So, I am very nearly done with the eighth installment of my Urban Fantasy series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels.
One of my most hated favorite things about books is figuring out the titles. Seriously though, they’re hard, but once you figure out the title, it’s awesome. Seven titles in, all being one word and a magical reference, I was stumped on this one. Until, suddenly, it hit me. I wasn’t sure until I did a mock up of the cover, and then seeing it? Yeah, I knew that was the title.
I’ve kept things pretty uniform with this series, creating a brand for it if you will, so once you get this far into a series you start to worry you’ve push it too far. Over done it and now it’s all starting to blur together like the same cover again and again. Some people may see it that way, but I think I’ve managed to keep them individual enough and I still dig em.
Anyway. I hope you guys like it, and if you’re a Matilda Kavanagh reader, the release date will be 9/5/17–just two months away! If you’re looking for a new series to binge, might I suggest this one? *end shameless plug*
This has been one of the busiest weeks of my life! Between the day job and the family and the new release last Monday and the cover reveal for my upcoming release, it’s been just crazy. For the most part, though, it’s good stuff – well, accept for the barfing German Shepherd yesterday – so I can’t really complain.
Or at least I try not to.
At any rate, I’m going to start with some info about the anthology that released last Monday. My story is called Change of Heart, and it’s a female/trans-female love story.
The germ of the idea for Change of Heart came from a scholarly article I read about Dr. James Barry, a 19th century British military surgeon. He was incredibly gifted, accomplished, and known for being rude, and after he died, the serving-woman who prepared his body discovered he was a woman.
His story has been claimed by feminists, and more recently by students of trans history. It’s impossible to know how Dr. Barry viewed himself – as a highly intelligent woman who did what was necessary to practice medicine at a time when women were forbidden to do so, or as a man who happened to have a different biology. Either way, Dr. Barry fascinates me. There are very few records of trans people from before the 1970s, and I wanted to explore how it might have been to live with that kind of secret. We’d agreed to set all our stories in New Orleans, and since few US cities have a more colorful history, I basically just picked a year and went with it. I hope I captured something of the time and place, and I hope you enjoy my sweet and spicy little story.
Here’s the blurb…
Momma says a body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.
If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.
Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.
I’ve read a few of the stories in the anthology, and they’re all pretty good. Some paranormal, some contemporary, with a range of heat from relatively sweet (like mine!) to whips & belts of the BDSM variety. If you’re interested in checking the anthology out, here’s some links…
Irene Preston and I have been sitting on our hands for the last few weeks.
Sitting. On. Our. Hands.
Because we’ve had the cover for Vespers and we weren’t allowed to show it off till after the cover reveal. But now it’s revealed and HERE IT IS!!!
Choosing a favorite cover from amongst my books is sorta like choosing a favorite child, but…
No it’s not. This is my favorite cover so far. It’s pretty damned perfect in capturing the vibe of the story, and I might have a bit of a crush on Hooded Dude. Here’s a bit more information about Vespers…
Thaddeus Dupont has had over eighty years to forget…
The vampire spends his nights chanting the Liturgy of the Hours and ruthlessly disciplines those unnatural urges he’s vowed never again to indulge. He is at the command of the White Monks, who summon him at will to destroy demons. In return, the monks provide for his sustenance and promise the return of his immortal soul.
Sarasija Mishra’s most compelling job qualification might be his type O blood…
The 22-year-old college grad just moved across the country to work for some recluse he can’t even find on the internet. Sounds sketchy, but the salary is awesome and he can’t afford to be picky. On arrival he discovers a few details his contract neglected to mention, like the alligator-infested swamp, the demon attacks, and the nature of his employer’s “special diet”. A smart guy would leave, but after one look into Dupont’s mesmerizing eyes, Sarasija can’t seem to walk away. Too bad his boss expected “Sara” to be a girl.
Falling in love is hard at any age…
The vampire can’t fight his hungers forever, especially since Sara’s brought him light, laughter and a very masculine heat. After yielding to temptation, Thaddeus must make a choice. Killing demons may save his soul, but keeping the faith will cost him his heart.
