Thoughts On Writing – Using Subplots To Tie Everything Together

Last time I blogged, I talked about figuring out what happens next in a scene. That process helped me out considerably with the scene I was working on, along with a few scenes before that. However, I’ve been running into a new problem–figuring out how to get the ending to fit together.

The story I’m currently working on is supposed to be a romance with science fiction elements. One of the scenes I visualized for the ending was… well… not romantic. The characters stay together, but there’s this looming shadow of oppression hanging over them both.

Not exactly a happy ending.

I tried day-dreaming alternative ways the scene could play out. I originally had Special Forces tapping Cole’s phone, and so they overhear when Amy says that Mr. Rivera is a member of Challenge, a supposed terrorist organization. But then my husband pointed out that, as Cole’s supervisor, Mr. Rivera would be the one to hear the message first.

No Special Forces agents descending on the group, leading to a major fight scene that doesn’t end well for anybody. Not unless Tamara called the police earlier, but that didn’t make sense with her motives.

So I started plotting what might be said if Tamara and Cole sat down confront Mr. Rivera directly. One of the things I pictured Mr. Rivera saying was that not all members of Challenge were the bad guys. Then I realized that I already had the elements in place to include an actual bad guy who was working for Challenge.

All in the form of a separate subplot that I’d largely forgotten.

This is a scene from earlier in the story, one which made me realize I had an undeveloped subplot waiting to be used.

“What took you so long?” Amy looked up from her phone and raised an eyebrow. She was probably playing an EYEnet game, or something like that. “Get lost in the cafeteria? Or did you meet somebody cute downstairs?” She eyed my empty laundry basket suspiciously.

 

“Unless you count the police officer, not really.” I dropped onto the bed and yawned.

 

Admittedly, the guy had been cute. Light brown hair, closely cropped to his head. Square jaw, and a smattering of super-light freckles across his cheeks. Didn’t look badly built, either. But I’d been too worried about the ‘painting’ to dwell on his looks.

 

“Police officer?” She frowned and lowered her phone to her lap. “What happened?”

 

“Someone drew a picture on the wall.” I sighed, already removing my phone from my pocket to show her.

 

“A policeman came for a picture?”

 

“Not just any picture.” I passed her the phone. Her green eyes widened as she stared at the picture I’d taken. “You okay?”

 

I wrestled the phone back from her fingers. Her knuckles had gone white from how tight she was gripping that thing.

 

“Yeah,” she whispered. “Wish I’d thought of that.”

 

I blinked. “What?”

 

She laughed dismissively. “Using laundry detergent to paint a picture. It’s imaginative. Even if it is… well… you know.” Her voice dropped off, and her lips twisted into a frown. She was still eyeing my phone.

 

“Should I delete the picture?” I asked.

 

“What?”

 

“You know… so it doesn’t look like I’m supporting them?”

 

She scoffed. “You? Supporting them? Please. You’re like… the community ideal. Or you will be, if the whole EYEnet Match thing works out. You already reported this to the police, didn’t you? That’s how they found it?”

 

I nodded.

 

“Then you’re fine. Long as you weren’t the one who painted it.” She swiveled around to her computer.

 

“I’m fine? Someone around here is painting terrorist symbols on campus. In our dorm.”

 

Amy shrugged. Her blond ponytail bobbed inconspicuously. “I’m not worried. It’s probably just a student wanting to cause a ruckus. And even if it is someone from Challenge, I still wouldn’t worry too much. Didn’t you read those articles I gave you? Most those people probably aren’t going to do an outright attack. They need allies, not enemies, and attacking innocent people isn’t going to win them brownie points.”

Originally, I had planned for Amy to be the one doing the painting, since she has ties to Challenge. But as I wrote this scene, I got the distinct impression that Amy wasn’t the culprit. While I want readers to wonder if she is the culprit, this scene is also foreshadowing. If I weave in other incidents similar to this one, I can hint that there’s someone else on campus who is leaving behind these symbols.

Someone being reckless.

When I get to the scene where Tamara and Cole must choose between reporting to the police that Mr. Rivera is part of Challenge, or working with him, it helps if they have someone to rally against. In this case, a rogue member of Challenge who might actually be a threat.

The stakes are high for both sides. If this rogue is discovered, they draw attention to the ‘good’ Challenge members–Mr. Rivera and Amy. In addition, if this rogue makes an attack, innocent people are at risk. Since Tamara is interested in finding out the truth behind Challenge, she’s likely to get involved. Cole may get involved to protect Tamara and learn more about his supervisor’s (Mr. Rivera’s) secrets, while Amy would get involved because she wants to dispel the notion that all members of Challenge are terrorists.

Thus, by following a subplot that got planted earlier in the story, I may have a way to bring both sides together, raise the stakes, and still have the potential for a happy-ever-after.

But that’s still to be determined.

Now that I know someone other than Amy is leaving the symbol in public places, I’ve got to decide who they are, what they want, and how far they’ll go to get that.

