Friday, October 30, 2015

How I Plot My Novels (Part IV of IV)

The last thing I want to talk about for novel plotting deals mostly with a series of novels. As I look this up on Wikipedia, I'm rather shocked the idea of a "metaplot" is only linked to role-playing games! If you look around, metaplots are everywhere. As before, this contains spoilers for The Queen of Swords, and the upcoming The Prince of Cups, and in general the Villainess series. They won't be too bad, but I would highly recommend reading the first book so you know what I'm talking about at least.

A metaplot is an overarching storyline which each of your novels in a series goes towards building. A great example of this is the Dresden Files, where each novel adds to Harry's knowledge of this secret organization which is doing...bad things. He finds out through the course of the novels that even the enemy at the very beginning (in Storm Front) was somehow attached to the "big bad". TV series do this all the time, both with the entire series (the first 5 seasons of Supernatural were supposed to be IT, everything lead up to that finale, but the show was so popular they extended it and... well, now it's season 11; another example is Babylon 5... each season builds on the last, adding more to the lore and more to the overarching plot, but sadly that show was cancelled before it got to really resolve its metaplot) and within each season. Buffy is a great example of a season to season metaplot. Each season has a "big bad" which will ultimately be defeated on the season ender. First season, the Master. 2nd, Angelus. 3rd, the Mayor. 4th, Adam, and so on. While some books may not directly touch on the metaplot directly, each book will add to the whole.

Villainess' metaplot is tied directly to the series name: it's about Caprice's journey through life as a villain. All in all, it's a series about self-discovery, and the ups and downs of it. She starts on what people would call a "down", as she's a psychopath. Not exactly heroic material. However, I think you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. I could have started at the beginning of her career, and while I might explore that later on, for the beginning I wanted her to be confident and in control. Just like with a regular story, your metaplot needs to follow the three part act: introduction/exposition, rising action, climax. It also needs to have complications and consequences, which if you do it right, will be built in with each book.

I've the vague metaplot in mind already for Villainess, and I did when I conceived the book. I almost never do a series without a metaplot in mind, other than the anthology series I do, that is. Delilah Devilshot has a definite metaplot, the Janus Key Chronicles have a metaplot, and hell, even the Witches of Back End has a metaplot. It's lighter than the others and not as needed, but it's still there. Villainess in particular I view as a comic book, with each book serving as say, issue X in a Y part limited series. This one, because of the name I chose, is going to have sixteen books. No more, and no less. Each of the titles will relate to a particular character in the novels.

For example, Caprice is the Queen of Swords. Regulus is the Prince of Cups. Those names are chosen for a reason, and each tarot card meaning directly bears on the character. I use that site in particular, because I'm using the Aleister Crowley deck of tarot, and thus the interpretations of the cards are slightly different than if you use a different deck, like the Rider-Waite one. If we were to be specific, Caprice would be a negatively accented (or perhaps reversed) Queen. To quote:

The Queen of Swords indicates a woman who is blessed (or cursed) with sharp perception, and highly honed intuition. She is acutely analytical, with a razor-sharp ability to get to the heart of a situation, seeing exactly what is, rather than what others would wish her to see. 
She is a private woman, unwilling to let people too close to her until she is satisfied she thoroughly understands their motivations. But once won as a friend, she is unfailingly loyal, honest and supportive. 
She's usually very intelligent, with a dry sense of humour. Her penetrating insight will often reveal aspects of themselves to others that they had previously been unable to grasp - thus she is a capable therapist, teacher or leader. 
The woman represented by this card will be experienced in the flow of life, understanding a great deal about both the great triumphs, and the deepest failings of the race. Her clarity and measured expression will be of great value at times of confusion and sadness. 
Sometimes in a reading, this card will turn up to indicate a woman in a particular phase of her life, where she temporarily becomes a Sword as a result of what is happening to her. In that case the card is not quite so positively defined, for it can indicate a woman left alone, and perhaps embittered. She may be a widow, or a woman passing through the aftermath of divorce. 
In this case we often see the more negative aspects of the Queen - coldness, judgementalism, criticism. At these times there is a certain sourness about her, with cynicism and sharpness making themselves felt. 
It should be said that these qualities are inherent to the woman who is a Queen of Swords by nature too - if the woman concerned has not evolved sufficiently you will often find that the card represents a person who is hard and cold toward others.

I italicized the text which applies to Caprice, and bolded the stuff that REALLY applies to her. She's intelligent and sharp, and she "deals honest" so when she knows you're trustworthy she'll defend you. Perhaps not quite to her dying breath, but still. However, she's full of rage and bitterness because of her circumstances, some of which will become more clear in Prince of Cups.

So, looking at the next book, let's take a look at our next title character, Regulus, our Prince.

Men represented by this card are complex and powerful beings. They are self-contained - even secretive - giving an impression of calmness and serenity. However under that veneer they can often be intense and volatile. They tend to hide their deepest passions, and to protect them fiercely. 
They are often creative - artistically or musically inclined, and have deep involvement in these areas. Many of the more successful artists and musicians in our lives would come up as a Prince of Cups. 
Emotionally they can sometimes be turbulent and moody, but can also often hide their emotions and refuse to share them with others. However, having a highly developed sensitivity to emotional ups and downs, they will identify yours even before you have. Talking to somebody like this about emotional matters is usually a rewarding experience, because they are highly perceptive and use their intuition readily. 
If this card comes up to indicate an alteration in a person's behaviour, it will generally indicate a man moving into a new romantic relationship and feeling somewhat troubled by this. The Knight is the card that comes up to indicate a man happily falling in love.

