Tag Archives: plot

A Tetris kind of day

I started out with good intentions of writing a bunch more words, but it didn’t work out that way.

Today was a day to spend with Lorelei the Muse. Here’s why.

A novel needs characters, a plot, setting, but it needs something else too. All those bits and pieces have to form a cohesive whole when you’re finished. It kind of reminds me of swishing all those blocks around to build the wall in Tetris.

I have characters, setting, and plot, it’s that other part that has me stymied today. Nobody wants to read a story where problems don’t have to be faced and eventually overcome. Deciding to pull the sword from the stone, then doing it makes for a pretty unsatisfying tale.

There is a plot sized problem, but I’m dealing with a section sized problem here.

My pirates are in the process of pulling off a big con game. I’ve spent some quality time fleshing out characters and setting, but they need some kind of larger adversity in this part. There is a lot of personal adversity, but the bigger part isn’t on the page.

I wound up with some ideas, and made steps in that direction. There has been a shadowy threat in this story all along, so why not use that again. It also gives me a chance to face a collection of the shadowy guys in the big ending of the story.

There are more things to accomplish in this part of the world, but I have plenty of time to weave some of this together… if I start now.

To that end, I put down about 1500 words. This really helps, because it makes a commitment I can build off of.

The good news is, I have a two day work week ahead of me. We took vacation time with the idea of going camping. We failed to make a reservation, and over the fourth, there isn’t likely to be even a bushwhacker’s site available. We may be staying home for a few days.

This gives me four long commutes with the Muse, and I can figure out a way to weave all the pieces together before sailing away to the next section.

It was a good writing weekend, and I have thousands of new words on the page. I have a vague idea of the section sized problem, and am looking forward to some vacation time to put it all together.

Hope all of you had a great weekend too.

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Now what?

I got to the writing cabin late today. Old What’s Her Face had to work and the dogs let me sleep in. Since this never happens, I took full advantage.

Lisa Burton sat in the front office drinking a bottle of peroxide.

“Stop! What are you doing? Don’t you know that stuff’s poisonous?”

“Really, after all this time you don’t understand the robot part of robot-girl?”

“Then why?”

“I’ve been out stumping for Quantum Wanderlust. The hosts usually have tea or some kind of special snacks. I eat it to be polite, but my holding tank needs cleaned on occasion.” She stepped from behind her desk wearing yet another new knee length dress; black with white polka dots. She proceeded to cartwheel across the office floor.

I turned away as her dress flipped up. “Stop! Nobody wants to see that.”

“Marilyn Monroe made a statement when her dress blew up.” She placed her hands on her hips. “Would you be more comfortable if I jumped up and down instead?”

“No, I don’t think that would make me comfortable at all.” I wrapped my hand around my beard. “Tell you what. I’m going to my office and you can do whatever you need to do – out here.”

“Fine. I can’t go around smelling like I have halitosis.”

I stomped off to my office and got started. Today was singularly unproductive to be honest. I pulled up my collection of storyboards and all of them need some work. I intend to write another novella next, but want to dive deep into another novel right on its heels. Neither storyboard is ready for prime time.

Storyboarding is my way of outlining. I always write faster with a good outline/storyboard. This means I need some solid daydreaming time. I may have to turn off the radio during my commutes, because that usually attracts the Muse. I have some great ideas, some fun vignettes, even some good characters, but no story yet. At least not ones I’m content with.

I feel bad about it, because I’ve only put out The Enhanced League this year. Enhanced League did great for about two weeks then flatlined. Yak Guy is close to ready, but I want to try something different with it. Here I am facing October, usually my best month of the year, with nothing new to promote. I’m going to push some of the older stuff, and I might come up with something for the baseball playoffs. Maybe I should have started on The Hat sooner and gotten it ready for an October release. Fact is, I didn’t so there’s no use dwelling on it.

My mind is in a weird place too. I got another great review for Panama today, and Quantum Wanderlust is starting to get a few reviews. Sales are kind of dismal though. There are so many free and 99¢ titles available I don’t know what else to try to get readers. It isn’t really about the money, but it would be nice to cover the expenses in putting the books out.

I never actually step away, but this is as close as I’m going to get. I need some time with my thoughts, but those thoughts are going to be about my storyboards so I can keep writing stories. I will try to come up with something that resembles a plot and character arc for the storyboards I have. This may take a few days or it may take a few weeks. No telling.