Lesson learned? Subplots can be a helpful tool to move your story along and flesh out the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post. :-)

Have you ever found a piece of foreshadowing or minor subplot to be useful later when writing a story?

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Thoughts on Writing – Figuring Out ‘What Happens Next?’

As you may have read in my last blog post, I’ve been working on a new adult, science fiction romance set in the Distant Horizon universe. Which has been… interesting, to say the least. Romances in that particular universe have a habit of not ending well.

However, since I challenged myself to write a romance, and not a science fiction story with romantic elements, that means I’ve got to figure out how to give my hero and heroine a happily ever after with each other. Or at least a happy-for now ending.

*Head-desk.*

Right now I’m working on the climax. I’m in a lovely spot where I’ve figured out what triggers the ending… but not where to go from there.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Quick back story: Tamara is the main character. She doesn’t have powers and she craves stability (and a stable relationship), but secrets bug her to no end. Meanwhile, Cole (the hero), is a telepath working under Mr. Rivera, who has ordered Cole to date Tamara so that he can get close to her best friend, Amy (who has successfully concealed her powers), to see if Amy has ties to a so-called “terrorist” group, Challenge. There’s plenty of secrets surrounding them, which Tamara is trying to unravel.

Got all that?

So here’s the precursor to the scene I’m on.

Tamara figures out that Cole has telepathy, thanks to her long-running interest in super powers. She calls him out on it, and though he physically can’t tell her everything, he gives her enough information that she finally realizes that he has some kind of telepathic block holding him back. While he’s trying to work around that block, Amy bursts into the room. (She’s Tamara’s roommate and doesn’t expect to find them nuzzling). Cole instantly notices that his powers have been shielded. Since Amy was already scanned a while back… and she didn’t show as having powers, Cole attributes this as proof that she has a rare set of powers and that she may be working for Challenge. He runs off to report to Mr. Rivera because he’s worried for Tamara’s safety if Amy is involved with Challenge.

Shortly after their talk, Mr. Rivera reports to his superiors (his actual superiors, he’s a double-agent for Challenge) so that he can try to recruit Amy. But Cole doesn’t know this, so he’s moping around thinking that he’s just sent away the best friend of the woman he likes.

Meanwhile, Tamara goes to Mr. Rivera’s office in hopes of getting information from him about Cole’s strange behaviors. Instead, she finds an empty office with a folder of incriminating evidence on Mr. Rivera’s desk that suggests the counselor is a member of Challenge… along with a note that has Amy’s name on it. Worried that he’s going after Amy, she tries to contact her best friend. After no response, Tamara then contacts Cole to confront him and see if he had any idea that Mr. Rivera was a double-agent. Cole is perplexed, since Mr. Rivera has been his supervisor for the last several years. But he begins to question himself when Tamara shows him her evidence.

This is where I run into problems.

Tamara has just enough information to be suspicious of the government’s motives, but she has no absolute proof. Cole, on the other hand, has long believed that his powers were a result of the plague he survived, and Amy has been rather vocal in her distrust of the government’s recent actions. So when Cole explains that Amy might have blocked his powers, Tamara is not entirely surprised. But she has evidence that, prior to the plague, Challenge was typically a criminal group (and they had super powers), so she’ not ready to trust them immediately, despite evidence suggesting that Challenge might no longer be criminal. If the government has been corrupted, Challenge is not be the bad guy everyone thinks they are. However, if the government hasn’t been corrupted, then Challenge is most definitely the bad guys.

Back to Tamara and Cole.

They could sit around and hope for the best, (but that would be boring and they have enough evidence to be worried for their friend’s safety), they can call the police, or they can investigate on their own.

In order to figure out what should happen next, I needed to look at the whole picture, even that which isn’t going to be shown to the readers.

Let’s figure out what’s going on with Amy and Mr. Rivera, even though we may not see this particular exchange in the story.

First of all, I needed to know what Amy could do to get out of a tough situation. If you recall, she’s a shielder, which means she can block powers. More importantly, shielding is a combination of three powers: life-spirit, radiation, and power steal. That’s a pretty nice combo to have, especially if she has any training. Given that she’s been meeting with her cousin, a member of Challenge who would want her to protect herself, it’s certainly not impossible. In addition, her power blocking skill is coveted by pretty much every group involved.

People want her alive.

Mr. Rivera, on the other hand, does not have powers, but he does know of a ‘key’ that has been telepathically embedded in Cole’s brain that would allow Mr. Rivera to issue commands to Cole… which Cole would have to follow. The particular process could be experimental, though, and may not always work properly (especially if anyone else knows they key).

The question, then, is the order of events after which Mr. Rivera learns that Amy has powers and might be sympathetic to his cause. He might inform someone in his group that he’s going to approach a potential recruit in case he needs backup. Or he might approach her directly. If Amy has a night class, he might wait until she’s done with class and try to talk to her afterwards, if he’s not afraid of scaring her off. (Granted, I’m not sure about taking this route, since a similar scene happens in Distant Horizon).

