Today I'm going to be using some TV show season finales to illustrate some writing points- so fair warning on spoiler possibility. I'll try to not disclose details but if you watch Castle or Agents of Shield and haven't seen anything about the season finales, turn back now.
Ok, so everyone settled in now? Spoiler-phobic people gone or come to terms? Excellent!
I'd like to talk about going for broke in our writing- every single time. This doesn't always happen, both with us novelists and our screenwriter brethren.
First up, The not good- "The phoning it in" writers: Castle. I love this show. I love Nathan, I usually enjoy the writing, the other characters, etc. This finale had me very annoyed. Now, to be fair, these writers are secure in a top rated show, they know they are coming back, they've been doing this for a while. But there was no excuse for the weak writing. A cutesy, kinda, "been there, seen that" adventure while trying to get a wedding underway. Then, at the last minute they throw in what appears to be a major death. Really? Was that the ONLY way you felt you could pull folks into the next season? First off, unless they are changing the name of the show, what they want to make us think happened, didn't happen. Secondly- killing or making it look like a character is dead as a season finale has been done to death. And in far better ways.
Second up, The well done- "The Bring It" writers: Marvel's Agents of Shield. For those of you who don't watch- just see the word "Marvel" and know it should be a bit over the top, fun, and heart-pounding. And it was. Those writers pulled out everything and went for broke with more one-liners than at a stand up comic convention. They built the tease for next season by giving a sound emotional resolution, introducing us to what we'd have going forward, and throwing in a few mysteries. The reader (in this case watcher) has been on a great run, had it mostly resolved in a satisfying way, and is intrigued to want to keep "reading".
Now for our side of the writing world.
Some novelists hold back, thinking they should save some of the good stuff for later. I'm thinking the mind-set behind this is that they will run out of the "good stuff" and need to ration it out like candy. "There's only so much good stuff in this head of mine, I need to make sure I keep something back for the next book!"
No, no, no. Just, no. For one thing, you're a creative person. The well of "good stuff" isn't going to vanish. Everything in your life, every time you go somewhere, see something, read something, you're adding to your store of good ideas that your brain can pull in on. Even a badly written TV episode can spark and idea. ;)
Secondly, if you hold back you may never sell your book- or if you're going Indie, you may never build a reader base. Throwing "held back" books into the void is just a waste of time for you and your readers.
Another reason, I think, that authors hold back is laziness- "This is good enough, I really don't need to make it awesome every time." Um, yes, yes you do for the same reasons the holding back folks need to pour it all out there- the lazy folks need to step it up. Good enough usually isn't. Look at that Castle ep. I know they have very good writers on there- but they sure didn't show it. Don't become the writer who will never publish a thing because they are NEVER good enough, but at the same time make sure you have done the absolute best you can.
As writers we owe it to ourselves and our readers to always put everything we have into each book- into every line, paragraph and page. Play big or stay home.