Franchise Mindset 4/13/21

It’s occurred to me recently that I could probably write the Gods of the Dark Web books forever. If you’re a Richard Laymon fan or you remember my blog about his memoir A Writer’s Tale, you may know that one of his biggest pieces of advice was to find ideas that are “infinitely expandable.” This was a strategy he employed to turn his short, sharp thrillers into sprawling 600-page doorstoppers. While I don’t suspect you’ll be getting any doorstoppers from me, I do think the idea of infinitely expandable stories can be helpful even for a minimalist like me.

Written like a creepypasta for adults, the first Gods book had an intimate, small-scale narrative, but it also had hints of a larger world around it. With the writing of the second book, I wanted to show some of those bigger implications on the page. It led to what I’ll call James Herbert chapters. Herbert was a British author mainly famous for his nature-run-amok Rats books. He had a great knack for introducing characters and showing what’s interesting about them before killing them in spectacular fashion. This approach initially made me think I had a story collection instead of a new novella on my hands. Only when I figured out Dana’s story did the main narrative emerge.

At the same time I was writing book 2, I read a ton of comic books, specifically tie-in stuff. Think Aliens, Dungeons and Dragons, Robotech, Magic: The Gathering, stuff like that. While these franchises have established rules, they also have a ton of wiggle room. It’s not mandatory to reuse characters or continue storylines from previous books (though the occasional Easter egg doesn’t hurt). It’s more about exploring the established world, less about the sweeping arcs typically found in series like The Hunger Games or Outlander.

These observations over the last year have helped me develop what I call a FRANCHISE MINDSET.

So, what is the FRANCHISE MINDSET, how can you use it to build your writing career and how is it different than writing a proper series?

  1. A FRANCHISE MINDSET is a larger way of viewing your content, seeing all your stories as interconnected and how they interconnect, recognizing reoccurring themes, and remembering that because all these stories originated within you the connections are not as tenuous as you may initially suspect. A strategy that helped me was opening the corkboard feature on Scrivener and putting each of my stories (written, published, unwritten, unfinished, etc) onto a notecard. I don’t use Scrivener for writing, but I plot with it often. It helps me see big picture stuff. Having all this information laid out in front of me did something to me. I was able to see how each of my pieces could connect to each other. Admittedly, not all of them worked. Some of them were even pieces I would rather forget. Gods of the Dark Web jumped out at me as having its fingers embedded in a lot of other ideas I had. From there, it was into the Mangum-verse.
  2. How a FRANCHISE MINDSET can build your writing career is obvious. It gives your readers reasons to return. It makes your work recognizable. Because you’re not married to any plot threads from previous books, however, people can dip into your world at any given time. People like what’s familiar. If you’re a new-ish writer like me, though, you’re not a household name, so you have to build that familiarity. Finding a world or universe in which you can set stories linked only by themes and rules can be an effective way to get a good amount of somewhat related content out there, especially if you’re like me and you have reservations about writing the same type of book over and over.
  3. FRANCHISE MINDSET is different from writing a proper series because it doesn’t obligate the author to continue stories that already wrapped up in earlier books or stick with the same characters. Sure, C or D story threads can move to the forefront (as is the case with Dana who’s a minor character in Gods of the Dark Web but a major player in Darkness Digital). Characters and settings can even pop back up as a way to reward your fans. This is something Stephen King and Brian Keene do often and well. But you don’t have to finagle them into the new book’s story just because they starred in the previous book. It’s a lot looser and a lot more interesting.