Giving Fans a Good Series Finale

Two seasons ago, I decided to stop watching How I Met Your Mother. I was frustrated with the slow unfolding of the main plot line and decided to shelve that show in favor of others. But a friend brought me back into the fold by encouraging me to get back on board because “it gets better.”

So I binge-watched the penultimate season and then watched the final season, which recently concluded with the series finale. I’d seen a bit of hubbub surrounding the conclusion of the series, but I didn’t understand until I watched the hour-long show the next day. I promise not to give any spoilers, but like many fans my take-away was . . .

Worst. Finale. Ever.

What were you thinking?

Sorry, but I’m weeks past that moment, and I’m still kind of angry. Which got me thinking about series finales in general — whether a TV series, a movie series, or a book series. What makes an audience thrilled with the ending, and what makes the audience revolt in frustration?

Here are my own ideas about giving fans a good series finale:

Don’t cop out with a twist ending. Yes, you want to go out with a big bang. But a big bang is probably more of the same. Make it bigger and better, but don’t pull a bait-and-switch on the audience. It may feel clever to introduce something entirely different at the end — like you’ve created a breath-taking A-ha! moment. But it can backfire.

If you do give a twist, make it one that falls in line with the tone of the rest of the piece. For example, this is the best-ever twist ending for a TV series I’ve seen:

Do maintain the character arc. The main and supporting characters should grow through the series. Through trials and triumphs, they learn something important about themselves. They’re still the people we’ve come to know and love, but a better version for having gone down the path we journeyed with them. Keep that arc until the end. Regression is not acceptable. If they learned something, let them hold onto those hard-earned lessons.

Do answer the main question. If we know that a character’s main goal in life is discovering the true identity of his mother, and we endure seven books or five TV seasons or four movies, the protagonist better know who Mama is by the end. Not every thread must be tied up perfectly, but if a question has been a driving force throughout the series, it needs to reach some satisfactory conclusion. Maybe it’s not even fully explained, but it’s enough for the main character to find peace.

Don’t get silly. Maybe you can’t imagine what this point is about. But you know it when you see it: Lost, the Ewoks of The Return of the Jedi, the last few seasons of Heroes, . . .

When writing a series, the author or screenwriter may feel like they’re running out of material or they may wish to push the envelope further and further. It can be tempting to get more and more imaginative until you finally cross a line that makes your fans say, “What the heck was that?!” Instead, keep the tone, the tension, and the integrity of a series all the way to the end.

Those are my four Do’s and Don’ts for giving fans a good series finale. But ultimately, you have to Respect the Audience. Think about why the series has been so successful and then amp that up for the final goodbye.

Who’s done it well?

One that comes to mind is the most watched finale ever: M*A*S*H:, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” The finale remains a classic because it honored the characters, pushed Hawkeye (the main character) through the remainder of his personal struggle, and gave closure to the series through the ending of the Korean War and the characters parting ways. As they said goodbye to one another, we felt like we were saying our goodbyes as well. If you want to watch that final scene, you can find it here.

MASH Goodbye Final Shot

And now for the beginning of my series of progress updates with this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days.

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. Read The Collector by Victoria Scott. One down, 11 to go!

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Put this off until I finish the first draft of another story I needed to finish. No progress this week.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Worked on a plot hole I need to resolve in one story. Some progress.

4. Publish and promote two short stories. Not ready to publish until end of the month or early May, but I finally picked all of my stories’ titles — with the fabulous help of my fabulous book cover designer, Melinda VanLone. Need a cover? Check her out here. Progress made!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. I already submitted my sponsor article for the ROW80 blog, and it should go up later this month. Then checked in on everyone on Friday. Done.

Now what’s your vote for best and worst book, TV, or movie series finales? What advice would you give to an author or screenwriter when crafting the final installment of a series? And how was your week?

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What the Acknowledgment Page Reminds Me

I’ve taken to reading the Acknowledgments page in every book I read.

Before I became a writer, I would get to the end of the book and flip the cover closed – leaving behind the part where the author thanked this person and that person for helping to craft the novel. Reading the book made me feel a bit closer to the author, but the other people she named seemed like strangers, insignificant to my story experience.

Now I understand that page is golden.

