Category Archives: Random Rants

Blood, guts, gore and women?

I’ve recently been reading Tank Men by Robert Kershaw which covers tank warfare during the two world wars; not the mechanical details or grand strategy that saw these machines sweep across the battlefield, but instead it is about the people inside them and I’ll say now that for anyone with an interest in the topic, it is well worth a read. Primarily for it’s visceral portrayal  of the results of combat.

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World War Two tanks were not easy to get in and out of at the best of times (I doubt they are much better now).  If you were a crewman in a tank when the armour was penetrated, if you were lucky you were unhurt and could get out. If you were slightly less lucky you were dead and never felt it. If you were unlucky you were hurt or trapped and couldn’t get out when it began to burn. It was a fear common to all tankers, regardless to which country they belonged to. I did a battlefield tour of Normandy a few years ago, which obviously included visiting a number of military graveyards. In the British, the gravestones are laid out in neatly spaced rows, except some gravestones are place pressed up with no spaces between them. Usually two to five graves, generally the bodies within are airforce or armoured regiments. It is to signify that while they knew who was in a particular tank or plane, when the bodies were recovered from a burnt out wreck, there was no way to know which body was which person. All pretty horrible stuff. In fact – speaking as someone who has never served in the armed forces – I would say probably impossible to imagine or even properly describe by those who have seen such things, but as a writer of Military SF I have to try.

At 5 am, the first wounded came back, cheerful, optimistic.  We splintered fractures, covered wounds with sterile dressings and relieved each other for breakfast at 6.30 am.  As the day wore on, sunny and scorching hot, the tide of casualties rose.  Dozens and dozens were carried in.  Our treatment centre always had 3 upon the trestles being attended to and soon the approaches were lined with a queue.  Hour after hour we worked and evacuated and still the flow continued.  Ghastly wounds there were, of every type and state of severity.  Heads with skulls so badly smashed that bone and brain and pillow were almost indivisible; faces with horrible lacerations; jaws blown completely away leaving only two sad eyes to plead for relief from pain.  Chests pierced through with shrapnel and lungs that spouted blood from gushing holes.  Arms were mangled into shapeless masses left hanging by muscle alone and waiting the amputation knife.  There were abdomens pierced by shell splinters and displaying coils of intestine, deadly wounds.  Buttocks were torn and in some cases spinal injury had followed bringing paralysis.  But the leg wounds!  Thigh bones splinted; knees without knee caps, legs without feet red, mangled flesh and blood flooding the stretcher.  And others trembling uncontrollably, sobbing like children, strapped to the stretcher and struggling to be free; screaming and, when a shell landed near the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), shouting, ‘They’re coming again, O God they’re coming again.’  Not heroes, but sufferers nonetheless.  We ate our lunch of biscuits and corned beef with bloody fingers and when relieved by 9th Field Ambulance at 6 pm we had treated 466 British soldiers and 40 Germans.  

Private Jim Wisewell, 223 Field Ambulance, RAMC, describing the carnage wrought upon 185 Brigade of 3rd (British) Division during 8th July, 1944 in operation Charnwood.

Film and television, even at its grittiest, is never going to match that kind of brutality, in fact sometimes when it tries, the effect can come off as more comical than anything else. The fact they we know what we see is the product of the makeup artist’s craft renders even the most realistic effects unbelievable. In fact one of the most realistic and disturbing depictions I’ve seen is the 1965 pseudo documentary The War Game, where the effects were by today’s standards primitive but the use chilling*. So it is probably now wonder that most film and television prefers to depict battlefield casualties as people who fall down nice and neatly. While I was writing the Nameless War I did try to cover this, which has lead occasionally to the question ‘is there any characters you didn’t kill?’ To which I joke ‘yes, the ones I maimed instead’. But in all seriousness it was an attempt by me to convey, without over doing it, the awfulness of war and making it back doesn’t mean coming back undamaged.

