Tweaking the intro to Prophecy of Power: Prey

Following some feedback I’ve played with the introduction to my upcoming novel. I think it’s much better than it was, but then I (wrongly) thought it was pretty good beforehand too. I’ve got a lot more work to do throughout, but I’m hoping this is a good start.

Please let me know what you think:A drawing of a golden rose

Prophecy of Power: Prey – opening of Chapter 1

Princess Caroline duFandelyon jolted awake, unable to breathe from the pain cramping every muscle. Perspiration broke out despite the cold.

It took an excruciatingly long moment for the pain to pass, but when it did she managed to roll to her back with a soft moan. Dreading she knew what to expect, she slowly raised her bare arms above her face. “By the Higher Realm, no,” she whispered as she stared at her skin. A luminous bell-shaped alimoth flower marked each wrist like an artist’s sketch ready to be filled in. The softly-glowing flowers were the symbol of Marnier du Shae, Goddess of Healing.

The Goddess had put a claim on her.

It had to be punishment for her temerity in coming to consecrated ground under false pretences, though the abbey wasn’t her choice. At her parents’ command she’d travelled under the guise of piety, secretly hiding her pregnancy and later the birth of her illegitimate child. Now that she was preparing to leave, the Goddess of Healing had taken her revenge by demanding lifelong service as if Caroline had been genuinely seeking it.

“Please, don’t ask this of me,” she whispered, unable to take her eyes from the luminous markings. “Your abbey…” Was what? Little but a convenient deception? She’d even lied to her best friends about her reasons for coming here.

And now she was being made to pay for her deceits. If Caroline denied the Goddess now she’d be deprived of the Goddess’s graces her entire life, but if she accepted the outlines would fill in and she’d be bound to serve the Goddess forever. She wanted neither.

A blessing to anyone else, she couldn’t imagine a worse rebuke, not even death. The luminous outlines were a punishment almost as heartbreakingly harsh as the loss of the child she’d had to give up.

Fortunately, the King’s Guard had arrived with orders to return her to Fandelyon City immediately, a perfect solution to defer the unwanted choice. She meant to be mounted and out the gates before a Divine Servant noticed her markings and forced her to confront her calling.

Hands trembling, she took a deep breath and pulled her heavy covers back, the cold hardwood floor smooth under her bare feet. She quickly removed her yellow nightgown, pulled on her warm grey riding dress and boots and threw her royal-blue travel cloak around her shoulders.

Her clothes were tight, but there was no time to get them altered. She’d worn only the order’s pale yellow robes since last autumn and she’d grown several inches taller in that time. Wider too, thanks to her child.

Footsteps approached along the corridor as she tied her hair back. She tried not to show anything but the grace of a princess as the novice Bharise stopped at her open doorway, the acolyte’s olive skin and dark curly hair setting off her pale robes.

Caroline caught her breath when she noticed the shimmering alimoth flowers on the insides of the young Servant’s wrists – something she’d never been able to see before. A nightmare. It had to be.

“Everything’s prepared, Your Highness,” Bharise said, staring up at Caroline as if she noticed something different.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush. The girl knew, somehow. “Thank you, Bharise. I’ll be down in a moment.” As the acolyte’s footsteps retreated, Caroline buried her face in her spare riding dress as if she could smother her growing distress. She needed the support of her mother or sisters to comfort her.

“It’s ironic, don’t you think?”

Caroline jumped, a loose strand of her curly red hair drooping over her face. She dropped the dress on her bed as Tarine, the abbey’s High Priestess, entered her room in a swish of richly embroidered golden robes. Easily a foot shorter than Caroline and barely half her weight, Tarine’s presence nevertheless intimidated. The severely pulled back greying hair didn’t soften her image.

With her clan heritage Caroline had always been tall. Now she stood a head above almost everyone, yet still felt like a child as she confronted Tarine. “Ironic?” Caroline almost stammered as she hurriedly stuffed the heavy dress in her travel pack, making certain her sleeves didn’t slip and expose her wrists. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“How you came here under the pretext of finding your calling?” Tarine glanced pointedly at Caroline’s wrists, her expression suggesting Caroline was no more worthy of Divine Service today than she’d been half a year ago. “Did you even pray to our Goddess while you were here, guile aside?”

“Of course. Devoutly.” It was true – what woman wouldn’t beg the Goddess’s blessing while pregnant?

Tarine pulled her own sleeves back. Like Bharise, a single bell-shaped alimoth flower glowed on the inside of each wrist.

Caroline kept her eyes on the swarthy woman’s face, determined not to acknowledge what she saw. If she did, she’d probably cry. Only three Servants knew why she was really here, and Tarine was one. “I’ve imposed upon you too long, High Priestess,” she said, hoping to divert the woman.

Tarine’s eyes narrowed. “You’re ready for your journey then?” The words were cold. Precise. Direct.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush again. “Thank you for your patience and the kindness you’ve shown me.”

Tarine produced a tight smile, her skin crinkling at the sides of her mouth if not her eyes. “Our Divine Lady doesn’t grant her favours lightly, Princess.”

It was another opening, a chance to acknowledge her divine marks without being called out. Caroline raised her chin slightly. “High Priestess, please understand that this abbey only holds bitter heartache for me.” Humiliated at being forced to acknowledge the Goddess’s apparent blessing, she revealed her luminous alimoth outlines. “I’m not prepared to accept these. They’re a punishment, not a blessing.”

“They’re never a punishment!” Tarine said, but quickly composed herself. “I’ll pray to our Divine Lady. Perhaps she’ll give you the time you need to come to terms with her offer.” She sounded as if the words were being forced upon her.

“I shall pray for the same,” Caroline whispered. She’d always assumed that if she were ever called to Service it would have been the Divine Lady Kindra du Erim, Protector of Warriors, or one of the Elemental Gods. Haram du Heth, Lord of Fire, perhaps.

“Before you depart, you should know that Lady Rhonda duPrey also discovered the healing flowers on her wrists this morning. She has accepted her calling and expects to return to begin her training this summer. Her flowers are fully formed, not outlines like yours.”

“Rhonda will make a wonderful priestess.” And she would. She had a gentle nature, as did her younger sister Kirsty. She would be well suited to the Goddess of Healing.

Tarine stared as if measuring Caroline’s words. “Rhonda’s loyalties run deep. She’s only leaving because she’s been asked to remain with you.”

Caroline hesitated, suddenly curious. “I made no such request.”

“Our Goddess did.”

Our. The word felt like a slap. “But…”

“The Divine Lady speaks to all of us at the moment of our choosing. You’ll eventually have to make a choice; walk the Divine Lady’s path, or step from it forever.”

An easy decision. “High Priestess-”

Tarine grasped Caroline’s hands, squeezing painfully. Although there was conflict on her face, Caroline had never seen her shirk her duties to her Goddess. “I understand your doubts, but She won’t give you another chance if you deny her.”

For a heartbeat Caroline considered refusing anyway. The woman clearly wanted Caroline to walk away despite the words. Yet to deny the Goddess in her own temple… “As you wish, High Priestess. May peace and health always be yours.” Caroline’s alimoth outlines flared warmly at the ritual blessing. She gasped and pulled her hands free as Tarine’s eyes widened. What did that mean? Only Devoted Servants could invoke the Divine Lady’s blessing.

Taine backed a step. “I must pray for understanding. Perhaps you’re being called to greater things than this abbey.”

With her wrists still tingling from the invocation she picked up her pack and swept out of the room, wishing she could leave her regrets with Tarine’s shocked stare.

Within the hour she was a mile along the road toward Fandelyon City in the company of her friends Rhonda and Kirsty duPrey, all three escorted by the King’s Guard. Two maids, a priest, and the duPrey brothers sent to chaperone them all rode behind. Overcast and gloomy for the most part, Caroline suspected it might rain despite the occasional patches of sunlight. The clouds were getting heavier.

