Showing posts with label book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book. Show all posts

Thursday, April 24

Parts of Story: The Importance of Sequels

Parts of Story: The Importance of Sequels

In the previous chapter we discussed the structure of a sequel. Now lets talk about what a sequel does and how it does it.

Jim Butcher, author of the bestselling Dresden Files series, writes:

"Sequels, frankly, are what really make or break books. How you choose to show your reader your character's reactions determines everything about the reader's response to the events of the story."

Sequels have four main roles:

- Readers identify with characters. Sequels are where your readers bond with your characters; they are where, hopefully, readers will come to empathize with them. This is where the bulk of a character's development occurs.

- Time can move rapidly. Scenes are time-unified. If you want to skip forward, say, a week, that should happen in a sequel.

- Pacing. We use sequels to control the pace of a story. Long sequels slow down the pace while short ones speed it up.

- Fine tune your novel. By varying the amount of time you spend of each of a sequels parts, by varying your emphasis, you can change a flighty character into a brainy one or make a despicable character likeable. 

Lets take a look at each of these points.

1. Readers Identify With Characters

In Dwight V. Swain's book, Creating Characters, he writes that emotion is what gives a character direction. If, at the end of a scene, a bully has just kicked sand in your protagonist's face--or murdered their spouse--that character is going to be in pain and, consequently, motivated to make sure the killer pays for his actions. In short, strong emotion gives a character direction.

Further, in a sequel we get to show the kind of things the character dwells on, the sort of things he responds to. 

As characters reflect on the events of the previous scene each will focus on what, given their specific nature, was important to them. If a character is bloodthirsty she will recall her kills with gusto or longing. If a character is especially concerned with the welfare of others--perhaps overly so--she will focus on the harm she allowed to come to an innocent, perhaps ignoring the harm she herself suffered, or the reasons why the harm occurred.

2. Time Passes Quickly

A scene is time-unified; there are no breaks, no huge gaps. One thing happens, then another, then another, until the scene is over and the protagonist's goal has been attained--or not. Sequels are places where time can be disjointed and move quickly. 

3. Using Sequels To Control Pace

Character development tends to slow the pace of a story while action speeds it up. If you read a book and it seems as though you never got to know any of the characters, not enough to really care about them, chances are there were very few sequels in the book, or the sequels were short and insubstantial. 

On the other hand, if a book seems to drag, if it seems to explore the relationships between the characters ad nauseum, if there are short sprints of action followed by endless second-guessing and rumination, then chances are you'll find that it has long involved sequels and short scenes.

4. Sequels Help You Fine Tune Your Novel

Jim Butcher writes: 

"This basic structure for sequels is pretty much the ENTIRE secret of my success. I do it like this in every freaking book I write. I know it works because check it out. People like my books. They like them for some of the special effects, sure, and for some of the story ideas sometimes--but mostly it's because they find themselves caring about what happens to the characters, and that happens in sequels."

I think Jim Butcher is underestimating the appeal of both his unique voice and his wit, but that's still a powerful recommendation of sequels. I encourage you to read Jim Butcher's discussion of sequels in it's entirety. I'm not going to go into it in any depth here, but one of the most valuable things sequels can do for you is assist you in fine-tuning your novels during rewrites.

For instance, if you're writing a romance novel and there isn't enough pathos, enough passion, make the sequels longer and focus on your characters' emotional reactions. If the pace is lagging, make the sequels shorter. 

Here are a few character types Jim Butcher mentioned, types that can illustrate how sequels can help you shape a character.

Brainy characters:

- Emotional Reaction: Normal
- Cognitive Reaction: Heavy
- Anticipation: Light
- Decision/Choice: Normal or Light depending on what you want to do in the next scene.

It's no surprise that brainy characters will have more substantial Cognitive Reaction sections. Jim Butcher adds, though, that it's a good idea to play up the anticipation part. Build suspense, tension, around what is going to happen when the protagonist makes her move.

The result? In Sir Conan Arthur Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories the great detective hates explaining his method because then his amazing conclusion seems like a cheap trick, it seems as though anyone could have done it. It's the same here, by veiling exactly how the protagonist came to their conclusion the feat looks more impressive and generates curiosity in the reader: How'd he know that? 