Working with Irene on this story has been a fantastic experience. You may be thinking I’m just blowing smoke to promote a book, but truly, tossing the words back and forth and learning how another writer works was tremendously satisfying.
We’ve got Vespers at a reduced preorder price of $0.99, so if you’re interested, click on over…
And finally, I promised you a giveaway, so here it is. For the chance to win a $25 gift card PLUS 7 (seven!) paranormal romances by authors like Alexis Hall, Claire Cray, and Jax Garren. Click HERE to get to my website where you’ll find the rafflecopter thingy to enter. The books in the prize package are SO COOL.
So that’s what’s going on in my life? What’s up with you? 🙂 I promise next post won’t be quite so me-me-me-me-me. It’s just been an exciting week.
So my last Spellbound Scribes post listed some great m/m vampire books. That post came about because I’d been researching the subgenre (sub-subgenre?) so I could add to it. And now I am. I’m co-writing an m/m vampire story with my friend Irene Preston, and hallelujah! It’s honestly the most fun I’ve ever had writing.
The co-writing thing is like having an extended (very extended) (like 75,000 word extended) conversation, not counting the evening Facebook chats to work out plot points. As a result of all of that discussion, I recently had sort of an a-ha moment.
I really owe Charlaine Harris BIG for how I think vampires should behave.
Which is actually kind of a problem. I took the time to explore what had already been written so that I wouldn’t outright duplicate anything, though I’ll admit that one of the reasons I went four years between vampire projects was my fear that I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything unique.
And despite my best intentions, I keep making pronouncements, like, OUR vampire should be THUS & SO, and Irene will be all, “um, why?” Then I pause long enough to realize my reasoning has more to do with Eric Northman than with any truly creative thinking on my part.
The whole game in romance is to take something that’s been done a bazillion times before and make it the same, but different. For this project, I started with a vampire who’d been a monk before he’d been turned. Fresh premise, right? Except maybe not so fresh if everything I layer on top (fabulous wealth, orgasmic bite) is lifted thoughtlessly from somewhere else.
Last March I took a class from Kerri-Leigh Grady on Strategies for Writing Fresh, offered through SavvyAuthors.com. If she ever offers the class again, you should totally sign up. In the class, the first thing Kerri-Leigh had us do was pick out some of our favorite familiar story elements, arguing that our readers needed something to relate to before we blew their minds with our ingenuity.
(She then had us do a bunch of really fun exercises twisting familiar tropes, which have already gained me one finished project – and I may yet write that Heathcliffe as a biker in contemporary L.A. thing, too.)
So maybe my first step was okay. I mean, a “vampire story” has certain expected, familiar components. My attempt at ingenuity – a vampire who started life as a monk – is likely something readers can connect with. It may be that my vampire should retain those Eric Northman elements, too. (Especially the orgasmic bite thing, because who wouldn’t benefit from that?)
Except the thing Irene’s questions made me realize is that my vampire only gets to keep the parts of the vampire myth that make sense for his character. Monks aren’t notoriously wealthy, so maybe that’s not an element we end up keeping. Developing the vampire character has become a process of picking and choosing which pieces of the trope work for HIM.
Perhaps – and this is my real a-ha moment, which I may have actually had while writing this post – just maybe coming up with a truly fresh premise isn’t about the thunderbolt that sends you scurrying to your laptop. Maybe it’s more about making a couple of tweaks to something familiar, then informing them with real, live (or undead), characters.
If you’ve got a process for tweaking a standard trope or character type, leave me a comment. Would love to learn from you!
One of the fun things about running a blog with other writers is getting to celebrate their releases and accomplishments with them. I thought this would be a good time to remind you of all the awesomeness that’s out there, surrounding some of our very own Scribes.
This week, Emmie Mears has a new release out in her Shrike Book Series! The first book, The Masked Songbird was re-released this summer, and the second book, Rampart, just released this week! You can also snag a short story, Uncaged, that takes place between books 1 and 2. This series is set in modern-day Scotland and features Gwenllian Maule, an accidental superhero, how awesome does that sound?