From the text, we can get an impression of a smooth talker who seems calm, cool, and collected on the outside, but is a hotbed of emotion underneath. He's secretive, our Prince, and while he can't hide some things from a fellow telepath, he can still hide quite a lot since lying about it is second nature to him.

The next book in the series will be based on a character who will be introduced in Prince of Cups. She's our Princess of Wands, the Nacht Sirene, or Night Siren.

This card represents dynamic passion - for life in general. If it comes up relating to an inner energy then it will indicate that you are overcoming old fears, breaking out of old patterns, and setting yourself free. There will be confidence, decisive action, an assertive leap forward into the heart of your life. It will often come up to indicate that you have broken through habitual limitations and restrictions, thereby freeing off your power to be used constructively. 
It can indicate a spiritual breakthrough, which will always include the courage to face your fears, and see them for what they truly are. One strange fact about unacknowledged fears is that they take on the darkest, most horrifying shape with which your subconscious can imbue them. Yet when you drag them out into the light of day, you suddenly realise that what you were so scared of might a) never happen; b) not be as bad as you thought it would be when you feared it; and c) you've probably got what it takes to deal with it anyway! 
If the Princess of Wands comes up to indicate a person, then she will be strong, forceful, determined, unswerving...and perhaps a touch bossy! She is a faithful and trustworthy friend, whose insight and perception will often steer you in the right direction. She will be energetic and enthusiastic about life, with a big personality. 
As a partner she's independent, sometimes a touch stubborn, but loyal and caring. These are often career women, and usually wait till later on to start families. She will be experienced, and intelligent, though regularly you find that such young women have had to learn most of their lessons the hard way. 
As an enemy she's dangerous - she's usually outspoken, and unafraid to express her anger. If you manage to make an enemy of one of these women, you need to think very carefully about how that happened. Mostly their engagement with life is so total that they don't waste time on negative pursuits. All the Wand people place morality and ethics high on their list of priorities. They are honest decent people with a strong code of behaviour to which they adhere faithfully.
From the text, you can tell the Siren is going to be another strong woman, though perhaps a bit younger sounding and a touch more uncertain of herself than Caprice, but she has still fought through a lot of pain to realize what she wants, and how she's going to get it. She wants to live life, and she's brave enough to face her worst fears and bring them out into the sun where everyone can see.

Now that we have an idea of the characters from the next couple books, what I'm doing in particular with this series is using the "starring" characters to reflect a step in Caprice's journey. During the Prince of Cups, the image of duality or a warped mirror is used, especially when she's comparing herself to Regulus. She sees in him a "spiritual stepbrother" as he aims to fulfill his needs in any way he can, much like herself. However, unlike her, he employs mind control and breaking another person's will to achieve his goals. To this end, they mirror each other, but it's not a perfect reflection. As he hides much of his own darker desires and fears from the light, letting no one in to see, so Caprice has her own secrets, some of which will be revealed as we see more of her pain and how she got to be the way she is today.

For the third book, The Princess of Wands, the idea is that now having acknowledged she has this rage inside of her, she needs to face it. In doing so, in theory, she'll take control of it, live life more fully, and decide on what path is right for her.

The next few books are The Knight of Disks, The Queen of Disks, and The Prince of Swords, which will give you hints to the next few directions the series will go. Eventually, I will go through each of the court cards, and each of those cards will have a different "starring" supporting character, some of which you have seen already!

Has this taken a lot of planning? Yes. I think about the future books a lot, and where I want to take the character. Each step is being planned, and while I haven't gotten all the books thought of yet (as things will change as they are written), it's important to see your end goal in sight. Where do you want the series to go? Is there a big climatic battle at the end, ala Lord of the Rings? Or is it a journey of self-discovery, concentrating on just one character? Are there multiple storylines to be resolved eventually? How complex are you going to make it?

In general, the more complex metaplot demands more books. But once you have reached the conclusion of the meta, then stop. Just stop. Don't let it go on (*coughcoughLaurellKHamiltoncough*) just because you want to keep writing the character. Once the conclusion has been logically reached, it's the end of the series. After that, it should be happily ever after. Or unhappily ever after.

So, how do you think of a metaplot? For Villainess, as I said before, it's a journey of self-discovery by Caprice. Others might think there's a big world devouring monster out there, or maybe a nefarious super villain organization which is bent on world domination. You can find a lot of inspiration from movies, television, and other books. Once you get a grand idea in your head, then you plot it like you'd plot your novel. The main exception is to use broader strokes.

For Villainess, the first four books are basically my introduction/exposition. We are introduced to the main characters, recurring characters like Nosferatu, Malech, and Alistair (and eventually Siren and Regulus), and we learn about the world slowly, in bits and pieces. Once the stage is set, the next is the rising action. During the next few books after that, we'll say 4-8 or so, Caprice will be built up (and fall down, she's not always a victor) and realize that she needs to change. Since it's a personal self-discovery thing, it's more internal and a little harder to fully plot. This may or may not accompany a "big bad" which she may take several books to defeat (still working on it), so it might have a metaplot within a metaplot. Submetaplot? Hrm.

