It’s a trust thing…

So the good news is that I’m getting into edits and writing and thinking about writing etc. once more. Which means that I’m probably going to get back to posting a bit more regularly again. But then I have a bit less time than I’d like, so I might not. I am, therefore sticking to posting as and when I have something to write about. In the meantime, I’m trying to get around to visiting more of you.

In the meantime I’m going to draw some inspiration to an experience I’ve had while editing on Friday.

Just to recap: As some of you probably know, I had to split my first book into two in order to sign with my former publishing house. Which means that (even though I now have my rights back), I have to make sure that both halves have to stand on their own as stories.

See, for me to put the stories back into one book would require undoing a ton of work, and that’s just not my style. As a result, I’ve had to form a smaller story arch to carry the over-all story that runs through the whole series.

To a large extent, I did this already for the former publishing house, but basically I was told that the story-line wasn’t strong enough.

And if you read Wednesday’s post, you’ll know that I’ve been grappling with ways I could strengthen the story.

Believe it or not, I published that post, opened my manuscript and made the second change that occurred to me. Even better, I think it works. Better than that, it’s truly an elegant solution. It was a simple change, about 1500 words added in, and ever since, the repercussions of the addition have continued to improve the story.

Bet you want to know what I did.

Lucky for you, I’m awesome, so I’m going to tell you.

I took a bit of information that I’d kept for the big shocker reveal at the end of book four, and I put it:

Right. 

At. 

The. 

Start. 

Of book 2. 

Aaaaaaah… the lovely sounds of writerly minds screeching and screaming “what?!”
Now what could possibly incite me to do that? I mean, there’s the shock value. The horror. (Because it really is a horrible thing that’s going to happen.) All the emotional impact I could have gained! 
“Undo it,” some of you will be screaming at your screens. 
To which I say: “You of little faith.” 
See keeping information for a huge reveal has its places, I know. But darlings, if something really really big is set to happen, it might just be better for the reader to know it could happen, early on. 
Why? 
Stakes, darling. By showing what could happen, I’ve set up some huge ass stakes. I’ve also forced my character into doing something she might have done anyway, but some people struggled to understand before. 
“But still,” some might sob. “The big reveal!” 
And this is where the title for today’s post is from. See, sometimes, we need to trust that our knowledge about our stories isn’t finite. See, I know that by the time I’m at the end of book 2, I will more than set up other HUGE, SHOCKING, HORRIFYING things to happen in the sequels. So taking one and using it for all it’s worth isn’t a bad idea. 
In fact, it’s perfect. Exactly what I needed. 
So if you get stuck, think about revealing your “big reveal” sooner. I promise you that doing so will lift a saggy middle and set up something even better for the end. 
All you need to do is trust yourself. 
Anyone else notice a vast improvement in plot strength from revealing information sooner? 

Paul Anthony Shortt on Consequences

Hey all! Today I want to welcome Paul Anthony Shortt to my blog! Before we go into that, though, I just want to let you know where I am and what I’m doing. 🙂

First, I’m doing an excerpt swap with Quanie Miller, author of the up coming book It Ain’t Easy Being Jazzy. My excerpt is here. Hers is here. By the way, if you haven’t met Quanie yet, I suggest you check out the writings she’s posted so far. The lady has some kick-ass talent and I’m looking forward to read Jazzy. 

Second, I’m visiting Rebecca to talk about writing a series.

Hope to see you there!

Okay, take it away Paul. Adore the cover, by the way.

Consequences

Today’s guest post is pretty self-explanatory. A good story needs consequences. A character can’t run around, messing with the plans of powerful beings, throwing their own lives into disarray, and expect to get off scott-free.

At the end of Locked Within, Nathan Shepherd has suffered for his actions against the Council of Chains, and his obsession with unexplained murders. One friend of mine describes it as Nathan having “the worst week of his life.” And that’s true.

Or it was, anyway.

In Silent Oath, Nathan has to contend with the demands of his new role. The more he fights to keep people save, the harder he has to work. It’s as if his reward for each heroic act is to be presented with ever more dangerous challenges. He has to learn that it’s not enough to kill a few vampires. He must build something that allows the people of New York to protect themselves. He needs a conclave, a united group of people in the know to stand united against the Council of Chains.

