Author Archives: Katriena Knights

About Katriena Knights

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem when she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinios, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children.

Honoring Your Contract

By Katriena Knights

One of the most important things you can do is a writer is honor your contracts. I’m not talking about your contracts with your publishers. I’m talking about your contracts with your readers.

Wait, what? Authors don’t sign contracts with readers, do they? So what am I yapping on about this time?

Readers have expectations. These expectations vary depending upon what kind of book you’re writing. Or, in some cases, the kind of book you claim to be writing. Violating these expectations can lose you your readers—sometimes permanently.

Of course this is more true with genre writing than literary. Most mainstream books have some built-in expectations, as well, but they’re a bit more fluid. Still, when you move from writing for yourself to writing to an audience, it’s a good idea to keep those audience expectations in mind. Most of these expectations have to do with the book’s ending.

For example, in a romance, your reader expects a happily-ever-after ending—an HEA—or at least a happy-for-now—HFN. If your romantic couple decides to go there separate ways, or if one dies horribly, your book isn’t a romance. If you market it as a romance and it lacks the HEA or HFN, your readers will discover you’ve violated that contract and probably won’t come back.

Mystery readers expect the crime to be solved, whether it’s a murder or petty theft. The solving of the crime should drive the plot, and the solution should drive the climax. Loose ends might be left here and there, but the main crime should be wrapped up. If you decide to be extra “edgy” and “realistic” and leave the crime unsolved, you’ve violated your contract. (There are mystery writers who’ve successfully published books that don’t wrap everything up, but they were long-time, established authors with a fan base willing to go along for the ride.)

With any book, of any genre, readers expect a conclusion of some sort. If too much is left hanging, plot points are tied up, or characters are left without resolution, you’ll lose some readers. This is why my copy of Trumpet of the Swan fell apart after about ten readings, but I only read Stuart Little a couple of times. Louis got a nicely constructed happily-ever-after, but poor Stuart didn’t get a nicely tied-up ending. I suppose maybe it was appropriate for his story, but I’m still bitter about it.

However, that’s an example where the genre didn’t dictate the ending. It wasn’t a violation of a genre contract, but it didn’t live up to my personal expectations. As a writer, there’s nothing you can do about that, so there’s no point trying. But do keep in mind the expectations of your genre and of your average reader when you’re stitching that plot together.

How to Make Your Editor Happy

By Katriena Knights

Nobody wants one, but everybody needs one. Maybe it sounds like a riddle Bilbo Baggins should have tossed Gollum’s way, but it’s really just a fact of the publishing business. Everybody needs an editor. Even the editors.

I’ve worked as an editor for almost ten years, in addition to writing my own books. There’s a certain satisfaction in figuring out what an author is trying to say, that maybe they didn’t even know they were saying, and helping them tease that out of their manuscript. There’s a bit less satisfaction in finding all the typos and grammatical errors an author may have committed, but it’s part of the job, too.

But this post isn’t about working as an editor. It’s about how to interact with your editor in a way that’ll keep your relationship positive and productive. The more positive your relationship is, the more likely you’ll be able to work together to produce a piece of work you’re both happy with. And if you and your editor are happy with it, your readers are that much more likely to be happy with it, too.

So, with that in mind, here are some guidelines for communicating with your editor.