The last few books will be heading towards the conclusion of her journey. What will be the deciding factor in what she chooses? Will she be able to leave her rage and hatred behind? If so, does that mean she has to be "normal"? IS it more desirable for her to be "normal" as opposed to a psychopath? Who or what will help in deciding this? Will she change for the sake of herself, or for someone else?

Again, this one is more... internal, but you can plot out the big bad just the same way. The first few books hint at a darkness rising. The middle books show more aggression, and battles won and lost, which finally reveal the main villain. The last few deal with gathering power to take down said villain and then the ultimate climax.

What's most important to keep in mind is to keep your books in line with the metaplot. Even if it only hints at it, people need to see that, yes, it was planned from the beginning. If you're clever and vague enough, you CAN go back to past books and point at things which you may not have known was there or had no reason and give it a reason. For example, in Storm Front, there is a guy who channels a lot of power, goes crazy, kills some folks, Harry stops him. It was sufficiently explained at the time where he got it. However, in a later book, it was revealed that these agents of darkness were working WITH that mad sorceror at the time, and helped him to achieve that power for their own nefarious purposes. Butcher can't go back and rewrite Storm Front to add in hints of spooky darkness, so he flipped the reason why the sorceror got his power in a later book, with an additional explanation. Was he planning it from the beginning or backwriting? I have no idea. Whichever way he went, he's definitely leading towards a metaplot climax now, and he used all of his stories to bring that in focus.

Last thing to be said, unlike the plots in the book where each word should go towards building plot, character, or mood... but especially plot... you can, of course, go off on side roads during your novels. Not every novel will directly bear on the metaplot, especially the beginning ones while you are setting it up. This gives you an opportunity to leave things open, to drop hints which you may not know WHY you are dropping them, but may give you inspiration later on. The great thing about that is that you can build without knowing exactly where you are building to, or knowing the direct path. Yeah, you have an idea of a "big bad" whatever at the end, but maybe you're not quite certain what it is during your first novel, but you have a cool idea. You drop in a line or two nodding towards the cool idea, and that's it. Maybe on book three you'll remember that idea and build on it. Maybe book five. Maybe you'll decide to go another way. Little hooks and throwaway lines can often be your subconscious talking to you about what you are planning before you even know you are planning it.

It's a little harder to keep a metaplot on track during the course of a series, but thankfully, you don't have to all the time!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How I Plot My Novels (Part III of IV)

There's an actual number now associated with these posts! This one will deal with the climax and denouement, and the last one dealing with what I call the "metaplot".

Act III: Climax
The climax is pretty easy to explain: it's the climax of the book, the big O, the main event, what everything else in the book was leading up to. In this case, it's confronting Harry about the betrayal. Being Caprice is who she is, she at first wanted to see if she could sleep with him again. It wasn't just because he was a good lay and the book has definite erotic overtones, but to test his character again. Saying flat out that his girlfriend was looking for him, and then seducing him anyway proved to her that he wasn't a "good" person. I use quotes here, because Caprice's judgment of people is rather skewed. What she means by "good" is not what you and I mean.

In both cases though, it means untrustworthy and dishonest. She even says at the end, that her father always taught her to deal honest with fellow criminals. A deal's a deal and all that. It wasn't just the betrayal, but also the fact that he didn't pay her when he did the job. It was using her to get what he wanted without being straight forward about it.

Everything in this book led up to the climax where we see how twisted she is. I am not going to write in detail about sexual sadism which is non-consensual, so I let it fade to black and let the reader's imagination take over. Some might call that a cop-out, but I don't write noncon stuff, nor torture. I may switch that up if the situation calls for it, but for now even though the series is dark, it's not THAT dark.

The last part is something people don't necessarily think about separately, which is the denouement. To use it in sexual terms, the denouement is the smoke after the big O. The book should naturally lead towards a satisfying ending, and we should see the character either changed or not changed from the experience. Traditionally, it should show the character better off than when they started. In this case, it is true. The betrayer is defeated, and Caprice has new knowledge of this mysterious group of people who are after her. Her paranoia in moving around and losing tails is justified. We see her leaving Harry's apartment while Emily enters, and taking sadistic pleasure in Emily's discovery of Harry's body, telepathically. It gives the character a satisfactory ending, at least from her point of view.

Everything in either the climax or denouement should have been built from the previous prose. This is why going back and editing to make sure your facts line up and to drop hints (ie, the clean apartment) about the ending is so vitally important. There may be loose ends and threads hanging loose, which is good if the book is a part of a series. If it is a standalone book, a single novel with no plans for future installments, then you MUST go back and eliminate or resolve any of those loose threads. They are simply not needed, period, and will leave people wondering what happened with those. For a series, it's vital to have at least a couple of threads hanging loose to continue. It gives the serial author a jumping off point for their next book, and helps to fuel the metaplot (which is discussed in the next post).

