Back to the Beginning

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What’s worse than starting at the beginning? Starting all over again.

Beginnings are hard, usually because they start at the ending of something else.

This year marks the beginning of my 30’s and the end of my 20’s. My original goal was to publish a book by the time I turned 30, but alas, I am only starting–or rather starting over yet again.

How could I not finish a book in a decade? Well, I did, actually. I completed a draft for book one and two. I spent hours outlining, researching, writing, re-writing, falling in and filling in plotholes.

So why is there not a completed MS?

I believe your twenties are for discovery and learning.

What I discovered: There were a lot of plot holes in my writing.

What I learned: This story was good but it could be better. I also discovered that my major supporting character should really be my main character. That changes everything.

So after starting all over on the outline, yet again, I finally began the first chapter for hopefully the last time.

So I didn’t accomplish my original goal. I thought I’d be finished by now, not starting over. I didn’t publish, but I did accomplish something. With diligent research and outlining and planning, I think I will be able to write the best book I possibly can by the time I’m 40.

 

The Non-Biased Sister Review

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It’s obvious why friends and family shouldn’t leave reviews. They over complement, they aren’t the target audience, and they’re totally subjective. I like to think this doesn’t apply to me. I’m very objective, and I don’t sugar coat my opinions, especially when I edit. I want my sister’s books to be awesome, which means sometimes I have to be cruel to be kind. Not that I make her cry or anything. If anything, she thinks I could be harsher.


 

In light of today being the start of the Kindle Countdown Deal for The Wizard’s Gambit, I’ve decided to post my totally non-biased sister review.

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Story

I’m not going to give a synopsis. If you want, it’s here on Amazon. What you want is my opinion, so here goes.

To sum it up it’s like if Hunger Games meshed with the Lord of the Rings. Representatives from every race and Kingdom battle to the death in search of a hidden item: an item that will give the champion power over all the other races. The competition is the result of a wizard’s last ditch effort to make everyone get along. However, a solution is only ever as successful as the plan–and considering he didn’t give it much thought …

I like the story, personally. It’s based around just enough fantasy tropes to be familiar, but it’s not overly predictable. You might think it is at first: a man with a mysterious background, a blacksmith, a prophesy, wizards, etc. I know what you’re thinking, a blacksmith with a mysterious past must fight to win the competition. After defeating all of his enemies he is found to be the one true king.

Trust me, it’s not that predictable. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you think you have it all figured out by the end of book one, just wait for book two to pull the rug out from under you.


 

Characters

There are a lot of characters in this series. Not quite as many as Game of Thrones, but pretty close. This is not a complaint of mine, as main characters and major supporting, minor supporting, and so forth seem to be clearly identified. Also, there aren’t too many POV’s. Only main and major supporting get POV’s.

Even though they derive from tropes, they are all her own creations and not borrowed from the bookshelf.

For those of you who thought Pig was a funny name, meet Mongrel. Mongrel is the main character. My sister worried he would be annoying and “too nice,” but to be honest, I think he’s dorky and fun, kind of like Chris Pratt. I’m bored of reading about dark, brooding, bad-ass anti-heroes who seek revenge and murder without emotion. This isn’t to say that Mongrel isn’t flawed. He’s not your traditional good guy either. He isn’t noble, wise, and always right. He’s a relate able good guy, the kind that wants to help and do right, but blunders and missteps along the way.

Following Mongrel on his quest are some familiar and like able characters mainly based around your typical trope fantasy quest types.

  • Elves: Instead of the noble, wise, magically gifted archer, we get a cowardly social climber who is inept at fighting and using magic.
  • Dwarf: Little Hammer is almost your standard issue dwarf: she’s stubborn, gold-hungry, elf-hating, and booze-loving. But I can’t imagine a dwarf being any other way. This is what we’ve come to love. Nuances make Little Hammer original. For once we get a woman instead of a man. The name system is interesting too. And she doesn’t carry the standard issue ax. In fact, most of the dwarves carry their own special weapons.
  • Humans: We actually get a variety of humans in this parody, not just Caucasian. The characters skin tones range from the very light to the very dark.
  • Ogres: What can I say? To summarize: Not like an onion. Not like Shrek. More like Ludo.
  • Wizards: Not so much like Gandalf, but more like Radagast or Merlin from The Quest for the Holy Something or Other. They’re in charge of keeping order, but sometimes they need to pull their heads out of their hats.