Characters trying to pick a side:

- Emotional Reaction: Normal
- Cognitive Reaction: Normal
- Anticipation: Heavy
- Decision: None

This helps build suspense. By withholding a character's final decision from the reader, when that character goes into action in the next scene you know they've made a choice and you know what the stakes are but you don't know what their decision was. That makes a reader curious, and that curiosity will make them want to turn the page.

How to make a character's motivations clear:

If your character's motivations aren't clear then make sure that the stages of your sequels are in the right order (Emotional Reaction then Cognitive Reaction then Anticipation then Decision) and that his choices are consistent. 

For instance, if your protagonist is a hero's hero type (lawful good) he probably wouldn't choose to endanger the life of someone else even if it meant his death, except in extraordinary circumstances. I just finished reading George R.R. Martin's interview in Rolling Stone and he reminds us that even the best character can do horrible things given the right (or wrong) circumstances. Martin asks: If you could save the lives of your lover and your children by killing another man's child, would you? It's an excellent interview.

Sequels in a murder mystery:

- Emotional Reaction: Light
- Cognitive Reaction: Heavy
- Anticipation: Normal
- Decision/Choice: Light or None

In a murder mystery novel, the cognitive reaction part will receive a lot of space and each possible murderer is going to be given a lot of attention. But, as Jim Butcher points out, writers usually veil the "choice" aspect and keep their sleuth's best guess about the identity of the killer as surprise for the reveal at the end. That's when the sleuth explains his methods and how he came to figure out the identity of the murderer.


- Emotional Reaction: Heavy
- Cognitive Reaction: Light
- Anticipation: Normal
- Decision/Choice: Normal or Light

It isn't that heroes and heroines in romance stories are any less brainy than those in murder mysteries, but readers of romances are more interested in the interpersonal relationships than are readers of murder mysteries. Take, for example, a whodunit. As the name suggests, what the reader cares about is figuring out who did the crime. In such a mystery romantic connections that don't have anything to do with solving the crime would be an irritating irrelevance.

Those are just a few of the many, many, ways sequels can be used to shape your characters and, thus, your readers reactions.

Since writing these chapters I've begun seeing sequels everywhere, not just in books; TV shows and movies use them as well.

In the next chapter we'll look at the stakes of the hero's quest.

(Note: This post is from one of the chapters of my upcoming book, Parts of Story, which I usually publish separately. But this particular chapter proved to be a bit thorny and was taking so much time I decided to post it as one of my three weekly posts. I'm sorry if that creates any confusion. Thanks for your patience as I (slowly) blog my book. Cheers!)

Thursday, June 7

7 Tips On How To Launch A Book Without Losing Your Mind

Elizabeth S. Craig writes:
Today is the launch for the first book in a new series—Quilt or Innocence in the Southern Quilting mysteries. 

How often will I track its sales numbers? Rarely.

7 Tips for Releasing a Book Without Losing Your Mind:

1. Get off the grid. That’s right. Take yourself offline. It can be done! The longer I stay offline when I’ve got a release, the more relaxed I feel.

2. Don’t watch your numbers. Sales numbers will fluctuate…and most of the time we don’t know what’s behind them. It’s sort of like the flapping butterfly wings creating the hurricane.

3. Don’t read your reviews unless you can be objective. You don’t even have to be objective…being analytical about the reviews is good enough.

4. Write your next book. Always a good idea to get a jump on a sequel or another standalone.

5. Write guest posts. Not only will a well-crafted guest post keep you distracted, it will also help circulate that book cover and headshot of yours. 
Read the rest of Elizabeth's post here: How to Launch a Book Without Losing Your Mind.

I love getting tips from a pro! I can't wait to read Quilt or Innocence, I love Elizabeth's books.


Sunday, June 3

TREEbook: An e-book format that allows for multiple story-lines

"TREEbook" stands for Timed Reading Experience E-book. As the name implies, this new e-book format will allow the reader to experience a story tailored to their reading pace and preferences.