And it reminds me of something I’ve learned about writing: You don’t write well by yourself. Sorry, but it’s the rare individual who can crank out something beautiful and professional and worthwhile without assistance. The vast majority of successful writers have had beta readers, critiquers, editors, consultants, cheerleaders, accountability partners, and family and friends drawing out the best within them and helping them reach their goals. Reading the Acknowledgments page, I see who influenced and inspired the author.

Acknowledgements Page

Page from THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Being a writer isn’t a solo performance. As much as it may look that way based on your name on the cover, your best writing comes together when you enlist the help and encouragement of others.

Which is why I love writing communities like A Round of Words in 80 Days, WANA International, and RWA.

Among them are those beta readers, critiquers, editors, consultants, cheerleaders, accountability partners, and family and friends who help you whip yourself and your story into shape. You might be able to write a novel on your own, but it’s going to be much better with people on your side, evoking your best and keeping your focus where it should be.

Surround yourself with good people, the kind of people you wish you could acknowledge in every book – if only your Acknowledgments could be ten pages long – and then get to writing. You’ll learn what every successful writer, and the Beatles, already knows: Creativity flows best with a little help from your friends.

ROW80 Round 2

Speaking of community, it’s time for me to declare my goals for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

1. Read 12 books. Even though I completed 15 books last go-round, this number seems like a good goal point. Both nonfiction and fiction count.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. I’ve been working on this novel for what seems like forever, but I believe in the story and the characters and I’m eager to finally get it all put together.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. I have four short stories in drafts which all need to be edited and polished. I want to get through one of those four stories this round.

4. Publish and promote two short stories. I have two other short stories pretty much ready to go. I plan to self-publish both of these young adult paranormal tales during this round. Look for a demon story and a vampire story from yours truly in the near future.

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Once again, I volunteered to be a sponsor for this fabulous writing challenge. I enjoy seeing the various updates and look forward to lots of progress from fellow writers. Indeed, I’ve already submitted my article for the ROW80 blog.

That’s it!

Do you read the acknowledgment page of a book? If so, what do you gain from doing so? Are you involved in a writing challenge? And how was your week?

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Tips for a Photo Shoot and ROW80 Wrap-Up

For years, I’ve used a photo here on this blog and on my social media sites I took myself. It worked fine, since it was a pretty decent picture and really did look like me. However, it was time to update the photo and get a professional involved.

So I recently hired a friend whose photography I admire to take author photos of me. Before going for my shoot, I consulted online articles and asked fellow authors for advice. Here are some helpful tips I received:

Choose a good time and place — both for the look you want and for making sure you’re comfortable for the shoot. If you’re taking an outdoor photo, the best lighting is usually at sunrise and sunset.

Wear make-up a little darker and heavier than normal, but not too heavy since you want to look like you. Even if you don’t wear make-up (girl or guy), you may still want some powder to take off the shine.

Bring more than one outfit. Certain colors may clash with the background, and you don’t always know what will look best ahead of time.

Wear solid, darker colors, long sleeves. Avoid black with a black background, but otherwise a darker color keeps the subject from looking washed out. Stay away from busy patterns and heavy jewelry. Keep it simple.

Find ways to relax — whether by sipping some wine, listening to music, chatting with the photographer, etc.

Be clear about what you want. Communicate expectations so that you and your photographer are on the same page about the look you’re going for.

Make sure the photographer takes enough photos, so you have plenty to choose from.

Don’t freeze up during the photo session. Instead, shift your pose a little here and there, trying to get the best and most natural pose you can.

Consult others if you need help choosing which photo to use. When you receive your final pictures, ask someone who knows you well which pose does you justice. You want a photo that represents what you truly look like, while also putting your best foot forward.

By the way, August McLaughlin, author and former model, has an excellent article on Mastering Your Author Headshot with more suggestions.

Armed with great tips, I headed to my photo shoot last week.

I’d requested an outdoor photo, both full body and head shots, and wardrobe changes. My photographer friend and I met at a local park around sunset. I wore jeans and boots and brought four long-sleeved shirts, so switching clothes was easy. My make-up was a little heavier than usual, but only enough to make my facial features stand out. The photographer took several photos with each outfit and in different locations with different poses. It was a relaxing experience, and I’m very happy with the results.

And since it seems wrong after all that not to share a few photos from my shoot . . .

