Writing Mutual Benefits chapter 14 has presented me with an interesting challenge, and I’ll have to go into spoiler territory to really explore it, so, you’ve been warned.
When one writes a book and releases it as a full product (which I notably don’t do), there’s a lot that can be done with foreshadowing and wrongfooting. The author has a certain freedom to do things with a character that can seem odd, left-field, or straight-up out-of-character, since the reader will be rewarded with context if they just read on. Put simply, the reader may go, “What? Put Tom just said he doesn’t like peas! Why did he just eat those peas?!” but that same reader can read on, looking for answers, discovering he ate those peas for a reason that wasn’t immediately clear.
This is a luxury that episodic content, like fanfiction or online erotica that’s published chapter-by-chapter, doesn’t afford. If I released Chapter 8 of The Adventures of Tom, The Guy Who Hates Peas, and at the end he eats peas and it ends on a cliffhanger, readers may understandably feel like this chapter wasn’t as good as the rest.
I’m seeing this happen in real time, and frustratingly, I don’t know if a lot of the critical feedback I got from the chapter means the payoff will work, or I just did a wholecloth misfire. In Chapter 14, Quinn does something out of character, and it’s not played out as something he immediately gets punished for or anything. It’s just an action that comes a little out of left field. In Chapter 15, which I’m writing now, this gets explored. But until then, it just looks like Quinn was just written hastily and inconsistently this chapter. Again, with episodic content (which has its advantages) I’m struck with the disadvantage of blindness – will this pay off with the ending to its arc I’ve written, or have I written this poorly? I won’t know until the next chapter has come out and people digest it.
Frustratingly, even that comes with a disadvantage. To some, it may appear as though I hastily backpedaled or wanted to address criticism in the text itself. After all, I immaturely addressed criticism dismissively in the text itself once, mocking Quinn for being “obsessed” with needing a clear-cut personalized motive from Milo. I told myself I wouldn’t allow myself to do that again, but… will this upcoming chapter look like more of the same? I don’t really know.
Quinn and Morgan’s first time was interesting to write. People write people’s first times as sacred and nothing but tender, but I have mixed feelings about this. Some of it is (hopefully decently) addressed in the upcoming chapter. Some of it is feeling like this sacred tenderness means authors feel they can’t put in things that are common yet less magical when it comes to first times.
You likely already know that some people cry during sex. Whether you see it as a stigmatized thing or a normal thing some humans do, it’s a fact of life. It struck me when I wrote that scene that apart from shock-value non-consensual stories I’ve read, I’ve never actually read about a character crying during sex. I’ve seen the “I started babbling nonstop” trope in movies and erotica alike, but never crying. Another advantage of episodic content is that I get to explore new themes with each installment, even if consistency slightly suffers as a result. That’s already inevitable. I started this story in 2020. I’m a different person now, and even if only slightly, my writing style has changed. Episodic content isn’t going to win awards for consistency. So I embrace this, and embraced it by looking for new themes everywhere I go. Sometimes it suffers, like when a new event happens and I only get to half-bake it (at least in the first chapter it’s introduced), and sometimes it flourishes, and I get to discover new things, about the characters and my own writing, with the freedom to experiment episodic content offers.
At any rate, let’s hope that the whole piece doesn’t suffer from this when I string the whole story together. I want Mutual Benefits to work on both an episodic and wholecloth level, but maybe that’s me wanting to have my cake and eat it too. If there was a gun to my head, I’d prefer it work purely episodically, not wholecloth. I might explore why that is next week, unless I find another topic. Ooh! Cliffhanger! I’ll talk to you all next week.