Sick Day (and Story Structure)

Happy Thursday, squiders. I hope yours find you better than mine, where I am literally a fountain of snot.

(Tips for dealing with sinus congestion–and hopefully getting rid of it? I will love you forever.)

Anyway, Siri and I spent about four hours yesterday pounding out stuff for the sequel of City of Hope and Ruin. (We were both sick, so hopefully everything is coherent when I go back over it.) We made decent progress, mapping out character and relationship arcs, and poked at the plot (still being a jerk) a bit. And we’re going to start writing, so that’s exciting.

We also spent some time talking about structure and how to apply that to the series as a whole. (We’re thinking it will be a trilogy, and I think I’ve talked to you guys in the past about how writing a trilogy is like writing a very long 3-Act structure each with its own complete arcs.)

And I found this very lovely blog post on 3-Act structure, which I thought I would share with you. It’s here:

The Great Novel-Writing Checklist (Just in Time for NaNoWriMo!)

It’s by K.M. Weiland, whom I generally recommend when it comes to the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. But this is a very complete look at the structure and what needs to happen in each part, and I recommend it if you’re curious or would like a refresher.

As for me, I need more tea and kleenex, and I’ll see you guys next week.

Promo: The Unlikeable Demon Hunter: Crave

Good morning, squiders! Today I’ve got The Unlikeable Demon Hunter: Crave by Deborah Wilde. It’s the fourth in a series of paranormal romances. This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Deborah is giving away a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter.

What doesn’t kill you…

seriously messes with your love life.

Nava is happily settling into her new relationship and life is all giddy joy and stolen kisses.

Except when it’s assassins. Talk about a mood killer.

She and Rohan are tracking the unlikely partnership between the Brotherhood and a witch who can bind demons, but every new piece of the puzzle is leaving them with more questions than answers.

And someone doesn’t appreciate them getting close to the truth.

Go figure.

On top of that, a demon known only as Candyman has unleashed a drug that’s harming users in extremely disturbing ways.

After a friend of Nava’s is hurt, she vows to take this demon down. But will life as she knows it survive this mission, or will this be the one time she should have looked before she leapt?

Happily-ever-after: barring death, she’s got a real shot at it.

Read an Excerpt:

“I love home delivery.” Malik lounged in his doorway, eyeing me the way the wolf must have with the three little pigs. His British accent was pure sin.

“I love your arrogance that you didn’t bother moving after I almost killed you.”

He laughed, flashing straight white teeth against his bronze skin. He was still the only being I’d ever met who could pull off a Caesar cut, and was still the stuff of billionaire romance cover fantasies in his soft gray trousers that were artfully tailored to the hard lines of his body and navy shirt, carelessly folded back at the cuffs. “Oh, petal. I’d say I missed you, but I didn’t. Now, unless you brought the more interesting twin?” He peered into the hallway. “No?”

He shut the door, but I stuffed my foot in to block it. Not like he politely stopped trying to close it. “Ow.” I pushed my shoulder into the door to keep my poor bones from breaking. “If you weren’t wondering why I was here, you wouldn’t have let security buzz me up or let my toes cross the wards I’m sure you’ve got strung across this door.”

“Ten seconds.”

“That’s not–”

“Five, four…”

“Demons are being bound.” I rushed my words as he made a buzzing noise.

Malik yanked me inside by my collar and slammed the door.

I wrenched free.

His penthouse apartment hadn’t changed. Still to-die-for sweeping views of the city, a massive glass wine storage unit in the open concept space, and a loft bedroom. He pointed at one of the leather sofas, custom made to hug the curved walls. “Sit and talk.”

About the Author:

A global wanderer, hopeless romantic, and total cynic with a broken edit button, Deborah writes urban fantasy to satisfy her love of smexy romances and tales of chicks who kick ass. This award-winning author is all about the happily-ever-after, with a huge dose of hilarity along the way. “It takes a bad girl to fight evil. Go Wilde.”

Website: http://www.deborahwilde.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/wildeauthor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DeborahWildeAuthor/

Buy Link:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0784674R3
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0784674R3

NOTE: This title is discounted for up to 60% until midnight February 26 and the entire series is on sale until then as well.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Trials of the Follow-up

As I mentioned to you guys at the beginning of the year, Siri and I are working on the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin. Or, more accurately, trying to work on the sequel to CoHaR. We’ve been trying to hammer out a plot now for about three months.