Julie Glover - author photo

Julie Glover - author photo 4

Julie Glover - author photo 3

Julie Glover - author photo 2

Julie Glover - author photo

My photographer did an amazing job!!!

ROW80 Update

This is IT — the final check-in for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and how I did for the round:

1. Read 12 books. Read 15 books, the last one being Solstice by P.J. Hoover.

Goal exceeded.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I drafted two young adult paranormal stories and worked on some others. My plan is to begin publishing shorts during the next round.

Goal met.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. I missed a week in my sponsor responsibilities but checked in every other week. Loved hearing about all the fabulous progress from my writing peeps!

Goal met.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. I went through Good & Guilty and made a bunch of notes, so it sort of went through an editing process. I did not, however, complete all those changes before getting drawn over to Sharing Hunter. I worked on Sharing Hunter some as well, but didn’t complete a full edit there either. All in all, I felt frustrated that my short story goal and this editing goal didn’t mesh as well as expected. This will be a primary goal in the next round.

Some progress, but not fully met.

Have you ever had your photo taken professionally? What tips would you give for making sure you get a good shot? And how was your week?

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Dancing Bacon and My Three Degrees to Kevin

Jimmy Fallon has a knack for producing interesting clips on his shows. Now the host of the The Tonight Show, he recently hosted guest Kevin Bacon on the 30th anniversary of the 1980s movie Footloose. Check out Bacon’s fabulous entrance:

Lest you think that whole premise was ridiculous (a small town banning dancing), I attended college in Abilene, Texas — only a half-hour drive from Anson, Texas. Anson may, or may not, have been the inspiration for the movie FootlooseA 1933 city ordinance banned dancing and spurred the common phrase, “No dancin’ in Anson.” The law was finally removed in 1987 (a year after I started college), although some continued to warn against the perils of dancing.

Speaking of Footloose, I remain three degrees from Kevin Bacon. I’m friends with someone who worked on the set of 24 with Kiefer Sutherland, and Sutherland starred in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon. If anyone can get me closer, let me know! :)

3 degrees of Kevin Bacon

Photo credits: & David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

ROW80 Update

Now let’s look at how close I am to completing my goals for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and progress on each:

1. Read 12 books. Read #13, Stronger Than Magic by Melinda VanLone, and #14, This Matter of Marriage by Debbie Macomber. Goal exceeded for the round, but I still have plenty more books in my reading queue.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. The first story is finished, and I wrote more on the second story. I expect to meet this goal in next few days, as long as I can stay on track. Doing fine.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in on the Sunday and Wednesday posts from my peeps. The reports I’ve seen range from lots of progress to some progress to oh-my-gosh-do-we-only-have-one-week-left! Yes, we do. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. This goal and the short story goal haven’t gone together as well as I’d hoped. Very little progress.

Are you a Footloose or Kevin Bacon fan? How many degrees of separation do you have from Mr. Bacon? And how was your week?

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Veronica Mars and TV-Inspired Movies

Veronica Mars TV series posterThere once was a teenage private detective named Veronica Mars who lived in the coastal town of Neptune, California and wowed viewers with her spy skills, quick wit, and tumultuous relationships. The Veronica Mars TV series aired from 2004 to 2007 and was cancelled, to the massive disappointment of many faithful viewers — I among them.

So when creator Rob Thomas and series star Kristen Bell launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to make a Veronica Mars movie, I thought, What a good idea. Which was followed immediately by concern that this was a bad idea. Because TV series brought to screen are sometimes not all they’re cracked up to be.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite television series, The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee as John Steed and various co-stars including Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Years later they decided to make the movie, with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman in the starring roles. I couldn’t wait to see Steed and Peel together again. Bad, bad idea. None of the chemistry, the quirkiness, the magic of the original British series translated at all to the big screen remake. Not only was I disappointed, I was miffed at how badly they had desecrated the iconic TV show.

But then again, there was Dragnet, the original series created by and starring Jack Webb as detective Joe Friday. When the movie remake came out with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, I was skeptical. Would the film capture the spirit of the original while treading new ground as well? Indeed, it far exceeded my expectations. And provided a marvelous villain performance by Christopher Plummer as well. Well done, Dragnet.