While that’s going on, I have a list of short stories I could dabble at. It never hurts to have a few of those in the bank, and they could lead to a future Experimental Notebook.

Regrouping for me. Do any of you ever get to this phase? I never see other authors talking about it.

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Does your story need more, or less?

Charles Yallowitz has a great post today. His topic is extremely powerful characters and their use of restraint. I recommend reading it for his topic, and the comments that went along with it. Here's the link, Legends of Windemere.

Charles' post got me thinking about the wonderful character struggle this creates. Then I started relating it to my own recent efforts. This post was inspired by Charles, but is going to be a different topic.

Most of you know that I've been writing short stories. Last Spring, I worked on a novel and some short stories at the same time. Charles' wonderful layers will enhance a novel, and in his case a whole series.

A novel needs this kind of conflict. The main character struggles with more than just defeating evil. Things gnaw at his soul. When the only power you have is a nuclear bomb, it's challenging to deal with a termite invasion. This makes for some good internal tension.

I'm free writing this tonight, but this must be my point: novels need more, and we're not talking about more words. They needs more story.

I fell in love with short stories years ago, but they almost disappeared. Today, they're coming back in a big way. They usually involve someone with a problem either overcoming it or succumbing to it – in a hurry.

I've made this mistake myself, so I get to talk about it. (I've read a few too.) We get a great idea, and find out our story is concluding at about 50,000 words. The first thought, after blind panic, is to add more words. This is how we get novels that describe every course of a drawn out meal. It's how we get tons of description. It's how we make our story boring.

Charles beefs up his characters. (Never a bad idea.) His character has an internal problem. He has to worry that he's not keeping up with his companions, or he's risking them when he could exercise more power. This adds more than words to a story.

Novels need a bit more complication. Maybe you need more than one hurdle to overcome. Maybe there is a competing hero, but he isn't a bad guy.

I've never had a series length idea. That doesn't mean I can't learn from a series type writer. What is needed is more story. Short stories might be about trimming to the essentials, or sticking to one plot element. Longer works need more plot elements, possibly more characters, and more complications. They don't need another dessert course after supper.

Story lengths are just extra tools in the writer's toolbox. Self publishing made them viable tools once more. If your story won't carry a whole novel, maybe it makes a better novella. If you really want a novel, add more story, not more fluff. If you have a cool idea that just won't come together, try it as a short story or even a micro fiction. In today's world you might find a market for almost anything.

I think Jim Butcher is a master of this. His Dresden Files involve Harry solving multiple disasters. The basic idea is: What's better than one major villain? Two major villains. (Plus a pending natural disaster, and an angry love interest.)

The last Dresden novel I read involved no less than four pending disasters. In some cases winning in one corner involved failing in another. Then, of course, there are always a few things screwed up in Harry's personal life. Still, he manages to bring about some measure of success.

I'm free writing this tonight, so I'm rambling a bit. If you work with me a little, there are some points.

  • Story lengths are not detriments. They are tools to use when we need them.
  • Longer works need more story. This isn't about extra characters or more situations. It is about more complications, emotions, and twists.

What do you guys think? Am I on to something here, or am I off my rocker? Maybe it's both and my Life story makes a better novel.

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Pets in fiction

Charles Yallowitz made a post the other day that really got me thinking. You can check out his post here.

I didn’t realize how many animals I write about. In my mind, they can really enhance a story and provide a few options along the way too.

People have deep connections with pets. This is good, because readers are people. Your pet character can be a source of great emotional pull. Emotions are like rocket fuel to a story. That’s easy to say, but hard to do for someone like me.

The first pet I ever wrote was a giant dog named Pigger. He’s in both of my trunk novels. These are trunk novels for a reason. I free wrote them with no idea what a plot was, or what a character journey should look like. When things got a bit dry, Pigger entered the story. He was the comic relief the story needed. Imagine a big battle scene followed by a narrow escape. Pigger runs through the short grass tossing a dried rhino turd in the air, begging someone to chase him. He’s happy to be alive and wants the main character to be happy too.

I also wrote a whole chapter from his point of view. Try it some time. It isn’t easy, but he rescued his master from a locked mausoleum.

When I wrote Wild Concept my use of a pet was important. Lisa Burton, the robotic main character, knows she’s going to get broken down and studied after her experiment ends. She rescued a huge rabbit that was headed for the butcher shop. The similarity to her own plight demonstrates a lot of her own mindset. Bunny winds up defending himself against a cat. (Think 40lb rabbit with huge back and leg muscles vs. 12lb kitty. The mule kick was awesome.) Lisa thinks, Bunny fought back…hmm.

