figured I was leaving the reader out of the equation. And in those days I excluded 2/3 of written words. I never wrote out of order, but I wrote messy, then cut to coherence.
      When I hit the next book, I’d learned more about writing, etc. than anyone else I was competing with. Which is why my first book was sold on proposal, and I not only delivered but got upgraded to hard cover.
      I’m not saying you should drop everything you’ve done. I think there’s maybe three books there, if you cut and write bridges for the reader. BUT I think perhaps stepping away, writing something else for six months will give you the clarity to do that.

      1. I think stepping away for six months would be tantamount to abandoning it. I’ve never set aside a book for more than a couple of weeks and successfully gone back to finish it.

      2. And she has that luxury!
        I have people who will be disappointed with me if I chuck Glitter & Gold in the trash and walk away.
        Starting with me. I keep thinking I ought to be able to finish this much better than I am, and I’m disappointing myself.

        But that would be nothing compared to the look my Calmer Half would give me. Or my other readers. Because apparently writing a series they take as a contract that I’ll be able to write more in that series, and when I mentioned the WIP, they think this means I can actually pull it off.
        *sighs, prepares to battle with WIP yet again*

  14. So if somebody re-writes “Sense and Sensibility” as “true-crime” with dinosaurs, when do you read those?

    (Hey, don’t look at me for it! I’m the kid who went to his Senior Lit teacher at age 18 and nearly in tears, literally, from boredom with P&P, to ask to move to the Frankenstein reading group instead!)

  15. Responding late as haven’t been to MGC a few days 😦

    The foreshadowing to indicate to the reader what type of story it will be is something I wrestled with in my long-stalled first novel attempt (I keep trying to make different sorts of outlines or roadmaps as I still am not sure I have the main “plot points” of the rising and falling action quite right). I actually ended up putting a few paragraphs of “prelude” in front of chapter one, as it’s not until the end of chapter one that the protagonist is sucked off to someplace else to have his adventures.

    So what sort of story is this foreshadowing?

    Prelude

    The inferno raged around the island. The sea of dark orange bubbled and steamed where the surface of molten stone contacted the less-torrid pocket of heated gasses that served as the atmosphere in the vast chamber.

    One massive bubble burst, sending lava soaring upwards and arcing towards the island. A pair of tiny eyes peered out from the black sand of the shoreline and caught the display of destructive forces approaching.

    An instant before it would have fallen on the edge of the beach, the glob of lava flattened and spattered away in a shower of orange particles that dripped back down towards the sea.

    A silvery glow raced from the spot where the glob had impacted over the creature’s head, shot like lightning along an upwards arc until it reached a point far above the exact center of the island.

    The silver lightning struck the top of a thick spire that soared upwards from the distant ground. The spark of energy vanished, and somewhere below a gauge recorded the power input.

    Back at the beach, the lizard scanned its surroundings and, detecting no larger predators in the immediate vicinity, crawled out from the sandy burrow and set about finding its own meal.

    1. The foreshadowing to indicate to the reader what type of story it will be is something I wrestled with in my long-stalled first novel attempt (I keep trying to make different sorts of outlines or roadmaps as I still am not sure I have the main “plot points” of the rising and falling action quite right). I actually ended up putting a few paragraphs of “prelude” in front of chapter one, as it’s not until the end of chapter one that the protagonist is sucked off to someplace else to have his adventures.

      So what sort of story is this foreshadowing?

      Prelude

      The inferno raged around the island. The sea of dark orange bubbled and steamed where the surface of molten stone contacted the less-torrid pocket of heated gasses that served as the atmosphere in the vast chamber.

      One massive bubble burst, sending lava soaring upwards and arcing towards the island. A pair of tiny eyes peered out from the black sand of the shoreline and caught the display of destructive forces approaching.

      An instant before it would have fallen on the edge of the beach, the glob of lava flattened and spattered away in a shower of orange particles that dripped back down towards the sea.

      A silvery glow raced from the spot where the glob had impacted over the creature’s head, shot like lightning along an upwards arc until it reached a point far above the exact center of the island.

      The silver lightning struck the top of a thick spire that soared upwards from the distant ground. The spark of energy vanished, and somewhere below a gauge recorded the power input.

      Back at the beach, the lizard scanned its surroundings and, detecting no larger predators in the immediate vicinity, crawled out from the sandy burrow and set about finding its own meal.

    2. Sometimes WP eats first comment to the site. I kicked it out of moderation, so you shouldn’t have further problems.

  16. I remember quite vividly a book that broke my expectations to the point that I will never pick up anything else by that author. The book was a magic-with-mythology near-future book with impending major war escalations, and our protagonist ended up trying to keep the major antagonist away from the MacGuffin that would kick off TEOTWAWKI. The author was doing a great job of building up tension as to “how is she going to pull this off?”

    And then… oh, we’re going to end the world, the protagonist and her love interest get kicked to the far future, but everybody dies. *Including the good friends of the protagonist who didn’t happen to be along on her quest*. And we’d gotten sympathy for them, too. “Nuclear war, everybody dies,” is supposed to be a *joke* ending.

    Lots of rave reviews on Goodreads for that author. I don’t understand some people’s taste.

Comments are closed.