Or Mr. Rivera might contact Amy shortly after he learns what she can do, and not bother talking with other members of Challenge. He tries to approach her directly, and thus meets with her in a semi-public place to ease her concerns.

As for Amy, she would be skeptical. She knows that the government is trying to weed out people with powers. But she’s also been trying to get involved with Challenge, so she might take risks that she wouldn’t otherwise take.

Let’s say that Amy skips her night class and goes to meet Mr. Rivera at the coffee shop in the student union. She’s in public, so she’s not meeting a stranger in a high-risk situation. But she’ll have to be careful about demonstrating any of her powers. If innocent people notice and she causes a scare, the security involved may just wipe out the whole area and claim the campus was devastated by the plague.

Wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Now that we know where Amy and Mr. Rivera are (not in a secret facility, like I initially day-dreamed, though that may happen later, depending on the outcome of this scene), let’s jump back to Tamara and Cole.

If Tamara and Cole call security because they’re worried for Amy’s safety, they’ll be questioned and a search will go out for Amy and Mr. Rivera. If Cole mentions Amy’s powers, Special Forces will get involved and everyone’s chances of surviving gets really slim.

This makes for a difficult happily-ever-after, though it has nice stakes if I can figure out how to get them out of trouble. Amy can fend for herself, while Tamara and Cole could potentially help them escape (not quite sure how yet), unless they go the ‘bad guy’ route and go pro-government, entirely believing Challenge is the bad guys. (This could happen if Amy and Mr. Rivera aren’t careful of what they say).

But if Mr. Rivera has a chance to explain himself first, he may be able to prove that the government has been killing off people with powers, and doing a few other nasty experiments on them, too. Cole, with his telepathy and persuasion powers, would be a perfect test subject for their major experiments, and Cole can’t be certain they would let him go after Mr. Rivera gets captured, even if he complies with their orders (and does he even want to? His life hasn’t exactly been his for the past few years).

If Cole agrees to help Mr. Rivera, they could get Amy to safety, and then Cole has to find some way to stay in the country without drawing attention to himself. Or he could flee altogether.

In the meantime, we have Tamara. She would want to protect Amy and get answers, and she would get a lot more transparency if she leaves with Mr. Rivera. But then she wouldn’t be able to see what’s going on from the inside the way that Amy has. By playing the part of the ‘good citizen,’ Tamara might be able to help other people with powers escape.

But then she wouldn’t have the stability she longs for.

Here we have a sacrifice on either end of the spectrum. Does Tamara flee the country, in which she gets the stability she longs for and a more definite idea of what’s going on? Or does she stay behind to pass along inside information to Challenge and help others escape? How does Cole figure into this equation?

This story is supposed to be a romance, after all, with the two of them discovering that they want to be together.

Maybe Tamara remembers that Amy has a night class, and decides it would be best not to jump to conclusions. Cole asks if she’s had dinner yet, and she hasn’t, so they decide to head to the cafeteria while they wait. But once they get there, they see Mr. Rivera sitting at a secluded table chatting with Amy.

But this feels like it has lower stakes, unless they make a pre-emptive call, only to discover the Amy and Mr. Rivera in the cafeteria, and security quickly descending on them…

I haven’t quite decided how this scene plays out, but I’m another step closer. By looking at the whole equation, the potential actions of each character makes a lot more sense, and gives me more room to play while narrowing the options to a logical path.

So… will they call security? Or will they set out to find Amy themselves?

To be determined.

I hope you found this post helpful. :-)

What do you do when you get stuck with a scene?

Further Reading:

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/08/dont-know-how-to-end-your-scene-heres.html

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Thoughts on Writing – Developing Character Relations

While waiting for beta readers to finish reading Magic’s Stealing, I’ve been doing a lot of edits on The Multiverse Chronicles. However, editing is not writing, and I got the itch to write. I didn’t want to move to book two of The Wishing Blade series until book one was complete, and I just finished reading On Writing Romance, so I decided to attempt to write a new adult, science-fiction romance. It’s set in the early days of the Distant Horizon universe, where super villains have secretly taken over the US government and wiped out people with super powers, all by claiming they have a hallucinogenic plague. In hindsight, writing a romance was probably a terrible idea, given that I am not an avid romance reader, and romances tend to end badly in the DH universe. But it was a personal challenge, and I accepted.

Anyway, I’ve been writing scenes here and there, and I’ve been developing the characters. Since romance focuses heavily on character interaction, I soon found that I had an issue. My characters felt weak and unrelated to the plot. They interacted, but only loosely.

That wasn’t going to work.

So I started examining the individual characters, and how they interacted with the other characters in the story.

