Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guest blogger--R.F. Long

Note: regular blogging will resume Monday. Thanks everyone!

R.F. Long is a regular commenter on my livejournal, and an all-around great gal. So when she mentioned she had a new release coming up--The Scroll Thief, from Samahin Publishing--I invited her to pop on over and write me a guest post. Which she has done, admirably. Why not pay her back by buying her book? Check this out:

Love is the wiliest thief of all.

A Tale of Ithian

Malachy and his sister rely on his talents as a thief to survive the dangerous streets of Klathport, former capital of the once-great kingdom of Ithian. Stealing a few papers should have been a simple job. Instead, it nearly costs their lives and throws them into an improbable alliance with a shape-shifting official, a desert tribeswoman, and a healer of enchanting beauty.

Cerys is far more than a simple healer—and the roots of her mission go deeper into the past than anyone can know. She needs Malachy’s skills to recover a stolen scroll, one that can be used to rewrite history and, in the wrong hands, release the dark powers of the Demon Realm.

Her mission was supposed to atone for a dreadful, long-ago act. Instead, it unleashes a chain of events which sees them pursued through city and desert by the fearsome Dune Witch and a killer known only as His Lordship. Romance, tragedy, and adventure blend in a tale of a magical land on the brink of war, and five unlikely allies who, by putting their lives—and their hearts—on the line, have the opportunity to finally set things right.

But at a terrible cost.

Awesome, right? So go on! After you read the post, of course. Or, no, you can go buy it and come back later, that's okay too.

Fantasy World Building

I love it when a novel seizes your attention, when you just can’t put it down until you find out what happens next. Many factors contribute to this magic spell – plot, characters, conflict – but nothing will undermine it as quickly as world building which causes the reader to pause, to question and to scratch their head and go “huh?”
World building in “real world” novels is in many ways easier – it’s a matter of research and depiction, of filtering the appropriate information through the story without info-dumping it all on page one. There’s a shorthand to it that a large number of your audience will understand immediately.

But in fantasy novels its easy too, isn’t it? You just make it all up as you go along and hope for the best. You just have to know where to start.

Well, not really. I find that the world building that works for me relies strongly on consistent use of interlocking elements and determined questioning of the elements that make up the world. Just like plotting, an author has to sound like a four-year old, when it comes to every part of their fantasy world – Why? Why? Why?
When you’re creating a brand new fantasy world, or even offering a new slant on a very old one, it pays to consider the history and geography that have created the civilisations, the social, political and economic backgrounds which have brought about the current circumstances, the religious and magical developments which alter everyday life.

Do the different races live in harmony or are they divided? Are there social castes or a rich/poor divide? What sort of ruling class control each country? How would a hereditary royal court in a feudal society react to the rise of a militant theocracy in the neighbouring country? What if previously dormant magic was activated in a public manner, in a country in which magic is outlawed? What if someone could break a curse that has plagued them for centuries, by turning back time and destroying the culture which has developed since?

Many fantasies dwell in a pseudo medieval European world populated with fantastic creatures and magical beings, so beautifully defined and parodied in Diana Wynne-Jones “Guide to Fantasy-land”, which has led many modern writers to seek alternatives. This has led to a stunning diversification in the fantasy environments we encounter today – Lian Hearn’s Otori saga, for example, is set in a fantasy version of medieval Japan.

My novel, “The Scroll Thief”, draws on my honeymoon in Andalusia, the area of southern Spain which in the middle ages was the Moorish realm of Al-Andalus, known for magnificent architecture, sciences, medicine and poetry. We visited magnificent palaces and gardens, and when I came to describe the Realm of Ithian and its shabbier descendent of Klathport, I had the perfect starting point. The echoes of a war between such a place, ruled by the family of a Goddess incarnate and a more visceral, secular land to the north. And with that basic set up, the questions began – Why? Why? Why?

Of course in knowing when to start with world-building, a writer also has to know when to stop. No one likes an info-dump and too much world-building laid out by an over-eager writer, determined to introduce their reader to the fabulous new world they have woven. As much as you might research, develop, and no matter how rich the tapestry you might weave, not everything can make it into the story. Ultimately, many elements might never be used, not in this story, but they are there, backing up the rest, supporting the world built to house the characters and their conflicts, to allow the plot to play out. In the end, it’s time to let the world building stand on its own, and let the story take over.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A few things

Okay. First--and this is very exciting--Unholy Ghosts is available for pre-order on Amazon!!