I now while I was considering this post – and procrastinating – I came across a article We Have Always Fought – Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative

As somebody with more than a passing knowledge of history (All the Thing That Came Before Me), I’m passionately interested in truth: truth is something that happens whether or not we see it, or believe it, or write about. Truth just is. We can call it something else, or pretend it didn’t happen, but its repercussions live with us, whether we choose to remember and acknowledge it or not.

When I sat down with one of my senior professors in Durban, South Africa to talk about my Master’s thesis, he asked me why I wanted to write about women resistance fighters.

“Because women made up twenty percent of the ANC’s militant wing!” I gushed. “Twenty percent! When I found that out I couldn’t believe it. And you know – women have never been part of fighting forces –”

He interrupted me. “Women have always fought,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“Women have always fought,” he said. “Shaka Zulu had an all-female force of fighters. Women have been part of every resistance movement. Women dressed as men and went to war, went to sea, and participated actively in combat for as long as there have been people.”

I had no idea what to say to this. I had been nurtured in the U.S. school system on a steady diet of the Great Men theory of history. History was full of Great Men. I had to take separate Women’s History courses just to learn about what women were doing while all the men were killing each other. It turned out many of them were governing countries and figuring out rather effective methods of birth control that had sweeping ramifications on the makeup of particular states, especially Greece and Rome.

Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things. More often, women are talked about as a man’s daughter. A man’s wife.

The rest of this article can be found HERE and again is well worth a read through; I came to is via a forum I occasionally glance at and before it became an argument, the point was made that we don’t see women killed very often in military type film and television and see them maimed even less often. Literature does better but film and television haven’t made much forward motion in decades. As far as I can remember the recent Force Awakens had a token female X-Wing pilot – assuming all alien pilots were male – and she made it back. The various imperial stormtroopers and pilots are assumed to be male (with one exception). While women were visible on the Star Killer base/planetoid if they were killed, it was off screen unlike the waves of Stormtroopers that got gunned down. Now you might be thinking ‘does this guy want to see women dead or maimed? What kind of sicko is he?’

Well let me put it like this. As We Have Always Fought points out women have always been a feature of warfare. In SF a man’s main advantage, his on average greater physical strength, is far less important. Flying a fighter doesn’t make the same physical demands as say fighting with a sword. To refuse to put women onto the fictional battlefield, the fictional casualty dressing station and fictional battlefield grave as uniformed personnel, is to write them out of the narrative completely. I have heard that in the first of the original three Star Wars films an actress was filmed as a rebel pilot, complete with fireworks behind her and the usual comment on the X-Wings combat performance – I’M HITTTT!!!!……. but it was cut from finished film.

Sure you can point to the occasional named hero or villain but where is the female faceless goon or red shirts? As a society we are still reluctant to see women getting killed or hurt in defence of their society** or subjugating the galaxy which does inevitably diminish women by default. For literature in particular it is a relatively easy one to start to address, a handful of hers instead of hims will give a sense of a more inclusive world and something on which we can build.

As ever thoughts and comments welcome.

* The film being a depiction of Great Britain is the aftermath of a nuclear strike.

** although crime drama is quiet happy to kill them by the bucket load.

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A Basic Introduction to Logistics

The Logistician

Logisticians are a sad and embittered race of men who are very much in demand in war, and who sink resentfully into obscurity in peace. They deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. They emerge during war because war is very much a fact. They disappear in peace because peace is mostly theory. The people who merchant in theories, and who employ logisticians in war and ignore them in peace, are generals.

Generals are a happy blessed race who radiate confidence and power. They feed only on ambrosia and drink only nectar. In peace, they stride confidently and can invade a world simply by sweeping their hands grandly over a map, point their fingers decisively up train corridors, and blocking defiles and obstacles with the sides of their hands. In war, they must stride more slowly because each general has a logistician riding on his back and he knows that, at any moment, the logistician may lean forward and whisper: “No, you can’t do that.” Generals fear logisticians in war and, in peace, generals try to forget logisticians.

Romping along beside generals are strategists and tacticians. Logisticians despise strategists and tacticians. Strategists and tacticians do not know about logisticians until they grow up to be generals–which they usually do.