These are the original characters:

Tamara: The heroine. College freshman with an undeclared major. Considering business or graphic arts. No powers. As a kid, she was raised by her mother, and due to shaky relations with her father, her mother instilled the whole ‘stranger danger’ fear in her daughter. Because of this, Tamara longs for stability, so she signs up for the new “EYEnet Match” program at her college, which promises to find her a near-perfect match.

 

Cole: The hero. College junior studying communication and leadership. Telepath, but he can’t tell anyone due to government regulations. He’s forced to join the EYEnet Match program as a means to get close to Tamara’s best friend, Amy, so that he can secretly scan her mind and see if she’s working with Challenge, a so-called terrorist cell. He doesn’t want to participate because he likes Tamara and he’s afraid he’ll end up hurting her if the government’s suspicions prove true.

 

Amy: Tamara’s best friend. College freshman. No powers. Lost a sibling to the ‘plague.’ She believes in true love, and thinks the EYEnet Match program is basically another online dating site. She’s interested in linguistics. She’s a bit of a rebel, but she has no interest in Challenge. She starts to fall for Joan.

 

Joan: College freshman. Skeptical of EYEnet Match, but decides to give it a try. Develops feelings for Amy when they meet in linguistics club, causing problems with her own ‘match.’ Joan carries a shield, which blocks powers, and she secretly works for Challenge (the ‘terrorist’ cell that the government is eyeing. Most of them aren’t really terrorists, but that’s how they’re portrayed).

 

Mr. Rivera: The counselor who organizes the EYEnet Match program on campus. He is Cole’s government supervisor, and he believes he lost his daughter during a terrorist attack. He orders Cole to keep an eye on Amy, and arranges for Tamara and Cole to hook up so that Cole can get in close without raising suspicions.

The problem with this particular arrangement of characters, however, is that the main plot lacked a focus on Tamara and Cole. Plus, when I described Amy and Joan to my husband as I went through the basic points of the plot (and it doesn’t help that I accidentally kept calling the main character Amy), he initially thought that Amy and Joan were the same person. Not only were the characters weak, but the plot lacked a strong conflict. Why wouldn’t Mr. Rivera have Cole keeping an eye on Joan, instead?

My husband suggested that I ‘kill my darlings’ and merge Amy and Joan’s characters. Then he suggested that I develop Tamara’s character a bit differently, since she currently had very little effect on how the story played out.

These are the modified characters:

Tamara: The heroine. College freshman with an interest in journalism. Secretly keeps a stash of old articles detailing the history of super powers, so she immediately becomes suspicious of Cole, who seems to read her mind. Nosy, she’s gets herself involved with the plot as she seeks answers to Cole’s secrets. She still has her family background of instability, which increases her need to know what he’s hiding because she longs to make their relationship work.

 

Cole: Hero. Not much changed from above. He believes his powers are a result of the plague, at least until Tamara gets involved.

 

Amy: Tamara’s best friend. College freshman studying linguistics. Has powers– the extended ability to block other people’s powers. She’s not a member of Challenge, but she’s trying to get their attention because she wants in, and it’s leading her to make a few rash decisions. In the past she was close friends with a cousin who was part of the program, but he kept her powers a secret from them and refused to let her join because he wanted her to get an education first. She has no interest in EYEnet Match, and because she’s not interested in men, Mr. Rivera can’t have Cole approach her directly.

 

Mr. Rivera: Still a counselor and still Cole’s supervisor, but now, instead of believing that he lost his daughter during an attack, he knows the truth– she was killed by the government villains because she was one of the dissidents. But Mr. Rivera maintains the charade of believing the lies so he can act as a double-agent. He pairs Cole with Tamara because he wants Cole close to Amy, mostly so he can find out if she might be interested in joining Challenge.

By combining Amy and Joan’s characters, and fleshing out the details of the other characters, we have relationships that are ripe for conflict, while still ensuring that these characters actually want to be together. Combining characters won’t always work, but it often leads to stronger character development. I plan to move a couple lines from Joan to a minor character, but other than that, I think combining them will make the story much stronger.

Now I’ve got to decide on her new name: Amy, Joan, JoAnn, Amy Jo/AJ… the list goes on. For now, I’m listing her as Amy in the manuscript, and I’ll do a ‘find and replace’ once I make a decision.

I hope you found this post helpful. :-)

Have you ever thought about combining characters to make a story stronger?

 

 

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Thoughts on Gaming – How Online Pet Sim Sites Helped Me Develop as an Author and a Book Cover Designer

My husband recently picked up a free app on his tablet: SimCity BuildIt. It’s a rather addicting game where you build a city by collecting resources from a factory, make various commodities and goods, and then use those goods to upgrade houses or sell on the global market. If you sell the goods, you make simoleons, the game’s currency. Needless to say, Isaac and I managed to work out a system (at least while I’m waiting for my seasonal day job to start back up), where Isaac manages the actual city stuff before and after he does his article-writing job, and I manage the game’s resources and make in-game money. Our city has grown quite well, and I’ve enjoyed playing with the ‘global market’ aspect, in which you figure out what items sell best, how many to sell at one time, and which items are worth the time it takes to make.