Check it out!

Yes, as with Personal Demons, I will be doing fun contest-y things related to pre-ordering, listmaking, chat-topic-starting, etc. etc. And yes, if you do those things now you can enter them in the contest later. And yes, I will likely be doing the conest in the late summer/early fall--or whenever it is that I get ARCs--which means at least one if not more of you will be getting your hot little hands on a copy well in advance of the official release date.

Hee! Seriously, I am so excited.

I am also incredibly busy. I am halfway through the third Downside book at the moment and have set quite a lofty word goal for myself for this week; it's Princess's half-term week, which means I get to stay up a bit later to work.

So lofty is my goal, in fact....that I will not be here on Thursday. I just can't. I have set myself quite a task--30k words this week--and really need to get my butt in gear if I want to have this book finished by the end of the first week in March. Now, granted, my goal is actually 20k words on the Downside book and 10k on another project which Mr. Agent and I are very excited about and which I need to get out there quickly because, you know, we're moving in seven weeks (ACK!!) so after about the middle of March my working time is going to be severely curtailed.

So, sorry. I won't be blogging on Thursday. I may pop in with a quick little post if I have time but I probably won't.

And, sorry, this one is a bit short as well. I'd planned for it to be longer but I ended up getting caught up in something else for a little while and now it's almost nine PM and I have a LOT of work to do.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A novel in three acts: Act Three

So, here we have the final act. It's the easiest to write, but the hardest to write about; at least, I think so.

Again, before we go further, remember: this is my way, and the way of a few writers I know. It is NOT the way of every writer I know; it is not the only way; it is not an iron-clad rule or something which requires complicated flow charts (although the post Patrice Michelle linked to in comments for the last post, which was a post she wrote about, essentially, keeping a flow chart, is a great post and a great method for people who can work that way) or strict word-count deadlines (I'm using a 90k book as an example, and ending the acts at 30k, 60k, and roughly 90k, but you may vary by as much as 10k words or whatever and that's fine). No secret gun-toting Writing Police are going to show up at your home in the dead of night and arrest you for not doing this or not doing it properly or whatever.

These are just guidelines. It's the way I keep the story from getting away from me and the way I keep my pacing on-target. It's not something to obsess about. It's not something to force yourself to do. As Patrice said, if you're writing your first novel or your second or you're still feeling your way through this writing thing (which we all are to some extent, really, no matter how many books we've written), don't get all tangled up in this. You can always go back later and see how you've done and fiddle with it then.


So. We've now written our first act, in which we laid out all of our clues and introduced our main characters, and we ended that act with a bang. We've written our second act, where we deepened our mysteries and conflicts, and added depth to our subplots. We also ended the second act with a bang; hopefully a hell of a big one, which turned everything around, but again, this depends on the book.

Our third act is about solving our problems. Whodunnit? What happens with our detective Jennifer's grandma in the home and her ex-lover? Does she end up with him again, or is she suddenly realizing she's got a thing for one of the cops or the drug dealer or whatever? What deadly jeopardy is Jennifer in--or about the be in--when the second act ends, and will she survive act 3? Will anyone? In comments to the last entry Patrice and I discussed how the information a character receives shouldn't come easily. It's not true for everything but for most of it; well, that's where your story actually comes from, right? The difficulties and complications of getting necessary information and/or aid? It wouldn't be a very interesting book if in Chapter Four Jennifer found an eyewitness who told her exactly what happened, and then they just went and caught the Bad Guy, right? (Unless you're going for courtroom drama, of course.)

Anyway. Patrice suggested that sometimes information is paid for in lives, or in giving up things which are important to the characters. And that's very true. So the question of whether everyone survives to act 3, and whether everyone will survive act 3, is a pretty big one. What is your MC going to lose in the climax? What will she gain? Is what she gains going to be worth it?

I digress. The point is, Act 3 is where everything comes together. All those subplots we started, and all those clues we planted, all those threads we expanded on? It's time to wrap them up.