Lisa also lived alone. I didn’t want page after page of internal thoughts. Turns out she’s an obsessive pet owner, and talks to Bunny.

I didn’t go pet crazy in Panama, but there is a white horse that doesn’t like co-main character Ethan Stafford. Towards the end there is a huge Panamanian beetle that takes up with Jinx, a supporting character. His big scene is to tap out shave and a haircut to alert someone.

I have to admit dropping pets from Arson. I had an alien race that were pretty primitive, but they can think and speak to a minor degree. Therefore, not animals in my mind.

In The Cock of the South, Gallicus the cockatrice fills a pretty big role. He’s a combination, rooster/snake/dragon. He and the main character share similar wounds when they first meet. I had him act somewhat catlike in a few scenes. He’s a great comfort to the main character, and also provides a few world building scenes. Then there is his big scene and he delivers.

In Will O’ the Wisp I used a fox. The fox is there throughout the story, but doesn’t become important until the very end. It makes a statement about the main character’s evolution and provides a certain cute factor all at once. (Right when the story needed a cute scene too.)

In my mind, pets are supporting characters. You can make them main characters if you like, but I don’t. They can serve as a metaphor, comic relief, backup to the main character, and all kinds of uses.

I don’t believe in killing the pet character. I can see why authors do, because it can really galvanize a main character. (Make sure your readers will weep when it happens.) It can also symbolize the beginning of something new in the main character’s life. I just think it’s been done to death, and look for an alternate way. I’m not saying I never will kill a fictional pet, just that I prefer something else. I even went so far as killing my main character instead. I won’t spoil it and tell you which book. (Trust me it’s good.)

Right now, I’m writing another dog character. He’s with another loner, and provides something to talk to. He gets a few funny moments, and a few heroic ones too.

Ethan’s white horse was just a horse. He was a breathing prop in the story. Bunny, the rabbit filled an important role. Once the animal goes from prop to pet you can never go back. From that point on you have a new character. Remember to include them in your scenes.

Pets work well as plants that payoff late in the story too. A dog can pee on a bully’s pant leg at exactly the right time for your main character to fight back. The dog knew it was time all along. He might even pitch in if needed.

Granny’s pet toad can say volumes about Granny’s secret membership in the local coven. You probably won’t even have to spell it out. (Spell, I crack myself up sometimes.) The old house cat can deliver a human ear to your main character to start the mystery rolling. The mynah bird keeps repeating some nonsensical phrase over and over. Turns out it’s an important clue to your mystery, and his dead owner used to say it.

Crank up the emotions by having your character rescue an abused animal. Remember to let the animal pay her back

Lisa & Doubt

My blog isn’t immune either. Doubt, the raven, is a regular on my blog. Where would my editing be without a healthy portion of doubt. Is that a metaphor?

Try adding animals to your stories. Even Mad Max had a dog and that was pretty dystopian.

Do you write animals into your stories? Are they pets or props? Tell me about them in the comments.

 

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Legends of Windemere

Charles Yallowitz became my friend through WordPress. He’s the author of the fantasy series, Legends Of Windemere. The length of this series intrigues me. I asked him how he keeps the tales interesting over a long series. My own efforts are all stand alone novels, and he graciously offered this advice.

Thanks to C.S. Boyack for giving me a chance to write a post for his blog. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz and I’m the author behind the Legends of Windemere fantasy series. This is a 15 book series and I’ve already published the first 6 books while having written the first 9. It’s less confusing than it sounds unless you’re the one writing it, which is the topic at hand. How does one keep a long series going with an overarching plot and keeping people interested?

SUBPLOTS AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

At least that’s what I use. You see, the overarching story doesn’t get fully revealed in my series until Allure of the Gypsies, which is Book 3. There are hints and whispers in the previous books, but those focus a lot on establishing the world and characters. The hope is that a reader will get attached to the heroes and villains more than the plot, which creates a connection that can be used to continue the series. A character will rise, fall, tumble, soar, and live an actual life with the main plot being more of a backdrop. The best comparison I can make here is how we go through school. Education and graduating are the overarching story/goal while our social lives and experiences evolve us as living beings.

Let me try to show this by taking the first hero to be introduced, Luke Callindor, and show his tale book by book:

1. Beginning of Hero– This is the introduction where Luke lies to get a mission at Hamilton Military Academy. He is pitted against a Lich and a demonic assassin even though he’s an inexperienced warrior. The overarching plot is hinting at the end, but most of this is about how Luke makes friends and steps into the role of a hero.

