Monday, January 25, 2010

When You Run Out of Story Part 2

In my last post, I responded to a young writer who asked what to do when you hit the wall after 25-50 pages. I discussed how layering conflict and characters can expand the scope of story from novelette to novel.
A second reason your story may fall short is if you are delivering your story too much in narrative instead of scene. Your story may involve lots of characters and lots of conflict, but you are not allowing your reader to experience it properly.
Consider a movie, and then consider somebody telling you about that movie. It takes a lot less time to have someone tell you the movie than to experience it. Not only that, it’s boring, right?
Make sure the important events in your story happen onstage, with a full cast and dialogue. It takes more space, but it’s much more effective.

Here’s a pivotal scene delivered in narrative:
Raisa was just getting ready to leave Jemson’s office when a scruffy-looking boy burst in. Amon recognized him as Han “Cuffs” Alister, streetlord of the Raggers gang, who was suspected of several murders. But when Amon tried to arrest Cuffs, the streetlord grabbed Raisa and threatened to cut her throat.

That doesn’t take much space, does it? Not very interesting, is it?

Here’s the same events in scene:
They turned toward the door, but before they could reach it somebody barreled through it. It was a young man, Raisa’s age, or a little older, with muddy red-brown hair, dressed in clan leggings and shirt.
“Jemson! Three of the Raggers have been nabbed by the bluejackets. Seems they mean to make an example of….” His voice trailed off when he saw the people gathered in the room. “Oh. Sorry, Sir. I didn’t know you had company.”
His eyes flicked to Averill, then Amon, and widened in alarm.
He recognizes them, Raisa thought.
“Let’s discuss this later, Hanson,” Jemson said quickly, jerking his head toward the door.
Hanson began backing from the room, but Amon said, “Wait! What’s that about Raggers?”
The boy blinked at him, blank-faced. “Raggers? I didn’t say nothing about Raggers.”
“Yes, you did,” Amon said, walking purposefully toward Hanson. “Have we met? You look familiar.”
“Ah, no,” the boy said. “Not likely.” He was tall, nearly as tall as Amon, though more slender in build, with brilliant blue eyes. His face bore evidence of a recent beating. His right eye was blackened and there was a blue and yellow bruise over one cheekbone. His right forearm was splinted, but he didn’t favor it. He seemed to be trying to keep his face turned away from them, as if he was embarrassed by his injuries.
This must be one of Jemson’s students, Raisa thought, with a rush of sympathy.
“What happened to you?” she asked, moving closer so she could examine his face at close range. She touched his arm. “Who did this?”
Hanson flushed. “Wasn’t nothing. Just…my da. Gets mean sometimes when he’s in his cups.”
Just then Amon’s hand snaked forward. He gripped the boy’s splinted arm and raked back his sleeve, exposing a wide silver cuff. “So, Hanson,” he said. “I think we have met, after all. You ever go by the name Cuffs?” he said.
Cuffs? Raisa looked from Amon to the other boy. Wasn’t that the gangleader who’d killed all those people?
Then it seemed like everything happened at once. The boy slammed his free fist into Amon’s face and twisted away with the ease of long practice. Amon drew his sword and stepped between the boy and the door, yelling for the guard. And then the boy called Cuffs grabbed hold of Raisa, drawing her back tight against him. She felt the prick of a blade at her throat and tried hard not to swallow.
“Hanson, no!” Speaker Jemson shouted, pale with horror.
“Now then,” Cuffs said, close to her ear. “Back off or I cut the girlie’s throat.” His voice shook a little, with fear or nerves or excitement—Raisa couldn’t tell.
Raisa thought of the six, dead in the street. Tortured, they said. Done by this pretty blue-eyed boy holding the knife. –The Demon King

Which is more interesting?
Delivering action in scene will not only make your work longer, but will engage readers more effectively.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Young Writer Writes,
I recently started writing about a year ago. All my friends say i have really good ideas but I keep hitting a wall. I plan everything out but for some odd reason at like 35- 50 pages i run out of ideas....It is very frustrating... :/ Do you have any advice?