And it's fun. The tricky thing about the third act, though, is making it fun and interesting for the reader as well. Oh, sure, they're going to be interested in your climax and the solution to the mystery or resolution of whatever the conflict is. (Personally, I adore those big Agatha Christie-esque "drawing room" scenes; I don't need a lot of action, I just want to read those slowly and savor them.)

But they're not very fashionable anymore, so usually what we end up with is a big action-filled climax, and I love those too. But you have to have raised the stakes high enough. And you have to keep enough tension going, enough conflict going, that it doesn't feel like you're ticking things off a list.

I generally up the pacing in the third act, which I think helps; shorter scenes. More active ones. A little less internal monologue. The reader feels the tension building, even if they're not conscious of it; they know something is coming, because the shorter scenes move the book along faster, and of course they're aware of how far into the book they've gotten, but it's pacing and increasing conflict which really works magic when we near the book's climax.

To me the third act is like knocking down dominos, for lack of a less-cliched image. I've set all these things up; I have loose threads waving in the breeze. Now I start grabbing them and tying them together.

In act 2 we had Jennifer place her grandmother in a nursing home, which happened to be run by the mother of one of the victims. Now is the moment when one of the nurses at the home can make a casual comment which rings a bell in Jennifer's head; perhaps Jennifer realizes the nurse had a heretofore unguessed motive to kill the first victim. And the second. (I feel guilty making a nurse the Bad Guy, btw; my mother is an emergency room nurse. Sorry, Mom. For the record nurses are AWESOME.) And of course, she had access to the drug which killed them both.

Now Jennifer has to figure out how to get out of the room and call the police. Perhaps the nurse twigs on to Jennifer's newfound knowledge? And insists that she take Jennifer's grandma to get a spongebath or something? And the director of the home, who of course has no idea, backs her up. Now Jennifer's grandma is a hostage, and Jennifer knows the nurse will kill her. Maybe the nurse thought Jennifer had figured it out before, and slipped something into Jennifer's drink.

This is all well and good; we have a climax. But we have other subplots which need to be tied up, and we need to do it before we get into our climax; not all of them, necessarily, and of course if we're writing a series we need to leave some open-ended questions, but some of them.

How you do this is up to you (hey, I warned you the third act was hard to write about.) For a 90k book, I generally start the real run-up to my climax at around 70k; in the above example, this would be when Jennifer arrives at the home. That way we're around 75k or so when she gets drugged and solves the mystery; it gives us some room to play. Your runup may be longer; my climaxes tend to be longer, involving as they do complex rituals and secrets and abandoned asylums full of zombies.

But if you've set up your first two acts properly, really, the third will essentially write itself. Honestly. You'll have some scenes and resolutions in mind; you'll have arranged events in such a way that logic will move you smoothly from one scene to another. And that is extremely important. The last thing you or anyone wants or needs is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it climaxes, or one where everything just falls into place and it ends up being more of an anticlimax than a climax. We've all read books like that, where we fly through 320 pages of excitement and then the hero shoots and kills the bad guy and that's it.

You don't want to do that. You want to make sure you planted enough seeds, and grew them, in the first two acts, that there's plenty of stuff to work with at the end. You want to try and tie at least one subplot directly into your climax; in PERSONAL DEMONS I had the msytery of Megan's past; it was a minor point throughout the book but without it the climax never could have happened, and it figured prominently therein. In our Jennifer example, without Grandma and her poor health we wouldn't have solved the murders. Perhaps Jennifer's ex is involved here somehow too? Maybe he calls her and she says something, an old private joke, which warns him she's in trouble so he can call the cops? However you do it, the key (IMO) to an interesting and fulfilling climax is to bring as many story threads as you can into it, and end them all with the biggest bang you can muster.

Here's the thing about structures like these. Whether you're using a three-act structure or a four-act structure or a twenty-two-act structure (NO, I've never heard of that and know nothing about it, ha) is that at some point, you have to stop setting your book up.

It has to stop. Your book cannot be 300 pages of setup, a climax, and an ending. Well, okay, if you want to look at it a certain way, that's what all books are, but you know what I mean and don't pretend you don't.