Another exciting development happened recently for Kristin McFarland, she announced the upcoming release of her first book, Shaken, the first in her Mitzy Maddox Series. This book features magic, supernatural creatures, a crime spree, and a steamy romance. I’ve already got my copy pre-ordered, do you? Be sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming cover reveal! She’s working with the same artist as Emmie, so we know to expect something awesome!
And not to toot my own horn but, toot-toot! This week I announced the title and cover reveal of the sixth Matilda Kavanagh Novel, Maleficium! It is up for pre-order right now! In this new installment readers will find out just went wrong in Mattie’s short life the night she became an orphan at 16 and what it means for her future. I hope you’ll check it out!
Next up is Liv Rancourt who released her latest book, King Stud, book 1 in the O’Connor Family Novels. Now, this is not a fantasy book like you’ve come to expect from us, but we all need a juicy romance from time to time, right? Check out what develops between Danielle and the very-tempting Ryan in this new release!
With so many awesome books to read by our Scribes it’s hard to think there would be more things to celebrate, but there are. We’re so excited to announce that Nicole Evelina will be publishing her first books in 2016! Her first release will be Daughter of Destiny (Guinevere’s Tale: Book 1). I love Arthurian Legends so I’m really excited for this one. Be sure to check out the link above to see the rest of her publishing plans!
And I hope you all will join me in congratulating Lyra Selene, she recently signed with literary agent Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown Ltd. I was lucky enough to beta read her book and it is beautiful and interesting and you’re going to want to pick it up as soon as you can! Congratulation Lyra!
And last, but not least, everyone join me in congratulating Brian O’Conor for making it in #PitchWars! Hundreds apply but only a handful get picked!
Kinda having a surreal moment right now, to be honest, but I’m super super excited to work with @hayley_stone! #PitchWars
‘Eh, probably. But if you like a good vampire story, you like a good vampire story. And recently I’ve stumbled over a couple good vampire stories and well, SpellboundScribes IS the name of the blog. If I can’t talk about vampires here, where can I?
Now the twist is, I’ve been reading mostly m/m romance, so the vampire stories I’m talking about all feature gay characters. I have a pretty good handle on the vampire genre in general but I’m only just starting to explore it as an m/m sub-subgenre. I don’t know if there are m/m equivalents of Ann Rice or Octavia Butler or Barbra Hambly (people who were writing vampire stories before they were cool), but part of my motivation for this post was to discover what’s out there.
So here, in no particular order, are some suggestions for well-regarded m/m vampire stories. I asked for help with this post on the M/M Book Recommendations Facebook page, so I haven’t read all of these, but the research alone cost me money. I also found a Best Gay Vampires list on Goodreads…cuz when in doubt, go to Goodreads…
1. Cronin’s Key by NR Walker – This is a contemporary take on the fated love trope, and while the sample didn’t contain too many surprises for me, it’s got a ton of 5-star ratings on Amazon and it gets a lot of play on the M/M Book Recs page. AND it’s on sale for $0.99 right now because the sequel just came out.
2. Deep Desire by ZA Maxfield – This one looks intriguing as hell. I almost talked myself into a one-click a couple months ago, and have moved the sample up to the top of my TBR list. I like the premise – centuries-old vampire and art historian searching for the same document and maybe (or not) falling in love – but some of the reviews have some pretty harsh things to say about the relationship, highlighting manipulation and dub-con. This is a revised edition of a book that was previously published as “Notturno”.
3. The Tinder Chronicles by Alexa Land – Tinder seems like it would be a good vacation read. Built on the same basic premise as Lou Harper’s Sanguine books – vampire hunter falls in love with a vampire – it’s filed under ‘erotica’ and promises good sexy fun. It also has solid reviews (4+ stars on The ‘Zon) and is $2.99 for a 3-volume set.