But even that noble goal will have unexpected consequences. Outside conclaves look to Nathan for support. As his reputation grows, amid rumours that he is not just any reborn, but in fact the reincarnation of a legendary hero, he finds that more enemies want to challenge him, which those under his care look to him more and more for guidance.

Nathan must rise to this, and take charge if he is to do any real good.

However, reincarnation is tricky, and Nathan’s memories haven’t finished coming. He has other things to remember; events in past lives that will leave him shaken to his core. His actions, past and present, are leading him, inexorably, to war. For all his determination and strength, Nathan could stand to lose everything he’s built, and he doesn’t yet even remember why.

This is why consequences are so important in a story. As I wrote Silent Oath I thought more about Nathan’s past lives and how centuries of death and rebirth might affect him. What lengths would he go to in order to keep people safe? What if he wanted to have a quiet, peaceful life for a change? Fate has a funny way of dragging heroes back into action, no matter what they may do. This, too, is a consequence. The events that unfold throughout Silent Oath all stem from action or inaction on Nathan’s part. The challenge is for him to not only defeat his new enemies, but come to terms with the way he has changed things in New York, for better and for worse.


Bio: 
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren’t enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life. Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

Paul lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica, and is now expecting their fourth child.
Paul’s first novel, Locked Within, was released on November 6th, 2012, by WiDo Publishing. Silent Oath is the second book in this urban fantasy trilogy.

Blurb:
Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city’s supernatural masters. But it’s not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan’s former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.

Nathan’s only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.

Links:
Twitter: @PAShortt

Three Causes of a Sucky Plot

Have you ever read a book or someone’s manuscript where lots of exciting stuff happens, but the book just sucks?

You know, the one where you roll your eyes because the plot went too far, but hey, you don’t even care. Because the book is that bad. 
I’ve read a few rough drafts like that. (Not from my current CPs, thank heavens.) It has me itching to help the poor souls who wrote them, but usually I back away. 
Why? You may ask. I am, after all, a no-shit sort of person. Well… As honest a critter as I may be, I draw the line at things that requires me to mark out the same problem through the entire manuscript. After all, more often or not, writers just stare incredulously and then disregard all my hard work. 
Still, I want to help the new kids out. In the interest of doing so, I thought I’d do a short list. 

1) Cause and effect. 

This is one serious rookie error. In fact, it’s the one that got me thinking about this subject in the first place. You’d think that putting lots of exciting events into your story makes it exciting. Eh… Not necessarily. 
It’s all very good and well if stuff happens to your characters, but what causes them? If all of your interesting events are coming from seemingly out of the blue (even if it’s from some off-stage villain pulling the strings), you have a problem. 
Rule of thumb: Events must at least partially be from character decisions and actions. Those that aren’t had better be the basis of an ENTIRE plot line. Think something happening out of the blue in the beginning. What does the character do because of it? 

2) Blah blah blah… blah blah. 

Ever read something major happening to a character and… well… you just don’t care? It’s pretty annoying. 
Oh wow. This guy’s whole family is going to get wiped out.  
And then they’re going to steal his million dollar fluffy bunny.  
So what? 
No matter how high you make the stakes, people aren’t going to care. In fact, stakes aren’t raised at all unless a reader becomes personally interested in how things turn out for a character. 
Whether the characters are likable or not, make them awesome. Make their emotions visceral. Make their fears real. Set the reader up to fall with the main character. Only then will a reader live into the story enough to care. 

3) Uhm… this doesn’t fit. 

Sometimes, stories don’t fit into their formats. Epic tales are squeezed into novellas. Novels are written where a drabble would have sufficed. 
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. 
Some stories just aren’t big enough for 100+ thousand words. Others aren’t small enough for 40,000. So we readers are subjected to rambling to fill pages or unsatisfactory, stories. Usually with endings suddenly slamming down out of nowhere. As if someone had torn out entire pages and tacked an ending on. 
Don’t start writing a novel. Start writing a story. Don’t stop before or after it’s done. If you’ve already written it, take out what isn’t your story and/or put in what’s missing. It really is that simple.