Sometimes a logistician becomes a general. If he does, he must associate with generals whom he hates; he has a retinue of strategists and tacticians whom he despises; and, on his back, is a logistician whom he fears. This is why logisticians who become generals always have ulcers and cannot eat their ambrosia.

Unknown Author

A few months ago I did couple of posts on the subject of warship types what I thought might be useful and interesting is a short and very basic primer on the subject of military logistics and how a science fiction/fantasy writer can and probably should account for it in their work. I’m going to be mentioning some good and bad examples as well as some history books which I’ve found useful.

What Is Logistics?

At a very basic level logistics is the science of getting the what a military force needs from the centers of production (farms, factories, whatever) to the military forces directly in contact with the enemy, while at the same time moving backwards casualties, prisoners etc, etc. This is often referred to as the lines of communication and exactly what is a military force needs depends on the setting. This will involve not only transportation but also stockpiling, storage and distribution.

Early Logistics

The most basic supplies any force will require are food and drink, in a pre-industrial setting like Lord of the Rings, that can to a certain extent be obtained via foraging or outright looting. It is worth noting that for most of recorded history, an army moving through your area was a disaster, regardless as to which side it or you were on. If half a dozen soldiers with swords decided they were going to take your last milk cow, polite refusal probably wasn’t going to achieve much. The advantage of this kind of system is that there really weren’t any lines of communication for an enemy to threaten, the big problem however was it placed a serious time limit on how long an army could stay concentrated in one area. After a while all of the resources would be consumed and an army would have to move on, disperse or starve. This is where we get the whole concept of Scorched Earth; if an attacking army is faced with a region where the resources have already be consumed or destroyed, then the time it can spend in that region is severely limited. This could be a major factor in siege warfare, where the attacker could be in just as much danger of starving as the defender. So while Tolkien might be one of the founding father of Fantasy, given how how it it described, Sauron would have a hard time his armies from starving in Mordor. A fiction work that at least touches on the complications of pre-industrial logistics is Juliet McKenna’s Chronicle of the Lescari Revolution. On a final note prior to the development of the railways, movement during the Winter months and armies either dispersed or retired to winter encampments. Even in more modern times there have been battles and campaigns that have petered out because weather conditions meant supplies could not be moved up to the front.

Logistics in the Industrial Age

My men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas.

General Patton

Up to the Napoleonic Wars it was possible for an army to at least to a certain extent live off the land, gun powder from enemy sources was usable and individual soldiers could cast their own bullets provided they could obtain lead. However somethings like cannonballs, had already passed beyond what troops in the field could make or obtain for themselves.  During the close of the nineteenth century technology changed logistics became increasingly complicated. Improvements in transportation and storage, were matched by expansion in the volumes and types of supplies needed by an army in the field. As the above quote indicates by the middle of the twentieth century oil had become the one of the dominate resources, especially for an advancing army but in general terms an army needed an unbroken line of supply leading from the factory gate to the front line and here in lies both a complication and opportunity.

An army on the advance is inherently moving away from its logistical support, while the Defender is retreating a long its own lines of communication. This means the attacker needs to be careful not to advance too far in case it out runs its supplies and leaves itself vulnerable. Even if it is advancing with no meaningful opposition in its path, an army can be brought to a grinding halt by lack of supply. The term for this that I have come across and used in my work is Logistical Brake. If you are looking for a real world example, any book covering the war in the Western Desert between the German/Italian forces and those of the British Empire is ideal, since this conflict was being fought in the open desert, which mean other complicating factors weren’t present. What you will notice as you read the history of the Desert War is how often the lines of communication were the objective. Each sides commanders sought to get through or round the opposing side to cut supply lines, since no matter how strong an armies position was, it would be worthless unless supplies could be brought to it.