  1. Your editor is always right. Well, okay, maybe not always dead right on every issue, but if your editor flags something because it made her cringe or roll her eyes or just get confused or made her go back to read a sentence more than once, it’s worth your time to take a look at the suggestions. And it would probably behoove you to make a change, even if it’s different from what the editor suggests. After all, your editor is your first reader, and if something doesn’t make sense to her, it’s probably not going to make sense to somebody else.
  2. Don’t tell the editor flat-out no. As an editor, I don’t have a problem with an author not wanting to make a change. But I do like to at least hear why they don’t want to make that change. Sometimes, by explaining what they meant to say or get across, the author can give me insight into how a phrase or a plot point isn’t doing what the author intended. When this happens, we rework it together until the author’s intent is crystal clear. At other times, it becomes clear that we’re not on the same page, and that’s fine. The author should win in these cases, unless it involves a conflict with a publisher’s guidelines. And even then, if you’ve explained something to me and I understand you feel strongly about it, I’ll go to bat for you with the bosspeople and do what I can to keep your vision intact.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Fighting about punctuation is a waste of time, unless somebody’s moved a comma and completely changed the meaning of a sentence. In most cases, minor grammatical tweaks like this are a matter of house style, and even if the editor changes them, a line editor will change them back. If it’s really important to the story, then yes, talk to the editor about arranging exceptions. But if it’s just a style issue, it’s better to let it go. (This is an advantage of self-publishing, by the way—you get to make your own style guide. My personal style guide REQUIRES the Oxford comma…)
  4. Save your energy for the big stuff. If it’s worth throwing down over, throw down. There are occasions when an editor or publisher’s demands for your story are so counter to what you wanted to get across with that work that you just have to draw that line in the sand. And there are things worth throwing down over. You’ll know what they are, because the thought of changing them makes you nauseated. Focus on those things. Hopefully, you’ll never run across an editor who works at this kind of cross-purposes with you.
  5. Send chocolate. Chocolate is always a good idea.

MOMENT OF BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: My new book, Blood on the Ice, arrives tomorrow at Samhain publishing. I hope you’ll take a gander!

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

When You Shouldn’t Finish What You Started

By Katriena Knights

One of the cardinal rules of being a writer is to finish what you start. After all, if you don’t finish those stories, you won’t have anything to submit or publish, right? Right. But there are times when it’s best not to finish or revisit an unfinished or unpolished piece. Continue reading

Spicing Up Your Stories

by Katriena Knights

Sex sells. We all know this. Not everybody wants to leap off the edge right into steamy erotica or even romance, and that’s fine—it’s not for everybody. But relationships are an important part of any story, and adding a little spice to those relationships can give you another tool to expand characterization, plot, and other important elements of storytelling.

Work It, Baby…

Like any scene in your story, a sex scene—or love scene, nookie scene, or scene where all the characters are naked anyway so you might as well take advantage of it—has to pull its weight or it doesn’t belong in your final draft. No matter how explicit or non-explicit, that scene has to provide plot impetus and character development. As much as we all might be in favor of it in real life, gratuitous sex has no place in a well-written story. Instead, any intimate encounter between your characters should perform one or more of the major tasks demanded of any scene in a story. It should:

  • Introduce plot points
  • Propel the story forward
  • Contribute to character development

This might seem like a large burden to put on a scene many people would consider extraneous fluff, but it isn’t. Every scene should do at least one of these things, and preferably two or all three. Intimate scenes between characters should show us something about those characters that contributes to their story. The same can be said for a fight scene or a scene where people eat dinner. Every scene in a story has to work for its right to be in that story, so be sure you’re loading those smoochie scenes with details and story elements that keep your plot toodling along and keep your reader reading rather than skipping pages.

No Two Scenes are Alike

There’s a perception, especially among those who don’t care for explicit fiction, that all sex scenes are alike. Some people even skip them, assuming nothing important is going to happen and they can get along to the plot. Your job as a writer is to make sure this isn’t true. Every scene—no matter what happens in that scene—should be unique to the book and the characters you’re working with. No two people are going to say the same things to each other as they tip over the edge from affection to intimacy. No two couples are going to have the exact same experience, the same feelings. If you know your characters well—and you should—you’ll know what about that encounter will touch them most deeply. You’ll know which of their buttons to hit to make the scene ring with emotion rather than dry anatomical details.

Even if your encounter isn’t explicit, it’ll pack a punch if you keep these things in mind. I’ve read well-written, well-integrated scenes that were only a couple of sentences long that were more sensual, erotic, and meaningful than five or six pages of mechanical details that didn’t drag me into the scene or make me care for the characters.