And we’re having the worst time. We can’t figure anything out. There’s so many options available that we can’t get anything to gel. What are the character arcs? What is the main plot? How many viewpoint characters do we want/need?

Who knows?

This is a new issue for me. I tend to either write standalones (ala Hidden Worlds or Shards) or planned series where I have an idea of the entire arc of the series. But because the Fractured World is supposed to be a shared universe, Siri and I purposefully left as much open as possible at the end of CoHaR, with the thought that maybe someone else would write a novel in between it and whenever we came back to it.

But no one did, and our own inventiveness has stymied us.

This kind of falls into the “Trap of Success” that you hear talked about sometimes, or the fear of success. Essentially, because you were successful the first time, you have to live up to said success.

(For example, CoHaR has been getting some praise, including being listed on lists of best diverse fiction, like this one, so, you know, things to live up to.)

I have a friend whose first novel did amazing–it was a bestseller, got great reviewers, was optioned for a TV show (which was happening last I spoke with him)–and he’s been having the worst time with the sequel.

The success. Sometimes it gets you in the end.

But anyway.

Hopefully we can get the basics laid down soon so we can get onto the writing (and, let’s be honest, rewriting) of the book. It’s due in its finished form to Turtleduck Press at the beginning of December. So wish us luck!

Where is the Best Place to Write?

We’ve talked about writing locations before, Squiders, about libraries and coffee shops and home offices and whatnot. We’ve talked about setting up our own and what mine looks like (though the images seem to have been eaten in the website hacking snafu of October 2016) and talked about the pros and cons of different locations.

But recently, when I was on my way out to the coffee shop for writing again, my husband asked if I was really more efficient when I went out. And, to be honest, I didn’t know. I do like coffee shops because they allow me to escape from the house and because I like coffee (and tea, and hot cocoa, and iced tea, and…) but I don’t actually know that I am more productive than I am sitting at home in the office, for example.

So I’ve made a spreadsheet.

Have I concluded anything? Not yet. I suspect I need a lot more data (and I’ve been lazy this week as you can see), and I’m wondering if I need a few more columns. (I also need to be consistent on times–I’m trying to do 24hr time so it’s clear when I’m writing in the evening vs the morning to see if time of day is a factor–but I can see off the top of my head that at least the second entry on the 4th needs to be changed to evening.)

I’m also not sure if converting to words/hour is helpful. Like, that fifteen minutes at the library on the third. Would my output have been the same had I written for the full hour? Hard to say. Maybe things were really flowing. Or maybe I would have hit a block 100 words later.

Another thing that may be unduly influencing things is where I am. Some scenes are almost word for word reused from the last draft, so I’m just modifying wording or adding in a little more nuance this time through, and that certainly goes much faster. Some scenes are brand new and difficult (ala the entry on the second) and that really eats my word count.

Is word count even a good marker for telling how much I’m getting done? Not sure what else to use.

Well, I’m at 94K for the rewrite now, and I’m making decent progress, so perhaps in a month we’ll be done (finally!) and I can work on a different project which might be more consistent on scene difficulty. (That probably doesn’t exist.)

Thoughts, squiders? Better way to track? Maybe a column for “how was the flow today” with a scale to 1-10.

Common Writing Mistakes: Lack of Conflict

So I lied, Squiders, and found one more common writing mistake.

Today we’re going to talk about conflict. Conflict in the writing sense is when something stands in your protagonist’s way of getting what he/she/it wants.

(NOTE: The protagonist of a scene may be different than the protagonist in the book.)

Conflict breaks down into external (forces outside the protagonist standing in the way) and internal (forces inside the protagonist standing in the way).

In elementary school, you probably learned a conflict breakdown that included Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, etc. That’s just a further breakdown of external conflict, for the most part.

Stories need conflict to be interesting. The tendency for some beginning authors is to think that means they need exciting things, like battles and car chases and gunfights, etc. While these things can all be good in the right circumstance, without an emotional tie to the plot, they fall flat.