2. Prodigy of Rainbow Tower– More of the overarching story is revealed through villain scenes and the introduction of Nyx. Luke’s evolution is continuing with him handling a few losses and learning that being a hero is rather unforgiving. This book also introduces several locations, species, and the magic system of the world. So there’s character development, a further blossoming of the main plot, and world exploration.

3. Allure of the Gypsies– You’ve seen him as a hero, but now it’s time to see him as a ‘human’ being. The main story is introduced and events draw all the heroes toward this path. This is also where you learn more about Luke’s past, which is a way to give a character depth, history, and a fresher outlook. His personal subplots get a few twists here too. I recommend avoiding the straight line subplot because real life is rarely so simple. Things that are tend to be boring.

4. Family of the Tri-Rune– When you have a long series and multiple heroes, it helps to give them breaks from time to time. Not remove them entirely, but have them step to the side and focus on a subplot. That’s what happens with Luke here. He still gets his scenes and has a presence, but his role here is exclusively subplot and ‘sidekick’ to the character who is the focus. This prevents him from becoming stale, overexposed, and shows how he works when he isn’t the main hero.

5. The Compass Key– Events from the previous book have left Luke emotionally unstable for a bit. This is where he does some soul searching in the face of the overarching story hitting its stride. An item is needed to combat the main villain and access corrupted areas that he feeds off, which is the focus of the book. Luke and the other champions spend time coming to terms with their destiny and trying to figure out how to work as a team while their enemies have been united for years. From here you can see how a series can get strength from character developing off and around each other. It creates openings for future subplots and, in one book’s case, an entire story revolving around a character’s decision.

6. Curse of the Dark Wind– The most recent book ends up pushing Luke into the spotlight and gives him a chance to shine brighter than the others. Each character gets a book like this, but Luke does get more due to him being around since the beginning. A trick to keeping this interesting is to not always think you need your characters to be the ones doing the saving. Luke is infected by a curse and struggling to survive while the others are searching for a cure. So while the story is focused on him, Luke is more in a ‘defiant damsel in distress’ role. This is another way to keep a long series going. Put your characters into a variety of roles to flush them out and make the reader excited about what you will do next.

To be honest, there are characters with more intriguing evolutions than Luke, but he has the longest running one. As you can tell, I put a lot of faith in this part of the story and the associated subplots. You can even say that the overarching story is secondary and not the driving force of a long series. It’s the characters and how they grow, which will connect to a reader and keep them going. Many stories draw out the question of ‘what will happen to the characters next?’. For a longer series, it might be more beneficial to evoke the following question in a reader:

What will this character do next?

I have Beginning of a Hero on my Kindle app right now. The series intrigues me, and I can’t wait to dig in. Here are some ways you can contact and follow Charles:

Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6965804.Charles_E_Yallowitz

 

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What, me write?

This one is public domain

This one is public domain

I’ve been off my game for a month. Three weekends of company, including the bedroom painting project, plus a business trip that involved a sprained knee and a midnight flight and I need to re-read my story before forging ahead.

I’ve taken on a couple of personal projects, so I may not get new words down until December. This differs from all the writers out there suffering through NaNoWriMo.

I’ve seen some of you diligently reporting your word count. Others are posting why they’re quitting. I know one writer who is finished already.

Writing is my escape from everyday life. My job is stressful enough without adding pressure to my leisure time. I respect the Nano Army, I really do. It’s just not for me.

I have some plot issues I’m struggling with, but there’s a whole sequence to write before then. I may get to it this weekend, I may not. Have faith, I’ll finish it, I always do.

In the meantime, can I interest you in a Greco Roman fantasy with satyrs, centaurs, dwarves, and lots of blood?

Not your thing? I knocked a buck off all my old titles. Maybe you prefer a demon terrorizing people in Panama, or a twisted arsonist who helps catch a killer. There’s even an artificial intelligence robot girl. Now with new lower prices.

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Commuting with the Muse

Contrary to other people, I enjoy the commute to and from work. Most of my best ideas sprout while I’m driving. It’s that half hour to forty five minutes to get rid of work baggage, before I have to take up being the husband and father.

I went to my truck last night and Lorelei was already inside. I gave up trying to figure out how she gets through locks and inside my house. She had on her brown suit, with the skirt that stopped above the knees.