The longer your subplots are part of your story, the more interesting and surprising and satisfying their resolution will be for the reader. The more danger you put your MC in, the more exciting the climax will be for the reader.

A book where subplots and plots do not carry through all the way feels episodic; it's not a story, it's a selection of vignettes. This why I stop adding new subplots to the book after the first third (again, I may make an exception if a new character is introduced, but chances are that's actually more of a setup for the next book). Because at some point you have to work with what is already there. You have to deepen and expand what is already there. You have to sink into your story and work at it from the inside, rather than throwing more stuff at it from the outside.

And that's the other big thing (aside from pacing) this structure does for me. It forces me to work with what is already there. I can't write a deux ex machina, because I have to work with what is already there. I can't veer out of the story and suddenly decide to change the focus, because I have to work with what is already there.

It keeps my books focused. It keeps my mind focused. It keeps my pacing even and makes sure my middles aren't long saggy stretches of not-much-happening. It gives me discipline, and discpline is tremendously important for a writer.

So there you go. :-) Like I said, I think the third act is very difficult to write about, because what it essentially boils down to is 'finish the book'. Pick up the seeds and hints and clues you dropped and make sure they have a solid place to land. Make sure you keep the tension high. Make sure you use everything you can in the climax. Remember that if you've written your book logically, so your climax and resolution will also come out logically.

And then you have a book.

Questions? Thoughts?

Monday, February 09, 2009


And sigh again.

I wasn't going to talk about this, I really wasn't. Because I don't want to piss off or upset people. I certainly don't want to make readers, the lovely people who spend money on books, angry with me.

But I just...It's like the opinion is a pot of coffee, percolating in my chest, and it's going to explode. (Incidentally, I feel kind of weird thinking that nobody uses percolators anymore. My parents were never coffee drinkers, but my Grandpa was. And when he would come visit the smell of coffee and especially the sound of the percolator, that particular burble-sploosh noise, would wake me up in the mornings. I used to really like it; I was fascinated by the percolator and could never figure out quite how it worked, you know? All those childhood machines that seemed like magic to me, and none of them are in use anymore. The percolator, the 8-track tape, the flashlight that ran because of how fast you squeezed the trigger thingie...anyway. No time for this; this is going to be a little long anyway.)

So everybody knows about this Stephen King/Stephenie Meyer thing. Basically, Mr. King said in an interview that Ms. Meyer "can't write worth a darn."

And for reasons I cannot fathom, it's being treated like he said Hitler was a really good guy or something, or that in his spare time he enjoys molesting children.

Leaving aside the truth or lack thereof of his statement itself, and leaving aside the fact that although he claimed Meyer can't write worth a darn he did say he understood the appeal of the books...

So what?

There seem to be two schools of thought among the "Fry him! FRY HIM!" crowd. The first is that he's jealous of Meyer's success, which is, IMO, patently ridiculous. Stephen King is arguably the most successful writer the world has ever seen (and no, you cannot bring up the people who wrote the Bible or the Talmud of the Koran or whatever). No, I'm serious. Think about it for a minute. How long has the man been writing bestsellers? How many of his books or stories have been made into major films? Adapted for television? Turned into series? How many of those film adaptations have garnered Oscar nominations in any category?

Now think of one other author, living or dead, which that kind of success. ONGOING success. I suppose it's possible to argue that JK Rowling hits it, but King's written something like thirty books. JKR has not. Tolkein had massive, unprecedented success, but again, not as many books.

So the idea that Stephen King is jealous of Stephenie Meyer is silliness. I'm sorry but it is, and there's another reason why it is, and it ties into my whole feeling about this so I'll get to it in a minute.

First I want to address the other silliness surrounding this, which is the idea that writers shouldn't criticize other writers. Which is bullshit.

I'm not even going to discuss the fact that without writers criticizing other writers we would't have Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. We wouldn't have Virginia Woolf's comment about Ulysses: "The work of a greasy undergraduate scratching his pimples." We wouldn't have ANY of Dorothy Parker's fantastic reviews; we wouldn't have any of Florence King's; we wouldn't have a huge, varied, and wonderful library of critique and wit and style. Since fucking when is it not okay for writers to comment on and criticize the work of other writers? In what world has that *ever* been the case?