Sure, you can write an entire book without sex scenes. You can also write an entire book without fight scenes or scenes where people eat dinner. This isn’t a judgment call on the types of scenes you choose to put in your story. It’s a reminder that every scene, no matter what the context, should always work its little words off to do its job. And that job is to entice, involve, and hook your reader.

I’ll be teaching an online workshop starting March 3rd that will help you add this kind of punch to any sensual, romantic, or sexually explicit scenes you might want to write. Even if you just want to add a touch of spice to a story rather than diving into the deep end of the explicitness pool, you’ll learn how to ensure those scenes drive the story and are meaningful for the reader. Join me for “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” and find out ways to enrich your readers’ experience.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

Gadgets and Spreadsheets and Apps, Oh, My!

By Katriena Knights

Like most of us writers, I’m always looking for a way to increase efficiency and up my wordcount. All this while trying not to aggravate my carpal tunnels and managing to spend a couple minutes here and there with the kids. My latest quest for the perfect productivity combo has led me to what I’m finding to be a neat combination of apps on my relatively new iPad and my favorite writing program, Scrivener.

Some history on some of these items first. My best friend introduced me to Scrivener a few years ago, and when I first fiddled with the demo it was like a revelation. I switched from PC to Mac for Scrivener, which I think is a little like converting to a new religion so you can marry that hot guy who’s not the same religion as you. That move alone made writing faster and easier, but it still tethered me to the computer. The next move, when my carpal tunnel started acting up, was to write by hand, then dictate into Scrivener with Dragon Dictate. Which helped my wrists but slowed me down.

I’d resisted getting an iPad for a long time, even though I really really wanted one. I mean I wanted one with the kind of intense lust I usually reserve for broken-nosed, big-shouldered, hockey-playing men. But I couldn’t justify the expense. Finally, my daughter got a hand-me-down iPad for Christmas one year, and after fiddling with it for a while, I decided I could get some use out of it aside from playing Bejeweled for hours. So I bought myself one for Mother’s Day last year.

Well, boy-howdy was that ever a good investment. I started writing ALL THE TIME. I could pop that sucker into my purse and get set up at Starbucks in a quarter of the time it took me to set up with my MacBook Pro. I even liked the touch keyboard for the most part. But using the touchpad plus Notes or Google Docs wasn’t quite cutting it, either.

Enter my BFF yet again, who ran across an app called Werdsmith. I installed the free version, fiddled with it a bit, then decided I didn’t like it and deleted it. I started working in Notes so I didn’t have to have an Internet connection to write. After I wrote a section, I emailed it to myself and dropped it into Scrivener. But that wasn’t covering my bases well enough, either. I wanted to know how many words I was writing in a session, and Notes doesn’t have a wordcount feature (if it does, I never found it, so don’t mock me or anything in the comments if it has one…). Out of curiosity, I downloaded Werdsmith again. For some reason, it made complete sense to me this time. You start with an Idea, then you add a wordcount goal to it and it becomes a Project. Werdsmith tracks your wordcount as you go. Now all I needed was a spreadsheet app. I also got a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard to reduce my weird autocorrect errors and so I could type faster.

I poked around the app store and tried out a few spreadsheet apps until I settled on iSpreadsheet (there’s a predictable app name). I’m still using the free version. I just make a new spreadsheet for each project, or, with longer projects, for each week of work. When I’m done, I export it, email it to myself as a .csv, convert it in Excel, then file it in my folder with the rest of the story files. Here’s an example, converted to a .jpg for your viewing pleasure.

Spreadsheet from iSpreadsheet

iSpreadsheet isn’t all that dynamic, but it does what I need it to do, and it’s free. Also I can put pretty colors on it, and it does a limited number of formulas. I’m not sure what the upgraded version adds other than the ability to create a larger number of individual spreadsheets and no more ads, but for now I’m doing fine with the free one.