All of this got me thinking about how various different games have helped me further my writing and book cover design work, along with marketing.

For example, website design. When my husband and I sat down to create our website for Infinitas Publishing, it reminded me a lot of my time running a Petz fan website, my time playing online, text-based RPGs, and the time I took a class on Dreamweaver in college.

Let’s break these down.

Petz was a PC game ranging from version 1-5, which was actually two separate games: Catz and Dogz. If you bought both, your petz could interact. P.F. Magic (the company that developed the game) encouraged fan sites. A whole community sprang up from this, where fans created elaborate websites where other players could adopt petz, show petz, earn awards for having an awesome looking site, play mini games of ‘find-it’ across the site by looking for a specific images (usually one of the petz or toyz), or download custom content. Most ‘kennelz’ had an about page, an adopt page, and a linkz page (‘S’ was commonly replaced with ‘Z’ if it came at the end of the word, a reference to the name of the game), along with whatever else the site owner wanted to take care of.

I got started in the petz community by adopting petz. Most sites would have an adoption form where you would give your (online) name, your email, name of the pet you wanted to adopt, and state why you wanted that pet. There was usually a code word to insert in the form so they would know you had read their rules. Sometimes you would get the pet (and it was awesome when you did), and sometimes you didn’t. The more popular sites might have several people vying for the same, adorable, pixelated bits of code.

In a similar vein, you could sign up for a site review so that the owner would look at your site, rate it and give you feedback, and hopefully include a link to your site on their review list. Other players who browsed the original site would see the link and click on it… thus bringing you potential ‘business’ in the form of show entries and adopted petz.

How does this relate to writing?

Well, when I started looking at review sites to get a feel for what to expect when sending out review copies of my books, I realized the process was similar. You have to find blogging sites where the site owner hosts reviews. You’ve got to see what criteria the site owner has, then write to them with the reasons why you think they might like your book.

In terms of ‘adoption,’ you want readers to go to your book page, like what they see, then go buy the book.

Anyway, I also mentioned that online text RPGs helped me in setting up the website. Aside from helping me improve my writing, many of the RPGs were hosted by the same site. Basically, the host site used templates. Once you figured out how to use the template, you could easily design an RPG forum, even with restrictions. This came in handy when creating the main site (and in creating a WordPress blog) because I was familiar with the concept, if not how Zoho (the host Isaac and I use for Infinitas Publishing) specifically worked.

My Dreamweaver class came in handy because it taught me the basics of CSS (I already knew basic HTML from my days of running a petz site). Knowing those basics allowed me to do minor alterations to the template so that the site looked more like how Isaac and I wanted it to look.

But having a functional website wasn’t the only thing online games taught me.

I spent several years playing Furry Paws, an online dog-showing simulation. In the game, you have in-game currency, but you also have FPP, which is usually purchased with real money, then used to buy an upgraded account. I was a teenager when I played the game, and I couldn’t funnel real money into an online game. So I created art (various tags for the players on the forums) who would pay me in-game currency, which could then be exchanged for FPP via other players, then be used to buy an upgraded account.

Players also wanted shiny photomanipulations for their show dogs, so I learned to blend images (my first step in learning the skills needed for book cover design) along with learning the basic rules behind creative commons and royalty free licences in terms of personal use for a game. (We couldn’t just grab any old image. I sometimes question if our understanding of those rules might still have been a tad bit off, but we tried our best to keep the use of the images legal).

I also learned, however, the importance of not spamming.

While I usually didn’t fall for this tactic, I joined a horse showing sim on a whim. But unlike Furry Paws, which had regulated forums, the horse site had a relatively unregulated chat room as a means for advertising your in-game sales. As such, about the only way to get your advertisement viewed was to button-mash the enter button with your message and see a whole stream of your ad go up at once (before quickly vanishing due to the next button-masher).

The whole process was ineffective, and I felt scummy afterwards (though that might have had something to do with being home with a fever that day). I didn’t play that game very long, but I did see the value in not spamming, and only ‘bumping’ threads once. On Furry Paws, if you had a strong advertisement or product, other people would comment, and that would keep your thread active.

This was useful background when learning to use Twitter, especially #Pitmad. Pitmad is a pitch contest for writers interested in finding an agent or publisher for their finished manuscript. However, it has a limit of two tweets per hour, per manuscript, because you could otherwise spam the board and make it hard for all the entries to be seen. It’s hard enough as it is.

I recently followed an author on Twitter who posted some really useful links. However, I’ve been considering unfollowing them because they post a couple times an hour, every hour, making it difficult for me to see anything else in my feed. And they’re reposting the same information. I don’t mind if the information is new, but after I’ve seen it a couple time, I want it to cycle through. Maybe once in the evening, once in the morning, but not every hour. I’ve found Twitter Lists, which helps me sort through tweets, but be careful that you don’t end up spamming your followers.

