A whine

Okay, so I’m reading this book, a highly recommended book. It’s so good, someone went onto Youtube and raved about it. That’s how I learned of it.

It’s traditionally published. It has a distinctive voice. The characters are sorta interesting, but I feel like I’m reading backstory, embellished in a pretty way. How does this happen in our day and age? Readers are sophisticated and educated. They know story structure. Even my daughter learns it in High School. I don’t understand.

I’m 10% into the book and I’m still waiting for the story to start. Writers beware. If you want your story read, tell a story, not backstory. And make a reader care. So far, I can take or leave the main character. As a writer, I know writing a character is hard and it takes years of practice to get right. I’m still working on it.

Right now, I’m dangerously close to putting the book down. Forever. All that writer’s effort on pretty backstory – wasted. All that writer’s effort on the whole book – undiscovered. That’s if I put the book down, which is looking more probable than not.

Only because I’m expecting the book to improve do I persevere, but all that pretty backstory, I’m going to skim read, I’m not going to read-read anymore. I don’t have time for backstory. No one does. It’s so annoying to buy a book, and a traditionally published book at that, only get backstory. Perhaps my standards are high? I expect a lot from a book. I expect a story. But, don’t you too?

Whine over 🙂

Delayed Gratification

When is the last time you really dissected a favourite book?

For the readers among you, let’s be naked honest… not ever. Honestly, why bother? Readers want to enjoy a damned good story, and how it works doesn’t matter. Not a whit.

Yet, for any writers, we’re constantly trying to decipher what makes a good book, a GOOD BOOK or a good show, A GOOD SHOW or a good movie, A GOOD MOVIE. Aren’t we? Go on, authors, raise a sheepish hand… *GRIN*

Something I’ve noticed in my dissection of different media – a secret withheld leads to delayed gratification for the reader/viewer.

Therefore, I find it is useful to remember the kind of experience I want for a reader. And I want them to experience delayed gratification.

To do this, I withhold a secret and use hints/foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the book, with a revelation (a few) at the climax.

So, the secrets will hopefully arouse audience curiosity. Hints/foreshadowing should feed that curiosity. My readers will hopefully be guessing the book’s secrets as they read. I predict they’ll guess some secrets, but not all of them.

What are books with a similar ability to deliver delayed gratification? Big Little Lies springs to mind. Read it or seen it? If not, then do.

And I’m not suggesting my book will be as good as my examples, but these are close to what I’m trying to achieve – in YA fantasy.

All the way through Big Little Lies we wonder, ‘who got murdered?’ But when we learn the secret, we are hit with not one secret (or twist), but two. And each “twist” has it’s own trail of breadcrumbs throughout the story, so the reader/viewer is satisfied at the end because the trail of breadcrumbs has made the ending inevitable. And the “twists” make the revelation of the secret, i.e. who got murdered, oh so satisfying.

If we’d known the secret ahead of time, the “twists” would have lost their impact. There would be no tension. What reader enjoys no tension?

What about in Great Expectations? *SPOILERS* don’t read the following paragraph if you haven’t read this book.

Pip meets a frightful man in the first chapter. Later we learn Pip has a mysterious benefactor. It’s only around the 70% mark, we learn this secret i.e. who is this mysterious benefactor?… and he is the frightful man of the first chapter. If the reader knew that at the outset, then how could’ve Dickens built such a mystery around it?

That’s the art of delayed gratification at play.

If it suits your story, try to achieve the experience of delayed gratification in your own work.

Can you name a book using delayed gratification?

Why trust me?

There is a plethora of writing advice out there. So much to choose from you virtually get lost in a sea of advice. And who do you trust? Why even trust me?

Let me give you some background and let you decide.

I’ve been writing since eleven. Those first years were more plotting than writing. For the first decade after school, I paused writing in order to study law. After passing and being admitted as a lawyer, I started writing again. My first book. A romance. Written without a clue. Afterwards, I wanted to try my hand at fantasy. So, I began to learn the craft. I’ve followed blogs like Nathan Bransford’s blog since way back then. All the while writing that fantasy. This time I wrote I following the three Act structure. I even received a place in a writing contest.

