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You Kids Are Testing My Limits

Banes at 12:00AM, March 2, 2023

I was reading a critique of a series, a successful series, of novels. I think it's an urban fantasy/horror thing where the main character has a specific paranormal ability, limited, but useful in her detective work. She had a love interest, who was maybe on and off, but somewhat consistently in her life.

Anyway, as some fans tell it, the series in its later volumes went off the rails quite a bit. The main character became more superhuman, gaining new abilities. She also became the object of lust/love for an expanding mob of paranormal characters. Everybody wanted a piece, and her dating life became the stuff of fantasy, in several ways.

Now I haven't read this series, and some of these specifics might be wrong - I'm not looking to criticize anyone. But the point is, limitations are VERY useful in writing, especially longer form and series writing. If there are SOME kind of boundaries to what can happen, it's a more believable world, and the audience can invest themselves in the characters and the stories.

Problems like power creep, the Mary Sue, self-insert fanfic become issues for some readers. Granted, some readers LIKE this kind of fantasy. But angering whatever fandom a writer has is a risky game, and shows disregard for those goodly readers.

Some limitations that come to mind -

The show 24 sets each 24-episode season in one day. Each episode is one hour of real time. This means no flashbacks, no ignoring travel time (although it can stretch reality to a degree), and also means certain things as far as exposition and cause/effect have to be done to make everything work, and the plot of each season has to be somewhat complicated and convoluted to be able to fill 24 episodes and make each one eventful and interesting/absorbing.

A romance story has several rules, like the couple getting together, having issues, and then being together in the end. If they're not together in the end, it's not a romance. Romantic subplots are more flexible with their endings.

Generally, science fiction does not have magic, and fantasy does not have technology that's too elaborate or futuristic. There are exceptions, but proceed with caution!

Any of us who write will understand it can be difficult to keep things fresh and exciting and unpredictable. I've squashed and stretched my own comics to some degree. Comedic things have more leeway I think. But if we take away too many limitations on our fictional worlds, things can go very, very bad.

If anything can happen, nothing matters!

Have you added limitations to your comics purposely? Has a series ever lost you because it had none?

See you next time!


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Andreas_Helixfinger at 7:37PM, March 2, 2023

The video game Fahrenheit (known as Indigo Prophecy in North America), which I've played on the PS2, certainly comes to my mind. The story starts off in the first half of the game being really grounded, subtle and intriguing as this supernatural thriller/murder mystery, and then towards the other half of the game it all derails into the third Matrix movie and I have no clue what's going on anymore or why I should care:P

itsasooz at 5:55PM, March 2, 2023

Yeah the Anita Blake series went from cool cheese to wayyyyy off the deep end lol

marcorossi at 4:06PM, March 2, 2023

@PaulEberhardt I think the causation goes the other way: the writers do not have good ideas to make the stories interesting, so the stories get boring, so the writers try to salvage it by raising the stakes and with power creep.

PaulEberhardt at 2:35PM, March 2, 2023

It's closely linked to the hero saving the whole universe instead of just the parts of it that matter to the story. Once an author lets go of caring if the scope of the story makes sense, it spirals out of control. To me it's a gross misinterpretation of characters etc. having to grow all the time, and if they choose to keep beating the dead horse of a story that should have finished a couple of seasons ago, every single character will eventually end up as a kind of demigod as if that was a regular promotion. Funny, that the more over-the-top it gets the more boring it gets as well. I could watch the last few seasons of Xena back in the day only because their cast and crew fully realised that you just can't pretend to take that kind of stuff seriously and had always treated it accordingly from day one. Else I'd have instantly switched off, even despite being in my late teens and having a secret fan crush on Renee O'Conner in her ever-shrinking outfits. ;)

TheJagged at 10:24AM, March 2, 2023

"fantasy does not have technology that's too elaborate or futuristic" Not a connoisseur of late 90s JRPGs i gather? :3

RobertRVeith at 9:02AM, March 2, 2023

Even the most fantastical stories work best if there are rules to how the world works and the story sticks to them. I have two pet peeves in this area and they're (in a way) opposite of each other. First, if I'm watching a new anime series and they spend half of the first episode explaining why this world is different than the one I know, I'm out. Lengthly exposition is boring. Second, when stories forget their own rules. Like, there was a sci fi TV show I used to watch. In the early seasons, communication across the cosmos took time. There were several plot arcs which raised tension by, "We can send them the message, but they won't get it for 20 minutes because physics." Then in later seasons, they were having real time video chats with the opposite side of the universe.

Ozoneocean at 4:57AM, March 2, 2023

When an author does away with limits then their series tends to die, not because it breaks the world, rather because they run out of things for the character to do- if the character can do anything then nothing actually matters, so why do they even do anything? It's hard to keep going after that. Sometimes it's possible... Gintama is a great example XD

Ozoneocean at 4:52AM, March 2, 2023

Definitely agree! All rules in writing can be broken and limits removed totally but stories are so much better and more rewarding when they stick to a rule-set for a whole number of reasons: the writing and the world get tighter and things function smoothly; readers become much more invested because the world makes sense in a way that they can see that events are justified, this make it more satisfying for them; The author might chafe at the limits but they can actually help fuel writing and make it easier to write because the logic of their world naturally suggests its own possibilities.

marcorossi at 3:32AM, March 2, 2023

Some series like Dragonball have no limits in some sense (like extreme power creep, dead character that revive etc.) but even in those cases other things are out of bound (e.g. Dragonball can't go grimdark). I think in a large part it is a problem of expectations: if I go to a pizzeria I expect pizza, if I go to a sushi place I expect sushi; even if I like both i'll be pissed off if in the pizzeria they give me sushi instead of what I ordered, or in a sushi place they give me pizza instead of what I ordered. When we speak of authors who are hobbysts, there is a grey line because on the one hand I don't have to cater to a specific paying public, but on the other hand I'm still producing stuff for other people to read so I have to keep in mind other people's expectations to a certain (fuzzy) degree.

hushicho at 2:22AM, March 2, 2023

If anything can happen, everything matters so much more. In a world of infinite possibility, the odds become so much smaller that these things even happen at all, and if anything can happen, then you have to hold onto the things that go close to how you'd like. Because anything can happen, so statistically speaking, it has to be more likely to happen.

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