Expansion Pack: One Upmanship

Hi Gang, Craig with you once more with another Expansion Pack. This one is going to be about One Upmanship. Might seem like a strange topic, but I’m a strange kind of guy.

This post came to me first out of the three posts, and was brought to me by a modern friend we’ve all made, streaming services. I found my all-time favorite television show on one of these services, and decided to relive the fun. I had a blast, but I’ve developed more of a discerning eye since the 1980s.

This show had it all, antihero cops, a young thug on his way to mafia royalty, not to mention glitz, glamor, and soundtrack. Every episode seemed to top the ones before it. We had brutal murders, cold mafia hits, and an exploding elevator full of bosses. At the end of the season, the main antagonist and his top henchman wound up out at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. They were wounded and bleeding from a Las Vegas shootout with the hero.

The baddies hid inside a building full of mannequins, and had an epiphany about where they were just before the bomb went off. (Twenty plus years before Indianna Jones, I might add.)

It was so popular it earned a second season. And here we come to the point of the post. What are you going to do next? People loved it and wanted more. How do you come up with bigger and better? The fact is, they didn’t. They had to come up with some cockamamie reason for the bad guys to survive, then abandon the whole Las Vegas takeover in favor of more international flavor. You really can’t get much bigger than getting blown up by a nuclear bomb.

Las Vegas was also the apex for the glitz and glamor, and world building is important. Third world countries just don’t compare. It’s like a sudden jarring shift from what we bought into.

This concept probably applies more to series authors, but you have to be cognizant of these things as you write. It applies to anything that could be considered an adventure. There is a summit out there, and once you’ve reached it you’ll have a hard time keeping the audience hooked.

Your cowboy hero might use a civil war cannon one time in a climactic battle, but he sure isn’t going to ride into the sunset with it in his pocket for next time. You can’t get repetitive and keep your audience. The superhero can’t solve every problem by going supernova and killing every living thing for miles around.

It probably doesn’t matter much for stand alone titles. Save your huge event for the end and enjoy. If you’re writing a closed series, the same logic applies. However, if you have an ongoing series, you could run into a problem just like this.

Sure, you could tone down the early adventures, but a tricycle chase through an old folks home probably isn’t going to hook readers into picking up book two. (Might be fun to write, though.)

As I’m hacking these three related posts out, I suppose my advice is to be aware of these things. It’s almost impossible not to write yourself into a corner, but knowing some of this beforehand might make it easier to write yourself back out.

Here’s the link to the previous post about Canon.

50 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: One Upmanship

  1. Pingback: #ReblogAlert- #TwoFer #ThisWeekOnStoryEmpire & #SmorgasbordBlogMagazineWeeklyRoundup | The Write Stuff

  2. I feel I’ve only recently began learning more about series and what goes into them. This post goes right along with that. You’ve shared some great tips & insight, Craig. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very timely for me, Craig. I feel like I may very well be in this position right now, with both of my series, especially Rabbit. I thought perhaps a spinoff series of novellas would work to continue that little boy’s magic, and launched Cole, Cole, & Dupree, but I’m struggling a bit getting it going. I need to be sure this is worth the effort. In other words, it might be time to fish or cut bait, as we say.

    Now with Riverbend, I think I’ve gone about as far as I can go with the Painter Brothers, but I’m hoping I can find other interesting, quirky, and dramatic folks in that little town to carry the series forward. We’ll have to see. I have 12 chapters already written in the 4th book that I think might fill the bill, but I’ll be taking a long, hard look again, thanks to this post. It’s helpful to have a bunch of minor and brand new characters I can focus on, but again. It just might be time to move on down the road.

    Thanks for a great post! You’ve given me a lot to think about. 😀 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

      • Along with a bit of romance, I generally have something dangerous or someone who’s a villain/serialkiller/ghostlystalker, though not anything akin to an atomic bomb explosion, of course. But you can only throw so much drama at the same main characters before it feels a bit unbelievable. So I think in order to move forward with my Riverbend series, I probably would have to make the central drama about someone else. Bring forth a secondary character, or even someone new to the little town–for all the reasons you describe, but with a slightly different dynamic. You’ve made me think, though, and while that can be dangerous, it’s usually a good idea for me to do so now and then. (Probably.) 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved the description of Crime Story! I’ve dropped several series that just became too outlandish or repetitive to enjoy. Another of my bugbears are series that don’t deliver an ending that works. We watched most of Lost and felt a bit betrayed by the end. Same with The X-Files. There are plenty of books that do this, too, and it puts me off trusting them with my time when they start something new. Patricia Cornwell started off with some gripping books in the Kay Scarpetta series but the escalation was rapid and soon overtopped itself – there wasn’t an Atom Bomb but it did feel as if there was a possibility of one waiting in the wings.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never written a series, but your post has many great points, Craig. Knowing when it’s time to stop is key. There are many TV series that were great during the first few seasons but fizzled out long before the plug was yanked. Thanks for another fantastic post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Craig. It is easy to write into that corner. All you can do is end it, otherwise its just forced and not as good as the original story. So many stories have gone past that ending and closure when they should have stopped. I am curious as to what show that was 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, and it’s something I think about. When I wrote the Muddy River supernatural stories, the battles had to build up to the big, final showdown, so I couldn’t get ahead of myself. Sometimes, that got a little tricky.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Excellent tip, Craig, and so important! I used to read lots of Clive Cussler and loved his books, but I started noticing that they got crazier and crazier and eventually they lost any sense of realism for me. I haven’t read any of his work since. Mark Lawrence once talked about why he ended his Kingkiller series even though fans were clambering for more – because the story was over, and he didn’t want to drag it out with weak sequels. Knowing when to stop a series is critical. Readers who are fans will wait for whatever is coming next.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I enjoyed the post today, Craig. “How do you top an atomic bomb?” is a good question. I think for series authors this becomes a real issue that requires thought and planning. Like everyone stated, the vision of a tricycle race through an old folk’s home brought a laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You make a very good point here, Craig. How many times have we watched a series with a climactic ending only to be disappointed by the next season? Yellowstone is a good example. The last season fell a little flat. How could they top the attempt to wipe out the whole family? This is great advice for our stories. I had to laugh out loud at the tricycle chase through an old folks home. 🙂 As you said, it could be fun. Great post today!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m picturing that tricycle race through the old folks home, LOL.
    I follow a few long term series, and can I see where it’s hard to keep them fresh. Some authors do it really well, but I’ve also dropped a few because it was becoming “the same old, same old.”

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Good points. I’m with Audrey and Joan about knowing when it’s time to stop a series and start something new. Kind of reminds me of Prison Break. It started out fun but soon got repetitive and unbelievable. A useful post to keep in mind as our series progresses. Thanks for sharing, Craig 💕🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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