And I finished my fantasy.

But, by gosh, it was rubbish. So I scrapped half, and tried again. I finished again. Still crap. Scrapped the new half again. I finished again. I told the story from three points of view. I wasn’t up to that challenge yet. I paused to have three kids.

A stroke only 10% of people survive derailed my legal career. Not my hopes of writing. After 15 months in hospital, I wrote my memoir which was signed by an agent in a week. Unfortunately, although publishers loved it, they felt it was for too much of a niche market to make them enough money. So, it’s now self published upon my agent’s recommendation.

Back to my fantasy, typing with three fingers on my non-dominant hand. I realised, I needed to concentrate on one main character. I’d bit off more than I could chew. I wrote a main character and discovered, it wasn’t his story! So I scrapped another 60,000 words. I needed to learn how to tackle one character first, before I tried more than one. I needed to learn so much: character arc, show don’t tell, recognising passive voice, dialogue, subtext, character motivation, character goals, foreshadowing, writing the antagonist and the list goes on. And I needed to twist any tropes to make my story interesting.

I think I ended up deleting those 20,000 words I’d kept too.

The last two years I’ve spent reading books on the craft, reading blogs, critiquing manuscripts, watching YouTube videos on the craft and writing. And seeing as I can’t walk, that’s two years 9-12am, bum in seat. Plus, the first half of this year I’ve also been involved in a weekly critique group.

As a side, the most recent books to transform my writing? Dazzling Dialogue and How to Write a Dynamite Scene.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s when I begin to type, “Harry killed the zombies to clear the path.” I stop and consider the “to clear the path” (anything that follows ‘to’). Do I need it? Am I telling too much (chances are, it’s a yes)? Shouldn’t I let a reader infer what’s happening (chances are that’s a yes too)? ‘To’ and what follows can be justified, but it’s a question of judgement. Unless this is a first book (and it’s not), I’ll stop myself. It helps I’m forced to type slow. I can’t speak for all the able bodied writers out there.

So I ask, can you trust me? There will those who think ‘yes’ and there will be those who think ‘no’. And that’s fine. Either way, happy writing!

 

Finished

I’m excited. I’ve finished my fantasy! Yippee! Now the hard work begins. Editing. And editing. And, once again editing. Then I’ll be ready for Beta Readers. Once I hear from them, it’ll mean listening and incorporating their advice (anything that jars). After that’s done, it’ll Hopefully be in time for the professional (New York) editor I’ve booked in June. Then I’ll need to take on board her comments.

I choose the path of employing a professional editor because I will not traditionally publish. I will self publish (I’ll become what the industry call an “Indie”).

After the professional editor, I’ll need to source a quality cover before I publish hopefully around Christmas.

I’m thankful the industry is far more accepting of Indie publishers these days. It is no longer considered “vanity” publishing. There are quality indie authors out there. Sure, a publisher can get you exposure in many bookstores but I’m not that ambitious.

So this year is on track for now. Watch it derail, knowing my luck!

First sentences from my stash

I began an exercise today in taking note of how authors began their book, to see what it was about a first sentence that engaged a reader. Interesting results, so I thought I’d share them from my eclectic collection (not all, just ones that grabbed me). Here they are (book cover first, then first sentence from that book):

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

The_Fellowship_of_the_Ring_cover

“This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history.”

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” ‘We should start back,’ Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. ‘The wildlings are dead.'”

Wizard's_First_Rule

“It was an odd-looking vine.”

hunger-games

“”When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”

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“Rek was drunk.”

Robin_Hobb_-_Assassin's_Quest_Cover

“I awake every morning with ink on my hands.”

SaraDouglass_Battleaxe

“The woman struggled through the knee-deep snow, the bundle of dead wood she had tied to her back almost as great a burden as the weight of the child in her belly.”