Finally, I wanted to mention fan art. In particular, music videos. While I don’t have any of mine up anymore, at one point I’d made several Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic music videos. Unfortunately, Youtube didn’t like me using popular music, so I took them down (another learning experience regarding copyright law… even though I was trying for fair use). Working on fan videos taught me how to do basic video edits, which I suspect may come in handy when I go to create a book trailer.

There’s plenty more examples that could be made, and plenty of other games I played (Power Pets, Mweor), but that’s all for now. The main point I wanted to make was that because I wanted an in-game commodity, I learned valuable skills that I still use today.

So if you play online games and have learned skills to make that game a more enjoyable experience, you might consider whether you could use those skills in marketing your books, using social media, or creating promotions. You might be surprised what you come up with.

I hope you enjoyed this post. :-)

Have you ever benefited from skills that you learned in a game?

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Thoughts on Publishing – Guest Author – The Importance of the Title

Quick Announcement: Thank you to everyone who pitched in with their thoughts about which author photo they liked best. I’m currently deciding between 1 and 4, and I plan to announce which one I’ll primarily use when I do the cover reveal for Magic’s Stealing. Thanks again!

* * *

Today I’m doing something a little different. Today my husband (and co-founder of Infinitas Publishing), Isaac, is going to be a guest author. He’s written a post about the importance of a title.

Take it away, Isaac! :-)

* * *

Author Photo - Isaac FlintHere is a quick little brain exercise.

Recall a chapter, short story, or article that you’ve recently read. Now imagine trying to sum that up in 500 words. Now try summing that up in a two-to-five word phrase. This phrase needs to be eye-catching and communicate the essence of the work.

This phrase is the title.

Creating an effective title in real life it is not an easy task. Arguably, the title of your work is one of the most important things to keep in mind when trying to attract the attention of an audience. This can be especially true if you are a new, unknown author, since the people browsing through your book don’t know you or your style. If your book is shelved face-out, the first thing readers are likely to notice when they pick up your book is the cover art. After that, they read the title. But odds are that your book will not be face-out on a bookshelf. The book will show only its spine, so the title is all a potential reader gets. Together, the title and the cover must persuade a reader to look at the back-cover blurb. And while some readers may overlook a tacky cover, if the title is bad, the book may never leave the shelf.

What makes a good title?

First, many good titles are similar to the other books in their genre. Why? Wouldn’t it be better to be the rebel and make your title stand out from the rest? The answer is often no. When readers–or anyone buying a new product–are looking for something different, they are not likely to go for something totally different. They are likely to try something close to what they already know they like.

Thus, when an author of a mystery novel names his new book My Puppy, Spot, odds are she won’t do as well as if she named her novel The Canine Case.

There are two reasons for this. The first being that the title of a book is often used by readers to identify what genre it belongs to. (For example: Magic’s Stealing is decidedly fantasy). The second has to do with a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘mere exposure effect.’ Simply put, the mere exposure effect states that people are going to prefer things they have already been exposed to, over new things. This is not always the case, but there is a definite trend.

Second, a good title can set the tone without a blurb or cover art. Many young adult dystopian titles will use a single subject as their title, such as the trial or hardship the protagonist must face, to set the tone. For example: the Frost Trials. On the other hand, many romance stories will use a steamy phrase or specific fantasies as their title. For example:  Arctic Pleasures.

In Frost Trials, ‘frost’ sets the reader up for a cold setting, while ‘trials’ tells the reader the protagonist is going to be under pressure to pass some kind of test. Opposed to Arctic Pleasures, in which ‘Arctic’ implies somewhere exotic, even dangerous, and ‘pleasures’… well… you get the point.  

Now try to image how well a young adult novel about the life of a teenager living in post World War III Alaska, which is titled Arctic Pleasures, would sell. The title might get someone to read the blurb, but they are going to be in for a big letdown.

Third, the title must be relevant to the story. Not only does Arctic Pleasures set the wrong tone for our post-war Alaskan protagonist, but it’s also not relevant. Sure, the story takes place in the arctic, but it’s mostly about finding one’s self in a desolate, frozen wasteland while trying to survive the harsh climate and undead polar bears.

Not exactly an arctic pleasure.

As the author, you might know the connection, but the new reader won’t.

For example, my wife and I are writing a series of short stories currently titled The Multiverse Chronicles: 1953. We named it such because it takes place in an alternative dimension in their year of 1953. However, after reading a couple samples to our critique group, it became apparent that this name was misleading.

Why?

In our alternative universe, the progress of technology has been hindered due to many of its people using magic-like powers. Thus, their 1953 looks more like ‘18’-53 (Okay… technically it’s a tad bit later than that, but the point remains).

When we told our critiquers the name of the story, they were confused. From the title, they expected propeller-driven airliners and cars with white-rimmed tires and fenders, not dirigibles and motor carriages.