4. Natural Instincts by SJ Frost – This one looks like sort of a mash-up of the vampire-hunter-falls-for-a-vampire and the fated-love tropes. I haven’t read it – don’t know if I will – but it was recommended a couple of times by people who commented on my M/M Book Recs query and it’s #7 on the Goodreads list.
5. Spirit Sanguine by Lou Harper – I’m a bit of a Lou Harper fan, and thoroughly enjoyed this book. (I also liked the sequel, Temper Sanguine.) I mean, how can you NOT love a vegetarian, half-Chinese, vampire named Harvey? His boyfriend Gabe is a vampire hunter – therefore instant conflict – and the path these two take to get together is a lot of fun.
6. Merrick by Claire Cray – My only complaint about Merrick is that it was too short! The premise isn’t a huge departure – young man is sent to apprentice with a mysterious older gentleman who turns out to be a vampire – but the voice is gorgeous and the period details pretty much nail the turn of the (19th) century atmosphere. The sequel is called William, and while I haven’t read it yet, I will…someday…
7. Stripped with the Vampire by Jax Garren – Stripped is more urban fantasy than romance, and the world is fairly complicated, with lots of layers among the paranormal characters (read: lots of opportunity for conflict). Vince and Charlie make a cute couple, though, and the supporting characters are well-drawn. It reminded me of the early books by Kim Harrison or Patricia Briggs, but, you know, with a gay couple at the center.
8. Blind Man’s Wolf by Amelia Faulkner – I read this in one sitting, when I should have been napping before a night shift. The whole idea of a blind vampire intrigued me, and I thought the author did an excellent job creating a believable blind character. Also, the story was hella entertaining. She’s still got it priced at $0.99, but you better one-click in case that goes away.
9. Cake (Blood Nation #1) by Derikica Snake – I haven’t read much yaoi/slash m/m – about the closest I’ve come is With Wings by Z Allora. This is a big story with lots of fantasy and sexy bits, and it has enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. I only downloaded the sample because the $9.99 price was a little bit much for a one-click, but if I love it, well, the heart wants what it wants…
10. Payback by Jordan Castillo Price – Now I did one-click this baby, because I love Jordan Castillo Price and I LOVE the cover art. This is book one in her Channeling Morpheus series, and another of her vampire stories, Hemovore, got quite a few mentions on my M/M Book recs query. Just to be thorough, Payback is #6 on the Goodreads list, and Hemovore is #9. Haven’t read either of them yet, but I will.
BONUS – Thirst by Lisa Worrall – I’d meant to stop at 10, but when I looked over the list I’d hadn’t mentioned yet, this one DEMANDED a spot in the post. This one has mystery and sexytimes and Los Angeles (read: Liv’s personal catnips) and I’m totally going to add it to my TBR pile!
BONUS(x2) – From Afar by Ava Marsh – This one gets a shout-out because it was mentioned by Amy Jo Cousins and she is the best with book recommendations. Also, it’s only the second historical m/m vampire story I’ve found and historical m/m is an even bigger weakness for me than mysteries set in L.A. (see above).
Now see? You’ve helped me identify some of the must-reads in the world of m/m vampire fic. I hope you found something you can one-click on – I know I sure did! And because I don’t mean to leave anyone out, here are a few more that were recommended by readers on the M/M Book Recs page or on the Goodreads list:
Angel of Darkness by Tyler May (QUICK UPDATE – I just one-clicked this one because it’s marked down to $0.99!)
I would like to do an informal poll this week. It’s regarding genre crossing. I’ve come across a few authors who can write both paranormal/urban fantasy and contemporary quite well. But recently, I found an author who can not only write both well, she’s managed to fully develop two series, one a contemporary and one an urban fantasy, in the same world. The characters from both series intermingle, are even related to each other in some cases. This, to me, is quite impressive.
At first I chose not to read the new series, the urban fantasy, because I was so unsure of how it would work. Now, I’m glad I did and can’t wait to read more. It takes talent to be able to meld both fantasy and contemporary into the same world and make it believable for the reader. As an author who loves to write both, I think seeing this in reality is a major win.