Dear YW,
This malady is common in writers, old and young, and it may happen for several different reasons. You may find my earlier post on Writer’s Block helpful.
If you run out of plot before your novel is of publishable length, you may be writing a short story. There may not be enough characters and conflict to warrant a novel-length work.
If you want to write a novel, you will need to introduce more conflict, characters, and subplots. New writers tend to be very linear in their thinking. This is the character, this is the problem, and this is what happens. It doesn’t take much space to deliver that kind of story. In writing a first draft, allow your mind the freedom to create connections and conflicts that you hadn’t anticipated or planned at the front end.
Play the “what-if” game. What if, in addition to being besieged by wizards at home, Raisa’s mother plans to marry her off as soon as she turns 16 to a suitor who might cause a civil war? Plus, the young soldier Raisa is in love with is ignoring her, and the ambitious prince of a neighboring country is threatening to invade?
What if Jack’s aunt actually turns out to be….
Consider yourself—your life is full of dramas, big and small. Consider your friends. They all have their own agendas, relationships, conflicts, and desires.
Layer those other conflicts and subplots onto your skeleton of story in order to flesh it out.
Here are some examples:
In addition to being the last of a guild of magical warriors being hunted by wizards to play in a magical tournament to the death, Jack’s girlfriend just broke up with him and the town bully is out to get him, and he doesn’t get along with the principal at the high school, and he doesn’t know if he’s going to make the soccer team. –The Warrior Heir
Not only is Seph a wizard who can’t control his powers, he’s been booted out of every school he’s attended, he’s an orphan who has recently lost his foster mother, and he’s responsible for the death of a friend. –The Wizard Heir
Madison Moss wants to be an artist, but there’s no money for college and her mother is flighty and irresponsible, leaving Madison to care for her younger siblings. A local coal company wants to force her off the mountain she loves. Plus Madison is thought to be a witch in her home town. –The Wizard Heir
More on this topic in my next post.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Princess Central

So I’m at Walt Disney World, World Headquarters of princesses. There are many princess and princess-like characters on the prowl here. Little girls can sign up to attend special Princess dining events including Perfectly Princess Tea parties ($250 for two,) Princess Storybook dining and Cinderella’s Happily Ever After dinners.
  Everywhere I turn, there are princesses in frilly yellow and pink and purple dresses with lace sleeves and flounces.

 It’s tough to be a princess when the rains begin and you have to put a poncho over your gown.

I found a princess dancing in the rain to the British Invasion Beatles tribute band in the UK pavilion.

And I shared a story with a real fairytale princess here.

  They even had pink and green camouflage princess caps.

Here’s the thing--I saw no princes at all. There are no prince luncheons—not even pirate beach parties or brigand barbecues, though you can dine with Mickey, Donald, and other Disney characters.
No wonder princesses have to hang with the rest of us—there does seem to be a prince shortage!
We take the Three Caballeros boat tour through “Old Mexico” at Epcot. In the seat behind us a young pirate is wailing. “It’s all right honey,” his parents croon. “This isn’t one of those scary rides.”
Next to him sits his princess sister in fancy dress and face paint, singing along to the Caballeros.
“Hey,” I say, twisting around in my seat. “I usually don’t see princesses hanging out with pirates. This isn’t a kidnapping situation, is it?”
The pirate stops sniffling and stares at me.
“It’s more like the princess kidnapped the pirate,” Mom says.

My kind of princess.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Problem with Princesses