Should the protagonist always win during the climax? No. It really depends on the theme of the book, but sometimes the protagonist fails. Again, in a series, that is a great jumping off point for the next book or books, because then the protagonist must dust themselves off and retry. For a standalone book... most people would want the protagonist to win. We journeyed through the book with them, and we naturally root for the hero. That, of course, is up to the writer. People can have victory through defeat, and defeat through victory. I would almost always recommend the hero have victory in a standalone book simply because it tends to be more satisfying for the reader. For a series, it's debatable. It might be a case of 'win the battle, lose the war' sort of deal.

Much of it depends on personal taste. For Queen of Swords, I wanted Caprice to come out on top. Future books, she may not. We'll just have to see.

How I Plot My Novels (Part II of Some Number, Might be III, Might be More)

Back again with more novel plotting! I'm using my book Queen of Swords as an example, so if you haven't read it yet, there are spoilers, massive ones, so read that first, then come back and read the blog post.

Act II: Confrontation and "Rising Action"
So, now we begin act two, and in Queen of Swords, it was pretty non explosive. At this point in a movie, the big bad has been revealed and the heroes are working towards defeating it, which will be resolved in the third act or the climax of the movie. For Queen of Swords it was a little different. I think in general writing about villains is a little different because they are active while heroes are reactive. I wanted to keep Caprice active. She's working towards a goal, she's doing things, and thus I had her go out to find her sword.

I just want to stop for a moment and speak about that. Many people don't consciously realize how passive heroes are for the most part. And when heroes turn active, that's when it starts to delve into areas which speculative fiction excels. For example, Superman cannot catch criminals before they do a crime. If he were to do so, then he would be the villain because he would 1) be breaking the law and 2) turning active. There are positive ways in which heroes can affect the world, through inspiration, through community programs, and through education, but in general, all of those are passive. They sow the seeds and wait patiently for change. When Superman decides to go and change the world actively, he's seen as a tyrant who forces people into obeying the law. He's no longer a hero, but a villain. For a more complex look at this, I suggest the movie Minority Report. I haven't read the story it was based off of, but even the movie raises questions about criminalizing thoughts and behavior before it actually happens.

Anyway, even if I had decided to keep Caprice reactive, there would have been some things which would have happened anyway, spurring her to action. She would still have lost her sword, and Nosferatu would have come out once dark hit anyway... but Harry would still have been missing, and Emily would have still confronted her. Taking that line of thought further down, Emily would likely have kept harassing Caprice until Caprice decided to either end her (more likely) or found Harry (way less likely). So, for a villain, while the story would have been extended a bit more, it would not have been as provocative. For a hero, the story ends when the big bad is defeated. When the protagonist is the big bad, it's a little harder to keep them motivated and moving.

At this point, I had decided that Caprice, as all protagonists, is something special, something extra. I didn't know what exactly, so I hinted at it saying these people were trying to get her for whatever reason. I also knew she had to keep moving. To this end, I used her desire to get her sword back to lead her to Alistair. Alistair gave her the complication of it wasn't just one thing she lost, but three. The first was her sword, and this was an easy thing for her to get. Someone brought it home from work. She killed the people in the house and reclaimed it. That is a complication which bears fruit in Prince of Cups as a consequence. Using the consequence in this way too gives Caprice a realization that she can't always work alone and needs someone to watch her back, which is an opportunity for character growth.

The second thing was Nosferatu. This helped me to define his character and limitations a bit--he can only change back when he's got enough blood in his system--and made for a sexy time in the basement, sort of. They negotiated a deal, and there is another complication (and betrayal! Keeping in with the theme of our book) when she finds out that now that he's bitten her, he can find her whenever he wants. This complication will also arise in Prince of Cups, and in future books as well. The last was Harry, of course, having been captured and having the tech taken out of him. Well, that was their intent anyway, but they had to keep him alive until they could extract the nanotech, and thus he was put into a storage tank, effectively neutralizing him.

To get to this, Caprice had to sneak back in. When she rescued Harry, they did have a bit of a fight, but it wasn't too horrible, and escape. Seems like it should be the action part right? Part of this rising action? The rising action in this case is the rescue AND being confronted by Emily afterwards. Those two things make Caprice realize what is going on here, and that he sold her out in some way. After that, it leads to the climax of the book. Events that lead directly to the climax is the rising action. They should, if you can, always escalate. In this case, it actually de-escalated a bit, and while I wasn't happy with how it came out, it had to be this way. There had to be an outside source telling Caprice what was up, and the character of Emily had always been planned as the hapless girlfriend. Harry "cheating" on her tells us more about his character, and it tells us about Emily as well.

I know if I had thought of a more actiony way to do it, I would be happier with the book for it, but sometimes... there has to be a side character guiding your protagonist. Shit does just happen in real life. Coincidences, bad timing, all of that. It was bad timing for Harry, cause his secret got revealed.

However, let's say that didn't happen. Let's say Caprice rescued him and Emily didn't find her to confront her. Eventually, Caprice would have figured out she hadn't been paid, and if Harry is smart (he is pretty crafty), he would have just paid her and been done with it. Either that or try to lure her into a trap again. I think the reason why I didn't choose this option is because it avoided Emily altogether and while she's not important NOW, she will be making at least one future appearance. The second is that getting a payment is not interesting. If she had beat it out of him, sure, but the character of Harry is smart enough to know when to cut his losses. If he had tried to lure her into a trap, he would have done so in such a way she wouldn't be able to escape easily. That might have been more exciting... but in all honesty, it would have been the end to the series. These guys after her aren't fucking around. They would have been prepared. She would have been caught, and that would be that. Without back-up, operating as she did at this point in the series, no one would have missed her.