Logistics, Ships and Ship Design

There is a myth that in the days of sail ships were powered by the wind, the reality is that it all depended on human muscle. Raise anchor? Human muscle. Do really anything with the sails, human muscle. Like any other engine humans required the right fuel. During the age of exploration diseases like scurvy would cut a swath through crews because it wasn’t understood just how necessary fresh fruit and vegetables were, plus storage was somewhere between difficult and impossible. In theory however, if a vessel could be kept supplied with fresh food and water, it could remain at sea for extended periods. This was best demonstrated by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars where ships of the line blockaded continental ports for years at a time. With the coming of the steam engine a ship could be freed from the whims of wind and tide, but only as long as the fuel held out. Take a look at the two pictures below.

CalypsoHMS_CamperdownThey are respectively HMS Calypso and HMS Camperdown, looking at them you could be excused for thinking they belong to totally different time periods with Calypso perhaps being a part of Admiral Nelson’s fleet. In fact they were built at the same time – the early eighteen eighties. The difference was Camperdown was a battleship, designed to operate within European waters, Calypso was a corvette (later re-designated a cruiser) intended for places like the Pacific, where refueling points would be few and far between. In the modern navies, it is the proud ranks of fighting ships that get the attention but if you care to glance across this Wikipedia page, listing the current strength of the US Navy, you will notice that the list of non-combat support ships is longer than those that in time of war would do the fighting. An expensive necessity if the US Navy is to operate more than a few days out from its home ports.

Once fuel became a factor, the time a ship could spend at sea became far more limited and many’s a captain undoubtedly developed ulcers watching their ships’ fuel levels drop lower and lower. A fully armed, undamaged vessel might be required to turn away from a fight or not be present at the critical moment, all because it had to leave for re-supply. One fascinating demonstration of this is the hunt for and destruction of the German battleship Bismarck, where on either side ships were either forced out of the chase completely or unable to crack on the extra bit of speed that might have made all the difference. I won’t attempt detail the saga – I couldn’t do it justice – but I do recommend Pursuit: The Chase and Sinking of the Bismarck by Ludovic Kennedy, it is now a somewhat old book and some research has become available since its publication but is an easier read for the newcomer.

Logistics and Writing

So now that we’ve covered the very basics of Logistics there remains one big question – why the heck should a writer give a two hoots about logistics, the reader wants action! Well for a start there is realism. If the work in set in a historical period, if it is to be a living, breathing world, then it needs to follow reality of that time. Whatever it costs the writer in time a research, will rewarded with a deeper work in which the reader can more thoroughly immerse themselves.  If your characters are operating in any kind of military capacity, where the next meal for themselves or those under their command is coming from, will always be a consideration.

The other reason, and this is possibly more important, is the sheer possibilities for drama it offers the writer. The General aware that if the snows doesn’t clear soon there will be famine in the camp, The starship captain hunting the alien raiders with with only fuel to search one solar system, the trooper in the front line trying to conserve ammunition as the enemy closes, this is all the stuff of drama. It may seem like a tiresome detail in fact for anyone writing any sort of military fiction logistics will be one of your most useful plotting tools.

until next time

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Fiction adapting to reality

So this weeks hot news is that Britain has voted to leave the European Union, a decision I view as being the wrong one but that’s a rant for another day. Over the weekend – while still in a state of disbelief – the thought crossed my mind how does this effect my writing?

Now for once I’m not talking about the economics – although God knows given the way sterling has nosedived against… everything, I’m glad I didn’t have anything new come out this month – I’m talking about the settings of my work. For those who haven’t read the Nameless War, it is only set a few decades into the future and it is one where nation states still exist, including the United Kingdom. My current WIP is set even closer to the present and spends much of its time in the UK.

Out in the real world, the Brexit vote has made it very uncertain what way things are going to go. Given that within the last two years Scotland only narrowly voted to remain in the United Kingdom, but last week voted to stay in the EU, there is a fair chance that the Scots will now attempt to bailout. As for Northern Ireland – a province sandwiched between two countries, neither of which really want it – that’s anyone’s guess. I’m not going to speculate here how likely any of this is, what I am going to speculate on is how or whether I reflect it in my work.

There are a couple of options. The first would be to keep things so ambiguous that no matter what ways things go, it won’t be wrong as such.  The problem with this is that you might find the work ends up lacking a sense of realism. Also attempting to twist words to avoid saying a particular detail might leave the reader feeling the book isn’t particularly well written.