I would say that it stopped being okay when women got in on it, since it seems to largely be women playing the "Stephen King's just plain mean!" card, but that isn't right at all. Especially not after I just quoted or mentioned three women in the last paragraph, not one of whom behaved as though a critique of her work was tantamount to touching little kids in their Swimsuit Areas.

But I suspect womanhood has something to do with it, yes I do. And that something is, everyone playing the "professional courtesy" card (professional courtesy, what a bunch of crap. We're writers, not fucking insurance salesmen) seems to be female, and more importantly, seems to be upset not that one writer is commenting on another writer's work, but that the commenting writer has a protruding pee-pee and the one being commented on does not.

I know.

But seriously. King said some not-very-nice things about a few male writers in that article too, but nobody seems to be jumping up and down all over the internets to say how Mr. King is just jealous of Mr. Patterson. In fact, no one seems at all bothered by the fact that not only did King call Petterson "a terrible writer," he didn't even qualify that statement anywhere by saying he sees the appeal of Patterson's work, or that Patterson has very cleverly tapped into something in his audience's collective subconscious.

So...why? Why does it seem okay for King to criticize Patterson, but not Meyer? Why isn't anyone throwing "jealous" around? Why isn't anyone acting as though writers are supposed to keep their mouths shut when we see each other butchering the language, as though we're all the very best of good, clean pals and every Saturday night we sing Kumbaya in the park and roast hot dogs?

Yeah. I think a big part of it is that Meyer is a woman. And I think there is a very ugly assumption beneath this, which is that a woman cannot take criticism. And sadly, I think there is a segment of the female writing "society," for lack of a better term, which truly cannot take criticism, who flounce around saying things like "If you've never written a book you can't criticize" or "It's hard work to write a book and the author deserves something for that and it's mean to say her book isn't very good" or whatever other whiny little excuses these namby-pambies toss around to justify their own total and complete lack of professionalism.

We've seen these people online. We see them all the freaking time, in fact. They're the ones who stalk Amazon reviewers or decide to name transexual AIDS-riddled prostitutes after people who give them mediocre reviews (and let's keep in mind, btw, what sort of person thinks "transexual" is a worthy insult) or send nasty emails to reviewers or start blogs where they put up nasty cartoons or send hate mail or have hissy fits in comments or whatever the fuck it is, and thus make all female writers look as though we too have never progressed beyond the 9th grade.

This attitude seriously makes me ill. You know what, gang? I seriously doubt Stephenie Meyer gives a fuck what Stephen King says. And good, because she shouldn't. I love Stephen King. I think he's fantastic. And I would love to think he'd read my work and enjoyed it; that would be a huge thrill. But you know what? if he loved it, that's just one man's opinion. And if he hated it? That's still just one man's opinion.

And jealous? Why is this argument so rarely brought up when two men are involved? Why do we hardly ever see someone claiming, for example, that Steve Jobs is just jealous of Bill Gates? or that, I don't know, Javier Bardem is just jealous of Benicio del Toro? Not that I'm aware of these men making comments about each other, but really, can you imagine it? So why then, does this crap come up when women are involved? Stephen King is a grown man, people, and I don't know about you but I've never seen anything before that would lead me to believe he's the kind of man for whom jealousy of other writers is a problem. Have you?

Stephenie Meyer is a published author; she's written four enormous bestsellers. Let's give her a little credit, shall we? Let's assume she's mature enough to shrug this off and go on writing, and not behave as though she's crying in the bathrooms by the gym and she won't come out until Stephen writes her a note that says he's sorry and gee, golly, the dance is tonight and she was our ride and we're gonna get Stephen and pants him in the cafeteria?

We're all entitled to our opinions. (In fact, one could argue that Meyer is one of the few people Stephen King can actually criticize *without* looking like a bully; who else is big enough?) And in the grand scheme of things, this is such a non-issue it's not even funny.

I was going to tell you about a book I bought the other day, which I haven't finished, but which is so well-written my jaw keeps literally dropping open--but that will have to wait until next Monday, because this is so long already. Sigh.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A novel in three acts: Act Two

First, thanks to everyone who responded to this last week! Your questions and feedback were very much appreciated.