This is from
Built into the code of each TREEbook™ are time triggers that are set off based on your reading habits, such as your average reading pace, which day you’re reading, or even how long you read, leading you to each successive branch within the story. With the interplay between time triggers and story branches, different readers can experience various results of pivotal moments within the same TREEbook™. If, for example, you read that the hero has ten minutes to dismantle a bomb but your real life forces you away from the TREEbook™ for fifteen minutes, you could return to the story in the aftermath of the explosion. If your friend is reading the same book, depending on her reading habits, her experience may be different. For example, the hero could save the day. The outcomes would lead you and your friend to even more diverging branches of the story.
. . . .

The story grows with you.

The very first TREEbook™ novel (release date 2013) will be The Julian Year by award-winning horror author Gregory Lamberson (The Jake Helman Files, The Frenzy Wolves Cycle). In The Julian Year, Julian Weizak, an obituary writer in New York, celebrates his birthday alone in a bar on New Year’s Eve. At the stroke of midnight, scores of homicides break out on the East Coast.

Julian discovers twenty thousand murders are committed that night in New York alone, with the epidemic spreading across the country and the world time zone by time zone. At midnight each day thereafter, millions of people become homicidal maniacs, contributing to the biggest killing spree in history. It looks as if the chaos can lead to only one end: the extinction of humankind.
- About TREEbook
I wonder how this would work for book clubs? You ask: How did you feel when the hero was blown up by the bomb? only to have everyone look at you uncomprehendingly because in their versions (they didn't have to get up to baste a chicken!) he was saved.

Although I love exploring new technologies, it seems as though this one could be frustrating. Having the action continue on even when I'm up doing something else? I don't know about you, but the day I got a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), one that allowed me to freeze whatever program I was watching so I could go off and do other things, was one of the happiest days of my life! (A fact which makes me think I've likely spent too much time watching TV.)

What do you think about this new technology? Would you buy a TREEbook?


Friday, June 1

No Kindles Allowed At The Hay Festival

Why are no Kindles allowed at the Hay Festival? Apparently it "goes against the ethos of a town to have a machine you can read a story on (From the transcription of the video No Kindles Allowed, see below)."

Edit (June 2, 2012): See the bottom of this article for an update to the situation.

I had never heard of the Hay Festival before, which I feel a bit silly about now since apparently it's quite famous.
The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales for ten days from May to June.... [T]he festival was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "The Woodstock of the mind".
- Hay Festival
Ian McEwan once gave a great line about why he previews his novels here [at the Hay Festival]. He joked - 'I don't do research anymore, I ask the audience at Hay'.
- Hay Festivals
Today is June 1, so the Hay Festival should be in full swing. Passive Guy came across a video that looks as though it was shot at Hay-on-Wye, where the festival is taking place. As of this writing, the video can be found in the hayontv YouTube channel.

I've embedded the video and included a transcription, below.

My transcription:
(Woman sitting in a bookstore looking at the camera.)

When you drive into a small American town you often see, by towns side, apart from the number of people that live there, is that it's a nuclear free zone, or something like that, because the local councils have voted on that.

We would like Hay to be a Kindle free zone. We really feel it goes against the ethos of a town to have a machine you can read a story on. The book is the thing in this town. And we would like to really ban them [Kindles] and treat people coming with Kindles quite harshly.

(Woman walks through bookstore and addresses a man. The woman is now off camera.)

 Woman: I heard you actually told somebody off the other day for sitting outside the next door shop reading from a Kindle.

Man: Well, I was gasped in surprise and I did restrain myself from grabbing it and jumping up and down on it and then slashing it to bis with my lightsaber.

(Laughter from off camera.)

Man: So in fact the person holding it was quite lucky they escaped with their Kindle in one piece.

Woman: So no Kindles allowed at this years festival?

Man: No Kindles. Anybody seen with a Kindle will be unceremoniously dumped on the wayside.
I'd like to stress that this story is unconfirmed. It certainly could be someone's idea of joke. I have contacted the Hay Festival in an effort to confirm the story, but I haven't heard back from them.

I should mention that when I looked through the hayontv YouTube channel I found this video of a hiker openly using her Kindle. She was interviewed but appears to have come through the experience no worse for wear.

If I hear anything else about Kindles not being allowed at the Hay Festival, I'll be sure to update this post.