The second possibility is go with yesterday’s status-quo. Basically ignore the uncertainty and proceed with things as they were until a new point of certainty has been established.  The virtue of this approach is safety, it will be for at least a time correct. Comic books do this periodically with US Presidents, I suspect opinions vary on whether it is a good idea or bad but it does very definitely date the work within a maximum of eight years. In the case of Brexit you could find the work dated before it’s even published and that could be a problem. In my experience most science fiction readers will accept that the older a book is the more allowances have to be made for the fact that it was written in a different time. If that different time was only six months ago that’s possibly a harder one to ask.

The third and final option is to decide what way you think things are going to go and run with it. Frankly unless your story is flat out about the possible consequences of the change I think this is the riskiest option. Unless you are a dab hand with the old crystal ball you will probably be wrong without – unlike option two without the virtue of every having been right.

So folks any thoughts or additions on the matter?

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A challenge to Brexit

Last week I was attempting to arrange voting by proxy in the impending Brexit referendum. Long story short I can’t because I’ve been living outside the UK for too long. My vote would have been to remain in the EU;  not going to claim the EU is perfect (at least not with a straight face) but it seems like the only logical choice when the Brexit’s campaign hinges on ‘it will be alright on the night’.

So since I can’t vote I’m going to issue a challenge to the leaders of Brexit and give them an opportunity to nail their colours to the mast. What I would like from them are their predictions for the UK’s performance in the following economic indicators:

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • Income and Wages
  • Unemployment Rate
  • Consumer Price Index (Inflation)
  • Currency Strength
  • Interest Rates
  • Corporate Profits
  • Balance of Trade

For 2026 – ten years after Brexit if it happens.

Here’s the fun bit though – if these targets aren’t met you leave. You take responsibility for having lead Britain down the wrong path and you leave. You relinquish whatever state jobs or titles you’ve gained, surrender to the to exchequer whatever pension entitlements you have accrued from state employment and leave the country. Most of you are at least well off, so you can afford to up sticks, unlike the people you’ll have lead into an economic cul-de-sac.

There are a couple of caveats to keep things fair.

  1. If Britain votes to remain in the EU, then don’t worry about it.
  2. If Britain does leave but attempts to reenter before 2026 then that is the point at which we measure the indicators, we don’t wait for the ten year mark.
  3. You can set the bar as low as you like. Assuming you lack the confidence and self respect to do so.

So there’s the challenge. Do you have the guts to take it?

Edmond Barrett is a British Expat living the Ireland who is perfectly aware that since not many people read this blog currently it is very unlikely to ever reach the Brexit leadership and is currently contemplating whether to apply for Irish Citizenship.

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Beating your own drum

I am a natural to self promotion in much the same way that an African bull elephant is a natural to riding a unicycle. Which is why this blog is only active in spasms, I mostly ignore my twitter account and Facebook I primarily use to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Self promotion is not my thing, I’m not good at putting myself forward, my sense of humour leans towards self deprecation and I am on the whole a very private person*.

Why do I mention this?

Well as I put up on my previous blog entry last weekend I was at Octocon 2015, I was a speaker on five of the discussion panels which covered topics like the dangers of time travel, how much military science fiction borrows from the past and renewing genres. All good stuff and I had a great time, in fact the panels all went a lot better than I expected. There is no doubt that in recent years I have become a lot better at public speaking and actually if you’re looking for public speaking experience, a panel is potentially a good place to get it since if you do stall out, one of your fellow panelists is probably waiting to jump in.

When I released the Nameless War back in 2011 it was sent off without any form of advertising or promotion. The book was launched off into the world and…

Bell curveas I’ve said in an earlier blog post from what I can tell – because hard numbers are few and far between and my links to the writing community in Dublin are tentative at most – I’ve done a lot better than average. Without advertising*2. Which was fine by me. There was the potential to be interviewed on local radio during this year but unfortunately that fell through and most of the other things that so many writing advice websites will grandly declare you have to do, I haven’t. Because I don’t enjoy self promotion and because by books did so well, it was an aspect of the whole process that I continue to know very little about*3.