These are few things to keep in mind when creating titles for any type of writing, unless you want to go bold and create a title that will have your readers confused about what your book is about when they pick it up. However, this is not an all-inclusive list, more like a little brain exercise.

Also, all the titles mentioned in this are fictitious save for Magic’s Stealing and The Multiverse Chronicles: 1953, so if anyone now wants to write the steamy version of Arctic Pleasures, have at it.

* * *

Thanks, Isaac! :-)

Now I thought I’d chime in with a couple notes. Having a strong title is important even before your book hits the shelves. In traditional publishing, a strong title can make your query stand out among the other queries in an agent’s inbox, sometimes speeding up the long wait for someone to read your manuscript.

The other thing to keep in mind is whether or not there is already a similar title out there. For example, you might find that certain keywords, which are great titles in themselves, have already been used.

In some cases, this isn’t a problem. You can’t copyright a title, so you can use the same title as someone else. (However, using a trademark in the name gets into a whole different set of legal ramifications).

However, if that book has a strong following, you run the risk of confusing readers who are looking for the other book. They may be less than pleased if they pick up the wrong one. If your story is different enough that there would be very little confusion (and here the book jacket can help), then by all means, reuse the title. Otherwise, use a similar title at your own risk.

At the moment, we’re considering renaming the first season of Multiverse to “The Trials of Blood and Steel,” but we haven’t settled on that title yet, and there is a book series that has a similar name (A Trial of Blood and Steel), which appears to be high fantasy. I don’t think the two stories would easily be confused, especially given that the book covers would be sufficiently different and that the other series appears to be a few years old. At the same time, what are your thoughts about changing The Multiverse Chronicles: 1953 to The Multiverse Chronicles: The Trials of Blood and Steel? What genre does that convey to you? Do you see it as a problem if two books have the same name (Even if one is a series title, and the other a book title)?

Anyway, I hope you found this post useful. :-) Have you had any experiences with a title not conveying the correct reading experience?

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Thoughts on Writing – Creating Tension

In my previous post about what a serial episode needs, one of the key elements I mentioned was having tension and/or conflict. Each episode needs to have some kind of tension, or else the story will be boring.

Often times we add conflict to a story by adding action. But that’s not always what creates tension (and action scenes can be boring if the stakes aren’t right for the character involved). At times, I’ve struggled in my edits of The Multiverse Chronicles to see what is missing. In some cases, it’s the lack of scenery details. In other cases, the characters aren’t interacting properly. In yet others, there’s a lack of tension, as I discovered in one of the recent episodes I edited.

In the first part of that episode, Trish, a cadet in the Queen’s Royal Army, is riding a cart towards the camp where she will be stationed for the next six months. She has a chat with the driver, but everything is peaceful.

Too peaceful.

So I delved deeper into the scene. There needed to be some tension involved, or the scene would fall flat. Upon looking closer, I realized there was plenty of tension to be had. The tension starts with Trish. She’s not just a cadet, she’s a second-chance cadet. An earlier mishap got her dishonorably discharged. She still feels guilty for the incident, but she’s determined to prove that she will make a great rider. But, compounding the problem, she wasn’t the best student to begin with (she didn’t think pterosaurs would be that difficult to ride), and she’s prideful. By examining the scene through Trish’s eyes (What is she worrying about? What does she think of the driver?), the tension starts to develop.

So I built up the relationship between her and the driver (who unintentionally makes a major jab at her pride), showed her in a world where the details lend to uncertainty, and watched the tension rise.

(Note, this scene may change in the final version of this story.)

Example:

 The cart ahead of them swayed, sending its recruits wincing against the frame, and Trish braced herself for another jolt. The cart lurched and the young driver next to her yelped under his breath.

 (Already we know that Trish isn’t in the most comfortable situation. The stage is being set.)

 

Mr. Ó Riagán was lanky and pale—made more pale by his flame-orange hair and prominent freckles—and he sported a bright pink sunburn anywhere that wasn’t covered. Trish guessed he wasn’t more than eighteen years old, given his baby face, but he still donned the crimson uniform of Her Royal Army.

(The driver seems young. This will come back later.)

 

He drew back the reins and slowed the horses. “Easy there, Norwich,” he crooned in a soft Irish accent. “You’re going to break your leg if you hit one of those holes directly.”

 (Another problem… a horse breaking its leg isn’t good. Not a major hindrance, but it’s now something the main character could worry about.)

 

The mare nearest to him shook her head as if to protest. In fact, Trish got the distinct impression that she was more likely to break his leg if he didn’t give her a little more lead. He frowned uncertainly and loosened the reins a bit.

(Now we see Ó Riagán being a bit unsure of himself, at least in Trish’s mind, due to his earlier mentioned age.)

 

“So…” The guy glanced at Trish, licked his lips nervously, then went back to watching the roads. “You’re the one who can control the rogue?”