Conclusion

Yes, these problems can seem daunting, but once you spot the issues in your plot, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to fix them than you thought. Don’t be scared of working on your own stories. They’re yours to improve, after all. 
So, veteran novelists, how do you solve the above issues? Any other reasons why a plot might suck? 

Braiding story-lines

As I mentioned yesterday, I received my editor’s suggestions on the same day I traveled home from Europe.

And… it didn’t hurt. *Happy dance.*

There’s something really wonderful about having an editor who understands what I wrote. She immediately caught on with what I want to do with the story, so her suggestions are amazing.

Well… By amazing, I mean my reaction is something like this: *head desk* Why didn’t I think of that?

So… yeah.

There’s one thing I picked out of her editor’s letter that I thought I’d share. It’s relevant to anyone who writes something epic and complex.

When we write stories like that, we have to deal with multiple story-lines.

That’s great, because more than one story-line keeps things interesting. On the other hand, more than one story-line can dilute the tension. Especially when you’re going to leave them open-ended for the purposes of a sequel.

How does one combat this?

Pretty much by making the plot-lines just long enough. In other words. The big problem with multiple plot-lines are that we don’t give enough attention to enough of them. Which means that the reader doesn’t get a chance to connect to that particular line enough to care.

What happens if something goes wrong in the sub-story? Does it matter at all? Why? The reader needs to know. Same as with the main story.

I’m not saying you need to take every line through the three-act-structure. All you need to do is pick more important ones, i.e. ones that will be important in the immediate sequel, then extend them a bit. Just enough so that the reader gets a feel for the goal, conflict and stakes.

Because that’s what they’ll care about when then they want to read the next book.

And then make sure you have some awesome main story-lines.

How do you approach stories with more than one plot?

P.S. In case you’re wondering what happened to News Day, I moved it to tomorrow so I could get some news in. If you have something you think I should share, please e-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

A to Z Challenge: Raising Stakes

On N-day, I mentioned that raising the stakes make a huge difference to the middle of a book, but that I’d do another post about it. Well, today is that day.

Stakes make a difference, because stakes keep the tension in a story as tight as you want it to be.

Credit

Think of it as a poker game. The more you put into the pot, the greater your stake will be in winning the game. It becomes more important to you. If you put $500 into the pot,  the game will be really tense, but not as tense as putting $50000 in. And DEFINITELY not as tense as putting in the last $50000 that you own. The first is pretty big situation, the second bigger. The last is life changing.

Ideally speaking, you want the story to start as the poker players (your characters) are about to start playing. And then, with every game, they increase their bets, increasing their stakes in each game (chapter). If you really want to get things tense, you can lock each player in and let someone else (the bad character, perhaps?) increase the bets for them.

The reason why I say this is ideal is because the reader gets to know the character before all hell breaks loose. So they know who the character is. Then as the stakes increase, we get to know them better. We learn to care about them and how they react to challenges. And then just as the reader gets to the middle and thinks the character can’t take more, that final $50000 game starts. The life changer. The one that will ultimately change that character – for better or worse – forever. That’s good reading.

Sometimes, though, the poker game is longer than others. For example in a series, there might be a few big rounds towards the end of each book. Rounds so big that the reader thinks that it’s the life changer. But the real life changer will occur in the last book. Otherwise, why would the reader bother sitting through the stories after that?

So, if your middle is sagging, odds are that it’s because none of your characters are making any bets. There’s nothing happening to make the reader worry about what the character stands to lose. And that’s a huge problem when your story is about to go towards the climax. After all, the climax is about where the character wins or loses the most.

Make sure that the reader can sense what’s at stake. You don’t need to spell it out. Just make it big enough to spot. Hint at the possible results of failure. And of success. And above all, give them a feeling of the odds.

And then for maximum tension: In the life changing round of the poker game that is your character’s story, force them to go for the royal flush.

Look Out for These:

1) Middle sagging because you either put the stakes too high too early, or didn’t raise the stakes.

2) Undefined stakes.

3) CPs and betas doubting why they should be caring.

What’s your approach to stakes in a story?

A to Z Challenge: Plot-Holes

Has this ever happened to you? You’re done. Finally. All those months spent writing and rewriting a story. You even took a month off, living off your finishing-high so that you get distance from the story. Today is the day you do a fast read on the story you (!!!) wrote. At first a few cringe-worthy phrases, cliches and repetitions stand out. And there’s a niggle. A tiny little crack.

