Tag Archives: writing

Why Do So Many Movie Sequels Suck? (And Others Don’t)

Do you know why many sequels are dreadful attempts to live up to the glory of the original? Because they are tacked on at the last minute. It’s true that this often primarily to make money off the back of something that was wildly successful, but it’s not that money-hungry motivation that makes them suck per se (although it is a cause of the problem).

The reason this last-minute addition of a further instalment makes them suck is that it means when the first movie was written, the second instalment wasn’t anticipated. This means there is nothing in the first movie that points to, indicates, or even really allows for the second. If you’re lucky, there might be an opening you can leverage for a story. If you’re unlucky, you make something up (and this is how suddenly characters wind up with family members that were never mentioned, or they didn’t know existed).

Movies like this were not written as two small stories inside a larger story, but as two separate and independent stories that happen to be about the same characters, and which might only be loosely connected.

This makes the series very episodic, and while you can make that work—generally not as well.

TV is doing fantastically well at the moment, to the point where people are saying TV is better than Hollywood. At the same time, have you noticed how some of the best TV is no longer episodic? Each season has a story arc. Each season (and sometimes across seasons) is a complete story. Each episode advances that story but may not be a complete story in and of itself, or even if it is, it still contributes to the larger story.

What are some of the best movie series? Star Wars (the original trilogy), Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and you’ll have others as well. There’s also Game of Thrones, although it’s a TV series, but despite the naturally episodic nature of, well, episodes, each episode is clearly part of a larger whole. The genius of GoT is pretty well-acknowledged by now. What do they all have in common? All the stories were planned out in a complete arc (mostly in book form first, in which case the adaptation stays true to the arc described in the books).

When you don’t do this, when you have an unexpected sequel, it has a couple of effects:

Story Arc

Story arc is the way a story unfolds—it’s generally the beginning, middle and end. A good series will have a story arc across each instalment, but another story arc across the whole series—that is, story elements introduced in earlier instalments that aren’t resolved until later instalments. Like the mystery of Luke’s father introduced in A New Hope which wasn’t resolved until The Empire Strikes Back. That’s story arc.

When you have tacked-on sequels, there is no story arc that stretches across the first, second, and any subsequent instalments—at the end of the first movie, the story arc was complete. This means there is usually nothing making the viewer hunger for that second instalment, no mysteries left unsolved, and no loose ends.

Character development

If a first instalment was so successful, it probably means there was some juicy character development. The challenge of a sequel, any sequel, is how do you trump that? How do you raise the stakes and hurt the character in new ways to make them grow in new directions?

The challenge of an unplanned sequel is that there is likely very little left at the end of the first instalment to work with—the character’s issues are resolved, their past revealed, their inner obstacles overcome. This often means the character doesn’t grow in meaningful ways.


Wait, what is foreshadowing?

Your average moviegoer with no writing experience can’t explain what that is, but they recognise it when they see it. Foreshadowing is when you drop clues in advance of the plot twists. It’s the things that throw viewers into a frenzy of speculation. It’s also the same things that, even if missed as advance clues, when the big reveal is made, you can look back at those innocuous things and go “Ah…. I see how it makes sense.” Foreshadowing happens within instalments and, in series that were pre-planned, across instalments.

The correlation, of course, is that there in a tacked-together series, there is no foreshadowing in the first instalment to give clues to the viewers about how a sequel with pan out, nothing to entice us forward and, when something is revealed in the sequel, nothing to give us that satisfactory ‘Aha!’ moment. This is why the surprise family members are a surprise (in all the wrong kinds of ways)—because nothing in the first movie even hinted that the character had such family.

Foreshadowing is why you need to know the story’s ending before you start. If you don’t, you can’t successfully foreshadow it. When you write instalment one with no expectation of instalment two, the end is the end of instalment one, because of course you can’t foreshadow an unplanned sequel. You can, if you are really clever and really lucky, find some small detail in the original to use as inspiration, and then you kind of “retrofit” foreshadowing, but you can only use what’s already there (and there might not be much). Otherwise you’re limited to foreshadowing, within an instalment, the events of that instalment.

Series with foreshadowing across instalments are better, because it builds reader expectations and suspense, and the resolution is always more satisfying and complete. Foreshadowing is what breeds the kind of wild speculation we see with Game of Thrones and the latest Star Wars series (more about that next week—seen all the speculation about Rey’s parents? I’ll give you my take). Fans love it, they thrive on it, they will share their theories, and they will hang on waiting to find out what will happen. And when they do, it’s deliciously satisfying.