So now my wordcount has increased to the point where I can knock out over 1,000 words in a half-hour session, as you can see on the spreadsheet. The Logitech keyboard is for some reason easier on my wrists than my laptop keyboard—maybe because I don’t bang on it as hard when I type. And with the spreadsheet and Werdsmith to keep track of my wordcount, all my tracking and goalsetting needs are in one place. I email my Werdsmith files to myself, drop them into Scrivener, then when the first draft is done, I chop the file into scenes while I’m doing my first edit. When I’m done editing, I export to Word and shoot the file off to my editor. It’s a great system for me so far, and I intend to keep using it until I find another fun gadget or app to add to the workflow.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

 

Making a Big Deal Out of It

As writers, we spend a lot of time beating ourselves up. That story wasn’t good enough, we didn’t finish it on time, it didn’t sell to our market of choice, it got a bad review, I’m just not happy with it… etc. etc. Too often, we forget what a monumental undertaking writing is in the first place. How many people say they’re going to write a book and never even set hands to keyboard? How many people get started but don’t stick with it? I propose that today, at the start of the Christmas season, we start thinking about how to reward ourselves for our accomplishments instead of letting them fall away in the stew of self-criticism and all the pressure we put on ourselves.

There are many different ways to do this, of course. Hang the reward out there as a carrot or just promise yourself you’ll do something special when you meet that next milestone. For a long time, I bought a print from my favorite musician/photographer whenever I finished a manuscript. (When I ran out of wall space, though, I had to try something different.) I’ve also been known to give myself a day off just to read, watch TV or knit when I finish a project.

A few years ago, I started a charm bracelet. It’s one of those Chamilia bracelets, where you buy the bracelet and then string beads on it as you purchase them. I got the idea when my daughter got a similar bracelet, and now I buy a bead to commemorate book contracts and completed book series. The first bead I bought was a Bestseller bead for my book Where There’s a Will, which was on the Kindle bestseller list. Then I got beads for some of my past books—a Celtic-style bead for The Haunting of Rory Campbell, a black, night-sky-type bead for my Dark Callings series, and a glass bead in ocean colors for my Mara’s Men series. Recently I picked up a bead with crossed hockey sticks to commemorate the sale of Blood on the Ice, and a round bead with embedded stones for Necromancing Nim. I’ve got a pretty good string of beads going, but there’s still room for more before I run out of room on my bracelet.

These beads aren’t exactly cheap. This makes me try to talk myself out of them on a regular basis. But finishing a book is a big accomplishment, and selling it is even more so. So I promise myself a bead for major sales, or for the completion of a three-book series, or for other milestones beyond simply completing a manuscript. It makes me feel good, and when I wear the bracelet, when people ask about it I can revisit the warm fuzzies I’ve gotten from writing and selling these books.

These ideas might not be for you, but I think we as authors need to acknowledge our own awesomeness on a more regular basis. We spend far too much time locked up in our offices churning out words and then telling ourselves we didn’t churn out enough words, or didn’t commit the right words to paper. We need to pat ourselves on the back. We really need to make a big deal out of it.

So think about that this Christmas. If you don’t already have a commemorative system in place, think about something that might work for you, and then treat yourself.

(Beads from top to bottom: Necromancing Nim, Blood on the Ice, Beautiful Music, Puck You, Vampire Apocalypse, Ring of Darkness, Crimson Star, Mom bead (a mother’s day present), Dark Callings, Where There’s a Will, Mara’s Men, Haunting of Rory Campbell).

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

 

Feeding the Muse

Since it’s the holidays, my blogs have shifted to a different week, so I thought I’d write about something a little different. And since November features the National Holiday of Eating a Lot, this week I’m going to talk about food.

As writers, we all spend a ridiculous amount of time finagling, fondling, cajoling, and even bribing our muses to give up the goods so we can get our stories on paper. We’ll do just about anything to get those fickle forces working on our side. Using just the right music, the right candles, the right pen, the right notebook, the right keyboard—all these things are ways I’m sure we’ve all used to seek optimum creative output.

My muse, unfortunately, likes to eat.

More correctly, he likes to be cooperative in places where food is available. Sadly, this does not include my own kitchen. He knows I’ll probably toss him a half-assed cheese quesadilla or a plastic container full of leftovers, and he’s just not down with that. No, he likes to go out.