I’m ambivalent about princesses.
When I was a girl, my mother made me a princess costume one year for Hallowe’en. I was a princess, and my sister was an angel (this likely represented some wishful thinking on my mother’s part.)
My princess costume was tasteful gray satin with cathedral sleeves and a velvet bodice, and included a tall, conical princess hat with a scarf flying from the top. I almost immediately lost the hat, but I wore the dress all through winter and spring. I wore that dress until I could no longer shoehorn my growing self into it.
In recent years I was a regular patron of medieval dinners. Did I dress as a serving girl, or even a member of the burgeoning middle class? Oh, no—why squander a perfectly good opportunity to wear princess bling? I mean, princesses rule. Or they should.
But in traditional tales, princesses are too often passive creatures: waiting for rescue by someone else; held captive in towers, and enchanted by witches (and not in a good way). The archetypical princess is beautiful, kind-hearted, delicate and swoony. They spend a lot of time dreaming of their one true love, who miraculously turns out to be a prince—or at least a knight who can be polished up.
When a knight wins a kingdom, a princess is thrown in to sweeten the deal. They are often the equivalent of the winner’s purse when it comes to valiant quests, witch hunts, etc.
Sometimes I find myself rooting for the witch.
Princesses should be powerful figures, yet so often they are not--in literature, drama, and film, anyway. These days we have fire fighters and police officers, not firemen and policemen. But there are no princepersons. Princess is one of the few jobs that have retained that gender-specific title—perhaps because princes and princesses have had very different roles. Princes make things happen; princesses have things happen to them.
One of the viewpoint characters in the Seven Realms series is a princess. I almost cringe when I have to say that in my elevator speech. No, not that kind of princess, I want to say. Raisa is a kick-butt princess, frustrated with the expectations and restrictions of court life. She is the heir to the throne, and she intends to seize control of her future and create change in her queendom.

While she knows how to navigate a ballroom and salon, she spends much of her time in leggings and deerskin overshirt, hunting with her father’s clan relatives. This princess carries knives, and she knows how to use them.
For example, Raisa is attacked in an alley by a drunken assailant. After disabling him with streetfighting techniques, she presses a knife to her attacker’s throat.
“You touch me again, you arrogant Ardenine swine, and I swear on the blood of Hanalea the warrior, I will geld you. Do you understand?”

One of my readers described Raisa as a playgirl—and she is. Like many a princeling before her, she intends to play the field before she makes a political marriage. She is a cynic when it comes to love—at first, anyway.
NEXT: Princess Central

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Exiled Queen Coming September 28, 2010

I've been getting a lot of requests for information about the sequel to The Demon King. Since my website is under construction, I thought I would post a sneak preview here on my blogs.

This is the preliminary cover art. It will be used on the galley of The Exiled Queen, but is not the final version.
 Below is a draft of the flap copy for The Exiled Queen. WARNING: If you've not read The Demon King, there be spoilers below! Proceed at your own risk!!

Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, hunted by the powerful Bayar family, Han Alister makes a devil’s bargain with the clans. If they sponsor his schooling at Mystwerk  Academy at Oden’s Ford, he will become their magical sell-sword against the power-hungry Wizard Council.
Han and his clan friend Fire Dancer undertake the dangerous journey south through war-torn Arden. Once in Oden’s Ford, it doesn’t take long for the smoldering feud between Han and Micah Bayar to kindle into flame. After several attempts on his life, Han knows he has to find a way to defend himself.
In the magical dream world of Aediion, Han meets the mysterious Crow, a wizard with a long-standing grudge against the Bayars. Crow offers to tutor Han in wizardry in exchange for his help. Han agrees, once again forced into a bargain he hopes he won’t regret.
Meanwhile, Han’s friends Fire Dancer and Cat Tyburn struggle with their own demons. Dancer is determined to become a clan flashcrafter, despite his charmcaster status. Cat carries a load of guilt, as the only survivor of the slaughter of the gangs in Ragmarket and Southbridge.
Resuming her disguise as gently-born Rebecca Morley, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna travels with her friend Amon Byrne and his triple of cadets to Wien House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. There she hopes she will find both temporary sanctuary from a forced marriage and the education she needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.
Much of Raisa’s education takes place outside of the classroom. As she mingles with students of all classes from throughout the Seven Realms, she forges the kind of friendships that don’t happen amid the cut-throat politics of the Gray Wolf Court. She also struggles to deal with her attraction to Amon—an attraction he seems determined to discourage. 
When Han Alister asks the girl he knows as Rebecca to tutor him, she agrees. The streetlord turned wizard with the complicated past fascinates her, and he makes it clear the interest is mutual. But Han blames Queen Marianna and the Bayars for the loss of his family. As their relationship deepens, Raisa suspects that if Han knew her true identity, he wouldn’t want anything to do with her.