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“She came out of the store just in time to see her young boy playing on the sidewalk directly in the path of the grey, gaunt man who strode down the centre of the walk like a mechanical derelict.”

Daggerspell_Cover

“In the hall of light, they reminded her of her destiny.”

Twilightbook

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die…”

Soulless_by_Gail_Carriger_1st_edition_cover

“Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening.”

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“Dear Diary,

Something awful is going to happen today.

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

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“Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken.”

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“Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal light is you have to die.”

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“I felt her fear before I heard her screams.”

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“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”

Post your favourite line in the comments.

Point of View

I never had any doubt, for years I have written (on and off) my fantasy novel in third person. Then, suddenly, doubt barged in. I began The Shifter by Janice Hary and she writes first person so well I instantly wondered, “Is this how I can best tell my story?”

So, I went to a worldwide fantasy forum for their advice. I received excellent advice and one member taught me a neat trick. Write in first person to get in the head of my character then turn that into third person. The result? I feel more emerged in what’s happening to my character. This was exactly what I needed. Stellar advice.

P.S. The West Wing taught me another speech beat this week – trochee, so DUM dee 🙂

A Character Sketch

This is a short character sketch. Heads up – if you think a secret affair, you’d be wrong!

Tristan smiled back, assured, at his co-worker and they parted ways in the crisp, white corridor. If only he knew the truth, there is no way he could smile a goodbye. He’d escort his twisted arse – blue scrubs and all – out the hospital doors … never to return. Instead, his mop-haired co-worker allowed his lanky bod go with an innocent, parting smile. Tristan turned, nudged the horn rimmed glasses he didn’t need in place and a slow, lazy grin brightened his face as he made his way to the emergency rooms rubbing the engraved disk at his neck. The Emergency Rooms were the perfect place to hide his true identity.

Last night satisfied him like never before – what had it been? Was last night sweeter because the woman was his co-worker’s wife? He wanted that satisfaction again.

Tristan arrived at the emergency rooms as nurses bustled to the urgent bidding of doctors behind curtains.

“Tristan, over here,” yelled a doctor. “Get a bag A+ blood. Set up a transfusion. Quickly.”

Every fibre of his being fought the mischief of setting up an O negative transfusion instead, but he resisted. He wasn’t throwing away all he’d worked for. He hadn’t travelled half way across this world in this body, in the prime of its life, to upset the rare, exhilarating moments like last night.

The memory of last night kept him steady and he set up the A+ transfusion as asked. If he did as asked, then he’d blend and despite having to behave going against his very nature. Besides, he feared to lose the gift he’d been given. If anyone guessed his true identity, he’d become a lab rat if she didn’t destroy him first. For now, his fun needed to remain in the shadows and seem unconnected to him. Life was a prison controlled by the disk sealed around his neck and her.

 

Christmas Writing Challenge

This is my bizarre and fantastical entry in our Christmas Writing Challenge. Excuse language.

Title: Disbelief

No! No, no. Not yet! Don’t do it. I’m not ready. Time. Stay where you are. Pretty please.

The clock flicked to 1 December.

Dammit! He shook his head. This time of year came around way too fast. Time to get to work and, boy, did he have his work cut out for him. Yes, throughout the year he had spun his web of truths, hopefully turning some people into Disbelievers, but December was his peak time. There were fake Santas’ to infiltrate into shopping centres across the world, the bullies in schools to persuade and the cheap, fake Santa suits to hand out to any Joe Blow on the street.

His war against that fake guy was on full blast this year.

Rumours abounded, that dick who called himself “Santa” planned to use magic. Fuck, how could he compete against magic? Of all things… freaking magic?

He’d have to up the ante this year, but how?

His mind came up blank.

Then, a semi-idea formed. Maybe the trick was to cast a light on Jesus and take the spotlight away from the red guy? After all, wasn’t Christmas about the birth of Christ anyway? Not the guy in the red suit?

That’s what he’d do. Hopefully it was enough, and it was the truth.

