Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sleeve Notes, Outtakes, and Deleted Scenes: Bonus Features in Books

Way back before most music came as a downloaded or streamed digital file, it took physical form in the shape of vinyl records, tape cassettes, and then compact discs. My favourite albums were always those that offered something more than a list of the tracks and which members of the band played which instruments on the recording.

music with added lyrics
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
I loved the sleeve notes. The extra bits. Like the lyrics to every song, or—if the artist was singing their own material—notes on where each song was written, and why.

Likewise, when it comes to movies, I love the extras there, too.

I had to severely downsize my DVD collection when I made my last house move. The movies I kept tended to be the Special Editions—the ones with a second disc containing bonus features such as a director’s commentary, a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, and explanations of the stunts or special effects. I’ve even been known to buy a second copy if it came with some/better/more extras.

One of those repeat buys was my all-time favourite movie, Ronin, a John Frankenheimer-directed Euro-thriller starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, and Jonathan Pryce (making a far better villain here than he ever managed in his Brosnan/Bond outing, Tomorrow Never Dies.)

I watched Ronin again recently with an actor friend. We’d both seen it before, so we switched on the subtitles to keep up with the dialogue, and played the Frankenheimer commentary over the top. It was a brilliant example of tight storytelling and character development done with a few deft brushstrokes.
And also a timely reminder of a great thriller set in France, which just so happens to be where the section of the Charlie Fox novel I’m working on at the moment takes place.

So, no pressure, then…

Watching the movie again and listening to the commentary made me think about the mechanics of the story I’m writing. It also made me wonder if readers would be interested in those inner workings.

There seems to have been a trend away from putting in a lot of extra material at the end of ebooks, mainly because of the ‘percentage read’ indicator. People are sometimes put out if the book ends at, say, 80% because there’s so much other stuff included. So, while I am going to offer some additional insight into the story, I think it might be better to do so in the form of links to pages on my website instead.

So, when it comes to Bonus Features for a book, what would you be interested in reading? The story behind the story—what inspired the book? Or how the plot developed from the initial idea to the full outline? Would you like pictures of any real locations used? Or notes about the factual research woven into the fictional story?

All suggestions gratefully received!

This week’s Word of the Week is assonance, meaning the resemblance of sound between syllables of nearby words, particularly from the rhyming of two or more stressed vowels, such as ‘it’s hot and it’s monotonous’ (Sondheim) or from the use of consonants that are identical but with different vowels, such as sculled, scold, skilled. It can be used to invoke feeling or mood in prose or poetry.

Upcoming events:

March 8-10
CRIME & PUBLISHMENT—The Mill Forge, Gretna
Workshops on Getting Your Fight Scenes Right
Caro Ramsay is also teaching at this event—Breaking Bones For Fun

May 9-12
Various panels, TBA, although I am once again moderating The Indie Alternative on Sunday morning, May 12


  1. Thanks, Zoë. I agree, the extras would work better on a web site than at the end of the book for exactly the reason you mention. Otherwise, if the e-book reader software worked RIGHT, they'd support the ability for the e-book creator to place an "end of story" MARKER in the book, so that they could show a true "% done" indicator while still allowing extras after the main story. I can imagine a use for several markers of this sort (start-of-chapter, start-of-part/section, end-of-story, end-of-novel/collection, etc), which would allow e-reader software to more elegantly show the status of the reader's position in the book and more easily navigate (I find TOCs and their links to be pretty useless in e-books, alas). But, they're not paying me the big bucks to be their software designer, so I think I'll go work on a jigsaw puzzle instead.

    There's a second definition for assonance that you may have missed: the similarity of characters in a governmental organization. For example, "The assonance of the Trump administration has reached historic levels of immorality, criminality, and treasonous behavior. Particularly the assiness is assonant. No administration has been assier. These are the biggest asses ever. Everyone is saying so. Sad."

    1. Hi EvKa. It would be great if you could insert 'end of story' markers in ebooks, wouldn't it? Especially when you're reading an e-boxed set. I tend to go and look at how many chapters are left to try to gauge how far through the book I am, but it's only ever a rough guide. Still, when you have a one-size-fits-all design, it's never going to be perfect.

      Love your additional definition for assonance, btw!

  2. I love Jean Reno. My favorite film of his was THE PROFESSIONAL--in which a plant deserved a best supporting actor award. It came out a few years before RONIN, another all time favorite. As for assonance...I'd say it's been largely covered in previously commented raison de'etra d'EvKa.

    1. Jean Reno is particularly good in The Professional, which came out over here as Léon. That plant was acting its little leaves off!

  3. Z, I arrived back in Italy in the wee hours this AM. Now I know what I will be watching for my evening entertainment tonight. I especially like to see deleted scenes and director’s cuts. One of my favorite al-time films is Cinema Paradiso. I bought a second copy just to get the director’s cut. The theater version is shorter and to my way of thinking flawless. But the director’s cut gives more, almost like going back and reading the novel on which the screenplay was based—had there been one.

    For my first novel,, I put photos on my website. I haven’t done that again, But since I oftentimes writes here on MIE about location and inspirations, I think I’ll try to add links to my blog posts to enrich the reader’s experiences.

    1. I know what you mean, Annamaria. Often the deleted scenes, especially if they also have the director explaining why the scene was cut from the final movie, make the story more complete. Sometimes I think they're cut simply to make the running time more convenient, so you do lose something by not having them.

      Nice idea to link to blogs on MiE that relate to a particular book!