Thus, I went with the less interesting option in this particular case. It serves a purpose, and while I wish I could have come up with a better option, I stand by what I wrote.

The confrontation with Emily, of course, seems pretty one-sided, but Caprice is the narrator and we understand things from her perspective, filtered through her sight. Even though the other woman is harsh, it tells us she knows Harry's a cheat, and knew he was planning something. It also tells us that for whatever reason, Emily is his confidant. There's a more complex relationship going on there which is only hinted at, but from Caprice's POV it's one of a shrill and jealous girlfriend keeping tabs on her man.

I think I'll cover the climax in the next segment, which will probably be the last. Or second to last. I might make a separate post about the metaplot, and perhaps give away some spoilers to come in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

How I Plot My Novels (Part I of I Don't Know How Many)

Although technically I haven't written any novels under this pen name yet, I have written novels. Lots of them. Some of them bad, some of them not so bad. Some might even see the light of day sometime. Bryce and I, writer BFFs that we are, were talking about The Prince of Cups, as I had given him my first draft to look over when he expressed interest. It's at around 24-25K words right now, and he read it over and gave me one of the best compliments I've ever gotten. Conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, so you thought it was good?
Bryce: Yeah, that would be an understatement.
Me: lol Told you I only barely started touching the main plot.
Bryce: *bows before you*
Me: lol I think you're overselling me.
Bryce: My plotting is so simple.
Me: I worry I plot too much!
Bryce: Mine is just kill and fuck!
Me: But that's ok too!
Basically, the compliment was that my plot was complex for it, which is awesome! We went on to talk about it, and how I have a whole metaplot in mind for the Villainess series (like I do with Delilah as well), and that I have the first six or so books lined up. The further away from where I am now the more vague they are, but I still have the plot in mind, and a goal I'm working towards. Whether it stays the same or not over time, we'll see.

Then I said I was thinking of making a blog post about how I wrote stuff like that, and he said he'd be interested. :P I was going to write it anyway, but Bryce, this is for you. :D

First things first: you gotta have an idea. It can be as simple as "I want to write about a bad ass villain", which is kinda the basis of Villainess. Once you have the idea, figure out what appeals to you about it. I'm going to use Queen of Swords as my main example here, so if you haven't read it yet, there are spoilers in this post for the book. You've been warned.

Next, figure out your characters. I almost always start with the enemy first, the antagonist. In the case of a series here, obviously Caprice will always be the protagonist, and she'll face off against different enemies. When creating Queen of Swords, I knew EXACTLY who I wanted as an enemy, which ultimately was Harry, the deceiver. I also knew I wanted to have a couple of side characters that interested me, and to sort of expand the universe without explaining about it. It's always better to show rather than tell, and exposition is something you should try to avoid. Now, I used exposition to describe Caprice, since she's our narrator, but that was written for me to get a lock on the character. I will often write scenes or dialogues with the main protagonists so I can get into their heads, and in this case I thought I'd just leave it in, as it explained the world and the character, even if it was a bit long.

So, with Harry, I wanted him to come off as being a relatively nice guy, someone who's cute and funny, kinda dangerous but not really. Towards the end, it would be revealed that he was just manipulating her in order to get a bigger payday. Made a mistake and got screwed. Literally. Literally in a couple ways. >.>

Right away now I have an idea that they are going to somehow meet up or do something together, then he'll betray her, and because she's a bad ass villain, she'll have her revenge. Right there is the basic outline for Queen of Swords:

  1. Introduction -- introducing Caprice and the world
  2. Set-up -- her and Harry "do something" together, since they're villains it's probably going to be stealing or killing.
  3. Betrayal -- the "twist" as it is, which leads into...
  4. Her Revenge -- the climax
Every book has three main acts. Every story has three main acts. Those parts have to be addressed in order to have a satisfying story. Once I get the gist (see above) of what's going on, then I start to fill in each act on its own, in order.

The First Act: Exposition, Character Introductions, Inciting Incident

 The first act for Queen of Swords is basically Caprice getting a job from Harry to steal a gizmo. Since I'd written some words in Caprice's voice, and I had gotten to know her as a character, I started to think, "Where would she be?" Well, she'd be where she would get a contact or a job. Thus I had to start thinking about setting more. Now, in this case, I am blatantly stealing ideas and twisting them for my own purposes from City of Heroes/Villains. Yes, a video game. Because there had to be some way for criminals to get in touch with each other, and I myself am not a criminal and don't know these things, I thought about what would make the most sense. Well, like an underground network, right? Makes sense?

Taking the idea of something underground, below the radar, I stole the idea of a huge dance club for meta humans from City of Heroes: Pocket D. There are references which CoH players may get in there, and Virtueites in particular... such as not going in the bathrooms. Ew. In that game, Pocket D was an interdimensional night club that both sides could access. For a long time, that was the only way you could interact with a villain if you were a hero, and vice versa.