So my informal poll…what are your thoughts on crossing genres in the same world? Would you read the books or would you shy away from one or the other?
By the way…if you want to check out the series I’m talking about…the author is Candace Blevins. I will tell you, her contemporary series is very heavy in BDSM and the books are intense. The paranormal series isn’t quite as intense, but still very hot!
You know those dreams where you’re stripped naked in front of the whole class? Yeah, well I never had those until I started working as a server. Then I had dreams where I had the whole restaurant as my section, every table got sat at once, I couldn’t get drinks for everyone, they all got REALLY angry……
….and then my clothes disappeared.
That’s ever-so-slightly how I feel with THE MASKED SONGBIRD flapping around in the wild. It’s my book. One I wrote, finishing the final words two years to the day before this one. And now it’s out there for everyone to read.
It’s a little terrifying. They say life imitates art, and as I read through the .epub file I was given by my publisher, there were some things in the book that stuck out to me like a cowlick or a sore thumb or other things that stick out. More like a sore thumb, because as Buffy would say, “Do they really stick out? I mean, do you ever look at thumb and go, ‘Wow, that puppy is sore?'”
But I digress. The point is, you all probably won’t notice those things, but I see them in every chapter. Bits of my life and subconscious that got woven throughout this story without my active decision-making. One character has traits of several of my good friends and my own inner voice snapped together like a rubber-band ball. Sometimes his words sound just like my best friend Julia. He breathes Scotland and is a baker like Jordan. He comes through for people like my bosom friend Kristin. He’s an activist like my Albannach and National Collective friends, a painter like my mother and my uncle and my aunt and my grandmother and my grandfather and like another good friend of mine.
Yet another two characters share names with a friend who passed, a Scottish patriot and an historian who loved the legacy of his country and hoped for a better future for his daughter. His name, David Ross, became these two characters I love.
I didn’t mean to do any of that. Any of it. I guess “write what you know” just bled out like that. I wrote the book in six weeks two years ago — and barely had time to think. Some of it didn’t click until after I’d sent the final draft to my editor after my last chance to review. I sat straight up in bed at 3 in the morning wondering how in the world I’d missed all that.
And deeper still, the setting itself is so threaded through my soul that I can’t read the book without thinking about walking arm in arm across the bridge in Inverness in the cerulean summer gloaming at 2 AM with Julia and Jordan. Or see the aquamarine crescent that is Achmelvich Beach. I can’t think of the coming referendum without wondering what 18 September holds for my beloved Scotland; she’ll be fine either way. I just wonder. And hope. And however much my life ended up imitating my art, I can’t predict what will happen.
This post turned super mushy.
So sue me. Mah book just came out. If you don’t want to listen to me be mushy, well…
Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.
I had all kinds of ideas for this blog post, but instead of writing it I spent a chunk of today reading an urban fantasy novel by an author who was new to me and who shall remain nameless because I’m about to reveal a big ol’ spoiler in the interest of making my point.
The book has a pretty typical set-up for an UF – Our Heroine has superpowers and weapons and various other forms of badassery, and she gets involved in a case that might be impossible to solve, except for someone with her particular combination of skills. From the beginning, she’s shadowed by a Studly Authority Figure, who’s convinced she plays for the Bad Guys and wants to put her behind bars.
Studly Authority Figure is a mundane, and doesn’t understand anything about the paranormal world Our Heroine inhabits. He is also a wee bit attracted to her, something the author hints in the sections told from his POV, though the attraction’s wrapped up in a whole lot of antagonism.
Similar hints are woven through Our Heroine’s POV, laced with even more antagonism. They both blow so much smoke, you know the fire has to be there somewhere. Things escalate about midway through the story, when he gets tagged by a spell that turns him into a lust monster. She figures things out and reverses the spell, but gets caught in the blowback and is suddenly ready jump on board his naughty train.
