I had the pleasure of reviewing The 33 by JC Hutchins recently. I quite enjoyed it, but had a couple of questions for Hutch. He was king enough to answer them.
What made you decide to release The 33 as a serialized audio/e-book, rather than doing it all at once?
I wish I had a satisfying, entrepreneurially-sound answer for you! Honestly, The 33’s release model is the way it is because that’s how I’ve always envisioned it. Since 2008, I’ve wanted to create something that plucked some of the most interesting storytelling models from episodic TV and serialized comic books, and mash them together: a combination of standalone “monster of the week” stories and cliffhanger-driven multi-episode adventures. The 33’s 12-episode “TV season” approach provided a good umbrella to unify these stories, and gave me the flexibility to weave in a mythology and meta-arc — a bigger picture narrative — that can conceivably span several seasons of The 33, and numerous spinoffs.
Also, I can’t release the episodes all at once because they haven’t all been written yet! This was deliberate, for a few reasons … but these reasons ultimately hail back to TV and comics.
Firstly, as adventures of The 33 are released month to month, I’ll be able to watch the online conversation about them ebb and flow. I’ll get a sense of my audience’s expectations, what it likes (and doesn’t), fan-favorite characters, that sort of thing. That information will help inform the world of The 33 and its characters. I couldn’t make those diagnoses and directional changes if a full season of The 33 had already been written.
Secondly, the model embraces a bit of unpredictability and “controlled chaos” for my creative process. If I’m fascinated by an emerging social trend or technology that I’ve read about, I can immediately get to work on a standalone The 33 story, using it as inspiration. That flexibility is very cool, and impossible with traditional prose fiction models. While I have no ambition to craft a “ripped from the headlines” series ala Law & Order, there’s something to be said for timeliness and cultural relevance, especially when the release schedule is designed to permit it.
Thirdly, the month-to-month writing and release of The 33 gives me a chance to watch sales figures, and adjust my own expectations. If it becomes obvious to everyone, especially me, that the series is an entrepreneurial failure and no one’s buying the episodes, then — speaking plainly — there’s little reason to invest the effort in writing and promoting it. TV, comic books and novel series face this scenario all the time, especially in their formative days. If the series doesn’t get traction in the marketplace and the revenue generated doesn’t justify the expense incurred to create it, more episodes won’t be “ordered” by “the network.”
Now, to be clear: I’m nowhere near making that decision right now, and won’t be for many months. If the sales of The 33’s first episode are any indication, the series is in great shape, and will thrive for months to come. I’m committed to pursuing my passion for this series, and will write as many The 33 stories as the audience is willing to meaningfully support.
What are the unique challenges that you face in writing something like this as opposed to a novel?
The most intriguing challenge so far has been being thoughtful about how and when to reveal certain secrets of The 33’s mythology, world and characters. In some respects, I’m playing a longer game now than I ever was, writing a standalone novel. I need characters who don’t just have problems — they’ve got BIG problems. Heck, their problems have problems! This approach ensures a long-term (and heaven willing, multi-season) road of growth for my characters.
Same goes for the weird “day to day” world seen in the series. The 33 is set in a present-day America where science and sorcery coexist — where the world is threatened by ruthless criminals, malicious technologies, hostile supernatural beings, giant killer robots, you name it. I’ve developed a few “rules” for The 33’s world; these are creative cornerstones that permit even the most outlandish technologies and mythologies to exist, all together. But those explanations need not be dumped into The 33’s first episode. An episodic approach empowers me to shift that worldbuilding to future adventures, if needed. It allows me to tease some of the mythologies and tech — and heroes and villains — of The 33 and pay off those teases later. This requires some creative restraint, which is definitely a challenge for me!
Finally, there’s a much larger meta-mythology powering universe of The 33, and a superthreat looming over it that defies imagination — or at least, the imaginations of the characters occupying that universe. If the series is successful enough to support multiple seasons (and even multiple prequels, or spinoff series), that narrative “marrow” will slowly be revealed. I’m being very judicious in my approach with that. I want to weave hints of this meta-mythology into the DNA of The 33, and glance upon them occasionally in ongoing episodes … but make them “hide in plain sight,” if that makes sense.
If this is a success do you think you’ll make it available as a paper book?
That’s a great question, and my answer hinges greatly on the definition of “success” — a definition I haven’t yet settled on, and one that will likely shift in the weeks and months ahead. A paper-based product is probably a ways off, though if the sales of The 33 radically exceed my expectations — and if there’s vocal demand for a paper-based product — I’ll certainly consider it!
The “need to know” about The 33’s unconventional storytelling model: The 33 is J.C. Hutchins’ latest fiction project, released as monthly ebooks and digital audiobooks. The 33 isn’t a novel — it’s a short story series with recurring characters, told over TV season-like arcs. The 33: Season 1 is currently planned for a 12-episode release.
More information about The 33 is available at http://The33.net.
Bio: J.C. Hutchins crafts award-winning transmedia narratives, screenplays and novels for companies such as 20th Century Fox, A&E, Cinemax, Discovery, FOX, Infiniti, Macmillan Publishers and Harebrained Schemes. He has been profiled by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR’s Weekend Edition, ABC Radio and the BBC.