Dis-Franchised

I don’t like franchises. I don’t like creative works to be referred to as “IPs.” I don’t care if that’s the wave of the future, or if that’s how you make the real money in sci-fi and fantasy, I don’t want my own works to spawn a “franchise” or become an “intellectual property.” 

I want to tell stories. Stories that have a beginning, middle, and end. I don’t want prequels, endless sequels, side-stories, spin-offs, or an ever-expanding universe.

Why? Personal preference. That’s all, really. To me, I can smell the cash-grab a mile away, and the cash-grab smells like milk. Superfluous stories about how this character got to where he got when the actual story began don’t move the needle for me at all–I don’t care. I suppose I suffer from that thing where if something doesn’t matter to me. I assume it doesn’t matter to other people. And this is true, to a degree. But I think it’s more about the proper care and feeding of my own particular creation.

When my current Swordbringer trilogy is over, it’s going to be over. There will be no revisiting it. I don’t care if that’s cutting myself off from serious sources of revenue. It wasn’t conceptualized to be a never-ending concern or a “universe” (ugh), but a single, cohesive story with a through-line that takes readers from Point A to Point B with lots of fun, interesting, exciting, and thought-provoking things in between.

If you like franchises or IPs, that’s great. You’ll probably make more money than me. These franchises just aren’t my thing.

A caveat: If I create a setting or a character with the specific purpose of being an on-going, open-ended concern–like Conan the Barbarian or Sherlock Holmes or characters akin to that–that’s one thing. But even those would have an expiration date were I to do something like this.

I have to say, for someone who was a huge comic book fan as a kid, the never-ending super-hero sagas now strike me as silly. Spider-Man is never going to change, and new Marvel characters are never going to be created, because there’s too much money to be made. Marvel used to come out with new, awesome characters that stuck around from the 60s through the 80s, and then it just kind of dried up. Why?

Franchisery, that’s why. “Every generation needs their version X-Men!” or whatever other character, the conventional wisdom went. 

Really? Do they? The old stories still exist. And–get this–every generation can have their own new characters. But no. We can’t have that. 

I’m a fan of stories that are complete. Say what you want about Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time had a beginning, middle, and end. So does The Lord of the Rings, despite many people’s best efforts to wring more nostalgia-bucks out of it. Or you’re trying to foster this collector’s mindset, like we had in the above-referenced comic industry with its endless crossovers and “events” . . . in the world of moving pictures, in order to get the whole story, you have to watch these 23 movies and subscribe to these streaming services to watch these shows that all tie in. . . 

I don’t have the time, money, or energy for this. Neither do you. 

The elephant in the room, of course, when talking about wringing nostalgia-bucks out of a dry stone, is the laser-sword franchise we all know and love. I suppose Star Trek also fits the bill. The last thing I’d ever want is the quality of stories in my fictional setting and with my fictional characters to deteriorate to the points that these two once-proud and noble franchises have. I don’t care about the money, I care about the integrity.

Yes, it’s easy for me to say now when nobody is dangling six- or seven-figure payoffs in front of me, but even if they were, I think it’s more than possible to shop around to find some sort of collaborator who shares your values and respects your vision.  

I like when I close the book on a series that I enjoyed reading or watching and it’s done. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but it’s nice. I can revisit anytime later if I want. The characters and stories live on and are never tainted by the knowledge that somewhere out there is a piece of work–not a fan-fiction, but something canon, something with the official franchise stamp of approval on it–that pisses over everything good about the original work, that even though it shouldn’t affect my enjoyment of it still lingers out there as a related, connected thing that in some way large or small diminishes the original work.

I don’t know why this bothers me more than, say, a band that soldiers on after key members die or depart, making subpar work. Take Black Sabbath for instance. The 73 singers they’d rotated through and the albums they did after Ozzy left–not to mention the replacement drummers and bassists!–don’t even come to mind when I’m rocking out to their classic original-line-up stuff. But knowing that there are godawful spin-offs and whatever of a book series I liked irks me to no end.