As far as my favorite character, I’d have to say it’s Margo, the apprehensive wizard in training. She’s shy and unsure, but she is certain of one thing: Mongrel is the only one who can unite the seven kingdoms. What I think I like about her (aside from the fact that she’s my secret ship) is how much I related with her when I was her age. She’s awkward and undecided about her future while the future of the world hangs in the balance. She’s just noticing boys and missing home and worried she’s made the right career choice. Who wouldn’t relate with that … except for maybe that bit about the future of the world hanging in the balance. But to be honest, I related with that part too. I was in my teens when the two towers were attacked. After that, even though the entire world seemed to be at war, I still worried about my own problems: family, college, leaving home, boyfriends. That’s how the mind of a teenager works.

Another thing that I like is that there are multiple villains. The problems aren’t caused by one person, but by at least one rep from every kingdom. Most of the leaders of the kingdoms are pretty villainous, especially Empress Eiko, Lord Lindolyn, and Walder. my favorite villain is probably Gwyndor–or Gwyn for short. He’s pretty determined to win the competition and doesn’t let anything stand in his way.


 

My Favorite Scenes

There isn’t a scene I don’t like. If there was, she would have cut it.

I think one of my favorite scenes is where Mongrel enters the city. It’s told through the viewpoint of Jared the gatekeeper.You truly get an idea about how odd Mongrel is through the eyes of this average Joe. For some reason this scene is just dripping with humor. One of my favorite lines is where he notices Mongrel is barefoot (I told you he was odd) so he decides to “bypass the customary “‘oo goes there” to confront the issue at the forefront of his mind, “Ain’t yer feet cold?”

Another favorite is where the kingdoms introduce their competitors and they all start arguing and bickering about what’s fair and who is breaking the rules. It just really shows how petty they all are and how easily situations involving everyone get out of hand.

I also like many of the battles, especially the show down between Eiko and Walder and the North tribe vs the elves where they start summoning their animals with their amulets. It’s like a pokemon battle gone awry.


 

The Humor

My sister and I have very similar taste in humor, so naturally I’m going to like the humor. Heck, I wrote some of the jokes. I’m even mentioned in the acknowledgement section of the book where she credits me for the “horrible insurance jokes” that either “saved or ruined” her story.

The humor isn’t in your face or slap stick. Most of the humor is situational or from the dialogue. The style is definitely reminiscent of Monty Python or Terry Pratchett though I would say more American and modern.

I like that the humor is often used to make a point or poke fun at a trope. For instance, we’ve all read fantasy books where it seems wizards and other magic users have incredible power, but don’t seem to utilize it to defeat the villain. Margo summarizes it well:

“The problem with wizards is that they never fully utilized their powers, at least not when it came to something important. Levitate a chair, transform an inanimate object, gift human speech to a cat–useless tricks for no purpose whatsoever! What good was magic when it couldn’t be used for something meaningful, like stopping a war, perhaps?”

One of my favorite humorous lines:

“Consider these events: the crowning of a king, the dethroning of a dark lord, and the invention of the fish taco; what do they all have in common? … All of these events occurred, by the will of destiny, with the help of a wizard.”


The Cover

The Wizards Gambit ebook cover

They say never judge a book by its cover, but come on, this cover is awesome. I’m going to take a little credit for this one. I doodled the idea on a piece of paper and gave it to my sister, who explained what she wanted to her cover designer–and BLAMO–she got an awesome cover.


 

Flaws

All books have flaws. The book’s pace might be a little slow, but to be honest, I wouldn’t call it slow. I would call it comfortable.

They say a book should start when the action starts, but you do need to understand the character and their world before it’s threatened by the conflict.

I get that readers are becoming impatient, but I’m sorry. I want some setup. I’ve read too many books where I’ve just been introduced to the main character and by paragraph two–BAM–they’re being attacked, a dog dies, or something explodes . Too much.

This was a concern of ours during the editing phase, but to be honest, I’m not sure what to cut that wouldn’t detract from the story. I’d say, like Quest, the main quest doesn’t get started until about 20-30 percent of the book, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t moving forward. In all fairness, it does follow the traditional formula: introduce main character, show their world and what’s at stake, introduce conflict, main character refuses the call, something happens to make character follow the call, and action.


 

There you have it. My honest opinion. If it sounds like a story you’d like, now ‘s the time to order your copy. Better hurry, because the countdown has already begun. Just three days!

