Tag Archives: story craft

2300 words I didn’t have yesterday

I executed my plan about the Temple of Wind today. There were five or six things I could have included, but I managed to trim it back. That means the Temple of Wind came in at about 4000 words. It might still be too long, but what’s there is interesting. My critique group will let me know either way.

The next phase involves crossing country to complete the quest they’re on. Serang doesn’t know anything about this, but only has a vague idea they’re doing something. Her role in life is to learn from her master.

She’s starting to be a little more outspoken and coming across more like a partner in this section. I like this, because we’re getting closer to the point where she won’t be a student any longer.

Because this is a prequel, I’m trying to explain things readers learned about her in Lanternfish. She has most of her regular outfit now, the jade pendant, boots, etc. She still uses a staff, but her weapon will show up before the end of the story.

She adopted a bamboo flute in Lanternfish, and there is a taste of that in Serang. Her master plays an unusual instrument from time to time. I’ll have him include a bit of that when he explains the next phase.

I’m looking forward to the quest part. I get to invent a bit of folklore that doesn’t tell readers the scientific truth, but will give the idea of what’s really going on. I know that’s kind of vague, but I don’t want to spoil this part.

Part of the gig is travel. One place isn’t right next to another in this fantasy world. They need to leave the Temple of Wind in their wake, find a village and restock supplies, then go to the site of the quest. I’ll try to speed up the first leg of this, then I’ll add some extra depiction to the next leg. This part of the tale doesn’t involve any martial arts battles or anything, so it needs to hustle along.

A fantasy creature sighting might work, but some random bad guys feels wrong. I suppose there could be trouble in town of some kind.

At this point, I have all week to think about it.

In other news, I received my cover art for this one. Sean sent two different versions. He changed something up from my idea, and his idea was far superior. I’ll hang on to the artwork until I’m closer to publication. I immediately sent back an idea for a Lisa Burton poster to keep him moving.

Back to the office tomorrow.


Filed under Writing

Planning your novel, part four

I’ve given everyone a pretty good idea of how I set up my board, and how I move my cards around to get between the cornerstones of a story. I’ve also explained how you might use a different style and still benefit from a storyboard. Today is all about the bells and whistles that really help me with a story.

My app comes with a drawer that holds things in addition to index cards. Some of these are very handy, others not so much. I have no need to put a contact card in my outline. (Maybe a pizza place that delivers?)

Note: if you want to try a physical storyboard, you can do all the same things.

I want to start off with the checklist option. There are certain things that you want your character to do. Why not make a checklist and include it in your outline. This is a good way to keep from getting out of logical order. Here’s a decent example:

The stages of grieving


We put our characters through a lot. It’s more realistic to have them experience a loss by following the stages of grieving. In a novel you might be able to skip a step, but it details how most folks would act in the event of a loss. This is one example. You can use a checklist for all kinds of things.

My app comes with some cool little arrows. Since I can change the colors, I can coordinate what they mean with the key elements of a story.

In this example, I might add yellow arrows to take my main character from Ron Weasley all the way to Gandalf.

I’m an old guy. I don’t always remember minutia from day to day. When writing a novel it could be month to month.

If I know I’m going to use the old falling anvil trick in Act Three, I need to hoist the anvil somewhere in Act One or Two. The pink arrows can really help with that.

I don’t always follow this advice in my outline, but when I have, it makes everything much easier. There are still plenty of times I’ll have to go back and modify chapter three while I’m working on chapter 29, but it still helps.

I don’t color coordinate anything, but the potential is there. I did it for the purposes of this post. I use a lot of sticky notes. Again, my memory is still there, it just isn’t as fast as it used to be. Sometimes, at the end of a writing day, I’ll add a note about some idea I want to use in the next writing session. I call them “Hey Dummy” notes. It helps when the next writing session is fourteen days away. Here are some ideas for sticky notes:

When I finally get back to writing, I review my “Hey Dummy” notes and delete them.

I also read back and forward a bit. The story always deviates from the outline, and there is no law that says it can’t.

I’ve even been known to change the outline, because I’ve come up with some brilliant idea while writing.

Of course, I’ve also abandoned the outline completely on occasion. At least it got me started on the right foot. The cornerstones of three act structure were still useful to keep my story on track.

Its more typical for me to start writing before the outline is finished. I usually pay the price and have to go back, update the outline, and plan out the rest of the story.

One of the best things about a storyboard is pictures. Pictures really help with descriptions. I add them to my board at key places. Since this is the private part of your work, you can grab anything you like off the internet. No need to worry about copyright. Here’s an example from Arson:

Everyone’s favorite pyrophilliac has a distinct hairstyle. (Maybe she’s just my favorite.) She would never wear that horrible bow thing.

She also has some unique items she uses for work, and to decorate her office.

I find pictures to be extremely helpful. If your character has a unique style, you can pin some clothing or other bits to your board.

Maybe you want some actual crime scene photos to remind you to include specific details like pin flags or number markers.


True story time. When I was writing Arson, I was also outlining The Cock of the South.

Outlining is something I can do while my wife plays her music or watches American Idol. It doesn’t take quite the concentration that writing does.

I decided to completely outline the whole story. It was one of those personal challenges I talk about on occasion. I learn by trying new things, and this needed to be tested.

My app lets me seat a board within a board. I filled this storyboard with pictures and character arch reminders. I wound up with a board for each section.

The payoff was writing the whole novel in three months. Remember, I have a family and a full time job. I only get to write on Saturday mornings and one rotating day per week. Researching during the writing process was kept to a minimum. It was just writing. It was almost as if the only thing I had to concentrate on was making sure my cast of characters stayed unique and engaging. The image is how the links to the subsequent boards are displayed.

I’ve never taken it to this level since then. I should, but I always get too excited and want to start writing. My next challenge is to outline multiple projects and make them fight for my writing time. The losers will still be around, and may get a chance later. Here is a section of the board from The Playground. It shows some of the bells and whistles together on an actual storyboard.

My boards don’t start out this way. Most of them are a collection of loose notes. I won’t even fill out the premise or important act points until later.

Lorelei, my Muse, has been haunting me again blessing me with her presence. She’s been giving me ideas about all my potential stories. I decided to start a board last night so I could share one here.

This story doesn’t even have a title yet. The premise and act cards are still untouched. None of the cards are anything more than random ideas. My sticky notes are all about things I need to research. They aren’t even in columns right now.

I’ll move them into columns when the time comes. The research stickies will get discarded and replaced with data. If you want to expand the picture, there might be a spoiler or two, or everything could change. I might not let this one off the island. It’s a fair enough example for this post.

I’m a little hesitant to return to a paranormal story right away. I’ve written two, back to back. Since this one is set in history, it doesn’t lend itself easily to fantasy or science fiction. It will have to compete for its writing time.

Storyboards provide a nice visual. It’s easy to see when you don’t have enough material in one of the acts. It’s usually Act Two. The beginning and ending are easier to come up with, because they’re more exciting. One glance can show you the problem.

Read Part Three here.

Let’s call it. This was my sequence on story boarding. I’ve learned so much from other writers that I thought it was time to share. My process formed by grabbing bits and pieces from other writers. Are you going to attempt a storyboard? Did you gain a nugget to add to your own style? Is it all bullshit that stifles creativity? Is storyboarding a mental version of water boarding in your mind? Could it be useful under some circumstances, but not others? Maybe you have a tip to offer? Let me hear from you.


Filed under Writing

Thinking About Contrast

Who’s sick of hearing about my book promotions? I know I am. Let’s talk about unexpected contrast in our writing.

I love contrast, even to the point of conflicting with reader expectations. Writers should always be willing to move from daylight to darkness, from cheer to gloom. I love the final battle on Endor as an example of unexpected contrast. The Empire, with all its technology is up against a bunch of Ewoks with rocks and sharp sticks. We expect the worst, but that isn’t how it played out.