This irking is illusory, of course. I’m writing about it for the sake of this post since it’s rhetorically effective to help illustrate the point I’m trying to make. Because endless franchisery of other properties is something I do not have control over.

I do, however, have control over my own.


Read The Last Ancestor today, book one in my trilogy that will end for good when the third book is complete. 

29 comments

  1. You can’t have standalone books or one-off short series these days. Everything has to be an ongoing franchise.

    But why? Sometimes stories are what they are. They start and they end. Then you revisit it or move onto a new one.

    Everyone was cheering at that first Force Awakens trailer where Harrison Ford says “We’re home” to the guy in the Wookie suit. But that’s what you were meant to do. There’s nothing there other than to make you feel warm for nostalgic memories. It’s not something to build a story on.

    At some point it needs to be left behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “At some point it needs to be left behind.”

      I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m not sure this franchise business model is the only way to go. Sure, if you want mega-millions, it probably is, but I have a feeling it’s run its course.

      When EVERYONE hops on a bandwagon and tries to make EVERYTHING a universe or a franchise, you know the trend is nearing it’s end. At least, that’s how I see it. I could be wrong, but I also don’t think that writing I’m starting to see on various walls is a figment of my imagination.

      Like

  2. Turning a one-off into a franchise is a terrible thing. Saw the trailer for the new Jumanji the other day and my heart sank… The Jumanji remake was actually worthwhile, but now there’s going to be sequel upon sequel until they suck.

    Liked by 1 person

      • When confronted with Jack Black making dick jokes, only the most intellectual of nuances will do!

        Actually, I could forgive them if they had an interesting enough take on who or what created the game, although that would be better developed as a story external to the game world rather than “let’s throw people into Jumanji again” – someone tracking down mysterious artefacts that suck people in, either for safekeeping, or thrillseeking, or as a repairman or something.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The heat death of the universe is the future, I ain’t paying money to see that…

        Hopefully all this is the death throes of Hollywood and it’ll slowly spiral into irrelevancy or bankruptcy… or get shocked into something better than its current state.

        Like

  3. I feel the same way about expansion packs (especially if they release as DLC) for video games. Even if a developer pours its heart and soul into an expansion pack in a way that creates a miniature sequel to the original work, it’s still an attempt to milk what is supposed to be a complete product.

    I also concede your point regarding prequels. As much as I enjoy HALO: REACH and even ROGUE ONE, neither needed to exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Expansion packs are an interesting case. Sometimes they add life to a game that fans wanted more of. Video games are a different medium, so at the risk of sounding hypocritical, I think expansions can work . . . especially if reasonably priced. The Wing Commander expansions for the first two games come to mind.

      Now, requiring expansions or DLC to get the full experience? That’s a non-starter for me.

      Prequels and side-stories, to me personally, generally reek of cash-grab. But your mileage may vary.

      Like

  4. Alexander
    I tend to like franchises. For example I like the Jack Ryan series and a lesser known one called Justin Hall.
    In my age I’ve always enjoyed epic where characters grow and justice is rendered.

    I’m not a fan of the stand alone story but appreciate it.

    I guess it’s a question of balance
    There does come a point to end a series and move on to something else.

    Again art is sufficiently broad cater to both type of readers, listeners etc.

    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see Jack Ryan more as a character than a franchise or “shared universe” or whatever. He’s like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I see a difference there.

      I like epics as well…when planned!

      Like

  5. When I saw a pic for the Picard Star Trek series, I thought it was one of those fandom “wishlist” things. But it’s actually a real show! Brian Niemeier’s post-1997 pop culture stasis theory validated again.

    In the short- to mid-term, I think we’ll actually get *more* franchise stuff no one asked for because the celebrity/star culture is dying off, literally. We’re shifting to memes based off franchises, e.g., Baby Yoda.

    FWIW, I prefer the old studio system where the stars were the main attraction, because we at least got a variety of stories, settings, etc. The “sequels” were the stars acting together again, e.g., “The Maltese Falcon” -> “Casablanca.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander and Anabssis

      The Latin Americans still do thatcwitheurctelenovellas. There’s always a core group of actors that are always together for each new show. As most characters are archtype so it works out quite well.