“How are you?” asked Kirsty, the younger duPrey sister and Caroline’s best friend. Although pale-skinned like most nobles, she had dark hair like a commoner, but straight. Almost blue-black. Little Raven, her siblings called her when they wanted to tease. They hadn’t seen each other in months due to Caroline’s so-called illness.

Caroline kept her eyes forward, uncertain how to reply without revealing her heartache over giving up her child. No doubt she’d have similar trouble keeping the secret from her sisters when she got home. The number of nights she’d woken up crying, a phantom baby in her arms… She took a calming breath, slowly releasing it. “I’m fine, Kirsty. Fully recovered. Truly.”

The baby would be long gone from these parts anyway, a month old now. For the first couple of weeks Caroline had fantasised about seeking out the child and running away with him or her, perhaps to live among the clans. She was sure to have kin there if she could find them. After watching Tarine swear an oath of secrecy to her Goddess, Caroline was certain the priestess would neither divulge the child’s location nor Caroline’s indiscretion.

Caroline stared ahead, blinking to keep tears at bay. Best not to think about it at all. Obsessing would only lead to more heartache.

“But you were sick for so long. The High Priestess said you only began to recover a month or so ago. Are you sure you’re well enough to travel?”

Lying to her friend didn’t come as easily as she wished. “High Priestess Tarine is cautious, and probably made it seem a worse illness than it actually was.” She’d almost died, certainly, and for days afterward had muffled her sobs under her sheets, wishing she had. It shouldn’t hurt so much to lose something she’d never held.

Wind caught Rhonda’s long honey-coloured hair, but the older girl didn’t pull her hood up to protect herself. She had a distant look as if she’d rather be somewhere else. Back at the abbey, no doubt.

“High Priestess Tarine said you plan to return,” Caroline said as a means of changing the subject. “That the Divine Lady marked you?”

Something like fear passed across Rhonda’s features, but it was gone in an instant. Rhonda held up her wrists and her sleeves fell back a little. She stared at her alimoth flowers as if she wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision. The fully formed flowers were clear to Caroline, and very lifelike.

Kirsty frowned. “I wish I’d been called,” she murmured, staring at Rhonda’s wrists as if wishing she could see the divine marks too.

Despite the wistfulness, Caroline heard the hurt in Kirsty’s voice. Rhonda was tall, graceful and confident, and now she’d been called into Divine Service. Kirsty, probably prettier except for her raven hair, was small, timid, and awkward, younger than Rhonda by more than a year.

“You’re expected to make a sacrifice when entering a Divine Lord or Lady’s service to show your dedication. What was yours?” Caroline asked.

Rhonda paled, her posture stiffening. “Nothing I wouldn’t give a thousand times over. More.”

Lightning flashed bright before thunder pealed across the sky like a God crying out in anguish.

Story planning and creation: Rules for your world

Story Planning and Creation: Rules for your worldGoogle ‘Road Runner rules’ and you’ll pull up dozens of sources showcasing Chuck Jones’ rules for the Road Runner cartoon. They’re brilliant.

They succinctly set the scene for the story universe in which the Road Runner cartoon takes place, as well as all the conflict between the Road Runner and the Coyote. They are:

  • Rule 1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going “Beep, beep!”
  • Rule 2. No outside force can harm the Coyote – only his own ineptitude or the failure of ACME products.
  • Rule 3. The Coyote could stop anytime – if he were not a fanatic.
  • Rule 4. No dialogue ever, except “Beep, beep”.
  • Rule 5. The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.
  • Rule 6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters – the southwest American desert.
  • Rule 7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the ACME Corporation.
  • Rule 8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
  • Rule 9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

There’s a slightly amended version with a couple of extra rules and tweaks, but I prefer the original.

But what does that mean for your story?

As the God of your own story universe, you can come up with any number of rules for any aspect of your story want to, but be cautious; developing rules can become a form of procrastination or they grow far too unwieldy to be useful.

Think of rules as story drivers and sources of conflict, not merely world-building elements.

Take something familiar and consider its rules

In a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the rules might look something like:

  • Slayers are girls. Always.
  • When a slayer dies, another rises in her place.
  • You can kill a vampire with a wooden stake through the heart, with fire, or by beheading it.
  • The Hellmouth spawns and attracts all sorts of demonic creatures, not just vampires.
  • Magic always comes with a cost.
  • Wherever possible, mix comedy with horror.

If you’re a huge fan of the show, you could probably add a few more. The point is, you want to keep your rules broad yet simple.

Why not pick a show, a movie or a book you’re familiar with, and try and figure out its basic rules?

The dryad novel

In the case of our developing novel, we could come up with specific rules for dryads, magic, longevity, immortality, the supernatural world, transformations, mundane perceptions, computer workstations, AI, vehicle emissions, shoes, handbags, etc., and before you know it we’d have the equivalent of a library’s worth of manuals covering every conceivable element and eventuality in the story (but no story because we’d be constantly developing the rules – see the previous comment about procrastination).

For the more detailed information about a story world it helps to maintain a story bible to keep track of ‘rules’ and other elements you create in your story, but that’s a separate matter. We’re not talking about a story bible today.

For now, we’re talking about the foundation rules for your story world, not elements of the story.

As with the Road Runner rules or my Buffy exercise, five to ten rules should be more than enough for most novels.

Beyond offering guidance, these rules must show your story’s conflicts and pressure points.

So let’s create some rules for this story universe.

  1. Magic is scarce on Earth; there is never enough to go around (a pressure point & source of conflict).
  2. Magical creatures need magic to survive, just as humans need air, water and food to survive (another pressure point & source of conflict).
  3. Magic can be stored, stolen, transformed, used and reused by magical creatures and natural processes, but like any form of energy it degrades with time and use (a potential source of conflict).
  4. Humans cannot sense or use magic directly, although they are Earth’s major source of it and can be affected by it (humans are a resource to magical creatures = potential conflict).
  5. Humans can become magical creatures, but magical creatures can never become human again (a potential source of conflict).

That will do for this story.

Hopefully you’ll have noticed I didn’t try to use the rules to explain anything in the story (such as why and how humans are the world’s major source of magic but have no access to it), and I didn’t try to explain the rules either – they’re simply a statement of fact. I know how it all works, but it’s not important to explain it here.

The broader story universe

If we wanted to take into consideration the broader story universe of which this novel is simply a small part of, we’d overlay the first five rules with five more:

  1. Gods are real and constantly fighting among themselves for the control of new universes.
  2. It’s possible, though difficult, to travel between universes.
  3. Time moves relative to the universe you’re in, and even that’s not constant.
  4. Supernatural perceptions and abilities can be attained through magic and/or the influence of Gods.
  5. The past cannot be changed, though with foresight the future can be manipulated and the appearance of history altered.

That’s ten rules for this story universe, though only five will have any real effect in this novel.

As well as try and figure out the rules for a show/book/movie you’re familiar with, why not create five to ten rules for your own story universe? What are they? Do they help?

As always, please share this post if you found it helpful.

Story planning and creation: Discover your theme

Story planning and creation: ThemeIt’s time to start thinking about theme.

Why?

Story themes are tricky beasts to corner, but integral to character choices and how the story unfolds and resolves.

Without a strong theme your story is just a series of escalating events which will soon be forgotten.

While we don’t have to pin a theme down right away, it helps to be open to any hidden gems we may have buried in our planning (or later, writing) phase.

Those gems will unify our story and give it meaning.

So what exactly is a story’s theme?

Most writers struggle with the concept, usually citing things like ‘love’, ‘hope,’ ‘loneliness,’ ‘loss,’ etc.

The problem is, while single words are often thematic, they’re not themselves a theme. They’re only expressions of a theme.

