Welcome back scribblers, scratchers and word processor tappers!
Today, I want to talk about jumping over sharks. This isn’t going to be a post about encouraging you to jump over sharks mind you, it’s more about knowing your story’s limitations, what you can do and what your audience expect of you.
But what do I mean? And why am I talking about sharks!?
Well, the term ‘jumping the shark’ generally means to do something so audacious and out there that it can only signal a decline. Originally this was referred to only with regards to television but it has since been expanded to encompass a wide range of topics and media.
Okay, so that still doesn’t really explain why I’m talking about sharks. The term ‘jumping the shark’ was coined by John Hein and it refers to an episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie, as a test of his courage, literally jumps over a shark whilst using water skis. For Happy Days this supposedly marked a gradual decline in the show’s creativity and inevitably led to the cancellation of the show.
Yeah I just jumped a shark, so what?
One of the things that I love about The Dresden Files series is that you really feel like Harry Dresden is pushed to his absolute limits. You (both the reader and Harry) find out what Harry is willing to do to protect those he loved and do what he can to save them.
Now, I will avoid spoilers, but at the end of Changes I really wasn’t sure where Jim Butcher was going to go with it. The ending was an absolute explosion of emotional, physical and magical excitement and trauma. And maybe it was that, but I really felt like the next instalment Ghost Story would have been better suited for a short story. I started reading it but found it very difficult to get into the story, or re-engage with the characters. To be honest, I skipped a large part of the middle and didn’t feel like I’d missed much.
So why am I bringing this up?
Well I read something recently that made me think of this. Unfortunately it was The Dresden Files. As much as I do enjoy the books, I recently read (I say read for The Dresden Files I listen to the audiobooks as read by James Marsters) Ghost Story and I was quite disappointed.
What I think was the problem is that Ghost Story was more about the other characters within the Dresden-verse. That’s not so much a problem but I don’t think that it merited its own novel for it.
Having said all of that, I’m a sucker for a series so I thought I’d pick up the next book Cold Days just to see if it was indeed a ‘jump the shark’ situation, or if that book was just miss instead of a hit.
It was a slow start, but a better one. And then, after a good few chapters, Butcher really stepped up the game. The storyline is back to being something Dresden isn’t sure if he can handle, but knows if he doesn’t the consequences will be dire. Cold Days definitely puts to rest the worry that Butcher’s books would face a slow and gradual decline as the series went on. Not only does he lay these fears to rest, but as far as I’m concerned he has definitely introduced enough plot points at this juncture to justify the continuing series, and there are also other elements that Butcher has brought forward from the history of the series that demonstrate a thorough overarching plan that has been in place for a long time.
I don’t think that Ghost Story was a badly written book, I just think that the story itself and how it was presented was not as interesting to me as it could have been. As I said, what I love about The Dresden Files is the tension that comes from Harry Dresden’s character and how far he’s willing to go. But in Ghost Story it was more about the supporting cast, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just not my thing.
So what I would say to you, dear readers, is the following: Be careful where you’re taking your story. It might be that something you think will be a really interesting direction might put off some of your readers.
Be careful of jumping the shark, just because something’s awesome doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. Just because jumping over a shark looks cool it might not leave you any room to develop your characters or story further, it might not even be a relevant thing to have happen!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be ambitious in your writing and the scope of your story, just make sure when it’s awesome, it’s awesome for the right reasons! And don’t be put off keeping up with The Dresden Files! I still think they are a thoroughly fantastic read, and to have one book in the series that didn’t quite stack up out of a total of fourteen is no mean feat! But if you don’t like Ghost Story, I would recommend picking it up at Cold Days because it definitely gets better and so much bigger (in such a good way).
I hope that makes as much sense as it can without me revealing anything about the plot! Beware spectacle for spectacle’s sake!
Well that’s all for now fellow scribblers! I wish you all well, and until next time: Good hunting!