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Are You Going to Read Go Set A Watchman?

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Harper Lee is no longer a one-hit wonder. Fifty years after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, the long-anticipated sequel Go Set a Watchman is available in bookstores.

Was the fifty-year wait worth it? So far, the book has received mixed feelings from critics and readers alike.

The sequel has been labeled a poor stand-alone, that it would not have even been published if not for TKAM. On the flipside, it’s also been  praised for being more ambitious.

I’m not in a hurry to read it, but I want to know your thoughts. Please take the poll or comment below. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever killed someone? Why did you do it? How did you do it? Did you do it again?

By now I hope you know I’m talking about fictional people. If not, go turn yourself in, you sociopath.

Writers are a disturbing group of people, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Imagine if you will what murder looks like from the viewpoint of a non-writer. The writer stares deadpan at the screen as the keys clack to a rhythm coinciding with the thoughts in their head. With the same face one might write a casual email, the writer is gruesomely disemboweling her character. She pauses, not in remorse, but to take a sip of coffee. Not that some authors don’t cry all the tears as they kill off a character. Others laugh even.

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Almost every book has a death scene. I can’t think of the last book I’ve read where no one died, unless you count the books I read to my kid.

So while you’re planning how you’re going to do it, you should probably decide if you should. For those of you sharpening your proverbial knives, here’s Murder 101.

To Kill or Not to Kill?

The death of a character should be premeditated and not a random decision. I believe it should be the result of the character’s actions or because of their fatal flaw or greatest attribute, not because you think it would be cool to kill them.

Consider Ned Stark. His death is one of the least random and best planned deaths in A Game of Thrones. I’m not finished with the series yet, but sometimes I think people just die to be dead. He just offs them because they became inconvenient to the plot or because he doesn’t know how to finish their arcs or because he just wants to prove to his readers he’s a stone-hearted bad-ass. I don’t know.

So how do you know whether or not to kill your character?

Do it for the epicness. OK, that’s not a word, but that is the word that comes to my mind when I read a story where a character has a well-planned death.

How do you achieve epicness? Consider the why and why nots of Murder 101.

To Advance the Plot: Does the death serve the plot. Did a character grow from it? Did events occur as a result of it? Did it affect the other characters? e.g., Ned Stark. Yes, characters were affected. Yes, plot happened as a result. Yes, characters grew from it. Look at Arya. Look at Robb? (speaking of a death that may or may not have a purpose)

Not for Shock Value: This is never a good reason to kill a character. I mean NEVER. Any desired emotional effect will wear off once the reader realizes what you’ve done. Picking on George again, I believe the Red Wedding was all for shock value. I could think of a hundred ways to kill Robb better than that. And did he need to die? Was he just becoming too powerful? Too boring? Why, George? I’ll give him credit for this much, Robb’s death was the result of his own actions, not random. But that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

To Fulfill a Character’s Goal or Purpose: The character performs a function in the story. Sometimes closing off the character’s arc with death invalidates his or her purpose. Ask yourself, did they exact their purpose because of or in despite of their death? e.g., Shane from The Walking Dead. While the love triangle served little purpose other than for drama sake, Shane’s death was pivitol to the plot. The character Shane had to have a purpose other than to create rifts and tension in the group. His purpose was to test Rick. Note his character always disagreed with Rick. If Rick said fly, he’d say swim. In season two, Rick is facing a moral dilemma: Kill or not kill a living person. Naturally Shane is for it, while Rick has some reservations. The decision is made for him when Shane ambushes Rick in the woods, forcing Rick to make the decision, not on the gang member, but on Shane.

Probably the greatest example of this, however, has to be from “A Tale of Two Cities.” What was the purpose of Syndey Carton, the man who dies for Charles Darnay? Why, to find purpose of course. The character detest and sacrifices himself for Charles because Charles has the life he could have had and a purpose. He realizes he has no purpose other than to save a man who does. As a result, Sydney has a purpose. Still my fav literary death.

Not for Sadistic Pleasure: I’m pretty sure some writers get a disturbing pleasure from killing their characters. I’ve heard the term pain perve used in fanfiction before. Probably not a good reason to kill your character.

To Create Realism: I’ve read so many books where a trio or small group goes on an adventure where they fight against insurmountable odds . . . and no one dies. This kills suspense. At what point do you worry about the characters? You might want to invent some redshirts.