So how would you define a theme? Your theme is a statement or a question. Your story is its playground.

For example, your theme might be: “You can never truly be yourself around your family.” Your story would then debate that statement, with everything that goes on in the story contributing to the final answer.

And that’s where the power of a theme comes into play; it’s what gives your story real-life meaning and keeps readers thinking about it long after they’ve read it, even if they don’t have a clue what the theme actually is.

It’s probably the most understated, least understood, yet most powerful part of any story.

Take the song Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin (I love the Ugly Kid Joe version). Look it up on YouTube, Google the lyrics, buy it or stream it – whatever, but check out the lyrics and the question of theme should become clearer.

Cats in the Cradle is a story of regret – but regret is only an expression of the theme. Family features strongly, but family isn’t the theme either. Another expression. The story is about both those things, but it’s much more. Cats in the Cradle is a cautionary tale of missed opportunities and poor choices, and so a statement of theme would include those things.

In your own stories, your theme should influence everything your characters say and do, but don’t force a theme if you don’t already have one. Once the story’s drafted you can figure out the theme and if necessary go back and align story elements to it.

At the planning stage it’s simply about pointing the story in one possible direction; a question or statement you think you may want to explore. If the story’s not going where you want or expect, keep an eye out for a more compelling theme. It’ll appear naturally, so don’t try to force it.

Possible themes for this our dryad story run along the lines of:

  • Eternal youth is a curse, not a blessing.
  • Broken relationships can never be completely healed.
  • What’s truly important can never be stolen.
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • You must be true to who you are.

The theme we need to find is the one our protagonist carries. (For an ensemble cast the character most closely aligning with the theme represents your protagonist.)

What will this story’s theme eventually be? It’s not clear yet, but hopefully it’ll come out in the planning.

If you were to write a statement of theme for the song Cats in the Cradle, what would it be?

Taking feedback is never fun

Drawing of a storm trooper with a gunA long time ago in a galaxy called the Milky Way, a young teenager decided to write a book.

What he really wanted to be was Luke Skywalker, but that didn’t seem any more likely than being Superman or Peter Pan, the runners-up. He probably wasn’t even cut out to be a stormtrooper.

But when it came to writing, he loved reading.

As cause-and-effects go, that meant he didn’t have a clue what he was doing when it came to crafting stories, and so it didn’t progress particularly well.

Furthermore, it wasn’t long before dating, partying, marriage and kids became more important than being a hero with mystical powers.

Yet the dream remained and he eventually got his act together, learned a lot about writing, finished the novel, and got it agented and picked up by a publisher.

Despite apparent success, this only resulted in more delays when the publisher collapsed.

And so self-publishing whispered, calling him to the Dark Side. He crossed over, printed a few copies and gave them to proofreaders (who weren’t writers).

The plan was a simple ‘once over’ before publication. The book had been through enough critiques and edits.

And after all, it had been good enough to get an agent and publisher, right?

And that’s when ‘first novel syndrome’ reared it’s ugly red pen once more. 

***

A cartoon of a scared face with hands.Prophecy of Power: Prey was the first book I wrote, and as a consequence it had a lot of problems. I probably should have abandoned it years ago, but I was too emotionally invested in it to give up.

I now consider it my ‘teaching myself to write’ book, and so it was always going to be problematic.

Through trial and error, learning and feedback, I fixed most of the problems, but despite numerous edits and rewrites, the protagonist still wasn’t working properly – and that’s my fault.

Agents, editors and other writers aren’t necessarily the best judge of this – sometimes it takes a reader to tell you they hope your protagonist dies a sticky death, alone and unloved.

As writers, we have blind spots we don’t want to face. My protagonist was mine. I’d resisted earlier feedback on her, making only minor tweaks when I should have gone back and done a total rethink.

I’m thinking of Grasshopper parables at the moment…

As a writer, readers can’t be allowed to hate a protagonist (or any character) so much they don’t want to finish the story: they won’t tell their friends to buy it, they won’t leave positive reviews, and they won’t buy the sequels.

That equals failure if you want to sell copies.

And so I’ll do another pass and hopefully make the protagonist more likeable right from the start. It’ll be the ‘final’ final pass.

Definitely.

Hopefully?

Who said this writing gig was all fun and muses…?

Story planning and creation – developing the protagonist’s story

Text over a line drawing of a city - Story planning and creation: Developing the protagonists storyFollowing on from the previous posts where I’ve been outlining a new novel, we now know a little about the story world and its conflicts. It’s a world where:

  • the supernatural intersects with the mundane
  • a woman is in trouble because of her new youth.

So what do we know about the protagonist, Rose Thorn, and her situation?

  • She wakes up with no memory of what’s happened to her.
  • She’s much younger than she was.
  • Time has passed – several months.
  • She has a daughter called Hope, and Hope’s going to be used against Rose by the antagonist.
  • Depending on your definition of what it is to be human, Rose no longer is. She’s transforming into a dryad. I think a ticking clock might be useful here.

We don’t really know much more about Rose at this stage, so let’s focus on fleshing her out a bit.

What she knows

Rose has to realise she’s ‘different’ very early on in the story, but can’t remember what happened too soon. It’s a question that will be answered as the story progresses.

All she knows initially is that she had a normal life until she woke up youthful again after going missing for several months. As her foggy memories return they will be balanced with the physical changes she’s going to have to rely on to survive.

She quickly learns someone is after her, and because of that her daughter is at risk. This needs to become clear during the first quarter of the story to develop the story’s main conflicts and threat.

Story drivers

Her lack of knowledge creates story drivers. She needs to figure out:

  • how she was gifted or cursed by a dryad
  • what becoming a dryad means
  • why this happened to her. Red herrings (or real scenarios) could be:
    • something she did (is what happened to her some form of payback, or a gift for some favour/help she gave)?
    • something she found/stole – a Magic McGuffin which turns her into a dryad?
    • wrong place – wrong time (bad luck)?
    • she escaped some supernatural attack and this was the result?
  • did the dryad have her own motivations?
    • does the dryad have a secret?
    • is the dryad playing her own game?
  • how can she use her ‘gift/curse’ to help herself and her daughter.

What happened to her can either be directly related to the antagonist (ie, Christian inadvertently caused it, for instance), or totally unrelated. Either way, it draws her into conflict with him as she has something he wants.

What does she know about Christian Godson, the antagonist?

She doesn’t know who’s after her or why (initially), though she eventually discovers Christian wants to use her gift and has the means to take it from her. The main things I need to figure out here are:

  • How exactly will Christian gain from this?
    • Just a long life, or something more?
    • How is this furthering his goals and hurting his enemies?
  • How will her ‘gift’ affect Christian?
    • Will it make him instantly younger?
    • Does it take time to work?
    • Will it cure any illnesses he has?
    • Does he have minions he can share it with?
  • What does he need to do to attain it?
    • If he catches her, can she be forced to just ‘hand it over’?
    • Does he need to do something drastic to extract it?
  • Could Christian be someone she trusts (plot twist?)?

How will the secret of her youth hurt Rose (emotionally)?

There must always be consequences/effects.

  • Does she go into denial?
  • Is she determined to find a cure and return to being human?
  • Does it affect her in other ways?
  • What will be the effects on her family?

How can she use her new knowledge about what happened to her advantage?

  • We can’t drop her secret into the story and give it no impact, or fail to provide her with any means of taking advantage of it.
  • It’s essential that it be part of the story’s resolution to produce a satisfying ending.
    • How can she use this change to defeat or destroy the protagonist?

A line drawing of a woman - head and sholdersWho can possibly help her?