He’d approach popular churches like Hillsong or some such other church. They’d help. A message of Christ’s birth over Santa would surely make thousands if not millions flock to his cause. The more disbelief he spread then the satisfaction of his success could only bleed around him.

The Lord of Disbelief, also known as the Bringer of Truth, slammed his fist into his desk, making pens, phone and computer jolt. Those rumours better be just that … rumours. If the rumours dared truth, the red guy intended to infuse every tree bauble in the world with belief. The moment anyone touched a tree bauble they’d believe in Santa. All the year’s work in schools across the world, all his Instagram and Snap Chat, insinuating Santa a fake, would be for naught.

His phone beeped. He picked it up, glanced at it and threw it on the table. The war had started already. Damn PNP Santa Claus app! The app claimed to send a message from the big guy and that merely encouraged belief. Now they offered it in six new languages. Curse the red guy for thinking of that one.

He rethought his plan of action and realised he couldn’t chance the truth of the rumour. Drastic action was necessary and he hoped he could pull it off. Fingers flew over his keyboard. First, letters to churches (a backup) then a special letter to North Korea. They’d help.

 

Three weeks later and today was the day. The Lord of Disbelief won today. No more Christmas could exist if the North Pole was bombed. Could it? And North Korea agreed today was the day. The strong reminder of the birth of Jesus underlined the Western world and was icing – delectable icing – on the cake.

He stared at the computer screen watching for the news to break. He bit his nails to the quick. Hours passed. His tea went cold, undrunk. Nothing. He didn’t understand? Did he have the day wrong?

His mobile phone rang. He stared at it. No. Don’t let it be. How could it be? He picked up the phone.

A Korean voice softly spoke, “We sorry, we tried. We have the right coordinates. We sorry. Bomb flied true but exploded above target.”

He hung up. Dejected.

What was disbelief when pitted against the magic of belief? At least the reminder of Christ survived. He gave up. Belief won. That fucking red guy won. Curse him.

 

 

Writing Challenges

I’ve happened upon a great online writer’s group. Our challenge this time was to create a short story with a “naughty” theme. This is my G rated contribution.

“‘The Dragon Hunter is here, madam’ said Mavis, her servant, poking a head around the study door.

Isabeau’s heart raced. Could he suspect? What had he heard? Was he alone? She must escape the manor, unnoticed, and warn Zinnath to fly away.

She straightened her back and placed both palms, face down, on her mahogany desk. ‘Show him in, Mavis,’ she said, and steeled herself.

Mavis returned shortly. ‘Dragon Hunter, Brice, madam.’

A tall man entered her study. The moment their eyes locked, Isabeau knew she was in trouble. Instantly, they appraised the other worthy. A spark ignited. Brice strode over to the front of the desk. The sword and axe on his belt jangled. She smelled a musky sweat as he neared.

She screwed up her nose and held out a delicate gloved hand to bely her confidence. His hand encased her hand. His solid, crushing, grip gave her chills. ‘I’m Isabeau. You’ll not find any dragons here,’ she said, as she warily took in his weapons.

‘Really?’ he said. ‘I’ll stay a week and snoop around. If that’s ok? Quash the rumours you’re a Dragon Protector?’

‘A spiteful rumour,’ she admonished with all the distain she could muster as her heart kicked in her chest. She walked on thin ice. ‘Snoop around. I don’t hide anything.’ She smiled and threw her long black hair over her shoulder.

He pulled up a chair. ‘You don’t mind if I sit?’

Isabeau watched him sit. ‘Um. If you wish.’ She dropped to her chair. ‘I have a few letters to write. Pretty ordinary stuff.’

Brice’s eyes narrowed as he leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. ‘Tell me, how does a respectable, beautiful lady of a large manor have rumours circulating about her sympathies toward dragons?’

‘I believe dragons are no threat.’ She held her chin up. ‘I’m not backward about admitting it or talking about it.’

‘Dragons killed my brother,’ he said, deadpan. ‘They are a threat.’