Not Because you Don’t Know What to Do Next: Filling in the gaps between your plot wth senseless death will be just that: senseless. Likewise, if you have a character you don’t know what to do with, chances are they should not be in your story

For Symbolism: This works best when the death is an animal. Animal deaths often symbolize something. The death of a bird can symbolize hopelessness, loss of freedom, or loss of innocence. In one semester of college, I read three books in a row where the authors killed cats. Killing cats seems to be a popular tool with writers (sadistic bastards). The plot device was always lost on me. The result: My class rebelled against our teacher, refusing to read any more books containing cat death. I also threw “Kafka on the Shore” against a wall,and refused to read one more page.

When to Kill

I’m not referring to the time of day. Night or day, it doesn’t matter. I’m referring to the beginning, middle, or end of your book.

Beginning: this usually works best if the character who dies is NOT a main character but a character whose death motivates the protagonist (therefore moving the plot). e.g., Uncle Ben in Spiderman.

Middle: This works best with a side character. Perhaps their death is the consequence of the protagonist’s actions or their own. Maybe they die just as the character was losing hope and refuel their will to carry out their purpose.

End: Main character death. I caution against killing off a main character unless you have to. This can also be a side character. e.g., Boromir in The Lord of the RIngs. His death proves the power and the danger of the one ring.

How

I don’t mean whips or chains, I mean how. Don’t be sadistic. be realistic. Has your character survived everything just to be taken down by a fly, a stumble, or a tiny net?

Some of you might point out, Drogo died of an infection. Does this cheat the reader? Arguably no, it’s payoff for foreshadowing. He has a long braid because he has never been defeated by any warrior. Technically he is and isn’t killed in a fight. He defeats his opponent, only to die of infection.

You want your character’s death to be a result of their actions, not a random flu. Using Ned Stark again. He is brought down by his greatest flaw/greatest attribute: his honor. It doesn’t matter that he was beheaded. He could have been poisoned and the result would be the same.

How Many?

rmx-it-039-s-hard-killing-off-so-many-characters_o_1424057What’s your body count? in my current WIP, I’m up to about 11 if you don’t count the nameless background characters. George R.R. Martin puts me to shame, but I’m not competing.

There really isn’t a set number. Just ask yourself the why/why not questions. Does the death help/hurt the plot?

George R.R. Martin is obviously building quite the body pile, but can he beat Shakespeare?

How to Create the Feels

The best death scene in the world won’t elicit a tear unless you do several things leading up to the death. I’ve read so many books where a character dies and all the characters make such a stink, but I don’t care. I wasn’t invested. Readers want to feel. They even want to feel sad. We like our heart-strings pulled. So how do you make sure your readers cry, full-bodied, blubbery tears?

Make sure you let your readers get to know them.

Build suspense leading up to their deaths. Think of the dramatic, foreboding music before a death scene in a movie. Oh no, something bad is going to happen.

Follow through. Once the character is dead, do your characters move on right away. How can your reader react if they don’t?

Beware False Deaths

princessbride11Sometimes characters die and don’t stay dead, e.g.,Gandalf, Harry Potter, Kenny Mckormick. These characters legit die and come back to life. This is not an uncommon thing in fantasy; however, It’s not my favorite gimmick, and it can leave readers feeling cheated. After all, it’s a major cop-out. My advice is make sure your character is returning for a purpose, not because you missed them or felt bad about killing them. If it serves the plot, kill them and let them stay dead.

The biggest cop-out is the false death. No, I’m not talking about when a character is only mostly dead. I mean they never died. They were just perceived to be dead. This is a gimmick not to be overused.

At best your reader will be surprised and relieved when their favorite character or the villain returns after everyone thought they were defeated. At worst, they will feel lied to and cheated.

Never try to trick your readers into thinking a main character had died by making them black out. Your reader will be ticked when they wake up in the next chapter.

Never have your character die only to reveal it was a dream.

I think false deaths work best for villains. Let the character celebrate their victory only to realize the fight is not won. Again, don’t overuse.

I hope you enjoyed Murder 101. If you remember nothing else, just don’t forget it’s about your reader. They have invested emotionally in a character. Make sure it’s worth it. I got punched in the rib for killing a character once. True story. That either means I did something wrong or right.

Let’s here from you. What’s your body count? Do you cry when your characters die? Did your readers cry?

A Long Expected Party: Celebrating Hobbit Style!

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We partied like it was Mereth Nuin Giliath!