A conflict does not need to be big, but it does need to be present. This is why scenes where the character brushes their teeth or takes a shower so often fail. Now, if they’re taking a shower to wash off the blood, or if they notice their canine teeth don’t look quite right…

Kit! I hear you shout. But what about slice of life stories? Or literary stories? Those don’t have conflict.

Sure they do. They might not have “Evil shall descend on the land and destroy all life” levels of conflict, but they have it.

The best book I read last year was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. It was originally published in Swedish and was translated into English in 2013. The main conflict is that Ove wants to die, and things (mostly people and cats) keep getting in his way. It’s a lovely book and I highly recommend it if you have not read it.

Is this an earth-shattering conflict? No. Does it matter to anyone except Ove? No. But it is there.

A story needs an overarching conflict that drives the plot, but each scene also needs some form of conflict. These can be directly related to plot, or they can be related to characterization or a subplot. And, as I noted above, the protagonist of a scene (the one who has a conflict thrown in his way) does not have to be the protagonist of the book. In some cases, the book’s protagonist can be the antagonist in a scene.

There can be the urge to include scenes just because they’re fun, or they’re exciting, or they’ve got the coolest bit of worldbuilding in them. But ask yourself two questions:

  • Is this scene telling me anything about my character?
  • Is this scene driving the story forward?

If the answer to both is no, the scene’s doing nothing, and it either needs to be removed, or it needs to be reworked.

Thoughts on conflict, squiders? Tips on making sure you’ve got the right amount/the right type of conflict?

I’m Sensing a Trend

Happy Tuesday, squiders! I just finished reading The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, which is the first of a fantasy trilogy and was published in 1976.

Do you know what the book reminded me of?

The Finnbranch trilogy that we did the disastrous readalong of over the summer last year.

I mean, The Riddle-Master of Hed is a much better book, but it involved a lot of the same elements: young man whose destiny has been determined far in the past, a bunch of supernatural people, shape-shifters from the sea, a lot of wandering around, and a bunch of pretty thick mythology.

(Wikipedia tells me that the book features themes from Celtic mythology, which Finnbranch did as well, though McKillip is not quite so obvious about it.)

From this, I can only conclude that this was a fairly active fantasy subgenre in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I mean, what are the odds that the two fantasy novels from essentially the same time period (As I said, this one was published in 1976, and the first Finnbranch novel, Yearwood, is from 1980) I’ve picked up in the last six months would be so similar in tone and themes?

(I suppose it could say more about me than the publishing trends of the time. Obviously something drew me to pick up both trilogies, whatever the heck it was. This is what happens when you hoard books for years. You have no idea what you were thinking.)

Does anyone read more of the period of fantasy/remember this period in fantasy? Was this a trend? If so, what would you say is the quintessential book of the “destined young man who is more than he seems with story drowning in mythology” genre so I can get it out of the way? (Or avoid it entirely. Still not sure.)

I wish I’d done this trilogy first. It’s probably way more enjoyable without the Finnbranch flashbacks. I will probably read the next two books, because now I’m invested, and also the third book was nominated for the Hugo and a bunch of other awards.

Read this series, squiders? Thoughts? (No spoilers yet, please!)

Common Writing Mistakes: Wrong Audience

Good morning/afternoon cusp, squiders! I think this will be the last post in this series, and I’ll save the rest for the book. Also, it is cold and I forgot to put a coat on like an idiot.

Today we’re going to talk about audience. A story’s audience is the type of person that is likely to read a particular story.

This is more of a marketing issue. It can be hard to match the creative flow and inspiration necessary to make it through writing/editing a story to the marketing box a writer is trying to fit into. Most don’t try, figuring they’ll write the story as it needs to go and the marketing aspect can come later.

It can be a writer’s first instinct to say “My story is amazing and it will appeal to everyone!” but this is patently untrue. People like different things. I’ve certainly read bestselling books that I thought were horrifically bad, and I’ve read books I loved that seemingly everyone else hated.

It’s part of the reason genres exist. People experiment, discover what sort of stories they like, and then they look for more stories like that.

Some people recommend inventing a “reader”–a fictional person who would fall into the prime audience for a story to use as a stand-in for the entire audience so they can personalize things for marketing purposes.