To me, the record on other TV-to-movie offerings has been mixed. Here are a few I’ve seen:

Charlie’s Angels
The Flintstones
The Fugitive
George of the Jungle
Get Smart
Mission Impossible
Serenity (Firefly)
Star Trek

There are plenty of others I haven’t seen — like The Brady Bunch Movie, Dukes of Hazzard, MaverickScooby Doo, and Sex and the City. But it’s a risk to take a beloved TV series with 30-minute to one-hour episodes and then find a big enough story worth telling on the big screen.

So how did this one measure up? Was Veronica Mars worth the over $5 million ultimately raised on Kickstarter through 91,000+ donors?

Julie w/two friends & marshmallows in their mouths

We had our marshmallows ready!

I went into the Saturday afternoon showing with low expectations and emerged very happy. The film makers did a good job of maintaining the characters, paying homage to the TV series, and yet recognizing that we’re several years down the road. If you weren’t a fan of Veronica Mars, I think the movie still holds up on its own. But if you were a fan of Veronica Mars, you should find something in here that stirs up good memories and sucks you back into the fictional community of Neptune and its residents.

And now I’m a little more hopeful about the trend to take good TV series and make them into movies. For the times that it pays off, it’s worth the risk.

ROW80 Update

Now let’s look at the payoff of my last week with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and my week’s progress on each:

1. Read 12 books. Read #12, A Marine to Remember by Danette Fogarty (fiction), and #13, Writing from the Middle, a short book by James Scott Bell (nonfiction). Goal met for this round! But of course, I’ll keep reading.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. First story is done, and I reworked a couple of chapters in the second story. Thanks to a wonderful idea from my lovely teenage friend “A” this week, I resolved one remaining story issue. I can see it all coming together now, and I’m close to having a full draft. Good progress this week.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in on the Sunday and Wednesday posts from my crew. Good weeks overall. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. This goal has been taking a back seat each week to my short stories, which I expected to take less time than they have. Here’s hoping I can tackle this with greater fervor this week, especially since my kids’ Spring Break is over and they’re returning to school. Progress? Not so much.

So what do you think of TV shows made into movies? What are some of the best and worst you’ve seen? Are you a Veronica Mars fan? And how was your week?

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Do You Have a Book Twin?

I have recently discovered a fellow author who substantially shares my taste in fiction. We’ve had a marvelous time breaking down books we liked and books we didn’t like and discussing why. Our reasons align so well, it’s a little eerie.

Consequently, I’ve been calling her my “book twin” in my head. I’m fairly confident that if she recommends a book, I’ll enjoy it. And if she pans a book, I can safely stay away.

Do you have a book twin?

Who is that person who can reliably give you a book recommendation? Where do you turn for suggestions on what to read next? Do you ever read books at the same time as someone else — knowing you’ll enjoy the ensuing discussion almost as much as the book?

Julie reading

One of our recent simultaneous reads.

For years, I was involved in a book club, but we disbanded a while ago due to changing schedules and dwindling attendance. Even within that club, there were people with whom I was more likely to agree than others. I took their recommendations seriously and thus discovered some fabulous books.

It’s a good idea to have a book twin (or triplets, etc.) — someone who shares your reading taste and is willing to discuss what worked and what didn’t in a particular book. That interaction encourages me to read more and deepens my experience with the novel. As a writer, it also gets me thinking about what makes a good story.

So thanks to my book twin! (You know who you are!) I really look forward to reading our next joint pick — well, right after I read my book twin’s latest novel first. :)

ROW80 Update

And now for my A Round of Words in 80 Days family — a whole group of writing “siblings” (or are you the weird cousin at the reunion?) dedicated to achieving our individual goals over the 80 days of the round.

1. Read 12 books. Read #11, Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells, and #11 1/2 with a noveletteOnce Upon a New Year’s Eve by Kait Nolan (both fiction). Almost there!

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. One story is already done for this round. I worked on the second story, yet struggled because something just felt off. Then I brainstormed with some fellow writers on Thursday, and they helped me figure out where I’d gotten off track and where to go with it. I expect to make far better progress next week with a clearer direction. Worked on it, but not quite there.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Combed through Sunday and Wednesday updates, saw lots of progress, and made comments. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. Since it had been a while since working on this novel, I had to reorient myself a bit. I did a little tweaking then delved in. Reworked a chapter. Nothing exciting, but headed in the right direction.

How do you get reading recommendations? Do you have a “book twin” or a book club? And how was your week?