She needs both allies and people she cares about. As well as help her, these ‘extras’ can also be used against her (they can be threatened, hurt, or killed, for example). Possibilities include:

  • Someone associated with Christian (an untrustworthy ally who plans to double-cross him (or her)).
  • Her best friend (I assume she has one).
  • Family/daughter.
  • A third party who knows about her gift/curse but is content to let her keep it
    • Why would they do this?
    • Christian’s enemies?
  • Someone who’s been through what she’s going through – the person (dryad) Christian really wants to get his hands on?
  • More than one of the above?

I don’t know that I want a mentor for Rose in this novel – it’s not a coming-of-age story, though it has similarities. I think it needs to be more of a ‘finding yourself’ or ‘figuring out what’s most important to you’ story, which implies signposts rather than a guide.

Lets put everything we know into a timeline

The beginning:

  • Christian (and friends?) seeks the fountain of Rose’s youth, and has for generations.
    • For him, it’s a temporary thing, requiring ‘top-ups’ at regular intervals to stay young.
    • Perhaps it has a law of diminishing returns – every time he ‘uses’ it the effects don’t last as long, requiring more and more.
  • Rose is transformed (is she left for dead and saved by a dryad/forced to change by a desperate dryad?).
    • She wakes up alone, in the woods, with no memory of what happened.
      • She has to claw her way out of a shallow grave
  • Rose discovers she’s youthful again
    • perhaps after being taken to hospital/a police station
    • some sort of test shows she’s the same person, despite appearances.
    • How does this affect her? How does she react? (does she go through the seven stages of grief over the course of the novel? – I might need to do a little research for this)
    • How do her family react?
      • her parents/siblings reject her
      • her daughter accepts the truth, and can therefore be better used to hurt Rose.
  • Rose tries to lead police to the place she woke, but can’t find it. No one can. This casts doubt on her story.
    • The dryad who transformed Rose is either gone or dead and all evidence of what happened to her removed.
  • Her family reject her – despite the evidence – they don’t believe she’s the same person.

The middle:

  • The supernatural world intrudes (don’t know how yet, but it needs to play a part)
    • Her nature is changing – that is the intrusion on her normal world
    • She resists what’s happening to her, though she’s forced more and more to rely on those changes to get by.
    • Possibly someone from her new world also intrudes at this point (another dryad? Someone from Christian’s line – distant relative he has issues with)?
  • She discovers someone is after her – they want her secret/gift.
  • Her family is threatened: not too serious yet.
  • She’s increasingly caught between worlds, with the supernatural world a huge temptation
    • The supernatural world offers safety and a way out of the mess, but it comes at a cost: her family remains in danger, keeping her from accepting.

The end:

  • Christian goes directly after her family (Hope) and tries and force her hand.
  • She must accept what happened to her in order to save her daughter, herself, and the bigger threat to the supernatural world.

That’s it in very broad strokes, with a lot of detail yet to fill.

How do you think it’s shaping up so far?

Story planning and creation: Names

Story planning and creation: NamesI find searching for the right name for a character, place or anything else I’ve created in a story about as much fun as seasickness.

Running through options to find the right name for an important character can suck up a lot of time, but the right name can add a whole new dimension to a story.

I used to choose names based on the ‘get it chosen ASAP and get on with the story’ approach, usually choosing anything serviceable at the time.

That usually meant taking the first name I liked.

If something better struck me after the choice was made all well and good, but I’d often accept anything that got me past the hurdle, whereas a little thought could have delivered something infinitely better.

Recently I took an unanticipated lesson from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angle, Firefly and more, when I realised a lot of the names he gave his characters have a deeper meaning, usually in tune with their part in the story.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance:

  • Buffy. The protagonist’s name is pure irony. What kickass vampire slayer would be seen in public with a name like Buffy? It perfectly reflects the show’s tone.
  • Angel. The perfect guy who turns into the perfect bad guy during his first moment of pure happiness. Another healthy dose of irony.
  • Dawn. Buffy’s new sister. A new Dawn (because Dawn didn’t actually exist prior to her appearance in season 5). Theme-wise, wow.
  • Faith. The vampire slayer who has no faith. (Whedon really loves his irony, doesn’t he?)

Following on from that logic, I’ve found it helps to choose names that fit the story and add another level of value.

Based on what we know about the protagonist from the previous posts, we need a name that suits her situation, and for that we need to revisit (and perhaps add a little more information about) her origins:

  • She wakes up alone and dirty in the woods and is forced to dig her way out of a shallow grave.
  • She has no memory of what happened to her.
  • Memories of her life beforehand are vague.
  • All she really remembers is her name, though other memories slowly return.

And here comes the ‘secret’ I’ve been holding onto so far – a dryad changed her; brought her into the team, so to speak. I’m not entirely sure what the dryad’s motivations are yet, but that’s another question.

What I do know is that it was the dryad who gave her her new name. So what would a dryad call a woman who’s just been turned into another dryad?

A line drawing of a rose on a stem with petalsAfter a bit of consideration, I’ve decided to go with Rose Thorn. Why? Because:

  • First name: Rose. It works for her newfound youth and her growing and sensuous ability to lure people to her.
  • Second name: Thorn. It hints at the hidden danger she represents despite her beauty; her unrevealed dangerous side.
  • It’s fun and unusual, but not unpronounceable or totally off the chart. Rose and Thorn are also real names, though you’d probably feel sorry for someone with both. Considering her recent origins, it fits well.
  • It sounds dryadish… I hope.

As mentioned, there’s a little bit of fun to be had in her name as well. Can you imagine being asked by some cop or medic what your name is?

Repeat your best Bond voice: “Thorn. Rose Thorn.”

They’d think it was a joke. And then there’s the fact she was born with another name she doesn’t feel is hers anymore, yet the people she loves and who love her still hold onto it (a name to figure out later.)

Another major character is her daughter. Hope would be a good name for her. Hope wants her mother back the way she was before the she disappeared. Hope may be a little too obvious or ‘on the nose’, but we’ll run with it for now.

And then there’s the antagonist, someone who seeks the fountain of youth.

A little research shows that Methuselah lived to be almost a thousand years old and he’s mentioned in several religions. That means there’s some pre-existing mythology surrounding him that we can lean on.

Perhaps that’s all we need at this point – the myth of a man who lived for nearly a thousand years, a man who had at least one child, Lamech. Lamech lived to be almost eight hundred years old himself, and was said to be Noah’s father (as in Noah’s Arc). A noble line, indeed.

Yet where does our antagonist fit into all this? Is he Methuselah? Lamech? Noah? Someone else entirely, but descended from the same family?

I don’t want to get too far into the myth/legend/religious history, so let’s go with the same family, but merely related.

He’s a bad apple in an otherwise distinguished group, someone who once had access to the fountain of youth but lost it, and now must take it by force to get what he wants.

Considering he’s the antagonist, let’s make him someone with no regard for anyone but himself. He’s a man who would do anything to get revenge on the people who made him an outcast, including destroying the very thing that gives them (and himself) their long lives.

That seems like pretty good motivation to me.

A sketch of a man leaning against a wall.For a name, something ironic would work here – the complete opposite of what he is.

How about Christian Godson? Outcast. Murderer. Would-be king. It also ties to the mythology surrounding his ancestry.

I like it.

And there we have it, the three most important characters in this story: Rose, Christian and Hope, with the added bonus of some strong character motivation backed up with a little ‘real life’ history.

Do you think they work for this story? How do you choose or create the names in your own stories?

Visibility for your book

A line drawing of a man thinking about marketingI often use this blog as a way of getting things straight in my head. Today’s no different, and lately I’ve been researching book marketing.

Marketing is one of those necessary evils most writers consider even less appealing than mixing nuclear waste with fresh sewage and catapulting it at that annoying possum who tap-dances on your roof at 2am.

To get past the whole ‘I feel dirty just contemplating marketing’ issue, it helps find a reason to do it. By that I mean a reason that’s bigger than your desire not to do it.