But during the writing process, do you really need to worry about your audience? The answer is: to some extent. Some genres have strict conventions that you’re going to run into issues with if you circumvent them. For example, it’s really hard to get romance readers to buy into a story that doesn’t end with a happily ever after, or a happily for now. Most romance readers are looking for an escape; if you provide a story that doesn’t match what a reader is expecting, you’ll run into readers not finishing the story or leaving bad reviews. Mystery readers expect a murder in almost all cases; thriller readers expect twists and turns at regular intervals. It is possible to successfully break a genre convention, but you’d better know what you’re doing.

But in a lot of cases, as long as you’re not wildly outside of what’s acceptable for your chosen genre, your audience can be mostly forgotten while writing.

Revision is where your audience starts to become more of a focus. There’s a saying that the first draft is for the writer, and the revision is for the reader. Things that might be confusing need to be clarified, plot or character issues will need to be fixed, and if something has been consistently pointed out by your beta readers/critiquers (who hopefully are regular readers of your particular genre in most cases), it will need to be looked at.

And if you’re planning to sell or publish a story, you will need to be able to choose a marketing category for it, which tends to include age ranges (children’s, middle grade, young adult, adult) and genre. A story that is not easily classifiable might be a hard sell.

Have anything else to add about audience, squiders? Examples of stories that went horribly awry on estimating who their audience was?

Tragedy and Fiction

So, last week, I went up to visit with my mother/grandmother, and I found my grandmother most of the way through All Clear (which is the second half of Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear duology and the most recent volume in her time travel books). I was delighted, and we did get to have the conversation I read The Doomsday Book for, as well as talking about the series as a whole.

We got to talking about which ones were our favorites, and I waxed poetical about the humor and romance in To Say Nothing of the Dog and the fantastic research of Blackout/All Clear. My grandmother said her favorite was The Doomsday Book. I kind of paused–if you remember from my post on The Doomsday Book, I thought it was the weakest of the series–and then asked her why.

And she said, “I don’t really enjoy World War II as a setting, but I suppose that comes from having lived through it.”

And it was like: oh. Oh. Of course WWII isn’t going to be an enjoyable setting. She lost siblings in that war, saw the rationing, the friends and family sent home in boxes (or not). It must have felt like the world was tearing itself apart. Why would you want to live through that again?

And I felt terribly guilty, especially for talking about how “real” the book’s setting had felt to someone who had lived through it.

WWII is so removed for so many of us. My grandmother is 95 and would have been in her late teens/early 20s during the war. But to me, it’s like the Big War in my favorite fantasy series. It’s something that happened, something that shaped the world, but it’s almost reached mythology at this point. Especially here in the States, there’s not a lot of reminders of what the war did. That’s not universal, of course–I’ve been to Berlin. I’ve seen the remains of the Wall and seen bombed buildings that have never been repaired. I’ve walked the rows of sarcophagi at the Jewish memorial. But I bet even my generation in Germany doesn’t quite understand.

And don’t we all have those things, those events, that were so traumatic, so tragic, that we don’t want to have our fiction anywhere near them? I know what mine is. It’s Columbine. I don’t think I’ve talked about Columbine here, and I don’t intend to start now, but let us just say that I can remember that day almost 20 years ago as clearly if it had happened yesterday, even as most of my memories from that time in my life have started to fade.

I know I avoid media related to Columbine or school shootings like the plague. Even songs that can be interpreted as being about school shootings I can’t listen to. And, to be honest, it’s not that hard. In the great scheme of cultural zeitgeist, it wasn’t that major. It didn’t affect that many people. Something like WWII that affected entire generations is a lot harder to avoid. (Wikipedia tells me 3% of the world’s population died over the course of the war.)

It’s certainly been a bit eye-opening. Sometimes these big, horrible historical things are a lot closer than most people realize. I mean, we’re only a few generations past when slavery ended in this country.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Is it exploitation to use an event that was traumatic to a ton of people for media designed for profit? Is it sad that terrible things happen? Where is the line where something becomes art?

Makes me glad I write science fiction and fantasy, if nothing else.

Common Writing Mistakes: Ending in the Wrong Place

Good morning, squiders. Last week we discussed starting in the wrong place. But one can end a story in the wrong place as well.