Last night I had a long-expected party, a Hobbit party. My sister and I just saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I have so many thoughts and feelings after seeing the film, and I promise, this post contains no spoilers. Just hurry up and see it already. I will say this: If you’re hoping for a true adaptation of the book, you will be disappointed; however, if you like epic fantasy, grand-scale adventure, bloated, over-the-top battle scenes, and wizards busting ninja moves, you’ll love it.

I knew after seeing the third and final chapter, we’d be left with a little bit of a Hobbit hangover, kind of like the one we had after seeing The Return of the King, so I thought a party would be a great way to get closure and end the night.

My party hat is better

My party hat is better

I wish you all could have been there, but since you couldn’t be, I’d like to share some photos and moments from my party.

Hobbit Inspired Food

Hobbits are all about food. They eat 12 meals a day after all. Our Hobbit inspired menu included cheese, a meat log, ale, and pizza. I’m pretty sure if pizza existed in Middle Earth, hobbits and dwarves would have loved it. Elves . . . not so much.

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What’s yummier than cake, Lee Pace’s face on a cake of course. Doesn’t he look delicious. Usually I go straight for a corner edge piece instead of a center piece, but who wouldn’t want to eat the Elven King? He’s so om nom nommy.

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Frosted and Fabulous

This cake was too pretty to eat, but too delicious not to. I still have plenty of leftovers. I really wish I could share it with you.

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Eating Lee Pace’s face!

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Decorations

The decorations were pretty simple. Aside from ordering balloons, I printed off some signs and posted them everywhere. I did, however, get a little crafty. With just some ordinary paper plates and a Sharpie paint marker, I made Hobbit door plates.

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Bilbo’s door

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Smaug’s edible treasure

Check out these Party Kings

Check out these Party Kings

Games

Hobbits love games, and it wouldn’t be a party without them. We danced all night, played, “what have I got in my pocket,” told riddles, and took turns shooting Smaug with a black arrow.

My cute little bowman

My cute little bowman

Middle Earth Inspired Music

All night long, we listened to music from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy. Six movies equals hours of Middle Earth music. It was so much fun dancing like elves and hobbits and singing along to the songs. My dance moves were a cross between Frodo and Michael Jackson because I can moonwalk.

It was quite a celebration. We partied all night like it was Mereth Nuin Giliath. I hope you all enjoyed the photos. For those of you who haven’t watched the movie, make plans this weekend to go. I’ll be seeing it again for sure. For those of you who have, what are your thoughts?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1This week’s Tuesday Tip is about something essential, something crucial that you MUST have in your writing. Without it, the scenes between your action sequences will fall flat, and readers will get bored and take a break from reading your book or–gasp–stop reading it altogether!

Are you sweating yet? Nervous? You should be. Keep reading.

This Tuesday’s Tip is about–

Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!! Tension and Suspense.

Do you see what I did there? That’s what you should be doing in your writing. Tension and suspense go hand in hand with conflict. To read that Tuesday Tip, click here. Suspense keeps the readers turning the page, asking questions, and wondering what will happen next.

When do you add Suspense and Tension?

You may think suspense and tension belong in your action scenes, and you would be correct, but mainly they belong in the scenes between the action scenes. Suspense creates build-up, anticipation, the promise that something will happen–usually something bad. Think of it as the foreboding dark clouds before the storm.

How to add Tension and Suspense

Foreshadow

Tease the reader with future events. Let the reader see the problem before the protagonist does.The reader will fear for the characters, knowing that they are in danger.

One way of doing this is to change perspective. The reader will learn information the protagonist does not through the eyes of another character. This is a great way to show information the protagonist might not be aware of or understand clearly.

Reveal the Plan

You might be tempted to conceal what your character plans to do to add suspense, but contradictory to belief, revealing their plans and motives adds suspense.

But you just gave it all away! Now all that’s left to do is stop the villain and save the day, and the protagonist just said how he’s going to do it, so I might as well stop reading this book now. Wrong. All you gave away was the plan, not future events. This is where you add a dilemma, a twist, something your character didn’t consider or can’t predict. Let them make the plans. Make sure they feel good about them too, and then sweep the rug out from under them. The characters–and your readers–will be surprised.

Don’t forget the Antagonist’s plan. Knowing their plan when the protagonist doesn’t will add suspense.

And what better way to reveal a plan than in song!

