Tag Archives: Katriena Knights

The Importance of a Good Beta Reader

by Katriena Knights

If you’ve seriously pursued writing for any amount of time, you know you can’t be trusted to judge your own work. Scenes that seem wonderfully constructed in our heads are completely incomprehensible to other people. Glorious flights of poetic prose are actually pools of verbal quicksand from which no reader will ever safely return. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.

This is why we need Beta readers.

A good Beta reader will help you find those holes in your manuscript where your brain fills in the details but a reader gets confused or completely lost. She’ll find continuity errors, wobbles in character development, and help you figure out where you’ve indulged yourself too much and could really stand to cut things down a bit.

A really good Beta reader will call you on the phone and say, “Hey, mostly I liked the story, but there’s this one thing I HATE with the BURNING PASSION of a THOUSAND MILLION SUNS. Change it.”

True story.

Yes, we’re still speaking.

My Beta reader iBloodontheIce-ART-Smallers also my best friend. She doesn’t just read my manuscripts, she also feeds me story ideas. For example, my upcoming novel from Samhain, Blood on the Ice, is entirely and completely her fault. And yes, she betaed it for me. A couple of times.

Early in the writing process, she read through some chapters and said, “Wait. Your game schedule is a complete mess.” And then she sent me a link and said, “Use this.”

The link was the entire Chicago Blackhawks schedule from the 1955-1956 season, when the NHL only had six teams. “Just plug your six vampire teams into this schedule. That way it’ll make more sense.”

I think I banged my head against a wall for fifteen minutes. It worked, though. Using the actual schedule—even though I did tweak it a little—added a background continuity that made the Vampire Hockey League more realistic. And if there’s anything that needs added realism, it’s a hockey league populated entirely by vampires.

When my final draft was ready, she told me we could get together over Instant Message on Memorial Day and go through the manuscript. I figured we’d chat for a little while, I’d make a few notes, and then I’d be off to finish my submission-ready draft.

Eight hours later (you read that right—EIGHT. HOURS. LATER.), I had about 25 pages of notes copied and pasted out of IM into a document. I was also really freaking hungry. Over the next few days, I reordered several scenes, added some exposition, and took out an entire character. (You know how they say to kill your babies? This was an ACTUAL BABY. Her whole subplot got removed. Poor thing. Maybe she’ll fit into the next book.)

That right there is what every writer needs in a good Beta reader.

I’m always grateful that my BFF happens to have a ridiculously good story sense and isn’t afraid to tell me when stuff just plain sucks. It’s the kind of objective eye every writer needs. I can’t tell you how to find your own—all I know is you can’t have mine.

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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

Look What You Missed….and What You Can Still Sign Up For!

If you thought you could wait until the last minute and then sign up for Trai Cartwright’s screenwriting class, too bad. That class filled up in a hurry.

There’s lots more going on with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, so peruse this list, follow the link if something looks interesting, and join others looking to learn and make contact (eye or virtual) with their fellow writers.

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First, there’s the online class that starts tomorrow. “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” is presented by Katriena Knights. The two-week course starts Monday, March 3rd, and ends on Sunday, March 16th. Cost is $25 for members and $30 for non-members.

“There’s no question about it: sex sells, and the current romance market is thriving on more explicit content than ever before in the history of the genre. However, readers are discerning, and even the most daring content will fall flat if it isn’t integrated into the story on an emotional level and on a story level.”

Katriena’s class is not focused on romantic novel sex or erotica. It’s all about the right use of sex scenes in all genres. Don’t be shy. You know you want to put a sex scene in your next book. Learn how and when it’s appropriate and not gratuitous. For more information about the class, visit the RMFW website. And if you want to pass information and go straight to registration, you can do that too.

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2014 Conference Proposals Reminder: RMFW’s conference chair is accepting workshop proposals for the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference through March 31, 2014.

Go to the Conference page on the RMFW website for suggestions to help you make your workshop stand out and the link to the proposal form. If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org

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March Program free for members and non-members: “Think You’re Ready for the Colorado Gold [Writer's Contest]“?

Presented by Chris Devlin on Saturday, March 15, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm at the Belmar Public Library, 555 S. Allison Parkway, Lakewood, CO 80226.

“Making the finals in RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Writing Contest is a great way to get your work in front of agents and editors. Many past winners and finalists have gone on to have their books published. Finaling in the well-respected Colorado Gold is also a clear badge of honor to help market and promote your work. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend an afternoon with contest chair Chris Devlin. Come learn what makes a good entry great, what catches a judge’s eye, and how to avoid common mistakes.”

For more information, head on back to the RMFW website and check out this program page.

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If you live within snowshoeing distance of the Western Slope, RMFW has a program for you as well. Presented by Cindi Myers, this workshop is called “Agents: Myths vs. Reality.

This event is free for members and non-members on Saturday, March 15, 8:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. at the Grand Junction Business Incubator, 2591 Legacy Way, Grand Junction, Colorado. Please RSVP to Vicki Law at vruchhoeft@bresnan.net.

Expanded continental breakfast will be served at 8:30 A.M. and the workshop will begin at 9:00 A.M. and end approximately noon. From noon to 1:00 P.M. is networking, socializing and clean-up.

“Do you need an agent in order to get published? What will an agent do for you? What can’t an agent do? How do you find a good agent? Do you really need an agent in today’s publishing world? Award-winning author Cindi Myers discusses the myths and realities of dealing with agents, how to find the best agent, and how you can get published without an agent. In this frank discussion, Cindi will share her experience and that of other multi-published authors, and answer your questions about working with agents.”

For more information and directions to the event location, hop back on over to the RMFW website to that program page.

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becomeamember01If you aren’t convinced by now that you need to become a member of this fast-growing and extremely prestigious writers’ organization, which you can do by going here, then take a look at the upcoming retreat in Golden, Colorado March 16-21 (flexible day registration open until March 15th) and some of honored guests for the September 5-7 Colorado Gold Conference in Westminster, Colorado.

Members get a fantastic newsletter, opportunities to guest star on the RMFW blog, and more.

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

 

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.