(To be fair, there are a lot of issues that have to do with what scenes are chosen to be included in a story. However, whole books about structure have been written if this is an issue you would like to explore further. My personal favorite is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.)

Ending in the wrong place typically falls into two categories:

  • Going too long
  • Going too short

You can probably see what I mean by either of these, but for the sake of completion, let’s use examples. The Return of the King movie is commonly brought up as a story that goes on too long. Part of this is because there are so many characters in so many places and they all need resolutions.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where Arthur and his remaining knights are just about the reach the Grail–and then the police show up and the film is shut off. Yes, it’s purposeful, and yes, it falls in line with the Pythons’ humor, but the story cuts off abruptly and can be unsatisfying.

(NOTE: TVTropes has a whole page of different unsatisfying ending types. You can find it here.)

Endings, like beginnings, are highly subjective, and invariably, you can’t please everyone. If you conclude quickly after your climax, you’ll have people who wanted more. Did the sister end up with the lawyer? What happened to the corrupt mayor? Did magic return to the land? But if you make sure you wrap everything up, people will groan about the story being never ending. So, to some extent, the ending that feels right to you is probably best.

On a related note, there are unsatisfying endings. These typically occur for one of the following reasons:

  • The story seems to be foreshadowing something that doesn’t happen
  • There’s too many loose ends
  • A deus ex machina comes in last minute, robbing the main character of their agency
  • The ending doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the story
  • The ending doesn’t fit with the main character’s personality
  • The ending dumbs everything down too far

This is not to say that unexpected things can’t happen in your ending. They certainly can. I think we all appreciate a truly great twist, one that we didn’t see coming and yet falls in line perfectly with what’s come before. In fact, you need to have some surprises in your ending or you run the risk of your readers being disappointed by things being too predictable. They may know a battle is coming, and who the main people in that battle will be, but they hopefully won’t know how it’s going to play out.

And, lastly, let’s talk about epilogues. An epilogue is usually (hopefully) a single chapter at the end of a book that shows the main character’s life after the climax. Usually some time has passed (years, in some cases) and they’re used to show how the effects of the story have changed (or not changed) the character.

Epilogues can be fantastic or be mistakes, depending on the story and how they’re handled. Look at how much controversy has surrounded the epilogue from the Harry Potter series. But they can be useful, especially if the climax doesn’t allow for an easy transition into a resolution chapter (such as when something traumatic has happened, or the main character has died, or if it’s important to the emotional arc of the story to show the impact of the characters’ sacrifice, etc.). I sometimes write stories with and without epilogues to see which works better.

Thoughts on endings, squiders? Ideas on how to tell where’s the best place to stop?

Musical Interlude 2018

I was looking at summer camps this morning, Squiders, and one was touting that its 2018 schedule was now up, and in my head I was like, “Why so far in the future?”

I have now remembered what year it is. Oops.

Also, one of my monitors (I have a dual monitor set-up) smells like it’s burning something so I’ve had to turn it off.

BUT ANYWAY.

Every now and then I like to share some songs with you that I’m currently digging, usually because they provide story inspiration of some sort. And it felt like it was time (and apparently so, since it’s been a year!) so here we are.

No Roots (Alice Merton)

I feel kind of hipster about this song (“I was listening to this before it was cool”) but on the other hand, now that it’s on the radio all the time I also get to listen to it all the time. Plus it’s fun to sing along to.

One Foot (Walk the Moon)

I love everything about this song. I hadn’t watched the video before this post and it’s ridiculous, but I have no regrets.

Radioactive (Within Temptation–cover of Imagine Dragons)

I love the Imagine Dragons version, but is there really anything that can’t be improved by a power metal cover? If there is I haven’t found it yet! Also I adore Within Temptation and I wish they would tour over here in the States sometime.

Euphoria (Xandria)

The lyrics are a little problematic in places on this one (and very dark in general) but I love how this sounds like early Nightwish.

Footsteps (Pop Evil)

I can’t remember if I’ve shared this song with you guys before (it’s older) but if I have, uh, well, here it is again!

Have any songs that are hitting your sweet spots right now, squiders? I’m pretty open musically, so feel free to give me a rec or two!

Books by Kit Campbell

City of Hope and Ruin cover
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Shards cover
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Hidden Worlds cover
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