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In The Lion King, Scar’s plan (plot might be a more accurate word) is told in the song “Be Prepared.” Really, considering how dumb hyenas are, this was a rather catchy way to help them remember their part in it, don’t you think? Before Mufasa dies, we know he’s toast. We totally see it coming. This does not ruin the moment for us when he actually does. If anything, the viewer is rewarded with the feeling of foreboding doom while we watch Scar’s plan unfold, unhindered before our eyes. We shout at Simba to stop meowing at a lizard and to get the Hell out of the ravine. Run, you idiot! Watch out Mufasa! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Deadlines

You feel the pressure when you have a task to complete by a deadline. Your character and your reader can feel it too. Add a sense of urgency by creating a deadline for your character to complete their mission.

Example: The Hobbit 

The dwarves have to get to the Misty Mountain by Durin’s Day before the last light fades in order to locate the hidden keyhole. If they don’t, they won’t be able to enter the Misty Mountain and reclaim their home.

Add a Dilemma

When the protagonist isn’t battling the antagonist, they should be battling their mind. Give the character something to sweat about between action scenes. Create a dilemma, a choice, a conundrum that they have to resolve.

Example: The protagonist must choose for one person to die in order for another to live.

Example: They must do something they swore never to do again.

Tip: Let the reader be privy to your character’s thoughts during these scenes. Their doubt, dread, and anxiety will fuel suspense and keep the reader hooked.

Apply Murphy’s Law Generously

If something can go wrong in life, it usually does. In literature, it SHOULD. Give your protagonist a full-proof plan and then foil it. Don’t let your character’s plan succeed without a hitch.

Cliff Hangers

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Do not, I repeat, DO NOT end your chapters on a peaceful note. This is a great place for a reader to rest their bookmark … and stop reading for good. End your scenes, chapters, and series with a shocking revelation, a precarious predicament, or other suspenseful event.

George R.R. Martin does this well in his Game of Thrones series. But I’m tired of using A Game of Thrones as an example, so I’m going to reference The Walking Dead.

Example: In season two, when the farmhouse is overrun by walkers,the season ends with the characters getting separated and running for their lives. Who lives? Who dies? Who is that cool, badass character with the zombies on leashes. Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!

It happens again in a later season when the prison is overrun by the Governor. Once again we are left with unanswered questions. Cliffhangers almost caused me to purchase cable; they will sell books. Trust me.

That’s all I have to say about suspense . . . for now. Dun, Dun, Duuunn!!!

Hope you enjoyed. Please comment below. I love hearing from you. Praise is nice. I get a lot of it from my Tuesday Tips, but how about some praise for authors who use suspense well. Who is an author that left you hanging?

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Give or Take? Are You a Reciprocal Blogger?

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photo by tastemakermag.com

photo by tastemakermag.com

When someone tells you good morning, you feel obligated to return the greeting. The same goes when someone opens a door for you or gives you a complement. It’s a gut-reaction. Studies suggest that this response is ingrained in all of us as a natural impulse. Think of it as a human default setting like Calibri font in Microsoft Office (Times New Roman is so much better). It’s called the rule of reciprocation.

The rule is simple: Reward kind actions with kind actions. So essentially it’s like the Golden Rule–or Karma. If you do good things, good things will be done unto you.

Example of the rule in action:

A salesperson offers you a free sample. You feel innately obligated to purchase the product.

A coworker buys you a present, so you buy her one in return.

It applies to every aspect of our lives, both personal and professional. So it goes without saying that it applies to your writing life.

Do you feel obligated to review someone’s book because they reviewed yours?

Do you follow someone on twitter or WordPress because they followed you?

Social media is a great example of how the rule applies. Have you ever noticed that the people you follow on twitter typically follow you back. Likewise, if someone follows you but you fail to follow them back, they usually unfollow you within several days.

To be honest, I don’t follow everyone who follows me just to keep more followers. If they unfollow me, they weren’t the type of follower I wanted anyway. I’d rather build my platform slower but have genuine followers who are interested in what I have to say. Those followers are more likely to purchase my books.

The same goes for blogging. Do you comment simply to have a presence on another blog? Or do you comment because you genuinely have something to say about a post?

So what kind of blogger are you?

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1I was so conflicted about what to write about today. Well, would you look at that, conflict just happens to be the next item on the editing checklist. To see the full editing checklist, feel free to check it out here.