Start off with that change of mindset, and then move onto a new definition of marketing. Marketing’s not about selling. It’s about visibility. You want to make your book into a funny cat video (metaphorically) that people will share all over the web.

So how do you do that?

Hoped-for results

Firstly, you need a desired outcome; a clear and hittable goal – something like convincing tap-dancing roof possums to visit your neighbour’s place so you can get a good night’s sleep.

So state your desired outcome for your book’s potential. Writ it down. Something small, like: “Number one international bestseller” or “Get it into the hands of a hundred-million people in the first hour after publication”.

If that’s a bit scary (and rightfully so), how about something infinitely more attainable like: “Sell at least a copy a week for an entire year”? A small but constant stream of books going out the door might feel better than a single burst followed by the sound of crickets, and probably means your marketing efforts are working.

A goal that sits somewhere in the middle might be: “Sell enough copies to justify my incurable writing habit”. You’ll need to define what you mean by justifying the habit, but as long as you do, you can for it.

Whatever you decide, it’s got to be an clear and definable outcome that you want. Make it something presently out of your reach but still possible with effort.

Now, put your outcome somewhere where you can see it every day – taped to the bottom of your monitor, for instance. You’ll need to remind yourself constantly.

Have a reason

Next, find a purpose that will get you out of your comfort zone and doing the things you don’t want to do. What’s the point of having a goal if you don’t have a reason to do it?

So what excites you? Is it the potential for critical acclaim, the possibility of becoming a celebrity, or simply seeing people get pleasure from reading your book?

Break it down some more – define what your goal means to you personally. It could be anything you care about, such as:

  • selling enough copies will get you (monetarily):
    • financial security and the knowledge you’ll never need to go out and get another job again
    • your very own house and owning it outright
    • the ability to send your kids to private schools so they can have the best education possible
  • the prestige of being invited to visit readers groups
  • the chance to stand on a stage and talk to thousands of people at a convention
  • a future movie deal where you can walk the red carpet like a star
  • make your spouse/kids/parents/friends proud of you
  • all of the above
  • any of a thousand other reasons that excite you?

Whatever it is, it has to be emotionally engaging; something that means a lot to you. You won’t go out of your way otherwise. You’ve got to want it enough to care.

Make it visible

With your desired outcome sorted and an emotional reason to achieve it, you now need to figure out exactly how you’re going to achieve your goals.

How will you get the book in front of people both before and after it’s published?

Don’t forget that marketing’s about visibility, not sales. You want to convince people to buy it, not actually sell it to them yourself. That’s a job for the retailer.

Barring a stroke of luck on the scale of winning the lotto three times in a row, no one’s going to find out about your book unless you get it in front of them. It’ll get swallowed by the black void of roof-dancing possums and funny cat videos posted on YouTube.

So how are you going to make your book visible? Start by researching book marketing ideas via that mystical thing called an internet search and see what others have done before you. There are some really innovative and clever ideas out there, and at least some of them have worked. A lot may be out there, so pick a few you’re comfortable with for now and leave the rest on your long list of possibilities.

When you’ve got a list of ideas, break your strategy into three parts – pre-publication, book launch, and post-publication.

Pre-publication

Build a presence online to let people know you’re writing a book. Focus on one thing at a time, and when that’s sorted expand your reach. Start by:

  1. joining your local writers’ centre and finding people/groups to connect with (if possible)
  2. setting up a website/blog (if you haven’t already). Research how to get people to visit it and implement some of those ideas (producing content helps… just saying)
  3. create social media accounts and learn how to use them (if you haven’t already)
  4. join online writers groups.

Doing the above allows you to tap into a vast wealth of knowledge and experience out there, as well as becoming known to people that matter (readers and writers).

Use your social media connections ask for advice from the writers who’ve launched books before while subtly letting them know you exist and that you’re also about to launch a book.

Book launch

Unless you’re a superpower in the writing world, no publisher is likely to organise and pay for you to launch your book. If you’re self-publishing, that’s a given. So:

  • do multiple book launches if possible – conventions, writers festivals, bookstores; wherever readers gather (visibility, remember?)
  • tap into your network and find someone with credibility, pull and showmanship to launch it for you
  • you’ll need to do a speech, so practice it and deliver it like a pro
    • a little training here goes a long way.
  • write your own press release – you never know, some journalist out there may be looking to write an ‘underdog does good’ article, so give them an angle and a reason to choose you.

Post book launch

Think of this as long-haul marketing. Again, marketing’s not about selling, but about visibility, so be the next funny cat (or tap-dancing-and-nuclear-waste-dodging roof possum) video everyone’s tuning into.

Think of creative ways to get the book in front of people without being obnoxious about it; refer to your list and search the internet for new ideas if you can’t think of any yourself. There’s plenty out there.

  • Spend a few hours a week thinking up/researching and implementing ideas to make your book more visible.
  • To increase visibility and meet potential readers, get a table at:
    • the local markets
    • artists alleys at conventions
    • wherever else the opportunity arises (team up with other writers if you don’t want to go it alone).
  • Do book signings at bookshops.
  • Write the next book, and the next (and publish them too – more books = more visibility).

However you approach it, try and have fun. Treat marketing like an adventure and you’ll never be disappointed, even if some approaches totally fizz.

What’s your best marketing (visibility) tip? Please let me know in the comments, and share this post with other writers who might find it useful.

Story planning and creation – stories within worlds

Text over a line drawing of an ancient city: Story Planning and Creation - Stories Within WorldsMention ‘worldbuilding’ and writers start talking about like places, races, creatures, politics, religion, culture, magic systems, etc. While they’re all very important elements of worldbuilding, I want you to think broader. Much broader.

When Prophecy of Power: Prey (formerly Transcendence of Power: Genesis) was accepted for publication, I wanted a four-book deal.

The publisher at the time (Satalyte) was happy to go with that.

My agent, however, suggested it was the wrong move.

Why?

If the first book flopped I’d be stuck writing three useless sequels. I interpreted that as ‘years of my writing career which could be better utilised’.

I went with my agent’s advice, although there are arguments for and against (but that’s another blog post).

So rather than write three sequels I wrote four brand new novels, and here’s where the topic of worldbuilding kicks in.

I set each of these standalone novels within the broader Noramgaell Saga story universe – the same story universe as Prophecy of Power: Prey.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. It makes commercial sense. Although they are standalone stories, they share the same backdrop and therefore (distantly, or sometimes closely) tie in into each other. If readers like one story, the familiarity may lead them to the others without any need to have read sequels or prequels.
  2. It makes logical sense. Although I write fantasy I’m not primarily a worldbuilder, so it avoids duplicating effort in a process I’m not a huge fan of.
  3. It saves time. Wordbuilding takes up considerable time which could be better utilized for stories rather than writing story backdrops.

Reusing your worldbuilding is similar to writing a series of standalone books with a single protagonist (such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, for example). Same story universe, different stories. A whole lot of advantages.

Now take that concept and think far more broadly. Apply it to all of your story universe, not just the world surrounding a single protagonist. This then becomes more like the hugely successful Marvel cinematic universe.

A line drawing of hands holding a globe.A horror/fantasy short story I wrote called Wyvern’s Blood was my first foray into this concept, and it happened long before I understood there was a concept.

Wyvern’s Blood now forms the groundwork for two separate storylines (the purple and green sections in the circles diagram on this page), all of it within the broader Noramgaell Saga.

In a similar vein, I created a loose history between two races including a war that lasted a millennia, but I didn’t know much about that war. All I knew was which side had won. Around the same time I had an idea for a star-crossed lovers story where an immortal girl from another universe falls in love with a human boy.

Tying these ideas together created a whole new storyline set twenty thousand years before the Noramgaell Saga’s conclusion, and it too is partially built on the foundations I created for Wyvern’s Blood.