Patrice Michelle brought up an excellent point at Fangs Fur & Fey, though, and it was one I failed to stress adequately in my little disclaimery thing. Guys, this is NOT the only way to write books, and it is NOT something you should get hung up about. Seriously. It isn't. Even I, who loves doing this with my books, do not look at it as gospel.

From Patrice's comment:

For new writers, the goal is to just write the story and then once it's written, go back and look at advice like this to see if it can help you tighten and streamline your story to give it the most impact to readers.

And this is exactly true. Just as there is no magic bullet to finish your book, there is no one exact right way to write. If stuff like this bogs you down, don't do it. If it feels too tight, don't do it. You can, as she said, ignore this while writing and go back later once it's done and see how it works for you. But please don't ever think that because you handle things differently, you're not "doing it right." Whatever works for you? That's what's right. Period.

For me this is just a way of keeping track and making sure I'm pacing correctly. When I hit 30k words, have I put in all my basic clues? Have I laid the groundwork? Have I given myself plenty to work with and expand later? Are all the characters introduced who need to be, is the basic set-up of the world and story clear?

And there's a little more to that as well; simply being 1/3 done is a little achievement. Writing a novel is hard work. When you first start out it can seem daunting. But once you get through the first 30k, you know you can do it. You only have to do another 30k and you'll be in the end zone. And that's a good feeling.

So. Last week I mentioned pacing. Anyone who's spent any time reading about writing is familiar with the phrase "sagging middle." The sagging middle hits all of us at one point or another; it is, basically, the long stretch of book from, well, 30-60k words or so, where...not much happens. The story falters. The characters start spending too much time thinking or talking and not enough time doing.

This is also, to put it bluntly, where characters start acting stupid. This is where, in our eagerness to have *something* happen, we send our characters alone into dark alleys, or have them pick fights with each other, or any number of things. Bad things.

It is my firm belief that the main cause of the sagging middle is pacing, and that the main cause of pacing problems is failure to allow for structure. There are other reasons, of course; too much telling is a big one, too. But I'm assuming you all know the basic rules of writing (such as they are) and so are not writing a book that's nothing but a big long infodump.

We have pacing problems because we have inserted too much information into our first Act, and we have pacing problems because we have not given ourselves enough clues to work with.

It sounds like an oxymoron, I know. But let's go back to last week's example, Jennifer the detective with the elderly grandma and the just-ended relationship.

Our story started when a body was found. Let's say there was no obvious cause of death. Now, using the three-act structure, we can make a decision; do we want to find out the cause of death before the act ends, thus giving ourselves the second act to explore it? Or do we want to wait, maybe pile up at least one more body?

It's up to you and the story you're telling. But if you're not thinking in terms of using Act One for clues and Act Two for expansion, if you're not using that first act to thoroughly ground your characters and their world and introduce some issues for them to deal with, you may find yourself with no choice but to give us a cause of death, simply because something has to happen next. If you've gotten too deeply into your subplots in the first act you may not have room to add complications to them in the second act, either.

Here's the thing. If in the first 30k you have introduced plenty of characters and situations, the second act will essentially write itself, and I'll tell you why.

Because of logic.

Your entire second act is simply adding more complications and doing what would logically come next.

For example. At the end of Act One Jennifer finds another body. In the beginning of Act Two she learns cause of death. So what would Jennifer logically do next? She would start studying/researching that cause of death. Let's say it was an overdose; a particularly pure, new form of heroin. Okay. We learned a little about our first victim in the first act (because we were planting clues). So we know the victim was not an IV drug user; that's a dead end.

To gran a few examples from mid-air, Jennifer might now logically start talking to drug dealers or users. That could be a nice suspenseful scene, her interview with a tough local drug dealer. That could have enormous complications that might effect the main plot; it could draw some new people into the case, perhaps, or cause jennifer problems with the police.

And we have her grandma. The poor lady might have a stroke at the end of Act One and thus be in the hospital. The plot if to some degree resolved; Jennifer knows that her grandma can no longer safely stay with her. But that introduces new complications; Jennifer has to research homes and residences. Perhaps she decides to kill two birds with one stone, and go to the residence where the first murder victim's mother works? That might provide us with a nice way to tie those subplots together later, right?