We all face conflicts in our daily lives. Small conflicts like what to eat or wear. Major conflicts like getting a divorce, having surgery, or moving for a job.

water-cooler-gossipPeople enjoy conflict–not in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Ever notice how engaged your friends and coworkers are when you tell them about your divorce from hell, but for some reason they glaze over when you recap your relaxing weekend. People feed off of drama like plants feed off of light. Maybe it distracts them from their own lives; maybe they relate; maybe they are addicted to the chemicals released from experiencing negative emotions. Whatever it is, harness its power to engage readers. If conflict keeps people at the water cooler, it will also keep readers turning the page.

Types of Conflict

Conflict is the most important part of your novel. After you introduce your main character, you introduce the conflict. The story doesn’t truly begin on page one, but when the protagonist sets out to resolve the conflict. When we think conflict, we often think of something exciting, like a plane crash or a car chase, but a conflict can be something invisible and small-scale like an emotion. To help understand conflict, let’s break it up into categories.

External: Any force outside of the protagonist: fire, tornado, shark, sharknado, etc

Internal: Internal conflict adds meaning to the external conflict. Consider the Battle of Blackwater in a Game of Thrones. Since this event happened in season two, I hardly feel the need to announce a spoiler alert, considering there are five seasons now. You’ve had your chance to catch up.

There are a lot of external conflicts in this scene: Stannis’ fleet, under-protected walls, fire, etc. However, the true drama comes from the characters’ inner conflicts. There are a lot of characters we could choose to focus on: King Joffrey, Tyrion, or Stannis, but let’s look at The Hound (I don’t remember what his real name is). The character is a great fighter, so why does he freak out and leave in the middle of battle? It’s not the ships, it’s not the men with swords, it’s the fire. Because he was burned as a child, The Hound fears fire, which is everywhere at King’s Landing. This is a great example of inner conflict layered underneath external conflict. His fear, and inability to overcome it, makes this scene more dramatic. Kudos goes to George for playing on a character’s weakness, but before I hand out too much praise, let’s just see how this character arc ends. George typically fails at character conflict resolution. No, this is not just my opinion. There are a lot of arcs that are never closed off and conflicts unresolved because Martin kills off a character instead of developing a more satisfactory conclusion (e.g., most of the Starks). Lazy, just lazy. For the Hound’s conflict to be resolved successfully, he will have to overcome his fear of fire in order to achieve his goal, but George will probably just kill him off–which is ok as long as it’s with fire.

hound

Person vs.

  • Self: inner conflict: flaws, doubts, prejudices
  • Person: an antagonist e.g., a villain
  • Society: tradition, laws, culture e.g., Hunger Games
  • Nature: weather, elements e.g., Robinson Crusoe
  • Technology: tech takes over
  • Supernatural: something superficial: Gods, demons, fate, destiny
office-space-printer

Man vs. Technology: Take that, stupid printer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to create conflict

To add conflict, you don’t have to plan a ton of major events, like explosions, war, etc. If you’ve ever read The Teahouse Fire, you’ll notice there was only one catastrophic event in the entire story: the fire. Other than that, not a lot happened, but every page was saturated with conflict. To create conflict, simply ask yourself, what does your character want? Once you know what they want, take it away and make it difficult to achieve.

  • family
  • money
  • power
  • job
  • justice
  • a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Give your character a goal that your audience can relate with. The more they can relate, the more they’ll root for your protagonist. Create situations that prevent your character from getting what they want, and show their struggle to achieve it.

How to increase conflict

1. Give a Deadline

Think of a ticking clock. Imagine the story of Cinderella without the midnight curfew. Not as exciting, is it? A race against the clock adds suspense and drama.

2. Make your Character Choose

Decisions, decisions. Giving your characters choices will keep your readers on the edge of their seats. What will they choose? Will they complete their goal if it means ruining the lives of others? What will they sacrifice to get what they want?

3. Conflicting Goals

Like real people, your main character can have more than one goal. Make those goals compete.

Example: He wants to get a promotion and save his marriage. To get the promotion, he has to spend more time at work. To save his marriage, he needs to spend more time with his wife. He obviously can’t do both.

Also, group your protagonist with side characters who have conflicting goals or who have personality traits that conflict with your character.

Returning to the prior example. He has a mother-in-law who hates him, persuading his wife to leave.

4. Include Conflict in Every Scene

To iterate, this does not mean you have to have an explosion in every scene. Just make sure your character is struggling with something. Are they conflicting with their morals, another character, nature?