They manage to stay out of bed, but the sexual tension definitely increases from that point on. Unfortunately (or fortunately) they have to work together to solve the case. Real trust starts to grow between them, and the intensity of the attraction builds. In the end, the only way Our Heroine survives the Final Battle is by holding onto the emotional connection they feel for each other.
And then she gets sucked back into the badness and spit out the other side.
And when they’re reunited, he’s apparently hooked up with Our Heroine’s best friend, leaving OH all sad and lonely, except for her pet werewolf and a Harpy who’s come over to play.
Oops, did I just give things away?
There’s no final section from Studly Authority Figure’s POV, no explanation for how or why he lost interest in Our Heroine and hooked up with her best friend, and certainly no final kiss.
Or even a near-miss kiss.
It pissed me right off.
See, I know that not every book is a romance (although really, why not?). Some of the very best love stories are never consummated, like the one in the October Daye novels by Seanan McGuire. She’s worked the heck out of the non-relationship between Toby and Tybalt, the King of the Cait Sidhe. I’m a couple books behind, so maybe they’ve finally kissed, but through book four, it’s been all about brief meetings, intense glances, and unstated desires.
Oh, and when one of them is in trouble, the other turns up ready to fight. If they ever get together, it’ll melt my Kindle.
The book I read today, however, did nothing to my Kindle except expose it to the risk of being flung across the room. If you’re going to set up the expectations of a romance, and build those expectations through 90% of the book, you can’t then aim a Best Friend Torpedo at them and expect it to work. I feel like the author betrayed my trust in the character she created. The storytelling was strong enough that the first thing I did after finishing was to go to Amazon to have a look at Book 2. I didn’t buy it, because the major plot line had Our Heroine and the Studly Authority Figure working through their mutual antagonism to get to a place of trust so they can solve the case.
Um… already read that.
The rules of the romance genre don’t necessarily apply to urban fantasy, but the rules of good writing do. I think the author of the book I read today had an ending in mind, and did what she needed to do to get to it, even if it meant a character behaved inconsistently. If you put off answering the will-they-or-won’t-they question, the payoff will be greater, and that’s fine, but don’t cut your reader off at the knees by making a promise you have no intention of keeping.
Wow! I feel so much better now for getting that off my chest. What do you think? Have you ever read a book with a twist at the end that just made you want to throw your Kindle across the room? Leave a note in the comments so I won’t accidentally download a copy.
Every December, I would start planning my birthday party. I’d write out a birthday list, figure out who I would invite, tell my mum the entire deal, and then flounce back to my room to figure out the details.
My birthday? It’s in November.
Looking back at that, it’s a surprise that when I started writing novels, I did it by the seat of my pants. Maybe that’s what happens when an INFJ tries to balance the intuitive with the judger.
I wrote my first two and a half novels (well, two and two halves) without any idea of what would come next aside from a vague sort of picture and once a brief outline. None of them worked. I couldn’t figure out why it took my beta readers months and months and death threats to return any feedback to me.
Nothing really motivated them enough to read my work. I couldn’t fathom why. I thought it was good. Maybe not perfect, but good.
Then about a year ago, I heard of something called “structure.”
For a while, this idea of structure eluded me like trying to catch smoke in a net. All the while, I felt like a really crappy Indiana Jones searching for relics on a waitress’s budget with no passport.
Which was sort of true. Except I have a passport.
It wasn’t until I read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks that something massive clicked in my head, like the giant boulder finding the perfect niche.
My first books didn’t work because they completely lacked structure. Every book, play, and screenplay follows a certain amount of rules. It’s what keeps tension going. It’s what moves the story along. At its core, it is the instinctual resonance of a narrative arc that goes back to the days where we all sat around in caves picking our teeth with splintered femurs while a clan storyteller regaled us with legends and myths and feuds about cows.
Plot and structure are lovers, and good plots have great structure. Amazing plots have exceptional structure.
Most creative people don’t stand up and cheer when someone mentions rules or rigid words like structure. But structure isn’t something with much wiggle room, and once I realised that, I found I had more creative freedom. Not less. Because learning about structure gave me what every wannabe published writer writes for: an audience.