“Looks like you made progress on your outline,” she said.

“Some, I’m still struggling with some plot issues and motivations. I always struggle figuring out why someone would be evil.”

“There was a time when my clients could just have the bad guy being bad. Those were the good old days. Today, readers want more realistic villains. They can’t be evil, just because you need a bad guy.”

“That’s why my antagonists are mostly corporations, wilderness, or government. I always struggle with putting a face to the villain.”

She leaned into my shoulder and said, “Those are really good antagonists, but it’s time for you to grow some more. Like I always said, try it. It isn’t that hard to delete something and try again. It’s not like the quill and ink days. Write it in a separate document; if it sucks delete it. If you think it’s good enough, paste it into your manuscript.”

The smell of sandalwood perfume teased my senses, and her hoop earring tickled my arm. Lorelei pulled back, I’d been caught, and she always knew what I’d been thinking.

“Pay attention, this is important. Write about your antagonist. If you delete it, write it again, and again, until you get it right. This is really the only way to get a feel for something new.”

“I like learning new things, but isn’t there a book or something I can read? I’d really like to scare the hell out of my readers in a place or two. I just don’t know if I’m up to it.”

“You didn’t think you could write a novel, until you did. You should trust me by now. Do a search for books, but don’t get too caught up copying what others have done.”

“I guess. You’ve never steered me wrong. I have an awesome end game, but I had to move my story by five years. I’m going to lose some of the angst from the sixties. I remember hippies in the seventies, but readers won’t believe it. I don’t know that they’ll understand bussing in that era either.”

“Take your own advice. That stuff is literary garlic. You probably don’t need as much as you think. You need to work on the plot first anyway. Make sure your main character has a good story arc.” Lorelei morphed into a 1970s version of herself; teased out hair, short shorts, platform shoes, and a halter top that revealed quite a bit. “I’ll show up during the hard parts. Maybe I can offer a little – extra inspiration.” She wrinkled her nose in that cute flirty way. “Now, pay attention to the road, I’m not leaving just yet.”

We chatted about how I intend to use one musical interlude to show what my character’s hopes and dream are, then another at the end to show what she becomes.

I pulled into the garage and Lorelei leaned over and kissed me. I knew the peek inside her halter was on purpose. I was definitely inspired.

“Remember the part between the interludes is always the hardest. Put extra effort into that section, and I’ll see you later.” She vanished and left me to my thoughts.

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What can Writers Learn from Television?

No, really, I want someone to tell me. Here are a couple of observations I’ve made over the years.

For TV, the main character has to have the right job. In order to get involved in amazing things, the MC has to have credible opportunities. This is why we see so many shows about cops, doctors, and lawyers.

People branched out and we see firemen, coroners, and police psychics. It may have been popular, but in real life, Angela Lansbury would never stumble across hundreds of murders. There aren’t too many shows about water department workers for a reason.

This applies to novels too. There has to be a reason for things to happen. In a novel, an average guy can stumble across something bad, spectacular or amazing. He isn’t going to have access to the big guns or the cool science though.

Character is important. I watch Once Upon a Time, but for the wrong reasons. I’m watching it for a bad example. Some of the main characters are flat and boring.

Regina/Evil Queen is horrible. She is always going to say the most vile thing. She is the first person to bully or make a threat. She’s the one who says, “You’re lying.” Lana Parilla is being wasted here. She’s smoking hot and looks great in fairy tale clothing and her mayoral suits. The minor background they gave her is too little too late.

Mr. Gold/crocodile/Dark One/Rumplestiltskin/Beast is great. He’s evil too, but he’s a complete character. He has a touch of humanity, and I feel for him when he loses his son or Belle.

Snow White and Prince Charming are boring. They’re always goody goody, and are as predictable as sunrise.

Story is important. I’ve never seen it, but how can Hostages go any further than one season? Bad guys take a family hostage and force one of the parents to do something horrible. I just don’t see this lasting ten years.

Dr. Who is at the other end of the spectrum. It’s been going for fifty years and shows no sign of slowing down. The possibilities are limitless.

I have a lot of words down, so I’ll start summing up. Our stories need believable circumstances, even in science fiction and fantasy. We need sympathetic and believable characters. We need a fully fleshed out world too. One that allows for twists and turns in the plot, and might even allow for a sequel if fans support the first one.

So, back to my question. What can TV teach us? I’d like to get the comments going. Let’s hear some opinions or issues I didn’t address.

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