(He’s trying to make conversation…)

 

Trish blinked, surprised that he’d said anything. He hadn’t spoken more than a mumbled “hi” to her until now. (Apparently he hasn’t been very talkative.) She turned to their cargo behind her, the rogue pterosaur. The creature slept peacefully, drugged so that the trip wouldn’t be too stressful. The other drakes flew overhead, but since Trish wasn’t a trained pterosaur rider, this one had to be brought in by cart. (A reference back to how she was able to re-enlist, and a stab at the fact that Trish isn’t trained to ride yet).

 

With that in mind, Trish wasn’t sure how Colonel Pearson planned to handle her training. Her deployment had been sudden.

(This is all happening a bit fast for her.)

 

Still, she nodded to the young man and smiled fondly at the sleeping pterosaur. “You could say I can control her, but I think that’s because she likes me.”

 

The young man’s green eyes lit up in awe. “You have a familiar bond?”

 

“A what?” Trish frowned. She wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

(More uncertainty on her part.)

 

He blinked. “You don’t know about familiar bonds?”

 

Trish shook her head.

 

“Oh, I’m sure the colonel will explain when he has the chance.” The young man grinned. “I would try, but I’m afraid I’d butcher the explanation.”

 

“Butcher the explanation?”

(She’s trying to get information, but he’s not giving it.)

 

“Yeah… I graduated from the beastmasters’ academy in Oxford, but—”

 

“Wait. You went to Oxford?”

(Guy who looks younger than her went to prestigious academy)

 

“Yeah, well…” He scratched the back of his neck, sheepish. Trish hadn’t thought his sun burnt cheeks could get any redder, but they did. “The instructors said I was gifted. I started using beast mastery when I was eight.”

 

Trish stared at him. “You were eight?” Here she thought she’d been special, given the strength of her beast mastery. But she’d started showing her powers when she was thirteen, along with most the other people who had powers.

 

Not nearly so young.

(And now she’s feeling a bit dejected because this guy is obviously more gifted than her. Earlier episodes revealed her prideful tendencies.)

 

Mr. Ó Riagán nodded enthusiastically. “I liked to scare my older sister when she was reading. I’d have Jesse—that was our terrier—sneak up behind her and bark real loud.” He chuckled. “I was such a twerp.”

 

Trish forced a smile. “So what do you do now? Are you a rider, a pack master…?”

(She’s trying to change the conversation…)

 

“General Buford and Ruger are the pack masters for the wolves. I’m the head assistant for Lady Akeyo Kaburu. She’s the beasts’ caretaker.” He puffed out his chest with pride. “Just call her Lady Akeyo, though. She doesn’t like formalities. Not unless she doesn’t like you. By the way, I’m Sean. Do you mind if I call you Trish?”

 

“Um… sure.” She wasn’t sure what to think of him quite yet, and he was… chatty.

(She’s not so sure she likes this guy… but she’s trying to withhold judgement.)

 

“Hey!” he called out to the horses. “Stop trying to aim us for the potholes!”

 

The second mare nickered, as if she were blaming Norwich, but they maneuvered cleanly around the rugged hole that the cart ahead of them hit square on.

 

Trish eyed him, amused. “Do you talk aloud to all your beasts?”

(A sort-of jab at him.)

 

Sean shrugged. “Well, sometimes. Most the soldiers don’t talk to me. Granted, these fellows don’t talk back either, but I can get their general feelings.”

 

Trish nodded sympathetically. She hadn’t gotten much chat from the other soldiers, either, though that might have had something to do with the short notice in which she’d joined and been deployed to this particular station.

(And now they’ve found common ground. The tension has shifted from her dealing with Ó Riagán to her dealing with the other soldiers.)

By adding the details of the jolting wagon and the uncertain road, we’ve added scenery details to the world that enhances the tension. Those scenery details also lead to the characterization of Ó Riagán, who thereby gets into an in-depth conversation with Trish, which leads to more uncertainty on her part.

There’s not a lot of action, but there’s still tension between characters.

I hope you found this post helpful. Have you read any books where the story felt flat and lacked in tension? Have you worked on any stories where you realized that conflict was missing?

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Behind the Scenes – Oh Wicked Escort

A cover for Melange Books. For this cover, the author already had a pretty good idea of what they wanted it to look like, and they provided a mockup along with the art form.

My job, then, was to find the appropriate stock images, the right font, and position those images based on what they had. In addition, I added the gilded, embossed effects to enhance the feeling that the book came from the particular era. I was a little concerned about being able to find an actual omnibus, as they requested, but once I went to the idea of using the gilded effect, I searched through the stock site’s illustrations along with photos, and found something that worked. This is the end result:

SBibb - Oh Wicked Escort - Book Cover

SBibb - OWEbackcoverblog
Stock images from Dreamstime:

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-brown-leather-book-cover-image7811399
http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-vector-image-omnibus-th-century-image30204939
http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-street-lamp-isolated-white-background-image51506457

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