I guess one of the things that fears/concerns/worries I have when it come to promotion is that I’ll get boring, that if I continue to endlessly beat the same drum there likely won’t be any unpleasantness but will become part of the white noise of life.  There’s also that irritating tendency to do myself down and diminish my own work. As I said someone not that long ago ‘don’t do yourself down, there are plenty of people who will happily do it for you‘ very much in finest traditions of suggest to other advice you should take yourself.

So on that note without self deprecation or false modesty, let me say that I am an author, a modestly successful one in an industry where such an achievement is a mighty one and what I have achieved so far is just the beginning.

 

 

* Yes, I am aware of the contradiction of saying that on a blog that potentially be read by anyone in the world with an internet connection.

*2 Up to now but that’s something for another day.

*3 Actually Octocon had a panel on Friday night entitled Promotion in the Age of Social Media which I would have like to have attended but basically, I was hungry.

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You can’t go back

A friend of mine, one who bounced ideas off for years, is currently hard at work on his first novel and now when our paths cross it’s his turn to bounce ideas off me – what comes around goes around. I won’t say anything about the nature of his work because that’s entirely his to introduce. What I will talk about it a sentence from him that started with: “I’m thinking about going back and-”

No

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes from mixing up character and place names to wacky typos to find and replace errors. All of which pale in comparison against the cardinal sin of writing that I have committed. Namely going back and tinkering. Now I will add a qualification. What I refer to is going back while writing the first draft. Yes, you will have to go back and make repeated passes through it if you have any sort of notion of putting the work forward for publication, because gods know, the chance of it being perfect on the first pass is about the same as the metaphorical thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters producing the works of Shakespeare.

Writing is by its nature a learning experience where to be honest I think the only way to stop learning is to stop writing but your first serious attempt is the one where you’ll learn the most the quickest. When I start a story I have one or two characters, some basics for the setting and maybe a couple of scenes. As you go a long things get fleshed out, gaps start to get filled in, you start to get a handle on the process, the words are starting to pour out of you. Then you look back.

That section or chapter you thought was great now seems clumsy or you’ve come up with a something that really needs to be put in a few chapter earlier. So you go back, you tinker.

You stop making forward progress.

A story, be it novel, novella or even short story, needs to have a start, a middle and an end. No matter how cracking the first line, paragraph or chapter is, it isn’t a story because it isn’t complete. Going back becomes a cycle. You go back to make a change and that change cause knock on changes so you end up working your way up through the existing text making more changes. By the time you get back to where you left off you’ve learned a few more things, had a few more ideas and you go back again and the cycle continues. All the while the story doesn’t get really any closer to actually being finished but does get closer to being abandoned.

The Nameless War was my slowest book to write, several years, because during the first and second draft I kept going back. The Last Charge was done in less than two because I was more disciplined, yes I did change my mind about details as I wrote but didn’t go back to change them straight away. In fact when I finished each chapter I tended to mutter to myself “That needs a lot of work.” then open a new file for the next chapter.

I’m currently writing a time travel story which as you might imagine does involve a lot of double checking but I’m not going back to change anything. Not yet. As I said before writing is a learning experience which makes going back a false economy. Changes while it is all work in progress could and likely will be changed again. With first drafts don’t be afraid of changes in writing style as you go, you’re learning. Once you have the full text, then you can apply all the things you have learned. If you are afraid of forgetting to make a change to an earlier chapter, then add a footnote to it.

But above all else, keep going forwards.

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The end of the line… and pauses along the way

I don’t know what proportion of science fiction and fantasy novels are part of series as opposed to stand alone but it is fair to say that they are far from uncommon. Now it should be pointed out that there are different kinds of series. There those like say the Chronicles of Narnia which use the same setting and have some character overlap but are basically stand alone books that can be read in any order. Then there series like Lord of the Rings in which there is a single grand story arc across two or more books, all of which need to be read and read in one fixed order. It is the latter category I want to say a little about.