Now that idea didn't work for me, in the slightest. I wanted this place to be much darker, and bigger, like no one knows how big it is. No one except Malech knows, and he changes it. It is still interdimensional, but people don't' know that. They just think it's underground, which is where I got the name from: The Underground. It's not just a double entendre, but a triple one. Underground because of the criminal element which dominates, the entrances go underground in the real world... and it's actually his layer of hell, which one could consider the spiritual underground. There are private rooms for people to conduct business or fuck in. There are dance parties and dance floors and shit. There are a ton of bars. In the second book, Prince of Cups, it's actually shown the warping capabilities Malech has in his domain, as Caprice climbs up a bunch of stairs, says fuck it and turns around, and the door is there. Is it him warping space? Or warping her mind? Who knows? I haven't decided yet.

At this point I stopped and thought about the mood of the piece. I wanted it dark and sexy. Caprice is psycho, and she loves killing. She loves fucking. Along with mood, we need a theme. To go with the mood, I chose the themes of "You can't trust anyone" and "Nothing is ever free.". Without exception, everyone in the book Caprice meets or interacts with wants something from her, and may or may not be willing to go to violence to get it. Taking our examples, Michael/Nosferatu wants to fuck her (or kill her, maybe both), and fights her for dominance. When he's "trapped" in the apartment building underground, Nosferatu wants her blood in order to replenish himself. They end up brokering a deal, sort of a favor for a favor. She doesn't trust him to respect her boundaries, not that she has many other than "don't kill me".

Alistair, the mage, basically withholds his services unless she gives him her services.

Harry, of course, is the betrayer. While he hires her straight up for a job (nothing is free), he ends up arranging to turn her in to some strangers who are hunting her (can't trust anyone). After Emily runs into her (where the theme is repeated but on Emily's side... Emily was ALSO betrayed in this), then Caprice becomes a form of the betrayer in taking her revenge. She could have given him a chance to fight, but why? She does what he intended to do to her: seduce him, and then kill him.

When you figure out your theme, the more you can repeat it subtly through the book, the stronger it will be. But subtly. Don't hammer it over people's heads all the time.

Now, having some settings and ideas about the mood/theme, I concentrated on supporting characters. Caprice was introduced, and we would get to Harry by the end of the intro, but that wasn't enough. To this end, I introduced Nosferatu. I like Nos. He's one of my favorites (and may be based loosely on a friend I used to know, a long time ago). I wanted to add someone else who was a bad ass in there, on the same level or more powerful than Caprice, but who didn't care so much about money. His motivation for being a villain is completely different than hers. He's also technically two characters in one, his human host being Michael, and the vampire spirit/ghost Nosferatu. Even though it wasn't expressed explicitly, they also reflect the theme. When Michael comes back into control after Nosferatu feeds on Caprice, he states that she shouldn't have done that. When she asks why, he says that Nos can find her anywhere now. A mini-betrayal, as Nosferatu didn't tell her that. This will set up complications for later books.

I also wanted someone else, a contact for her to find information. This lead me to make Alistair, which I'll go into in the next post (as this one is getting too long). I couldn't think of anything else offhand, so I went ahead and started writing.

Much of my process is in my head. I keep track of very long plot lines and hooks because I keep telling myself the story and changing things as I see fit. Some people may find it easier to write down notes. I do this occasionally as well, but they are generally brief. However, because it's in my head, sometimes it seems easy or non-complicated until I see it all written down and go, "Yeah, this isn't going to work." Be watchful of that, and pay attention to opportunities to complicate things for your characters. The whole idea of the complication is what led me to use Alistair later on, and why I chose three things. But again, that's next post.

At this point, while I was writing, I got Nosferatu's and Harry's characteristics down. I changed some stuff as I needed while I wrote and went into the job. The question of why the job in the first place when Harry could just turn her in bothered me, so I created the reason he needed the item: he's a "meta" too, or actually, someone using super science to augment himself. Since he's a criminal, I had him steal it. But since it wasn't installed properly, he needed some widgit to fix it. Thus, when the opportunity came for a payday, he saw another opportunity to get something he wanted first by using a couple of talented individuals as well as himself to break into Titan.

By creating that reason, I created a complication for Harry. Now, it may not be important for Caprice's story since he ends up killed, but stuff like that is what I mean by creating complications. Even if it touches on a side character, how that character then acts will be changed, which may in turn affect your plot or your protagonist.

I cannot stress how important this two minute video is. It encapsulates the idea of complications and how they affect the story. Watch it. Then watch it again. Watch it over and over again and memorize this: The importance of "Therefore" and "But". Everything is either a consequence or a complication.

Using their pretty simple system, what we have for Queen of Swords actually starts with Harry, believe it or not. Harry gets an offer to turn in Caprice, BUT he needs some widget to fix himself THEREFORE he hires Caprice and Nosferatu to steal it with him BUT during a fight the trio are separated and Caprice loses her sword THEREFORE she goes to Alistair to find it BUT finds out she has "lost" other things... and so on and so on.

The end of the first act is actually where the motivation focus goes from Harry's motivation (betray Caprice/get his widget) to Caprice's motivation (find her lost sword). If you look at it in this way, the first act has three separate beats itself: Getting hired, the fight, the aftermath/sexy times/denouement in Harry's apartment. I could have stopped the story there. And for a long time I did. I wrote this in fits and spurts, and when I came to the end of the sexy times, I wasn't sure where to go with it. At this point, I didn't know Harry was going to betray Caprice, not ... like he did. I knew something else had to happen, but I wasn't sure what. So, I shelved the story and worked on other things while I figured it out.