      The lack of planning epics is a major flaw with modern writers. I’m the first to acknowledge my shortcoming here . I still don’t get how to outline plots and major story arcs. I’m visual so I need to see an outline so I can then tinker to fit my writing style.
      xavier

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting! I didn’t know that about telenovelas. Then again, I’m not quite the target audience.

        A lack of planning epics results in muddled stories, whether they be prose or on screens large and small. Even if you’re not a detailed outliner, know your ending, character arcs, and big beats before you start.

        Like

    • Great points. Memes based on franchises does seem like the wave of the future. Hey, memes sell product, right? And isn’t that what it’s all about?

      It’s the old “art vs. commerce” debate, except no one realizes it’s supposed to be a balancing act, and our act is WAY out of balance.

      Like

      • Alexander

        Actually I think you’d be a portion of the target audience. As a writer you’d really enjoy the tight storytelling, the pacing and the arcs and endings.
        And would provide you with lots of practical advice and prompts to improve your writing.

        They preserve a lot of the traditional storytelling that the progressives expelled in the 20s-30s in the States

        Most tenovellas are 180 episodes. About 2 years. So time wasting emo meanderings.

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Alexander
    Not off hand. I’d have to take at you tube

    There’s yo soy Beatty la fea. The Colombian is so different from the American one.

    there was a Venezuelean one many ago but I never saw the title. I can give you a summary. A guy from the richest family in a coastal city acts like a total fop but is actually a helmeted biker vigilante fighting against corruption and injustice. The bad guy was so awesome.

    Here’s a tip: Mexicsn ones tend to be histrionic and melodramatic like a Harlequin romance with happy endings. The Venezuelen ones tend to be grittier and unafraid to deal with topical issues in a timeless way. The Colombians are in the middle of the 2.

    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

    • “there was a Venezuelean one many ago but I never saw the title. I can give you a summary. A guy from the richest family in a coastal city acts like a total fop but is actually a helmeted biker vigilante fighting against corruption and injustice. The bad guy was so awesome.”

      …so Venezuela is Pulprev?

      Like

  7. Alexander

    Some cultural isolation where Catholic culture acculutrated with the indigenous cultures following the liturgical calendar rythymns
    French and Spanish literary influences
    The sheer natural natural beauty
    Late industrialization
    An exhuberant culture stemming from the Mediterranean intermediates by the Church and the Iberian peninsula.

    Progressiveism was restricted to a very small group of urban educated who never had critical mass to impose their ideology. Even then it was marginal and freakish.

    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s really interesting. Goes to show how little I really know about most Latin American cultures, save Mexico, which most Americans know about due to proximity and history.

      Do you see progressivism, at least the cultural kind, making in-roads? Also, I’ve often wondered about the syncretic nature of much Latin American Catholicism. How closely does it really hew to historical, doctrinal, orthodox Catholicism?

      Like

      • Alexander,

        Absolutely.. Liberation theology and the option for the poor was the vector.

        It also didn’t help like Quebec and Ireland, Latin America’s relative cultural/religious isolation left them unprepared to answer both the Evangelicals (who were bankrolled by wealthy American believers) and the Gramscian/Frankfurt school of Marxism (aka deathcult modernism).

        Don’t forget the impunity the Cuban commies have had since 1959 and all the violence stemming from their active meddling as yet another factor.

        Right now in Chile, the death cultists are attacking priests in church, vandalising churches, breaking statues, taking the pews out and burning them. It’s like looking at a colourized real time version of 1936 Spain or 1910 Mexico.

        You can head over to Twitter to find the videos. Also there’s a really creepy feminist anthem/song that started there in Chile as well and was already being sung in Spain during the International woman’s day.

        Finally the indigenous paganism is making a comeback (Santa Muerte, MS 13 dabbling in serious occult stuff)

        So yeah, I’m quite worried that Latin America is facing a great challenge on top of the other problem it’s had for centuries .

