Read All About It: bonus features and adding to the story

One of Terry Pratchett’s ongoing tricks with the Discworld has been ‘the idea whose time has come’. Some genius/evil force from the Dungeon Dimensions creates an oddly familiar invention and the population of the Discworld embrace it as though there was a hole in their experience and history and thinking that could only be filled by this new innovation.

As ever, Pratchett makes an excellent real-world point. There are some things which, once invented, are clearly things we’ve always needed, not just as useful items but as ways of thinking and doing.

Take that terribly simple innovation enabled by the internet: the book bonus feature.  Back in the day, either you finished the story and drew a line under it or you wrote another full book. Snippets and ideas, little plot threads that didn’t fit in a novel, backstory that wasn’t plot-relevant: it all had to lurk in a notebook, unwritten, unread, waiting for an academic to pick you for their PhD.  We the reader never got to find out what happened to that lovely pair of minor characters, or to see that offstage scene, or to find out where the hero had been before the book began – because none of that got written, or at least published.

And now, we can. In one of my favourite romances of the year, Glitterland, the hero makes a rather dramatic gesture. Because of the way the ending is staged, we never get to see the lover find out about this (which is structurally correct but a little agony for the reader).  Except now there’s a free bonus feature with a post-ending scene so we can see his reaction. You don’t have to read it at all if you’re a ‘just the book’ purist, or you can wallow in it if you’re all teary over Ash and Darien. (I wallowed.)

This is on my mind as I have been spending the last few weeks writing shorts set in the world of The Magpie Lord. There will be a little taste of my hero Crane’s backstory in China, and a story that takes place two days after the ending of book 1. There’s also a print exclusive story set after the end of book 2, with another of Stephen’s cases of magical crime.

These aren’t plot-crucial. There’s nothing that will spoil a reader’s enjoyment if they don’t see it. They’re just bonus features, a little treat for readers who enjoy the characters, to deepen and broaden the experience of Magpie-world. If I wrote in a period before the internet, when there was no reasonable way to put out a 5000-word short just to amuse readers of the previous book, I wouldn’t have written them.

Here’s a funny thing, though.

The print exclusive story is happening because book 2, A Case of Possession, is a bit too short for print. My publishers are not the sort of skanky people who just mess about with font size and margins to stretch the text. (I speak as exactly that skanky publisher. I once made a 35K word text fill a 50K print length. Shame, shame.) However, book 2 is dedicated to my best friend, who ruthlessly insisted on seeing her name in print. So my publishers agreed that I could write a special exclusive story to make it work, and I muttered under my breath about lousy rotten friends and set off to come up with a story.

And as I wrote this unexpected thing, without any plan to fit it into the main flow of the characters’ ongoing adventures, I quite suddenly learned something about one of my main characters, Merrick. Something huge. Something that shines a completely new light on his backstory, and his relationship with Crane. Something that clarifies a massive plot difficulty in Magpie 3, which I am currently writing, and turns everything on its head, and enables me to go down a plot path that I’d been fearing and resisting because, until I knew this fact, it simply didn’t quite work – and now it does.

Magpie 3 will work in a completely different way to my original plan because of what I learned about Merrick in this short story. I don’t know if I’d ever have learned that about him if I hadn’t written it. I find that rather scary.

How often did a character remain unilluminated, a plot unexplored, because there was no opportunity to tell readers the story, and so the author never found out for herself? There’s no way of telling. But I’m glad I live in the age of the bonus feature. They’re useful little buggers.

The Smuggler and the Warlord will be exclusively on the Blog of Sid Love from 2 December. Interlude with Tattoos will be a free download from Smashwords and Goodreads from 10 December. I will probably mention it when they go live.

Image

Cover design by the fantastic Susan Lee

A Case of Possession will be out from Samhain 28 January 2014. I for one can’t wait.

Bonus features: do you love them, are you unexcited, or it is just evil modern nonsense?

14 replies
  1. Jordan L. Hawk
    Jordan L. Hawk says:

    Can’t wait to read them! I’ve been working on a couple of W&G shorts (one from Griffin’s POV and one from Niles’s POV) and wondering if I was being purely self-indulgent with them. I feel rather better about it now. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Becky Black
    Becky Black says:

    That cover is lovely.

    I look forward to reading the shorts. I’ve got similar ideas myself for next year about doing a monthly free snippet or flashfics about my existing characters. I realised that comes way easier to me than short stories about new characters. Maybe it’s my fanfic background. They just come naturally to me. 🙂 I know I love Jordan Castillo Price’s “Saturday Snippets”, flashfics, character interviews etc in her newsletter.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      There is a comfort-blanket thing about getting back with your existing characters, definitely! I’m trying to ensure all the shorts add something as well – explain a throwaway reference in one of the books, or cover a scene that happened but we didn’t see. Tempting though it is just to hang out with the buggers.

      I’m never quite sure about character interviews. Unless they’re conducted in-world, I can find them a bit… fourth-wall-breaking? Depends on the book/setting of course, and I haven’t read JCP’s.

      Reply
      • Becky Black
        Becky Black says:

        I don’t mind a bit of fourth-wall breaking myself. I wrote a few meta pieces in my fanfic days. Including one where the characters asked me to let them get some damn sleep. 😀 I tended to keep them up too long, and my betas would point out that they should have collapsed with exhaustion by this point.

        Reply
  3. Lucy
    Lucy says:

    I am now SO paranoid about what’s going to be happening with Merrick. Why would you say that?!! 😛 Really looking forward to the sequela and shorts though.

    Reply
  4. merriank
    merriank says:

    Just want to clarify if the short after Book 2 will be available in ebook at all? I must admit to a level of crankiness when one thing is a special item according to format. It feels like being penalised for buying ebooks – especially if I have to pay extra for the short story or can only access it months later. I think this kind of thing matters especially when you are writing in a genre that in essence exists because of the ebook format and online world.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Yes, it will be available in e! Just not till the print comes out. It was conceived for reason of print necessity, but certainly won’t exclude the electronic readers. That would be horribly unfair to the majority.

      Reply
      • merriank
        merriank says:

        Thanks for clarifying that. I have had the experience of shorts being free in the print version and costing $$ to ebook buyers and only available up to a year later. I liked The Magpie Lord a lot and enjoyed both the short stories already available that are set in this world. I am mentally settling in for the whole series which means looking forward to and wanting the next lovely thing.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *