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Archive for May, 2010

Holiday weekend and time got away from me, so I’m putting up some more world building material from the world of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY. 

You’ll find a description of the Fasallon under Worlds.  They’re the ones in this world who live in a system that can’t long endure.  Enjoy.

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Reading

As a writer, I read quite a few books on writing from time to time.  In actual fact, though, I probably learn more about writing from what I read for pleasure than from most of those books.  (There are a couple of notable exceptions.)

Since BLOOD WILL TELL is about a half-werewolf, I needed to read other books about werewolves.  It’s not just market research, although it’s that, too.  There’s a sort of unwritten rule that you should read widely in the genre you intend to write. 

I’m going looking for some more books later today.  I now have some recommendations for books that will hopefully be better.  The first one I picked up has frankly underwhelmed me.  (No, I’m not going to name the author or title here.  That’s not what this blog is about.)  But, you can learn from what doesn’t work at least as much as from what does. 

A few lessons I’ve picked up (or had reinforced) by this reading experience:

  • World Building:  Even if you know five hundred fascinating things about this world, you only need to tell, or preferably show, the reader the five that are relevant to the story now.  If you can’t avoid putting all that detail in the first draft, which I admit I sometimes can’t, then cut it in the second draft.
  • World Building:  Keep your world building consistent.  If you’ve made a rule for your world, you’re obligated to stick to it.  You can’t just change it for this instance to fit the plot.  If you really can’t live with the rule, go back and do more world building until the world and the plot are consistent.   (It’s okay, btw, for your characters to misunderstand the rules, as long as your application of them is consistent.)
  • Plot: While we’re talking about consistency, keep the plot consistent.  When you’ve created an obstacle for your protagonist, don’t suddenly let it morph into a different problem in the middle of the book.  (Which is not the same as allowing the characters to gain a different understanding of the problem.)
  • References to Other Stories:  Even if there are other stories in the series, only put in what’s relevant.  Things I don’t need to know to understand what’s happening now are irrelevant unless a point of view character would naturally think about those things and hiding them would be withholding information that I will need to know later. 
  • References to Other Stories: References to major events in other stories/books in the series that are dropped in and never expanded on are annoying to readers who have not, in fact, read the whole series.  If this book is meant to stand alone, let it do so.
  • Support the Plot:  Do put in every event that is necessary to support the plot.  If I don’t know that Character B was told a secret, I can’t be in any suspense over whether or not that secret will be kept.  If A leads to B leads to C, for heaven’s sake don’t start at B.  (And I really don’t care if A was in another book.  It needs to be here, too.)
  • Withholding:  If you’re going to go into the antagonist’s point of view to show him plotting against the protagonists, you have to let the reader know what he’s plotting.  Otherwise, cut the scene.
  • I won’t even get into poor or non-existent copy editing.

(Funny how this list keeps growing.)

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One-Sentence Pitches

Update:  I’m making good progress on the revisions to THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  I finished the first five chapters and I really like the beginning, now. 

In his blog last week, Nathan Bransford talked about writing one-sentence pitches.  Since I’m all for anything that promises to make writing queries or synopses easier, I tried my hand at writing one-sentence pitches for my current projects.

BLOOD WILL TELL: (This one is complete and currently seeking an agent.)

Even a suburb of Los Angeles may not be a big enough hiding place when a half-werewolf and a dragon unite to protect an innocent woman from a murderer.

THE SHAMAN’S CURSE: (This one is on the shelf for the moment.  It will need some rewriting before it’s ready to go back out.)

When a boy fails to save his friend from a flash flood and earns the hatred of the friend’s father, he can only put an end to the vendetta against him by learning to accept and use his own innate magic.

THE IGNORED PROPHECY: (This is the one I’m currently revising.)

A young man new to magic is terrified when his magic starts doing unexpected things no one can adequately explain and must pull together clues from completely different magic traditions and one very ancient source in order to understand what’s happening to him.

DREAMER’S ROSE: (I just finished the second draft and have a couple of readers taking a look at this one.)

When a demigod succeeds in becoming a god only to find that nothing has prepared him for the challenges he now faces and the results of his own failures, it takes an outcast girl with the ability to enter dreams–even his–to help him make things right.

SEVEN STARS: (On the shelf while I do more world-building.)

When a young man unintentionally unleashes the berserker curse in his blood, he exiles himself from his home and everything he loves forever, until he can find a way to control the berserker fury and, if possible, a cure for the curse.

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Mystery

I’ve started the rewrite of THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  The revision is significant enough to call it a rewrite, I think, even though I’m mostly rearranging things I’ve already written.  There is some new material as well.  And quite a bit of what was there is being cut, too. 

And that makes me think about mystery and how to create it in a story, because THE IGNORED PROPHECY is at least partly a mystery.  At the end of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, the main character had just come to terms with his own magical abilities–something he had tried to reject during most of the book.  Now, at the beginning of THE IGNORED PROPHECY, all kinds of strange things are happening to his magic, things he doesn’t seem to be in complete control of.  Some things are odd.  Others are disturbing.  And one scares him to death.  (Well, not literally.)  And he won’t find out what the causes of these phenomena are until the end of the book.

The last revision was pretty good (compared to where this one started out), but I need to increase the tension and up the stakes.  I also took pity on my protagonist and resolved (or at least proposed the correct solution for) one of the mysteries way too soon in the current version.  I’m trying to reorganize things so all of these strange things happen within a very short time.  This structure pushes the “big scary thing” a little further back, but hopefully lets me build up to it so that when it happens the main character is already off balance.

I’m going to have to employ some misdirection as well, to keep things from being resolved too quickly.  There was a little misdirection in the last version, but not nearly enough.  Then the answers should start coming during the last quarter of the book.  But, again, I need to try to arrange that so that answering one question just raises another or makes the remaining questions look more serious.

This mystery thing is harder than it looks.

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First an update:  Yesterday, I finished the second draft of DREAMER’S ROSE.  There were times during the first draft that I thought I’d never finish that story.  Now it’s finally starting to shape up.  Next, I need to have a couple of readers look it over.  Meanwhile, I’m going to start a major revision to THE IGNORED PROPHECY.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Series and Sequels.  THE IGNORED PROPHECY is a sequel to THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and second in what will likely be a four-book series.  Now, the conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t write the second book in the series until you’ve sold the first.  It could just be a huge waste of time that you’re better off spending on something new.  I didn’t know that when I started THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  Even if I had, I learned an awful lot writing that book.

There is one exception to that rule, however–if the books are meant to stand alone.  This is one of the things that I wrestled with in THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  My intention is that the books should be able to stand alone.  You should be able to read THE IGNORED PROPHECY and know you’ve read a satisfying story even if you’ve never heard of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.  So far, on the basis of readers who had not read the first book, I seem to be doing reasonably well at that.

This is my feeling about series and sequels in general.  As a reader, I like series, but I strongly prefer that each book contain a complete story of its own, especially when it may be a year or more before the next book comes out.  This has always been my preference, even before THE WHEEL OF TIME forever soured me on series that just go on and on and get more complicated with more characters and never resolve anything.

So, THE IGNORED PROPHECY is and should be a complete story in itself.  It’s harder to do that than it sounds.  So many things were set up in THE SHAMAN’S CURSE–rules of magic, cultures, characters and relationships.  Then I have to remember to establish all of that all over again–without using an info dump or confusing the reader with too much all at once.  Early readers found a few things that I hadn’t adequately explained in the second book, but that aspect looks pretty good at this point.

Next revision:

  1. Clean out left over material from a story line that got moved to book four (untitled).
  2. Move things closer together at the beginnng so the main character gets hit with several strange things happening all at once.  Knock him off balance and keep him there.  (Poor guy really got knocked around in the first book and now it’s off to the races again.  I guess he’ll have earned a rest by the end of the fourth book.)
  3. Move the resolution of one of the mysterious occurrences to later in the book.  Keep him off balance, scared, worried.
  4. Get deeper into the main character’s point of view to really show how all of these strange things are affecting him and up the stakes.

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“Becoming Lioness” is set in the same world, and uses some of the same characters as THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  In fact, it’s based on an event that should happen in the fourth book of the series, if it ever gets that far.

The last set of revisions (which I finished this morning) were prompted by a couple of critiques and one comment.  It made me aware of just what a delicate dance it is to provide enough information, but not too much in a short story.  There are both benefits and drawbacks to using the milieu from two of my novels for a short story. 

On the positive side, all the world building was already done.  I know this world and these characters intimately.  That part was easy.  From at least one comment, I think the world came through as being much richer than my other short stories, probably because it is.

On the negative side, I know this world and these characters intimately, meaning I know way too much about them to fit into a short story. 

This last revision was mostly cuts, removing places where I had too much detail or backstory.  It might enrich the story, but it was killing the pacing.  Asking the question: does the reader really need to know that for this story to work?  I don’t know yet if I cut enough or too much.  In some places, I had to combine characters or even slightly alter events from the way they will be in the novel in order to make the short story better.

The next short story that I’m considering is also set in this world, based on an event from THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.  So the take-away lesson is: to really think carefully about what I put in.  Some hints at the backstory may serve to enrich the world.  Too much just bogs things down.  And I can’t let myself get too tied down to the way it happened in the novel.  I have to do what works best for the short story, first.

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Conflict

I’ve been thinking about conflict a lot lately.  Several different things have happened at around the same time to give me different perspectives on the issue.

Conflict, of course, is what drives a story forward.  Without conflict, it might be a vignette, but it’s not a story.  Story is all about the development and resolution of some central conflict.  Otherwise, it’s just stuff happening, but it doesn’t come out to a story in the end.  Conflict is how you know where your story should start (the inciting incident) and when it ends.

Now, there can be a difference between the conflict being there in my head and actually getting it onto the page.  

I recently read a book by a well-known and respected author in my genre (fantasy), third in a series.  I realized about three-quarters of the way through that that book didn’t really have much of a central conflict, it just bridged the gap between books two and four.  It was interesting, because I already cared about the characters, but dinner was never late because I just had to finish one more chapter (something that had happened more than once with books one and two).   Near the beginning of book four, something happens which shows how much internal conflict the MC was going through in book three.  If that had only been on the page, the book would have been so much more gripping.

Well, and that’s similar to a problem that I have with THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  A lot of what’s going on in that book is internal to my MC.  So, now I know what I need to do on the next revision to that novel.  It’s harder when most of the conflict is internal.  Battles and confrontations are obvious.

At the same time, I just got a critique back on my short story “Becoming Lioness”, set in the same world.  I’m still digesting some of the comments.  Some, I think I agree with when I do another revision.  Others, I’m not so sure.  “Becoming Lioness” was a departure for me in short stories because there are three different conflicts that resolve around the same event.  For a short story, I usually focus on one.  This critique on this story actually came back that there wasn’t enough tension.  Now, the reader is never wrong about their experience of the story.  Which doesnt’ mean that they’re always right about the cause.  I’m thinking it may be more of a pacing problem than a conflict problem.  It is my longest short story yet.  There may be things I can cut to move things along more quickly.  I’ll have to think about that.

Update:  Call me prophetic.  A rejection just came back on “Becoming Lioness”, citing the pacing.  I’ll get to work on that probably tomorrow.  It’ll give me a bit of a break from revisions on DREAMER’S ROSE.

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