Putting it into practice

A diagram of how all my novels interrelate
How my novels interrelate – coloured-in means the first in a series or standalone, bevelled means it’s been written, and coloured outlines designate which storyline the novel belongs to. The smaller squares are short stories.
When I come up with a story idea now, one of the first things I do is figure out if it fits into an existing story universe I’ve already created. Of course many don’t, particularly high-concept stories, but when they do I try to take advantage of what I already have.

The circle diagram on this page represents where stories fit into the Noramgaell Saga story universe. Purple and green represent two separate storylines set here on Earth, in the present. The blue, red and yellow circles represent storylines set in the future on another world in a parallel universe.

And so here I am, beginning to plot a new novel based on a single image – a woman waking up alone in the woods with no memory of what happened to her.

It could fit almost anywhere in the Noramgaell Saga story universe, but as I know what happened to her (something I haven’t revealed yet), there are several places it would work better than others. Therefore I’m setting it here on Earth.

I know a lot of writers are working on their first novel and story world and may not think this concept is for them. While you can apply it at any point, it actually works best at the start of the worldbuilding process.

Here’s why. If you were creating a new world, how many stories could you set in:

  • a hospital
  • a police station
  • a war
  • anywhere in human history
  • another planet
  • another universe?

Just take a look at television and you’ll find the answer – lots. Hundreds. Thousands. More. Layering the groundwork at the start could save you massive headaches later on.

Consider it another way; human history alone is the catalyst for millions of stories, and that’s just one possible story universe you could explore. It’s also free and doesn’t take any effort beyond research.

If you’re not currently in the thick of worldbuilding, pick something you’ve already created and consider the possibilities it represents. Start with unexplored conflicts you already know about and then move into into history, culture, character beliefs, politics – whatever floats your boat.

That’s the true power of worldbuilding – the ability to extract endless stories from a single story universe and its history.

When you’re thinking about worldbuilding, I strongly suggest you think of story possibilities from the outset, not just detail.

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Story planning and creation – conflict and threat

An organge line-drawing background of an ancient city with the words: Story Planning and Creation: Conflict and ThreatFollowing on from the last post about creating your story’s premise, I thought I’d continue the thread and go through what my next steps (ideally) would be in planning this particular story.

While the premise I came up with is in the ball park of what I’m happy with, it needs… more. I’m not sure what ‘more’ is at this stage, but that’s part of what I need to figure out.

If you Google ‘questions to ask before writing a book’ or ‘questions to ask when planning a book’ you’ll get a tonne of responses with some pretty nifty ideas to consider.

They might include:

  • Who’s your story about?
  • Why should anyone care?
  • What does your protagonist want?
  • Who’s your audience?
  • How are you going to surprise your readers?
  • What are you promising your readers? etc.

They’re big, broad, generic questions, and worth considering, but they’re largely taken care of by the story premise or questions that require a premise before you can answer them.

If you missed the previous post, I’d recommend reading it first so you know how I arrived at my story premise. The premise I came up with was: A missing woman who reappears as a teenager tries to protect her grown children when they’re hunted for the secret of her youth.

It’s a little bit of a mouthful and not as tight or specific as I’d like. Generally, it doesn’t suggest enough about story world or protagonist, but there’s plenty of time to refine it. It’s not something you want to get too hung up on.

For now, well ask some questions that might make that clearer while developing the story at the same time.

Let’s revise what we already know

I kept the previous iterations of the premise because they contain some gems. Let’s pull out what we can, remembering that this is largely brainstorming – there are no right or wrong answers, and it doesn’t matter if ideas conflict at this stage.

Ideas we’ve covered:

  • She wakes up in the woods
  • time has passed – decades perhaps – yet she hasn’t aged
  • or – only a little time has passed (days, weeks, months?), but she’s decades younger. I’m leaning toward this option for two main reasons:
    • it makes the story more immediate and contemporary rather than a missing persons case
    • it’s a little more original. Missing persons who come back from the dead (sometimes after centuries) have had a bit of a run on television lately.
  • When she disappears, she’s:
    • a young woman (new mother? – doesn’t really work with my preferred option above, but it’s worth noting)
    • an experienced mother (kids are perhaps 8-10ish)
    • a career woman who probably doesn’t have as much time for her kids as she’d like (maybe in her forty’s with kids who have already grown up or are in their late teens).
  • She and society struggle with the fact she’s younger now.
  • Her family totally disbelieve her story
    • she’s shunned/on her own?
  • She tries and fails (at least initially) to reconnect with her extended family (mother, father, siblings?)
  • She tries to reconnect with her immediate family (teenage daughter, husband, other children?)
  • Someone/something/some organisation (antagonist) is trying to discover her secret and/or steal her gift
    • is the antagonist supernatural, or mundane?
  • She is forced to protect her family
    • her child/children are actively being hunted so they can be used against her with the intent to force her hand and reveal the secret of her ‘eternal youth’ or hand over whatever power she’s been invested with
    • if she’s got more than one child, does that mean the others are considered expendable by the antagonist?

Some of that’s very usable and not bad for no extra effort.

What we need to figure out now are the big issues: the story drivers. Knowing these will help with the detail.

Story driver 1: Conflict

A cartoon of a person being punched in the face with the word 'punch' highlightedMy definition: Conflict is immediate – it’s happening now, and it can be broken into three categories: internal, external, and interpersonal.

The obvious sources of conflict are:

  • She doesn’t know what happened to her (internal conflict).
  • The people she cares about don’t believe her (interpersonal conflict).
  • The antagonist does believe her and wants to take advantage of her (external conflict).
  • Her family is in danger because of whatever made her different (external conflict).
  • The antagonist wants whatever she has (external conflict).

That’s probably more than enough conflict at this stage, so let’s consider the bigger picture.

Story driver 2: Threat

A cartoon of a person about to use a slingshotMy definition: Threat is the potential for conflict, and usually has big consequences.

The main threat needs to stem from the story’s premise. In this case: she has something the antagonist wants. That alone isn’t enough. If there were no consequences, she could simply hand it over, right? For this to work, she can’t afford to lose it or let the antagonist have it.

The question here is: What would happen if the antagonist did get it? This is the source of the story’s main threat.

Consider the potential consequences if she loses it for:

  1. Herself:
    1. Will she die?
    2. If she survives but reverts to normal, will she lose the power to save her family/world etc? (the only answer is ‘yes’ if we take this path, which would mean she has to get it back or find another way.)
  2. Her family:
    1. Will they be harmed/killed if she resists?
    2. Are they likely to suffer more (long term) if she gives in?
  3. The mundane (normal) world:
    1. Something bad. For now, let’s go with the obvious and say the antagonist is a power-mad world-domination type and the consequences are dire. Bit of a cliché, but it’ll do for now. Think big and change it if something better arises.
    2. Nothing at all. This isn’t the mundane world’s fight.
  4. The supernatural world:
    1. Will it be destroyed forever? Again, bit of a cliché, but the higher the stakes the better. We can peg it back later if necessary.
    2. The antagonist gets to rule forever (as they’ll be immortal and therefore unstoppable?).
      1. To do either of these we’d need to tie the protagonist to the supernatural world very strongly – give her something far bigger than herself to care about.

Considering the info above, I’m leaning toward developing the main threats to her family and the supernatural world, and leaving threats to the mundane world alone, otherwise it gets too complicated: too many moves. I’d like to see it played out in the mundane world for contrast however: the supernatural world intruding into the mundane. Considering I write fantasy, having the main threat directed at the normal world doesn’t provide as much fun (or impact).

So now we’ve considered some of the major issues we can start making choices and building something of a working document/outline. We know the premise and have some good ideas for the main conflicts and big threats.

Plot-wise, it’s lacking a little in originality, but we can compensate in the world-building, characterisation and delivery (or come up with something more original as we develop the story). I don’t want to stray too far from reader expectations though.