But as you read, it grows and grows until it looks something like this:

Credit

And then you realize that you have a gaping plot-hole in your story.

Yeah, that’s happened to me. It. Sucks.

I went into fix it mode, but nothing I thought of worked to fill the hole. There was aways something that defied solution. Something that I knew could potentially become another huge hole if I let it be long enough. After all, four books make more than enough opportunity for it to grow.

I panicked for a while and then sat down, realizing one thing. If I thought of the story that it exists in, the solution had to exist as well. And probably in such a way that it would come from the story. Knowing that, and that I’d never find it since I had no clue as to what the solution looked like, I finished reading Doorways and left it alone for another two weeks. What else could I do? The whole story hinged on the existence of a solution.

And you know what? I was waiting for a movie to start when the solution occurred to me. It was simple. So much so that I challenge any reader to find it one day, because it’s so tiny that you’ll never notice it’s there. It fit. Perfectly.

So if you do have the misfortune of finding a plot-hole in the story, here are some steps to follow.

1) BREATHE! It’s not the end of the world. Nor is it remotely close to being the end of your project.

2) Remember that you got this far with your story. So if the plot-hole is in it, your solution is as well. You just don’t know it yet. Yes I know what a pantser-y trick this is, but it really works. Why? Because it opens your mind to out-of-the-box possibilities. You’re not limiting yourself to thinking of the obvious. You’re exposing yourself to genius.

3) Do something else.

4) Keep doing something else until your mind goes: A HAH! or whatever it does when it gets a brilliant flash of inspiration.

5) Fit the solution to the hole.

6)
a) If it fits, celebrate and revise to blend it into the story.
b) If it doesn’t, go back to step one and do it again.

Do NOT try to cram something that you contrived into the hole. It won’t fit, so it will take a lot more work to camouflage it from a reader. And you know the thing about camouflage? A trained eye will still see it.

Look Out for These:

1) When you ask how/why/when/where to anything and you don’t know because the answer doesn’t exist. As supposed to how/why/when/where answers you don’t know because you haven’t explored them yet.

2) Anything you glossed over in the drafts – not wanting to think about it right at that moment – that accidentally grew to incredible importance as you wrote.

3) How/when/why/where questions whose answers are negated by an edit you did, but can’t undo because of more important reasons. See S-day’s post to see what I mean.

What do you do when you discover a plot hole?

A to Z Challenge: Development

When the time for revisions come, this one is pretty important to look at.
For a reader to enjoy the story, something has to change. Maybe it’s the plot changing the character’s world. Or maybe it’s the character that changes. Or even both.

But something has to change. Because if it doesn’t, and everything goes back to how it was before the start of the story, what would be the point? Why would a reader sit through the thousands of words in between?

So during revisions, you might want to see if your characters grew. Especially if  you’re more of a plot driven kind of writer. It’s something I find quite a lot, that the plot-driven stories have awesome development in the plot, but almost none in the character. In fact, they can potentially let characters go through the motions required by the plot and leave the characters relatively unchanged. (And in some action-books I’ve read, unscathed.)

On the other hand, character-driven writers tend to have excellent character development, but the plot development is a bit lacking. I actually think it’s easier for a character-driven writer to get both right, because a character can’t change if something didn’t happen to him or her. Still, the plot aspect to the story might feel murky or undefined. As if something happened, but the reader can’t be sure.

Both of these can be acceptable if it’s what you’re going for. If not, you might want to spend a revision round either defining what’s going on inside the character, or outside around the character.

More specific than that, I can’t really help you, since it depends on the story. But if you have development issues in your story, you can contact me and I’ll go through your work to see if you can improve on character or plot development. Otherwise, you should have a crit partner who’s able to help you out.

Look Out for These:

1) Plot feels like it’s going nowhere, even if it is in fact moving towards a point.

2) The plot is full of events, but the character seems to have learnt nothing, or didn’t change, or seems largely unaffected.

3) Plot development: Crit partners say that you have pacing issues, but deep down you know the pacing is fine.

Are you a character or plot-driven writer? Do you find yourself having to go back to make sure the development of plot and/or characters need to be better defined?