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

  8. JD Cowan wrote: “They start and they end. Then you revisit it or move onto a new one….At some point it needs to be left behind.”

    —Yes. I like that there were three original movies that told a good and surprising story across an interesting galaxy, why add any more? It’s like eating a perfectly cooked meal and going back for seconds, thirds, fifths, each less satisfying but with MORE.

    Alexander wrote: “I’m a fan of stories that are complete.”

    —Otherwise you’re left with soap operas. And now endless shitty reboots and “reimaginings.” Every so often a remake is better than the original or offers a good take on an older film but most are as turgid as Ghostbusters 2016.

    —I think even Tolkien considred and dropped a sequel to the Lord of the Rings x number of years after the original ended.

    Alexander says: “I can revisit anytime later if I want. The characters and stories live on and are never tainted by the knowledge that somewhere out there is a piece of work–not a fan-fiction, but something canon, something with the official franchise stamp of approval on it.”

    —When it comes to Star Wars or well, I guess any fiction, I just view it as what counts is my “canon.” Fuck me. I don’t even like saying that, I never say that. I don’t think in terms like that. Better instead, for me, I’ve got the three original movies to enjoy though it’s been years since I watched them and any sequels/prequels don’t have to have any effect on me, official or otherwise. It’s my choice. Like were I to learn of a song’s real meaning versus my interpretation, it could ruin it but it doesn’t have to. Does that make sense?

    The Big A wrote: “He’s like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I see a difference there.”

    —I suppose it would come down to somehow asking Doyle and Fleming about their creations. Good point, it definitely is an exception with me as well, but maybe because those characters had a series of adventures and not part of one story epic or otherwise. Most of the major superhero characters are like that to a degree for me, though I feel badly for their creators ripped off and treated badly.

    Our Greek host doth wrote: “And–get this–every generation can have their own new characters. ”

    —Yes! There ya go. That’s how it should be. If they really wanted to create a female-led space opera than just do that. There’s no shortage of audience for it, as long as people aren’t being lectured at, both men and women would go if the story is good and the characters are interesting!

    —They’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a long time but they even tried making a horror version of hte Bananna Splits. Who the heck remembers them and why would younger generations even care? New stories, new worlds. Thats the way.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • To your point about characters like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, why do they not seem milked dry the way others like comic book superheroes, for example, do? Or even the Terminator franchise. What is it about some of these classic characters that actually lends themselves well to fresh reinventions while others do not?

      New Sherlock Holmes movies or TV series, for example, are rarely met with groans the way, say, another Batman reboot does, or yet another Star Wars movie or series. I can’t explain why either, but your point about them specifically NOT being parts of epics might have something to do with it. It’s interesting to think about.

      Like

  9. Alex wrote: “…New Sherlock Holmes movies or TV series, for example, are rarely met with groans the way, say, another Batman reboot does…”

    —Could be too they’re not as ubiquitous in pop culture. I’m sure people get together and discuss Holmes but it’s not at the level of pop culture as Game of Thrones or Star Wars. Even the recent BBC version doesn’t seem on the same level.

    —If there were a lot of Sherlock reboots happening it would be different. And Bond has a tradition of different actors, different feel at this point and they do space them out a bit. From Die Another Day to Casino Royale was some time and a bit of a reboot of those movies, back-to-basics.

    —Even so, not much of any of this interests me in the first place though I think it makes for an interesting discussion and that what people need or thirst for on this level of reality, when it comes to entertainment or escape are new stories and if there is some morality to it, more of the human truths, kindness, mercy, redemption, people behaving as people do despite the weirdness of a story’s context; not being lectured at or condenscended to.

    —You’d think at some point though people would burn out on Star Wars or comic book adaptations.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • The ubiquity point is key. I think you’ve nailed it. We can deal with reboots, relaunched, and expanded universes or whatever you want to call them as long as the thing in question isn’t shoved in our faces 24/7.

      That said, rumors of, say, a new Gremlins movies still make me angry.

      “You’d think at some point though people would burn out on Star Wars or comic book adaptations.”

      And then there’s this. So much this.

      Like

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