Have you considered your story’s main conflicts and threats? What are they?

Story planning and creation – finding your story premise

the words Story Planning and Creation over a drawing of ancient architectureA few years ago I developed a method for distilling a novel-length story into a premise or elevator pitch. It’s quite simple and effective, yet difficult to pull off and it can take quite a while to get right, even with practice.

After experimenting with it, I found it’s much easier to do the exercise before you write a novel than after, as you don’t have to try and figure out what doesn’t go in and you won’t get frustrated by the problems it may highlight.

As well as define your story, your premise needs to imply genre and tone while providing an idea about who the protagonist is without actually naming them.

One more point – you have to be able to see a whole story in your premise.

To create your story premise in a single sentence, you need to know four things:

  • who the story’s about
  • what they want
  • who or what’s standing in their way
  • the story’s hook (usually found in the irony).

Unless you’ve already written the story you probably don’t know those things. A bigger problem is that if you’ve written the story and still don’t know those things, you’ve got a major issue that’ll take some serious editing/restructuring to iron out.

So the best time to figure out your story’s premise (elevator pitch, logline, whatever you wish to call it) is before you write it. You can always change the premise later if you come up with better ideas, but its a signpost at the very least, and if you get stuck while writing at least you’ve got something to guide you.

So how do you apply this when you’ve got nothing to start with?

Obviously you have to start with something – an image, character, situation, whatever. A kernel of some kind.

Now try to figure out the answers to those questions above. If you can’t, start with what you have. The answers will probably come to you.

A drawing of a medieval woman in the forestToday I decided to create a premise about a woman who wakes up alone in the woods (covered in dirt, scared, and with no memory of what had happened or where she’d been). It was little more than an image. I only knew two things about her (which I made up on the spot):

  1. As I write speculative fiction, I decided she needed something from the fantasy realm, so she quickly finds out she’s been missing for a long time. I wasn’t sure if she’d been gone a years, decades or centuries, but it had to be a significant amount of time.
  2. She’s younger now than she went missing. Much younger – physically. A teenager perhaps.

That’s all I had to work with.

The following premise statements show how I worked through ideas until I had something reasonably tight and strong.

  1. A young woman wakes up in the woods only to find she’s been missing for years, yet she hasn’t aged. (20 words)
    This is a starting point, and lacks quite a few things like conflict and the protagonists desires. It’s a statement about where the story starts and therefore doesn’t work as a premise because it doesn’t give me any idea as to what it’s about or where it might go.
  2. A young woman who wakes up a decade after disappearing struggles with the fact she hasn’t aged as she tries to reconnect with her disbelieving family. (26 words)
    This one is a bit convoluted, though at least it introduces some conflict and gives a hint about where the story might go, but its not nearly enough. There’s only a little bit of conflict implied, and that’s mostly internal.
  3. A young woman who hasn’t aged tries to reconnect with her disbelieving family a decade after disappearing. (17 words)
    This is clearer and implies genre, but its not where it needs to be. The implied conflict still isn’t very strong and it leaves out the disappearing part.
  4. A young woman who returns youthful after going missing for more than a decade tries to reconnect with her disbelieving daughter while dark forces try to discover her secret. (30 words)
    Even though it’s a little more detailed, it’s getting convoluted – you almost need a deep breath to get though it. I think it’s on the right track now though.
  5. A woman who returns as a teenager after going missing more than a decade ago tries to reconnect with her disbelieving daughter while dark forces close in. (27 words)
    Who are the dark forces? Why are they closing in? At least the first part is getting stronger, though still convoluted.
  6. A mother who returns as a teenager after going missing for more than a decade tries to reconnect with and protect her disbelieving daughter while enemies try to discover her secret. (31 words)
    Not really an improvement on the previous version, and ‘enemies’ is just a tad too vague.
  7. A mother who returns as a teenager a decade after disappearing tries to reconnect with and protect her disbelieving daughter while enemies try to discover her secret. (27 words)
    No real improvement, though it’s a bit shorter.
  8. When a career woman disappears and returns youthful a decade later, she tries to reconnect with her disbelieving teenage daughter while being hunted for her secret. (26 words)
    So she’s a career-woman now? Okay, that tells me a bit more about the woman. The conflict is getting more personal as well and the story shaping up a little clearer, but it’s still not very sharp. Also, if you need a comma to ensure it makes sense, rethink it.
  9. A career woman who disappears and returns youthful a decade later tries to reconnect with her disbelieving teenage daughter while being hunted for her secret. (26 words)
    I’m still a fair distance from being happy with it.
  10. A career woman who disappears and returns a decade younger is forced to protect her daughter while being hunted for the secret of her youth. (25 words)
    I think this is getting closer – its sharper, clearer, implies plenty of conflict and reads fairly well.  Even if I keep all the information I’ve got in some of the above versions, there’s no need to state it here. The irony’s stronger now too: discovering the fountain of youth might just kill her.
  11. A missing woman who reappears as a teenager tries to protect her grown children when they’re hunted for the secret of her youth. (23 words)
    I’m liking where this is going now. It’s clear, straightforward, concise and flows really well.

I might play with family members (should I have just the daughter or half a dozen children? Is the husband still in the picture? What about her extended family and friends – do they rate a mention here [probably not]?), but I think I’ve got to the heart of it now, and the hook is solid.

Hopefully you can see the path where the last iteration gets it closer to a tightly focused story with a single story problem. That’s all that matters here. Leave your subplots and excess characters in the ‘extras’ pile. They’ll find their place in the story eventually, just not here.

A close-up line drawing of a woman's faceWhat I’ve produced isn’t perfect by a long way, but I can see a whole story in it now when I couldn’t before, and it’s one which I might be interested in writing.

The next question for me is: “Will I continue planning it out and perhaps even write it?”

Maybe.

This was an exercise, but I think the idea has promise. Considering I’m one of the world’s worst planners (in the sense that planning’s the last thing I want to do when it comes to writing, so I either procrastinate or find ways not to), I might work though the concept here, start to finish, and see where it goes.

Or I might just wait for NaNoWriMo and belt it out based on the premise alone.

Please try writing your own premise and let me know if this method of distilling your story into a single sentence works for you.

The next post in the series: Conflict and Threat.

Focus pocus and new resolutions

Person jumping over a gully at sunsetNo posts for ages, and then suddenly a couple in a row. I must be on holidays or something. Oh wait, I am! Back to work Monday though <sigh>.

Speaking of work…

A couple of years ago when I started up Creative Manuscript Services, I made sure I saw a business coach (Leanne Shea Langdown of Achieve Beyond) as part of my redundancy package with CSIRO.

One of the things Leanne recommended I do was to choose a word to help guide me each year; an empowering word with some sort of significance and meaning for me. A word to live by for the year.

I was pretty sceptical, to be honest. I had New Year’s Resolutions, enthusiasm and drive. What did I need a motivational word for?

Unfortunately for me, New Years Resolutions rarely survive January and are quickly forgotten, while enthusiasm and drive are subject to Real Life (RL) intervention like jobs, running kids to events, and a billion other things.

So, New Year’s Resolutions have never really worked for me despite my good intentions, and neither does a list of goals and daily task lists (largely because I get distracted and forget to do them), and even the strongest enthusiasm wanes in the face of RL.

So this year I’m embracing Leanne’s philosophy in favour of a single word to keep me focused. Only what word?

It has to be just right. Something that’ll keep me motivated, focused and constantly achieving little goals on the way to bigger outcomes.

A hand and the world 'Achieve'Leanne’s word in 2017 is ‘Be’. She wants to:

  • ‘Be’ the person she needs to be to achieve her goals
  • ‘Be’ in the moment
  • ‘Be’ aware of the impacts her actions have on others
  • ‘Be’ a leader
  • ‘Be’ brave…

‘Be’ is a great word, but it’s not mine. Or, at least, it’s not mine this year.