Bad guys with names like Hannibal Lechter are pretty common. What about a handsome hunk called Matt Stone, with blond hair and a White House behind a picket fence. When Matt turns out to be a maker of snuff porn, we get a little jolt as readers. I like the little jolt. It reflects a bit of real life into the story. Lizzie Borden and Ted Bundy don’t sound like scary characters, and they were real.

What if the computer hacker who can do anything online has to solve the key plot point by reading through a pile of ancient scrolls? I like the contrast. The guy is perfectly prepared for the wrong situation.

Why can’t the demon be a female named Britt?

Who didn’t love the swordsman displaying his skills with a huge scimitar? Indiana Jones shot him and moved on. I was there in the theatre the day it was released. The whole crowd cheered.

I’ve seen plenty of full moons in broad daylight. I’ve never seen a werewolf out then. This I can handle, because humans are at a disadvantage in the dark. Our characters should always be at a disadvantage.

Why can’t witchcraft involve microwaves and stick blenders. (Okay, I did this, but I’m not ready to tell you about it.)

Technology vs ancient. Light vs dark. Cold vs hot. Sexy vs ugly. There are times when this can become a trope, but it can also be a nice tool.

I like the idea that Princess Fiona became an ogre and not the other way around. Doc Brown had to find a way to use lightning to power the deLorean. Contrast tech vs nature.

It’s Wednesday so I’m posting. This one would be a lot more fun with some discussions. Weigh in folks. Do you love or hate contrast in stories? Why?


Filed under Writing

The Coolest thing I learned this week

I read various blogs and bulletin boards every day. I’m always looking for something new to improve my writing.

While I was away, I still read and researched. The best thing I found was over at The Krystol Method‘s blog. She posted a bit about the story structure behind Russian folk tales. I encourage all the writers to go read it.

Kristol doesn’t claim this as her original work, but let’s face it – it’s where I found it first.

I assumed it would be another spin on the hero’s journey. It was, but it was different too. I’m not above mixing story structure elements, and might have some hero’s journey, some fairy tale, and now a trick from a Russian folk tale.

I keep a living document on my iPad. It has all kinds of writing data, including story structure elements. I made a ton of notes about this article.

One of the things I try to do is relate a story element to a story or movie I already know. I like the fact that these stories begin with something missing. Many of the stories I read involve pending asteroid doom, or a murder. Something missing is a nice change. I relate this to Belle’s missing father. She talks Beast into taking her instead.

I also like the trickery and deceit. Johnathan Harker in his innocence helps Dracula relocate to London. He helped cause some of the problem.

There is a part called villainy and lack. The antagonist damages something and makes it personal for the hero. Dracula kills Lucy, and makes a play for Mina.

The sidekick is pretty standard in the hero’s journey, and it’s in the Russian folk tale too. Only here, it sounds like the sidekick is earned. Harker kind of earned VanHelsing.

I didn’t see any mentors in this style. No Miyagi or Gandalf. I like a good mentor, and will include one anyway if my story calls for it.

In the folktale, the hero gains a powerful object, and this leads to allies. It’s pretty far from Russia, but I saw young Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. He gained allies, and armies started moving.

I’m skipping ahead, but there is a pursuit by the antagonist. I couldn’t come up with anything. The best I had was Harker and VanHelsing chasing Dracula back to Transylvania. This is backwards. Help me out here. My notes need another example.

There is a section where a final challenge awaits once the hero comes home. In my mind, this is Ulysses stringing his bow and showing up his wife’s suitors.

There are also doubters and false claimants to best. I’m still with Ulysses here. On the other hand, I see that guy from Beauty and the Beast. The one that belches and farts better than everyone else. He doubts Belle’s word and suffers defeat.

So here’s the deal. Help me improve my living document with a few examples. Check out Krystol’s post and give me some suggestions.


Filed under Writing

And now the Work Begins

I heard a rustling sound in my office and woke up. I’d slept in my recliner at the writing cabin. Roald’s dwarven beer is some pretty strong stuff.

Lisa gathered the drinking horns and headed for the sink. I headed for the bathroom, then the coffee pot.

“Aren’t they cute,” Lisa said. “They wash up like two birds in a birdbath.” The drinking horns played under the faucet.