When it hit me that "Hey, she's the lead, so she's special, right? How special IS she? Are the other people looking for her? And if so, who are they?" caused me to go back and revisit the story. This is more for the next section, but I wanted to mention that because as soon as I thought of the idea, I went back and rewrote sections of the Harry's apartment scene. Originally, it was furnished. Not well, but furnished. And dirty, as if he hadn't been there in a while. I changed it up so that it was clean and not really furnished at all, which gives the audience to think that maybe something isn't right here, yet be subtle enough people might not catch it. And again, this adds a complication for Caprice down the line, in future books.

A last thing, and this goes to editing. Everything you write should either go to character development, plot development, or theme/mood development. If a word you write doesn't add to any of those? Cut it. Some writers would say to cut the mood or theme too, as those would tie into the plot, but that's not necessarily true. I recently read a book which the plot was... not awesome, but the mood of the book was dark, and I really enjoyed that. If the author hadn't spent time building the mood, I would have put it down. I find it's more important to build mood for tragedies, horror, and romances than it is for other genres, but each have their own beats and moods to learn.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New Teaser!

Still messing around with making teasers, now that I have a breather. I should be writing. SHOULD BE WRITING, ME. But I made a teaser instead. I don't think I have the "sexy" part down on it though.

Here it is, based off of the first Villainess book: The Queen of Swords. This one is for Nosferatu, who was a lot harder to find pictures for than I thought. Sid Vicious? No, too small. Billy Idol? Way too blonde. And just not... "right". I ended up with a side profile of a random mohawked punk. It works. I think? And of course, like Regulus, Nosferatu's got a couple different sides to him. In this case, it's two souls actually inhabiting one body, not just different personality aspects. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

On Reviewing...

There's an old saying that goes, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." That can't be more wrong. First, in order to teach something you have to have a basic understanding of it. Second, teaching is a skill all its own. You can be smart as hell, but have no idea how to teach someone what you know. Just about everything takes a skill... reading, writing, driving, eating, tying your shoes, etc etc etc. Anything. The only thing that really isn't... is reviewing.

Stay with me here. Reviewing something is basically stating your opinion. Now, a lot of people maybe can't state it in a way that's amusing to other people, or perhaps they can't quite express their opinion clearly and get others to agree with them... but absolutely everyone can say "I like this" or "I hate this". There is absolutely no right or wrong answer when it comes to reviewing because it's an opinion and thus purely subjective.

What makes a good review though? That's a question that confounds a lot of people. In my opinion, a good review is an honest one, which lists both positives and negatives about an item, and allows people to get the most information. Ideally, this would be in a format which is amusing, as well as being easy to read. The most important part about a review is honesty. If I wanted someone to blow smoke up my butt, I can get that. Might cost extra, but I can get it. Having someone be completely honest about something I wrote is worth a thousand sycophants, especially if it holds constructive criticism in it.

Not so long ago, Nessa Dearmond reviewed Knob Jobs and Broomsticks, and gave it an average rating of 3 stars. Not bad. Honestly, that's the best I can really hope for is "Yeah, it's ok" because opinions on art especially vary so widely. When they approached me to do a review, I was like, "BE HONEST. BRUTALLY SO." They were. And it wasn't that brutal. Reading it still hurt a touch because c'mon writers... when you have people read your stuff, you expect rave reviews, don't you? Even if you're being modest, you still expect it because it's something YOU like and you expect others to like it as well. So, reading it I was like, O.O but I appreciate the honesty. Nessa said what they liked, what they didn't, and found it average. I can deal with that. It was a good eye-opener, and I appreciate that more than anything, I think.

So now that I'm reviewing a lot, or at least relatively often, I do want to keep in mind the feelings of the author, but I want to continue to be honest. I can't not be. And even when it's something I don't necessarily enjoy, I can usually find something I did like about it, or thought was clever. I try to list positives as well as negatives, and give an overall impression. For instance, in Renee Jordan's shifter book I reviewed, I was blown away by the elegant simplicity of some of the ideas she had. I was like, "OMFG why didn't I think of that?!" even though overall, I thought the book missed a few beats. Positives and negatives.

When reviewing on a five point system, I always figure out how I would score it on a ten point system and round down. It makes me a tougher reviewer, but I just can't... give away five stars easily. Hell, some of my favorite authors wouldn't get five stars from me on most of their stuff. That's just the way I am. I'm also generally reluctant to give one star on things... because often the act of creating the piece itself is enough to bump it up to two stars. Not many people follow through with their dreams and ambitions and actually WRITE. That deserves some recognition.

To sum up, what I find good in reviews is:

  • Honesty
  • Positive and negative points
  • Ease of reading
  • Amusement
The last one is really nebulous, and I think that's what makes people read one reviewer while others read another. Our senses of humor are all different, and mine is rather perverse and weird at times. Some folks like it, and some don't, and that's ok. The one thing I've learned over the years is that you just can't please everyone, and it's best to not even try to. 