Considering I need to focus my efforts, this year I’ve gone with the obvious… ‘Focus’.

Why ‘Focus’ specifically? Because I need to:

  • ‘Focus’ on achieving my goals
  • ‘Focus’ on the task at hand, not the mountain of tasks I can always see
  • ‘Focus’ on creating positive outcomes for myself and my family
  • ‘Focus’ on the reasons I care about what I’m trying to achieve.

That last one is particularly important – why do something unless you care about it, right? If I’m going to devote my down time to a project when I could otherwise be chilling, reading, catching a movie, etc., it had better be something I have a strong emotional connection to. What’s the point otherwise?

Focus is what I’ve lacked these last few years. I’ve wanted things, but I haven’t achieved them because I haven’t cared enough about whether I succeeded or not. I’d passed the ball and was letting others run with it.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’d started full-time work which took a lot of my focus, and I thought I’d already achieved a large measure of success just by landing an agent and publishing contract. Adding to that was advice from my agent not to write the sequels until the first book gained some success (which makes sense – why spend years writing and editing three what could otherwise be unsellable sequels if the first one is a total flop), so I kind of lost focus and let things slip rather than refocus on getting some new novels finished.

I half turned my attention to other projects, but not with any real determination.

Consequently I had no measurable outcomes. No more successes.

The words: Focus on what matters and a corridorThis year I’m determined to change that and keep my reasons for doing things in the forefront. This year I’m going to Focus on those reasons – and achieve the outcomes I’m after.

Maybe ‘Achieve’ will be next year’s word, but for now, I need to Focus.

What’s your word? Let me know if you have one, or don’t yet, but intend to figure one out.

Onward and… more onward

Satalyte Publishing LogoLast year was a bit of a write-off (excuse the pun) as far as my writing career went. I subbed a couple of novels I’d written in previous years to a critique group, but did no new writing and very little editing of my own work.

To top that off, I was planning a big year this year until my publisher (Satalyte, ran by Stephen C. Ormsby), folded. They were scheduled to publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis in the second half of 2017.

I was also planning on finishing the edits to a couple more books loosely tying into that novel – a long-term plan to develop and populate the story universe and its history.

Regarding Satalyte, it’s a shame (and not just for me) they shut down as they were taking risks on new Australian writers. Stephen C. Ormsby put three years of his life into creating his publishing dream.

With a little luck he’ll be able to resurrect Satalyte one day, but for now he’s earned a rest and a round of applause for his efforts.

Stephen gave it a red-hot go, offered extremely fair publishing contracts, and generally tried to do something good. Publishing in Australia is going to be much worse off without him and Satalyte Publishing.

So where does that leave me?

Finding a new publisher isn’t really on my menu. Even if successful, it would take years before I saw it in print.

I’m not interested in waiting that long, so unless disaster strikes I now intend to self-publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis, later in 2017. Unfortunately that’ll take up time I might have otherwise devoted to editing and creating new works, but it’s a much better option than searching for another agent and publisher.

Anyone up for a proofread when I get everything sorted?  😀

Dropped balls

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersIt looks like I’ve dropped the ball this year as far as writing goes (not to mention maintaining this blog).

Up until late last year I was working part-time which allowed me plenty of time to write, run my editing business, interact on social media, and blog. Since then I’ve been working full time, training for (and in October walking) the Kokoda Track (one of the toughest and most dangerous walks in the world), and now I’m moving house (which should be sorted by Christmas – hopefully) while trying to sell the old one. I also participated in a novel critiquing group (critting a novel a month) and began editing Transcendence of Power: Genesis with my publisher (Satalyte Publishing).

All in all a busy year, and next year may not be any less busy. January’s a write-off due to the Christmas holidays, I have to start training to walk the Camino (a month-long walk across Spain I’m doing in early 2018), and my novel is due to come out in the second half of 2017 which will require a lot of work in the lead-up (and follow-up). Of course I’ll still be working full time – certainly until the end of June when my current contract expires (and most likely after that as well), and perhaps even maintaining the editing business. Not sure about the last one. It’s a lot of work for very little financial reward considering the hours I put in – but if I charged even the equivalent of what I earn while working in a job the business wouldn’t get any customers.

So what does all that mean?

It means my writing is going nowhere lately. I’ve got four novels written that need editing/rewriting and three sequels that need to be written for the one Satalyte is publishing. I’d do more work of an evening, but it gives me serious eyestrain. Until I got glasses recently I was struggling to work for more than an hour or two a day before wanting to crash and sleep. At least they keep me going for the whole work day now, but more than that and I’m in trouble.

Yet the dream is still alive. One book is coming out next year, four are ready to be edited and written, and I’ve got more stories I want to write and things I want to do (like create short courses I can make available online).

So that’s me this year – very busy, but I don’t feel as if I achieved much. Next year however, I should have a published book in my hand. That’s what it’s al about, after all. I hope your dreams area just as successful, if not more so.

 

Update on the writing side of life

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersI can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted. Slack. Very slack.

In my defence I’m working full-time, editing and assessing manuscripts many evenings, and trying to fit a life in around that, including training to do the Kokoda Track next month. I haven’t written or edited my own work in months, and so you can imagine how high my priorities are for writing blog posts.

Still, here I am, plugging away at a writing career by what seems to be inches at a time.

On the good news front I’ve received a general publication date from Satalyte Publishing for my epic fantasy, Transcendence of Power: Genesis, which is set to appear on shelves some time during the second half of 2017.

Woohoo!!!

It seems almost surreal.

We’ve started the editing process, and I’ve even seen concept art for the cover which I might share later if Satalyte’s okay with it.

My next update however may involve photos from the Kokoda Track and me looking wiped-out, assuming my body survives ten days of mountainous jungle adventures over a hundred kilometre romp. The spirit is willing, at least…

Until next time!

Story timelines

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersThe other day I was talking to a mate about timelines, trying to explain my stories set in the past, present and future across two universes.

Although I had it all in my head, I wasn’t able to translate it to a lunchtime conversation very well. So, I sat down and put it into a table, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

I guess it’s probably not going to make a lot of sense like this, but I’ll try.

The upcoming novel I have with Satalyte Publishing (Transcendence of Power: Genesis) is set about 1500 years into our own future, but in a different universe. It’s the culmination of about 200,000 years of scheming by the gods of that universe. In that sense, everything else is a prequel.

Of the ‘prequels’, there are a bunch of stories set in our universe at our present time – urban fantasy’s, if you like.

Later this year, I hope self-publish the direct prequel to the upcoming book, set 3000 years beforehand (in the other universe)

It’s all in the table (clear as mud, right?):

Timeline: Caroline’s universe Events: Caroline’s universe Events: Our universe
0 (current) Noramgaell saga begins – Transcendence of Power: Genesis, etc (formerly Prophecy of Power). Approximately 1500 years in our future.
80 years ago Standalone novel – Lost in Darkness (unwritten).
3000 years ago Short novel: Leviathan’s Reach (this is the direct prequel to the Normamgaell saga, and should be out later this year).
3,700 years ago Event: Crystal wars – between shivras and simoraths – shatters the world (I’m not planning on turning this into a story as yet).
20,000 years ago Sellendria (from Through the Veil) is born. She also appears in Transcendence of Power: Genesis. Our present (unpublished novels): Epicentre, Through the Veil, Dark Genesis. Short story: Wyvern’s blood (published).
24,000 years ago Ellie (from Wyvern’s Blood) was born. Covenant with Wyverns is created.
180,000 years ago Event: Unicorn is killed. This event marks the first volley in the war between the Gods.
200,000 years ago War between the Gods begins.

Have you established a timeline for your stories, whether a single book or a series?

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