Through trial and error, I’ve discovered all the restaurants in about a forty-mile radius where I can sit and eat and write and actually produce a decent amount of work. On the plus side, the muse likes fast and semi-fast food, so at least he’s not a terribly pricey date. On the minus side, he likes me to drive a lot.

He’s okay with Starbucks and Qdoba, and those are both available not far from home. But then there are the days where he wants Garbanzos or Jimmy Johns or, God forbid, Tokyo Joe’s or pad thai at Pei Wei. Then I have to drive down the hill to satisfy the hungry little beast. Oh, he’ll let me work at the library, too, but since the libraries aren’t exactly close, either, I’m usually away from home long enough that lunch becomes a necessity.

The good news is, once I sit down with whatever the muse is craving that day, I can usually crank out a thousand words or so while I’m having my lunch. But it would be really nice if I could get that same kind of output without having to bribe the muse with coffee, burritos, or stuffed grape leaves.

One of these days, I might figure out how to get my muse to put out without having to buy him dinner. On that day, my wallet and my gas tank will be much happier. But in the meantime, I’ll take my word count where I can get it.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog.

 

 

Wrapping it Up—Finishing Up a Series

by Katriena Knights

No matter how much you love a series, sooner or later it has to end. Well, this is true for television—in series fiction, you could probably keep going until you expire in front of your keyboard. However, there are plenty of reasons you might want to wrap up a book series, and when you do, you want to be sure you do it right.

I think the most effective way to wrap up a series is to know where you’re going from the beginning. In the old days, when people rarely went beyond a trilogy, this was easier. Now, when you can go to thirty or more books (see J. D. Robb and Laurel K. Hamilton, who I keep talking about), you might never have to plot out an ending. (See above, expiring on your keyboard. Then your daughter can continue your series like Tony Hillerman’s is doing right now.) However, if you don’t trust your offspring, you might want to be sure your book’s main story is brought to a conclusion before you are.

On television, this kind of planning is fairly rare. Generally, the showrunners find out they need to wrap up a story at the beginning of a season at the earliest, and that’s usually because they’ve made the decision to end the show. When the network makes the decision, often they don’t get to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion at all.

A couple of shows do come to mind, though, where the plan was in place from the beginning or at least from close to the beginning. One of the best examples of this is Babylon 5, where showrunner J. Michael Straczynski had a five-year plan in place from day one. Even this didn’t quite go as planned, since key characters had to be redone on the fly when actors left or didn’t work out, and the network put the kibosh on the last season by cutting it short due to ratings. Still, it remains one of the most fully realized genre plotlines on TV. (There might be other examples, probably from syndicated shows, but they’re probably not things I’ve watched.)

I’m not sure Lost is a great example of anything, although I did enjoy the show, but during the second season into the third, ratings slipped to the point where the network told the showrunners to build a plan to be done after the end of season five. They did, and managed to answer most of the questions that had built up over the course of the five seasons, though whether they were satisfactory answers mostly depends on who you talk to.

In the book world, a few series also come to mind where the author planned the storyline to run to a certain length. Rachel Caine’s Weather Wardens was intended from the beginning to run to twelve books, and the spinoff series was planned at only four. Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series will end when she runs out of alphabet, and based on interviews, she also has a plan for how her adventures with Kinsey Milhone will come to a close.

In addition to having a plan for how you’d ideally like your series to wind up, I think it’s probably a good idea to build your underlying plot in arcs so that it could conceivably end at several different points. Say you write the first three books and end a major story arc there—then if for whatever reason you’re unable to continue the series, you’ve still given your readers a mostly satisfactory conclusion. The showrunners of Supernatural mentioned this strategy at the end of that show’s second season, when they were uncertain of renewal. They answered most of the major questions that had lingered through the first two seasons and set up a new plot arc that would carry the third season if they actually had one. Now in its ninth season, Supernatural now blithely drops massive, life-ruining cliffhangers at the end of each season because they know they’ll have another year to work them out.