Another NBS Review, Writing Block, and Man I Fucking Hate Customers (But Not You, Please Buy my Books)

I finished another review for the NBS! I abbreviate that in my head as "Naughty BitcheS" for some reason. Huh. Anyway, this time it was a bit longer than a short, but not quite a novella. I think they call them "novelettes"... at around 10K or so. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. Read the review here.

In writing news, I have hit a block. That might have something to do with the third part of the title or me hating on customers. I absolutely do not mean my book customers. Y'all are great. I keep hearing horror stories about lady authors getting random dick pics and being harassed... yet I have not been. Hurray for fans as socially-hermitlike as I am! I mean customers IRL here at my day job. When you get screamed at for any amount of time for shit that ain't your fault, it tends to put a kink in your day and dry up your creative juices. Ah, shit, if I had only thought about this before... I would have written something bloody for Prince of Cups, but I am concentrating on Rock's next story.

Not going good. I mean, when I'm writing, it's going fine. Yet I haven't been writing the last couple of days. Busy at day job and bad days at day job means Alana sulks by shooting zombies in the head in various games. Or wolves in my wolf attack simulator, otherwise known as The Long Dark. Forcing yourself to write when the mood isn't even in the same city as you is impossible. If it's in the same house with me sulking, I can usually coax a few hundred words here and there, but sweet jebus on a cracker, customers at my day job, just fucking let it go!

Alright, venting done! Tomorrow is another day, and I am determined to get this book out. Of course, I know when I switch books the words will come smooth, yet I am determined! Jotham will have to have his own sulk party because after this Rock book, I don't think I can write another for a lil while. Either they draw bad luck, or they're hard to write, or both man.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Cherry Done Popped being a Naughty Book Snitch! Patient Lee was the one who popped it. :P It was going to be someone else, but I'm still waiting for them to get back to me as they were on vacay. Totally understandable, but I was stuck with my writing, and I wanted to do something productive... and thus, I reviewed.

The book is Wicked Cold, and I got it for a freebie. I'd definitely say check it out, but go read the review, mother fuckers, and find out for yourselves!

In writing news, I am concentrating on Deep Nine. Other books keep trying to steal my attention, but I am not letting them. NOT LETTING THEM. I will cover my ears and sing LA LA LA real loud until they go away. In other words, I am going to finish this one if it kills me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Officially Official at Being Unofficial!

...or something.

It's officially official I am a Naughty Book Snitch! I'm very excited about it, and can't wait to start (in between writing of course), though I'm not quite sure what it means for my reviews on this blog. What I think I will end up doing is linking it up to the Book Snitch site from here, and maybe put some extra thoughts here. I'll play it by ear. There's no hard and fast rule, of course.

That does leave this blog for actual writing stuff, which is good! Although reading and reviewing is part of the learning part for an author, it'll be good to focus on writing and promotion and other type of stuff here. Which reading that back I see that I'm already repeating myself, heh. What I MAY do is keep books which are requested for a review at the NBS, and books that I choose at random or that I want to review here.

At any rate, it'll be a lot of fun to see what kinds of stuff people have written! It might be good, it might be bad, it might be Chuck Tingle. We'll see.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Naughty Book Snitch... Alana?

Although it's not formalized yet, I applied to become one of Mindy's Naughty Book Snitches (check out the blog, I love their reviews) and Mindy got back to me tonight! The conversation went something like this:

Mindy: SQUEE!

Now, I've been doing reviews here for what... couple months, at most? I've reviewed stuff under my RL name of course, which shan't be given here because I am keeping my pen name and RL name separate, and I've reviewed a lot of fanfiction as I used to be a member of GAFF from days gone by. A lot... of really, really terrible fanfiction. (Agony in Pink anyone? Superman's Stump? Data Goes Ballistic? Hermoine and the Pizza Deliver Guy? Oh, and of course, Celebrian. Always Celebrian.) So, I know what bad stuff is... the question is, do I know what good stuff is?

In reality, reviews are all subjective. There's no wrong or right answer in a review. A reviewer is merely putting their opinion out there, saying what they liked and didn't like about something. When I review something, I look at things like grammar, spelling, and story construction. Yes, even in erotica. Certain genres have certain beats they need to hit, and while I may not always manage to hit them myself, I know it when I see it. I know some reviewers like to give authors a positive review--or at least a not-negative one--to help them out, but I'm not sure that's entirely helpful all the time.

I got burned a little bit when I told a reviewer to be honest... and they were. XD It wasn't a glowing review, but it wasn't bad either... however, it's the kind of review I like most. Point out stuff they like, stuff they didn't like, and weigh the pros and cons accordingly. If a reviewer is always one way or another, then it's not entirely honest. That's one reason why I like Mindy's reviews so much. When she likes something, she likes it. And when she doesn't, she tells you exactly why she doesn't, and why it doesn't work for her. It's almost always with the caveat of it may not work for her, but it might for you.

That's the kind of reviewer you can trust, and that's the kind I hope to be even if being an official snitch doesn't go through. (It might not! Just because we squee at each other a lot doesn't mean it will go through automatically!) If nothing else, I hope it's entertaining. I try, at any rate. So, we'll see! I must say I am excited at the possibility!

Also, Mindy had never heard of Chuck Tingle. This blasphemy was corrected quickly.