It isn’t hard to see from where the lure of the series comes; creatively it gives more room in which to develop and flesh out a story, this is specially important for science fiction and fantasy since we have to burn so much word count on world building. Since an individual novel is limited to between forty and a hundred and fifty thousand words(1), while even a short series can be multiples of that, the extra words allows the writer to avoid having to make compromises to keep the word and page count acceptable. From business standpoint it looks even better, sell one large book for twelve Euros (dollars, pounds, shillings, rubles, yen, goats, whatever) or two for nine, ninety-nine. If the reader wants to get the complete story, they have to fork over for each and every book. In fact on that later point occasionally publishers have split into two books that were intended as a single volume. But in doing so a new problem is introduced.

The ending of any story is the pay off, regardless of genre or style, a bad ending can completely undo any good work that has been done up to that point. The ending needs to resolve the major plot threads and if the reader is left unsatisfied or feeling cheated, well then that’s a reader who won’t be looking that writer up again. But for a single arc series it can’t tie everything off, it needs to provide a satisfactory close and at the same time provide a launchpad for the next book of the series. What is needed is a sub-ending.  The writer Shantnu Tiwari makes an impassioned case that the very worst sub-endings are cliffhangers. While I can’t get quite as worked up, thinking back across my own reading history I can think of a few cliff hanger ending I’ve read and while they didn’t make me throw the book across the room, they didn’t make me rush out and buy the next book either because there was that lack of pay off. The other problem with the cliffhanger is that there is likely a gap between the publication of individual books, of between months to years (20+ and counting in the case of one series I know of). Will the reader still have excitement to pick it back up, will they still remember what was going on? The best sub-endings I seen are the ones that felt like they could have been the end of the series, for my money Juliet E McKenna‘s first series nailed this perfectly.

So, if you are sitting out there somewhere idly considering writing your own series what am I saying? I’m saying you need to plan ahead (2). You absolutely must know where each book is going to end. Even if the big finish at the end of the series is absolutely amazing, it’s going to count for nothing if most readers abandoned ship at the end of the first book.

While we’re on subject of endings, lets move onto big ones, not just the end of a series but the end of a setting. It’s a personal belief of mine that all setting have their limits. Regardless to genre or even medium, each setting has its limits. Now quiet where those limits are depends on the nature of the setting. It is hangs off a single character then the limit will be reached fairly quickly (3) while one based on a large world or universe in which individuals can come and go will have more legs (4) but even there are limits. I suspect it’s one of the reason I never got into comic books, by now Batman should have either cleaned up Gotham City or be dead, either way as a story without a final end holds no attraction to me. Obviously there is a damn good reason why the likes of Batman, Star Trek or any other property keeps soldiering on:

Here's Johny!

Here’s Johny!

Be you an individual author or a good old fashioned soulless corporation walking away from an cash stream is going to be difficult to do at best and often impossible. Search the internet on any particular established series or franchise and it won’t be hard to find someone somewhere who feels its gone off the boil, the glory days are gone, it’s now just ploughing the same furrow. The solution to this if a solution is needed is in the hands of the consumer. We need to be ready to pursue to new and original. While we can continue to enjoy the glory days of our old favorites we should be ready to abandon them if they don’t come to an actual end.

FINAL THOUGHT: I say all that as someone who is very much a hobby writer. I don’t rely on my writing to pay the bills, just pay for the luxuries. I’ve certainly not had anything like a huge hit which I’ve continued to milk. Obviously if I do I may well turn into a huge hypocrite but at least if that happens, I’ve given everyone some good material to work with.

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Ref SFWA Award FAQ and Writer’s workshop.

(2) Yes I do know what I said in a previous blog entry about my tendency to do more winging it than planning. I did know where the Nameless War and Last Charge were going to end when I started them, the Landfall Campaign it was figured out while WIP, which is a writing technique I call ‘making life difficult for yourself’ [patient pending].

(3) Say a few books, two or three of films or a television series

(4) Example Star Wars or Star Trek

 

I can now be found on Twitter.

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Filed under Random Rants, science fiction, Self Publishing, Writing