Isabeau squeezed her hands together. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘Dragons will respond if threatened. It’s a natural instinct. You can’t blame them for acting naturally.’ He glowered. ‘I’ll write now,’ she said and sheepishly picked up a pen.

For the rest of the afternoon, Isabeau was shadowed, whenever she left her desk, by the clink of Brice’s weapons. Beads of sweat trickled down her forehead. She furtively wiped them away before Brice noticed. How could she warn Zinnath with a constant tail?

The next day, rain pounded on the roof and Brice began snooping around, as promised. During the morning he questioned staff, looked in rooms and checked the stables. Isabeau gnawed on her nails when not writing letters. Her younger sister darted in after lunch.

‘Brice wants to see me next,’ she announced. ‘He’s nice. I like him. Did you know he’s considered one of the top dragon hunters? He’s brave. He’s killed a dragon and lived, which is more than anyone else.’

Isabeau stood and strode to grab her sister’s hands. ‘Killing a dragon is the height of cruelty. I wouldn’t be proud,’ she said, harshly and fiercely – passions incensed. She took a breath and continued firmly, ‘You must lie,’ she stressed. ‘Brice will kill Zinnath, given the chance. Zinnath is harmless but Brice won’t believe that. You can’t tell Brice about the cave. Do you understand?’ Isabeau regretted taking her sister to meet Zinnath. ‘Please? Arisa?’

‘Before Father died – he said it was wrong to lie,’ said Arisa, reefed her hands free and stormed out – like the petulant, spoilt child she was.

Isabeau stared after her sister – devasted. If Arisa spoke out, Zinnith was as good as dead. Isabeau planned on warning him tonight but she had no choice. It was now or never.

She crept to the doorway and looked left and right. Clear. With exaggerated steps, she tip toed across the dining hall, avoided the long table, and darted into the conservatory. At the back door, she stole another glance around. Clear. Staring at the rain, she shook her head.

She opened the door and ran over the uneven ground to the stables. In moments, her dress clung to her body. Inside the stables, out of the rain, she ran full hurtle – bang, smack – into Brice. She felt like a naughty child, caught in a naughty act – in her own home. She looked down, water dripped on the ground from her hair.

Brice grabbed her bare hands, annoyed. She jumped, startled by his presence and the feel of his rough, calloused hands. She’d never felt bare hands before. Bad manners. She puffed as her heart slowed.

‘Going somewhere?’ he whispered, thickly, still holding her wet hands.

She looked to his hands, holding hers, up to his eyes. Her heart started to pound.

‘I saw you come out here. I was curious,’ she lied. ‘You’ve already been here. What else is there here?’

He considered her and dropped her hands. He took a step back.

‘Lady Isabeau,’ he said, accusingly. ‘What games do you play? This is serious. There is more to the rumours, isn’t there?’

At least Arisa wouldn’t have to lie. She took a deep breath, ran fingers behind her ear to get some wet hair off her face, and plunged ahead. ‘What if I said there was?’

‘Is there a dragon nearby?’

‘I’ll only answer you, if you promise not to kill him,’ she said.

‘Him, is it?’

‘Promise?’

‘I’ll promise for as long as it’ll take me to ride for reinforcements. What you do in my absence can’t be helped,’ he said.

In her jubilation – she could warn Zinnath and he could fly away – she grabbed Brice’s biceps. ‘Really? You’d do that?’ his biceps flexed as he gently removed her hands. Her eyes roved, up and down, over the wet dress clinging to her body. ‘I marvel at your loyalty. I don’t agree with you but I can’t help begrudgingly admire you. You really believe dragons misunderstood?’

‘I do,’ she said with conviction.

‘Dinner, tonight? Before I go?’

Isabeau blushed. ‘Tonight in my dining hall, it is. I must go. Follow me, if you dare.’

She rushed toward the cave. Plunging into the rain, through the trees, with a swaying purpose.

Slowly, shaking his head, Brice smiled and followed her lithe frame.”