June 2nd Update
I just heard back from the folks at Hay Tourism. Here is the reply:
Thank you for your email.

Please ignore the foolishness on the video.  Mr & Mrs Addyman have a couple of bookshops in Hay so I can see they would rather people purchased books rather than people having Kindles.

I agree in that nothing can replace a good book but for convenience, especially when on holiday when one has to consider baggage weight etc., a Kindle is ideal. 

So please do not let such things prevent you from visiting us here in Hay - I am quite sure it was all done, as you say, tongue in cheek - and bring your Kindle!!

Kind Regards.
So it seems the video expressed the sentiments of two individuals rather than the town, or the Hay Festival Committee. I am glad. It looks like a terrific festival, one I would love to attend one year.

I can understand the desperation bookstore owners must feel in a town where six bookstores have closed in the past year (this is according to the second video I listed, see above).

Here are two articles about the situation at the Hay Festival:
- The man who would be 'king' of Hay-on-Wye
- Kill the Kindle! In home of the Hay Festival, bookshop boss goes to war on gadget that 'turns readers into robots'

Also, there is a lively discussion going on over at the Passive Voice Blog.

"No Kindles Allowed At The Hay Festival," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Sunday, May 27

How Many Books A Year Should I Write?

Author Elizabeth S. Craig talks about how many books a year she writes (3 or 4), why she writes at that pace, and what her schedule is like.
I just don’t think we can make a living off a book a year if we’re midlist authors. (Actually…I know we can’t. Unless your book deals are a whole lot better than mine are.)
Elizabeth's article is fascinating on its own, but especially when read in the light of what Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been saying for years, that in order to make a living as a writer one needs to write more than one book a year, a lot more. But, practically, what's that like?
I wanted to let you know that writing several books a year doesn’t take that long. As I mentioned in this post, if you can write 3 1/2 pages a day, you can write three or four books a year. Even if it takes you a long time, thoughtfully considering each word and making each word resonate with meaning, you can probably manage a least two if you stay focused during your writing time.
Good to know!
So what’s it like to write that many books a year? I can let you know what it’s like for me. This is the first time I’ve really analyzed it, so it’s interesting to break it all down (for the record, since the start of 2012, I’ve written one full book and I’m now passing the halfway mark of the second. I do edit quickly and I do have either my publisher’s editors or freelance editors go over my work after I edit it.)
Elizabeth even gives us a list of pros and cons:
Good things
*You write every day and you don’t lose any story continuity.

*You don’t forget or stumble with your character’s individual voices.

*You think about your story more during the day. Plot ideas, small scenes, even just words occur to you during the day in reference to the story.

*You don’t ever get bored with what you’re writing.

*You just jump right into the story every single day. No wondering where you left off. No feeling like you’ve lost the story thread.

*Frequently you’ll get story ideas for the next book in the series while writing the book.

*Readers don’t have to wait very long between books.

*Obviously, your income is higher.
For her lists of not so good things and downright lousy things, read the rest of her article, here: What Happens After Writing 3 or 4 Books a Year

Related reading:
The Business Rusch: The “Brutal” 2000-Word Day

Monday, October 10

Ebook: A book with no body?

Have you seen those old and marvelously cheesy sci-fi movies where someone is disassembled, digitized, and lives -- non-corporeally -- in a computer?
The other day I was musing that this is what has happened to the book.

Originally stories were written in pictures on walls, then on scrolls and, later still, the codex was developed. Stories were embodied in various physical mediums over the years and each new embodiment was considered a technological innovation.

Enter the ebook. With the advent of electronic books, the story has shed its physical, corporeal, form. Physical pulp and paper books have a shelf life and the story they contain has to be copied over to a new book, a laborious process, one that conjures up images of monks stooped over velum, quill in hand, painstakingly scribing words, sentences, into a new volume. Now the process is instantaneous and costs practically nothing.

It is an interesting thing to think about; at least for myself. But, then, I'm strange. ;)

For more weird and wonderful musings, check out Lev Grossman's article in The New York Times, From Scroll to Screen. (Thanks to Bob Mayer, and a comment he made on Kris Rusch's post, for the link.)