“Yeah, adorable. Remind me of this the next time I want to write fantasy. Where’d Roald get to?”

“He’s tending his cows and shoveling the snow off the porch.”

I made my way to the office and booted up my Mac. A rooster’s crow sounded by the back door. I knew what it was, and it wasn’t an actual rooster. A quick look through my old binoculars showed Cobby, the dwarf, snowshoeing across the meadow. “Hey Lisa, will you let Gallicus inside, he’s probably cold. Don’t be afraid, he’s good around friends.”

“Why should I be afraid of a cockatrice? I’m not a biological life form. He can’t turn me to stone.” I heard her open the door and let him in. She shot by me, ran upstairs and shut her door. “I’m going to keep Bunny away from him, just in case.”

Gallicus the Cockatrice

Gallicus the Cockatrice

Gallicus took up a branch on the bronze tree that served as Doubt, the raven’s perch. I watched them for awhile to make sure they got along.

Cobby hung his cloak on the coat rack and came into my office. He was limping, and looked older since I’d last written about him. His beard hung in thick black ringlets down to his solar plexus. I guess I tortured him quite a bit in his book.

“You’re looking good,” I said, “but I see you’re limping.”

“I managed to hurt myself again.” He sat a leather wrapped brick of something on the coffee table. “Uncle sent you some scrapple.”

“Tell him I said thanks, that’s wonderful.” Scrapple consists of boiled down pig snouts, hoofs, fish heads and whatever else Uncle can think of. There was no way I was eating it, but it doesn’t hurt to be polite. Doubt, the raven, would be very happy with it.

I grabbed a notebook and pen and took up my usual spot in the recliner. “The editor says we need more emotions when the bad stuff happens. The readers will like you more if some of that gets on the page. I also need more description, not just sight and sound, but taste, scent and touch.”

Lisa brought him a coffee and he detailed out the settings from his story. I wrote as fast as I could, but it was hard to keep up. I didn’t want to miss anything, but some of this would bog down the story too. Today was all about notes, I’d sort it all out later.

Things got much harder when we talked about his feelings. I prompted him a little, “You suffered some pretty big losses in the story. Friends, family, personal injuries. Readers want to know how you feel about that.”

Cobby wrinkled his brow and paused. “Those are personal thoughts. They’re not for everyone.”

“They aren’t going to be judging you, they need a little help to understand you. You’re a fictional character, and they need to feel your pain. I know you cry, and mourn. They need to get a taste of that too.”

“I don’t want to blubber all over the page. I have an image to uphold, people are counting on me.”

It took a long time, but I finally got him talking. I had to pry information out of him by asking about his family, his relationship with Echo, and how his apprentice was getting along. He told me how worried he was that the Remsians would get him eventually.

I scribbled like mad for about six hours. I had pages of notes to consider.

The drinking horns blasted the peace and quiet away. We went to the kitchen and they marched back and forth along the countertop.

Roald came back inside and rubbed his hands together. “Sounds like it’s time for something cold and frosty, by golly.”

They were quite the contrast; Cobby with his Mediterainean looks and Roald with his pale skin and blond beard. They were the best of friends.

I sat down my notes and found a mug for one of us. I knew I missed some things, but I wrote as fast as I could.
Lisa saw the look on my face and tapped her forehead. She leaned over and whispered, “I recorded it all, and can print you a transcript if you like.”

“Thanks, but I’m afraid I have to feel this part. Just don’t lose it.”

Lorelei, my Muse showed up with a bottle of wine and found a glass.

I said, “Oh hey, Lorelei, um we’re just working on a few edits. I’ll get back to my new story soon.”

“I’m not worried, you know. My job is to inspire your creativity.” She held up the drinking horns on either side of her face, and curtsied.

“So you aren’t mad that I didn’t write more of Will ‘O the Wisp?”

“I don’t care what you work on, I just want you to be creative.”

Lorelei’s quite the gal. Never judgmental, she just wants me to create. She’s not the one pushing me to post something on Amazon either. That’s all on my head. As long as I write, and try to improve she’s as happy as can be.


Filed under Muse, Writing