So that’s it, why sequels generally suck. It’s not because you can never relive the genius of the first movie, it’s because no one planned how to successfully build an equally good second instalment off the back of the first.

Tell me about your most hated sequel! Or, alternatively, your favourite!


The Power of Stories


Stories are powerful. Possibly, one of the most powerful forces on Earth.

Don’t believe me? I’ve heard writers dismiss what they do as insignificant and unimportant. But we see the world in stories. The late Terry Pratchett called us pan narrans – the storytelling chimp. I think he was right. Stories are how we make sense of the world around us.

Stories make you buy things. Stories elect politicians. Religion is a story – whether you believe it to be a true story or not. Propaganda is the story in the hands of government.

Stories start revolution. And wars.

Martin Luther King was telling a story, a story of how the world might be. So was Nelson Mandela. And Gandhi. So, unfortunately, were Hitler and Stalin.
Stories change the world, but not all stories are good stories.

Like many things, this power can be used for good or evil. Stories free people. But they can also cage people.

Censorship exists because stories are powerful. If they weren’t, there would be no need to fear their message. But we must not allow censorship, because stories are sometimes the only light of hope in the darkness of oppression. When the world turns dark, stories tell us what life was, or could be, or should be.

Stories inspire. Stories make us see the world through the eyes of others. Stories make us better people.

And if we believe the story, if we fight for the story, we can make the story real.

Choose your story wisely.

How To Properly Remove An Arrow: Crazy Things I Learned Researching Books

Remove An Arrow
Remove an Arrow

Have you been shot with an arrow? Don’t yank it out like you see in the movies!

OK, you probably haven’t been shot with an arrow… At least, I hope not. Unless maybe you’ve been practising with friends for the zombie apocalypse. If you are currently experiencing an arrow wound, skip forward a few paragraphs.

Who am I kidding? Go to the emergency room!

But the point remains that what you see on-screen is for dramatic effect rather than accuracy. Even if the person is dead and you are only retrieving the arrow for re-use, yanking it out of a corpse is likely to give you nothing more than a stick with pretty feathers on one end.

The definitive source of information on arrow wounds is the notes of one Dr Bill who lived during the American Civil War, and I came across it after I shot one of my characters with an arrow and then realised I had no idea how life-threatening the wound was.

Interestingly, arrow wounds could be more dangerous than gunshot wounds, largely because a gunshot was more likely to pass through the body, and even if it didn’t, the shot could be safely left in the body to be encased in bone or tissue. Arrow heads, on the other hand, are sharp and continue to injure and inflame the tissue around them – ultimately resulting in infection and death. As you might imagine, removing the head was therefore vital.

So why can’t you just yank it out?

Arrow-heads were secured to the shaft using gut, which would begin to loosen when it got wet – such as from your blood soaking into it. This meant that yanking on the shaft was likely to rip the head free and leave it in the body. Once detached from the shaft, locating and removing the head was much harder and caused more trauma to the wounded.

A shaft could, however, be carefully ‘twirled’ to determine if the head was lodged in bone. Alternatively, the doctor could enlarge the wound and use a finger to follow the shaft to the head to check if it was stuck. Ugh. Pass the whisky.


If the head was not trapped in bone, the arrow could be safely pulled free after enlarging the wound. But what if it was lodged? In this case, a larger incision was required, and much force would be applied to pull it free. A loop of wire could be used to apply traction, alternatively the esteemed Dr Bill used dental forceps, and later forceps of his own design. The force required to pull the head free was so great that in one instance Dr Bill reported bending the forceps, and in another that he would have fallen to the ground if someone hadn’t caught him.

An additional worry was that arrows that struck close to the bone might have their tip bent into a ‘fish-hook’ shape. Such arrows couldn’t be safely drawn from the body without additional precaution. The tip always needed to be checked, and if it was bent, it first needed to be pushed deeper into the body to pull the bent tip free, and then the doctor must cover the tip with his finger as he pulled it out to ensure it didn’t snag anew.

So if you are shot by an arrow, what are your chances of survival?

Ask your doctor! Go now!

But for a man wounded by arrows pre-modern medicine, the answers vary. To start with, it was unusual for a wounded man to have only one arrow wound, given that an experienced archer could shoot six arrows or more a minute. Dr Bill reported an extreme case of three men with a total of 42 arrow wounds amongst them. I’m guessing they all died… And I’m not sure the experience of having that many arrows removed, without anaesthetic, would be preferable to a quick death either…. So the more arrows you have stuck in you, the worse your chances.