In general, it’s important to know what questions you’ve raised throughout your series and have answers to those questions. Your ending should match the tone of the rest of the series—don’t have a massive, apocalyptic siege of destruction at the end of a comedic romance series. Avoid deus ex machina type solutions, and try not to handwave questions that have taken on greater importance in the story than you might have expected at the beginning. If you like the idea, set up story arcs within the longer series so you can end at earlier points if necessary. If you keep these issues in mind, you’ll be likely to construct a series ending that both you and your readers will be happy with.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog.

Mixing it Up—You’re Doing it Wrong

By Katriena Knights

My TV. We're tight, yo.

My TV. We’re tight, yo.

In last month’s post, I talked about how TV shows maintain a long-term status quo, often keeping characters mostly static. This time, I’m going to talk about shows that have attempted to break this pattern, and how they did it wrong—and how a few of them have done it right. Hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to use this kind of development in your writing.

The way I see TV, three major forces determine the status quo of an individual show. These are the show’s genre, its formula, and its initial premise. For example, in Hart to Hart, the protagonists were a husband and wife team, so the status quo would demand that they remain happily married. In Remington Steele, the protagonists were constantly flirting with falling into a relationship, so to have them finally cross that line and become a couple would disturb the status quo. These were both mystery shows, so the genre demanded that there be—you guessed it—a mystery to solve, preferably a murder. The formula was also determined more or less by the genre, but the pattern for a mystery show can differ slightly from show to show as long as there’s a case introduced at the beginning and a solution provided at the end.

Doing it Wrong

As a general rule, changing up the status quo too much in a TV show is going to lose you your audience. Moonlighting tried it in the 80s and really mucked it up, to the point where loss of ratings after a couple in a show consummates their relationship became referred to as “the Moonlighting Effect.” After that disaster, most shows with a couple whose relationship relied on sexual tension didn’t dare let them get together on a permanent basis.

However, I think what drove the ratings loss in Moonlighting wasn’t the change in the relationship, per se. It was the effect it had on the show’s formula. It wasn’t about the mystery cases anymore. Suddenly it became about almost nothing but the central relationship. It had, in effect, changed genre.

Remington Steele saw a major ratings drop-off before the creators decide to let Remington and Laura consummate their relationship, to the point where the show was cancelled. Viewer protest brought it back for a fifth season, but it wasn’t the same show after that. Literally. The fifth season revolved almost entirely around the relationship rather than around individual mystery cases. But why did the fourth season see a drop-off? I watched this full series straight through recently, and the fourth season has a marked change in tone. The episodes are darker, the cases are darker, and a lot of the lighthearted banter just isn’t there anymore. This, in my mind, was a much more deadly disruption of the status quo than any change in the main characters’ relationship. I kept watching because I had all the DVDs, but I could totally see why viewers at the time might have switched channels. The creators had broken their contract by no longer meeting viewer expectations.

Doing it Right

In recent years, we’ve seen Bones and Castle, two shows very similar to Remington Steele and Moonlighting, shift the status quo with their main characters without seeing their viewers exit in droves. I believe this is because they’ve both kept the shows focused on the original premise and let the relationships play second fiddle. This is as it should be with this type of show. We have yet to see how things will play out in the upcoming season, with both shows ending on relationship-related cliffhangers, but so far they’ve provided good examples of how to shift one part of the status quo and make it work by keeping everything else intact.

In the book world, a few examples come to mind where this same kind of shift has occurred. One series where I think it wasn’t done particularly well is the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton. The changes in Anita came at the cost of a change in the focus of the entire series. The books became much more sexually charged and much more focused on the relationships than on the mysteries and conflict that drove the first third or so of the series. It didn’t happen gradually, but instead was quite abrupt. I know this lost her a good many readers, although plenty have hung on for the ride.

By contrast, JD Robb has handled a few shifts in her …In Death series without losing the focus of the books, which is on the suspense/mystery elements. Eve’s building relationship and eventual marriage to Roarke, as well as other changes in their relationship and her character, are significant, but they never move to the forefront to take over the main story arc. In these books, we know exactly what we’re going to get when we pick one up, and we’re never disappointed.