5. Inability to take Action

Render your character helpless to act. What always comes to my mind is a villain hand-rubbing and cackling while the main character, usually tied up, declares that they won’t get away with it . . . to which the villain always replies:

I already have

I already have

Main Conflict. 

Let’s look at Star Wars (The good ones). You might think the main conflict is about the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance; however, the main conflict is actually Luke’s inner struggle between choosing the honorable way of the Jedi or getting revenge. The war complements Luke’s struggle because it is a battle between good and evil.

Side Conflicts

One conflict is not enough. On the road to your character achieving his or her goal are smaller conflicts. Think of these like bumps in the road. A good story has layers of conflict. Multiple conflicts add realism, depth, and interest. Interweave them so they are related. Let’s return to A Game of Thrones, however, we’ll take a look at Daenerys this time. Her main conflict is her desire to rule the iron throne. The battle hasn’t begun, but already she’s had many side conflicts: choosing between her family and her rule, hunger, obtaining an army, her brother, etc.

Note: Don’t forget to give side characters conflict as well. Make their wants compete with the main character. Just make sure their conflicts complement, not compete.

Raising the Stakes

Every conflict should be worse than the one before.

Conflict one:They mess up your order at McDonald’s

Conflict two: You’re late for work.

Conflict three: Your boss gives you a write up.

Conflict four: You’re girlfriend calls you during lunch to breakup with you.

Conflict five: You get pulled over on your way home and receive a ticket.

Conflict six: You get home to find all of your stuff is on the lawn.

Conflict seven: You have nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep, so you spend the night in your car while your stuff gets rained on.

Compare the first and last conflict. I bet you’d happily eat that Mcmessed up egg muffin now.

What happens if your stakes decrease?

One of several things. Your readers will lose interest or the conflict will get resolved too fast.

How to make sure your stakes are rising.

It’s easier if you plan your conflict while you’re planning your novel. Map the conflicts on your outline in the order they occur. You’ll obviously put the major conflict last.

What if it’s too late? You’ve already written your first draft. It’s never too late to rearrange or cut scenes. Keep a list of the conflicts that arise in your novel and compare them to make sure they appear in the correct order. I did this while editing my sister’s novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Rather. Kay and Pig’s conflicts include a bear, a salesperson, and a kidnapping. Obviously the salesperson came first, followed by the bear, and lastly the kidnapping.

Don’t Raise the Stakes too High

Sometimes writers raise the stakes so high the protagonist cannot resolve the conflict realistically, resulting in a deus ex machina. I love her, but Karen Miller is infamously guilty of this. Do not let a God step in or bull-shit a magic ability at the last minute.This robs the reader of a satisfactory conclusion.

Rules of Conflict

  • Conflict must always be resolved (That goes for you too, George R.R. Martin)
  • Conflict must always be resolved by the main character or as the result of their actions
  • No deus ex machina
  • Have conflict in every scene
  • Have multiple conflicts

There you have it. When it comes to writing, don’t save the drama for your mama.

 

 

 

What Stage of Writing are You in?

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imagesCAIA0UMKFor the next several months, I’ll be focusing on editing, both on my blog and in my free time. Well, it was free time before it became editing time. That doesn’t mean I won’t still be writing when I get a chance.

Even though my sister and I are twins, we aren’t on the same stage of writing. She’s in the final editing stage and I’m still writing the CFD (crappy first draft). I may have crawled, talked, and walked first, but she’s ahead of me where it really matters.

I’ve noticed many of you are in different stages as you blog about writing, editing, cover reveals, and releases. Whether you’re starting the first draft or finishing the final edits, all of these stages lead to the same goal. Please take a moment to share where you are at with your fellow writers . . . or editors or drafters, or planners.

Thanks For Following

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200 followers! I feel like Frodo!

I want to thank all of you who follow me, because today, I have gained  200 followers on both Twitter and WordPress. That’s right, they both got 200 followers on the same day. That’s saying no one unfollows me in the next minute–you know how Twitter can fluctuate like the stock market.

I can’t help noticing how similar this is to the photo above.

My goal was to have 200 followers by the beginning of January. Thanks to all of you, I’ve reached that milestone roughly three months early. So now, I’ll be shooting for 300 by the start of 2015. I love reaching goals and getting to set higher ones. Thank you all for pushing the bar higher. I appreciate all of your follows, likes, and comments.