Injuries to the chest were most common, with large numbers of fatalities associated with lung punctures. If there was no lung involvement, the wounded had a good chance of survival. Nearly all wounds to the abdomen were fatal owing to the risk of blood vessel and intestinal damage. It was fairly typical for a gut wound of any kind to pretty much be the end of you, owing to all the icky stuff in your bowels and intestines encouraging all kinds of infection, and there being no protection to the abdomen from ribs or other bones.

Remove An Arrow

Wounds to arms and legs were more likely to have the arrow pass clean through, in which case the majority would heal within a week with minimal complications. Sounds like your best outcome to me. Wounds to the head were rarely fatal unless it was a shot to the eye as an arrow would not generally penetrate the skull except at extreme close range. Uh… but please don’t take this as encouragement to go around aiming bows at people’s skulls!

If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, check out the free short stories available on this site, or subscribe to the newsletter to receive my novella, Confronting the Demon, and short story, A Magical Melody, free.

Kelly Stone Gamble Talks Writing and Music

Kelly Stone Gamble

bio shotAsk a writer what he or she listens to while they write and you will get a variety of responses. Show Tunes. Heavy Metal. A playlist that their protagonist would listen to. For many, listening to music while writing is a habit, a ritual you might say. Some claim that they can’t write without it.

I am just the opposite. I can’t write with music playing. I start humming along, and then before long I’m in front of the mirror with my air guitar and writing can wait. The only sound I want to hear when I write is my fingers slapping keys and the occasional faceless man that cheerfully announces “You’ve Got Mail”. Yes, I still have AOL. I also have an eight track player.

But regardless of whether a writer listens to music or not while they tap their keyboard, the reality is that music is very much a part of our lives and therefore, if we want our fictional characters to be believable, we might want to let them have a little music in their lives as well.

In my new novel, They Call Me Crazy, the music my protagonist listens to helps explain her character. She loves country music and her favorite band is the Eli Young Band. They have two songs that she interacts with in the novel, and those two songs play into the narrative perfectly.

While reading my final proof, I did play selections from my fantasy book playlist—Justin Moore, Garth Brooks, Eli Young Band, and several others. I felt it put me in the characters’ heads a bit more, and I was tickled with how much the music enhanced the story.

Music is an important part of our lives, and I think most writers will tell you that in some way, it elevates their story. Whether they listen while writing, incorporate certain songs into the book, or listen while reading that final proof, the relationship of music to writing is something most of us can’t deny.

How do you use music when writing? Do you listen while reading?

About Kelly Stone Gamble

Kelly Stone Gamble is the author of THEY CALL ME CRAZY. She is an instructor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Idabel, Oklahoma. You can connect with her on her website at www.kstonegamble.com


They Call Me Crazy

Cass Adams is crazy, and everyone in Deacon, Kansas, knows it. But when her good-for-nothing husband, Roland, goes missing, no one suspects that Cass buried him in their unfinished koi pond. Too bad he doesn’t stay there for long. Cass gets arrested on the banks of the Spring River for dumping his corpse after heavy rain partially unearths it.

The police chief wants a quick verdict—he’s running for sheriff and has no time for crazy talk. But like Roland’s corpse, secrets start to surface, and they bring more to light than anybody expected. Everyone in Cass’s life thinks they know her—her psychic grandmother, her promiscuous ex-best friend, her worm-farming brother-in-law, and maybe even her local ghost. But after years of separate silences, no one knows the whole truth. Except Roland. And he’s not talking.

Buy the Book at Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/They-Crazy-Kelly-Stone-Gamble-ebook/dp/B00OSTANDS/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1415620327&sr=8-2&keywords=they+call+me+crazy

Writing Sex Scenes

As part of the Confronting the Demon blog tour, I’m guest posting over on Sheila Deeth’s blog. 

Ever found yourself reading or watching a sex scene, wondering when you’ll get back to the actual story? Stop by to check out my guest post, Sex Scenes – In or Out, where I talk about why some stories need sex scenes, and some don’t – Confronting the Demon being one of the latter.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy of Confronting the Demon, check out the buy links on this page – at $1.99, it’s a steal! Buy direct from my Books page and it’s even cheaper. 

If you’re an author, you might also like to check out my post A Quick Reference Guide to Copyright and Cover Art. Does your cover use stock photos? You might not be able to do with your own book cover all the things you think you can!