In the end, it’s all about reader (or viewer) expectations and how well you satisfy them. You can play with the expectations so you surprise them from time to time, but never pull the rug out from under them. They may never forgive you.

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Katriena Knights spends more time watching TV than is generally recommended. She is the author of about twenty published novels, mostly paranormal romance genres. Her semi-erotic urban fantasy-ish book Necromancing Nim has just been released in paperback from Samhain Publishing. Feel free to follow her sporadically updated blog at katrienaknights.blogspot.com or her spasmodically updated Twitter at twitter.com/crazywritinfool.

Learning from Television: The Art of Predictability

By Katriena Knights

I like television. A lot. Whenever people tell me TV rots your brain, I make faces at them. TV is a valid and even sophisticated storytelling medium, and there’s lots to learn about story structure when you sit down to watch your favorite show. So I’m going to talk about TV for a while, probably for a few blog posts.

I’ve been on a kick lately where I’ve been watching a lot of retro TV from the 70s and 80s. I know what you’re thinking–I just said TV could be sophisticated and now I’m going to talk about the 70s? The answer is yes. Bear with me.

Primetime TV in the 70s and 80s was largely designed so anyone could sit down, flip on the TV, watch a random episode, and not have any trouble following the storyline. It wasn’t until Twin Peaks came along in 1990 that the joy–or horror–of ongoing story arcs began to take over the primetime storytelling stage. (Or at least that’s the way I remember it.) For better or for worse, that type of storytelling has now infiltrated nearly every television genre, including mainstays like sitcoms and procedurals where the self-contained story was usually the norm.

Rewatching these old shows, I find this both comforting and frustrating. Comforting because I can watch a random episode and not worry that I missed something and won’t be able to follow the current story. Comforting because I know everything will turn out okay in the end, and the main characters won’t change much from their established status quo.

But it’s frustrating for the same reasons. Nothing ever really changes. If Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto in Emergency! inherit a ton of money in one episode, they’ll somehow lose it all (to inheritance taxes and an old lady’s cat, if you’re curious—spoilers, by the way) by the end of the episode. If Roy gets offered a promotion that requires him to leave Johnny and drive the truck instead of being a paramedic, he’ll turn it down in the end, leaving our treasured twosome intact. It’s basically a reset button, pressed at the end of every episode, that returns everything exactly where it was at the beginning. If done smoothly and logically, it works. If done without finesse, it’s extraordinarily annoying.

How does this apply to the storytelling we do as novelists? I think it’s most applicable to genre writing where the series is the norm. Mystery, romance, and urban fantasy, as well as combinations thereof, are often written in a series format so the reader can follow the same characters from story to story without being too uncertain about how those characters will behave or what kinds of storylines they’ll get involved in. Sure, some character development will occur from book to book, to the point where the main character might be drastically different in the last book of the series than she was in the first book. However, if the character changes drastically from book to book, your readers will be disconcerted and even unwilling to go along for the ride you’ve constructed for them.

An example of a character who stays mostly the same from book to book but who still takes us on a journey of characterization and change is Temperance Brennan from the “Bones” series by Kathy Reichs. Tempe goes through many life changes, but these character arcs often play out through three or four books, making the changes to her circumstances and her character more gradual. At heart, she’s still the same person, so we recognize her as a predictable friend whenever she shows up. This combination of development and maintaining the status quo works very well in this series, as well as other mystery-style book series like Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series or the “…in Death” books by J.D. Robb. M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth books are another great example in the mystery genre.

If you want to keep a status quo of some sort from book to book, techniques used in episodic television can give you an idea of how to do this effectively. However, it can also give you an idea of how to do it really poorly. We’ll talk about that next time.

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Katriena Knights is a prolific author of contemporary and paranormal romance. As KC Myers, she also writes science fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy. Her latest novel from Samhain Publishing, Necromancing Nim, is set in a world where vampires are out and proud and can’t remember to pay their bills.