Screenplays work in three acts, but I’m now convinced that novels don’t. Novels are subject to something that I (among more notable authors) like to call the Muddle. The Muddle is what happens when you take a beginning and an end and sit on them. They get squished underneath your bum until there’s just a flat squidgy place in the middle that looks suspiciously like the rear end that indented it.
Because of the Muddle, I like to think of novel structure in quadrants.
Quadrant 1: Bring It On
In the first 20-25% of a novel, we meet the main characters. The time bomb starts ticking, an inciting incident happens, we get a feel for the antagonist, and we get a glimpse of the protagonist’s “normal” before proceeding to pick it up and smash it to bits. (Those things don’t happen in that order.) If these things aren’t present, why would any reader go on?
The inciting incident may or may not be the same as the first plot point (or the break into Act II, as they say in film), but sometimes it is. But when it happens, it must propel the protagonist into a life-altering decision and give the first real glimpse of the antagonist.
Quadrant 2: Flailing in the Waves
After the protagonist’s Big Life-Altering Decision, she starts finding out that what she thought was an inconvenient puddle is really a mire of badness. Quadrant 2 is her reacting, wading in, flailing out, and probably not having the most success. This is also a reason to love the four quadrants as opposed to one big second act — the protagonist’s flailing in Quadrant 2 leads up to the single biggest turning point in the novel: the midpoint.
Halfway through, your protagonist has another decision. This time it has to move her from reacting into being proactive. She has to learn information that forces her to move from lowly, nose-picking protagonist to chest-puffed hero.
Quadrant 3: Take the Fight
The third quadrant pushes the protagonist into fighting back against the aggressors, whether the antagonist is a specific person or many people or a fleet of rabid ants. She might not (probably won’t) always come out on top in these little skirmishes, but she has to try.
Quadrant 3 is your last chance for exposition, your last stand of the big reveals that culminates in your second plot point (or break into Act III — because big reveals after that plot point annoy readers and viewers alike. I think M. Night Shyamalan needs to read Story Engineering. A giant twist 10 pages from the end might seem snazzy, but it does nothing but confuse and cheat your readers.
Quadrant 4: Boom, Bam, Bow
After you bust the door down into this last quadrant, your story ought to be rolling down the hill like an unsupervised Violet Beauregard on an incline. It should roll smoothly toward the climactic final confrontation, and from there into a nice little meadow filled with tied-up subplots and dandelions.
That’s why I turned in my pantser card. While I had enough of a feel for structure to get turning points in the right place, they weren’t as effective because I could never verbalise what made them strong or weak. Knowing what needs to go where freed me up — especially when I started plucking books off my shelves to check up on these things. Pick up great books, and you’ll see that their quadrants all line up almost exactly.
I might not outline the entire book down to its toenails, but I will make sure I know certain things. And because I love you, here’s Emmie’s Magical Pre-Plot Checklist!
Who is my protagonist, what does she want, and why does she want it?
Who is my antagonist, what does she want, and why does she want it?
What is the central conflict of the story? What are three other layers of that conflict?
What is my first plot point? How will it show the antagonist threat for the first time and goose my character into the next quadrant?
What is my midpoint? What information will change my protagonist’s goals, mindset, and plan enough to propel her into proactivity?
What is my second plot point? What information must my protagonist have before the climax? What can shake her and still push her to be stronger? Does she need a “dark night of the soul?”
What is my climax? How is my protagonist going to beat my antagonist?
This is now my bare minimum for starting on page one — and I prefer to get more in-depth than that, at least when it comes to my characters if not the precise lining out of chapters. If nothing else, it helps avoid the Muddle!
How do you plot? Do you plot? Have you had to deal with the Silence of the Beta Readers? Do you actively think about the structure of your novels, or do you wing it? Does it work? Are you hating me right now? 🙂
Thanks for bearing with a long first post — I promise next time I’ll be more succinct.