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Story? Novella? Novel? What Am I Writing?

This past week, I worked quite a bit on a short story — a young adult paranormal about a shape shifter. I really got into it, and the ideas and words and excitement just spilled out on the page.

At some point, however, I realized  was dangerously close to 15,000 words — which was, as I’d seen, the outer limit of short stories. Indeed, short stories are often preferably less than 10,000 words. Yet, the story wasn’t done! The characters were still going. So I kept writing.

While I finally typed THE END, I scanned for word count again and realized this.

Facebook status update

Oops! So I started researching exactly what I’d written. Here’s a general summary of word counts I found:

100 to 1,000 words

You’ve written flash fiction. Flash fiction is a particularly good way to warm up the writing juices. English teachers often use flash fiction by providing a story prompt for their students as a classroom exercise. Writers can also run an Internet search for flash fiction and find plenty of prompts. Flash fiction tends to be a single scene or two, a teaser for a larger story, and/or a mood piece.

1,000 to 10,000 words

For the most part, this is a short story. There’s some debate about where that outer limit is drawn, and you can find anything from 7,500 to 15,000 words as the maximum for a short story. Short stories usually follow a single plot and don’t delve into subplots; there just isn’t time and space for that layering. Shorts are great at honing in on a specific storyline.

10,000 to 20,000 words

I prefer Emma Burcart‘s response to my Facebook status update and want to call this a novelita! But my research finally turned up the term novelette. (I suppose the difference is whether you want Spanish or French to have a say in the suffix.) Acknowledging this rare category, my “short story” actually fell into this camp. Why write a novelette? I don’t know generally because I see so few of them, but in my case there were two plots, even though they substantially interwove, and I needed more time on the page to resolve both of them.

20,000 to 40,000 words

Welcome to the novella, a story length that has been enjoying quite a bit of success in the ebook world. Novellas are long enough to have more than one layer, even follow multiple characters, and tell a pretty substantial story. But they’re also quick reads, which is quite appealing to many people in our fast-paced world. Novellas weren’t that practical as a story length when printing costs and bookstore shelf space were restrictive, but ebooks require less upfront cost, making shorter length fiction more viable. When all was said and done — that is, when I revisited a scene and beefed it up — my “short story” became a novella, its first draft currently coming in at 21,600 words.

40,000 and up

We’ve finally arrived at a novel. Of course, different genres call for different lengths. For instance, you won’t find much in the way of adult fantasy at 40,000 words, but that’s a great length for a middle-grade read. Epic novels are much longer, maybe 110,000 words or more, while cozy mysteries will be far closer to maybe the 60,000-word mark. To get specifics, you can search “word count by genre” and find plenty of resources on that question.

Of course, there are always rule-breakers. Like Margaret Mitchell writing Gone with the Wind at over 410,000 words and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea at only 26,600 words.

And where a story falls within these word counts can also depend on how the publisher wants to market. For instance, a middle-grade book that’s 30,000 words isn’t going to be called a novella, period. Because for a fourth grader, that is a novel, and he sure isn’t going to refer to his book as a “novella.”

Whatever I just wrote — short story, novelette, novella — I’m not sure the reader really cares. The reader simply wants to be swept up in a great story that compels them to turn the pages and savor the tale.

So whether I hack away at my shape shifter story and return it back to its novelette or even short story length, or keep it solidly in novella territory, what matters is: Did I write a wonderful story?

And that’s not so easy to pin down until I get it into the hands of readers.

ROW80 Update

Now let me pin down my writing progress for this past week. I participate in A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, and here are my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. Read #10, The Up Side of Down by Megan McArdle (nonfiction). Just two more books to meet my goal. Doing well here.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. One draft done, and the other halfway done. I’ll be working on it next week. Made progress.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in for Sunday and Wednesday updates and heard lots of good stuff! Of course, life sometimes still gets in the way of our goals, but we’re making progress. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Not this week. I focused on my short story/novella. Nope.

Bonus. I entered my opening chapters of Sharing Hunter, a young adult contemporary novel, in two RWA chapter contests. Since contest participation is a goal of mine for the year, I felt pretty good about finally pressing SEND on my entries and entering the contests. This is my first shot at writing contests, so we’ll see what kind of feedback I get.

What length of story do you like to read and/or write? Do you care what label a story is given? And how was your week?

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