So already we have some action for the second act; we're meeting drug dealers and having wary conversations with them--perhaps a flirtation, depending on what kind of book this is?--and we're getting involved more closely with a victim's family and trying to find a place for grandma and expanding conflict with the cops. When we add that to researching the second victim and trying to find connections between them--perhaps they went to the same college, and Jennifer can go there and discover they had a class together? we've got a good 15-20k or so worth of action.

Any time you get stuck in writing that second act, every time you feel the story flagging, you have only to stop and think back or look back at your first act. What seeds did you plant there that now need to grow a little? Maybe in the midst of all the turmoil with meeting scary drug dealers and putting her beloved grandma in a home, Jennifer's ex shows up and wants to get back together, there's a complication. Maybe the college connection falls through but it's there that Jennifer gets another idea for a possible motive, one she needs to explore. Your Bad Guy should show up again, for whatever reason; let Jennifer interact with him/her, however briefly. Let her feel close to or uncomfortable with the BG.

Your second act is all about expansion and information. Otherwise known as "the plot thickens." The second act is where a new clue or two turns up; the second act is where you might illustrate a connection between one of your subplots and the main plot.

And remember, nothing should be easy; we need conflict on every page! You don't want Jennifer to just meet someone who tells her who the Bad Guy is in exchange for money; you want them to tease her with the info, make her perform tasks, put her in danger. Information should be a reward or compensation, never (or very rarely) a given.

There are two other things I like to do/check with Second Acts. One, just as the first ended with a bang, so should the second. An even bigger bang (sometimes literally, heh heh; see below). I used Silence of the Lambs last week, so I'll mention it again here; Dr. Lecter's escape comes right around the end of the second act.

The other is, by the end of the second act, I like to leave the reader with no idea how things are going to work out, or who the bad guy is. I like to know, at the end of the second act, that all of my main threads are still loose but are closing in on each other; I like to be in a position where there's only one more big clue, or one more fact to be uncovered, before everything falls into place and we're ready for the climax. I like to think of someone reading to that point and thinking there are so many open holes there, there's no way they can all be resolved by the end.

Now, I write UFs with thriller-y, mystery plots; you may write romance, in which case the end of the second act is right about where you'll put your big sex scene and have it make everything even worse. (The end of the second act is a place I tend to put sex scenes as well and always have, and I'm not alone. I think most romances or UFs with romantic elements do the same; it's usually a bit past the halfway point, so anywhere from 50-60k words, but again, that's not set in stone and of course if you're writing a more heavily erotic story you may well have had sex all throughout.)

But the end-of-act-2 bang should put everything in jeopardy. It should leave the reader doubting they'll get a happy or even a decent ending. It should raise the stakes exponentially.

So, to sum up (and I realize this segment was a bit longer and wordier, sorry, but I think I covered everything I needed to):

*The second act should be about expansion and information.
*The second act is the logical next step of the first; I always think "What would they do next?"
*The second act is where you watch your first-act seeds grow. Don't forget them!
*The second act is where everything gets deeper and more complex. You can solve a msytery or two and that's fine, but you should bring some new ones in to replace it, or have the resolution of one question only bring up more questions.
*The second act is a good place for sex scenes ;-)
*Nothing should be easy; good information or realizations are worth paying for. Keep the conflict high, don't let that middle sag!
*The second act must end with a very big complication; just as the 1st-act-end raised the stakes or made the problem more personal or trapped the hero/ine into solving the mystery, so the second should make it clear there is no out, this is very dangerous, and they have no choice but to follow through. Thus setting us up for Act Three and the climax.

So, any questions? Anything that doesn't make sense, or needs expansion?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Yes! The new League! Yes! I am busy!

Yes, yes, those rumors you've been hearing? Totally true.

The NEW League of Reluctant Adults is here!

There's a TON of us now, seriously. A whole bunch. Go check it out. AND, there are FORUMS! Which I'm really happy about, because I love forums. Seriously. A lot of you know I spend a lot of time--waaaay more than I should--hanging around on Absolute Write. Because I just think forums are fun and nifty and all that stuff.

I even have my own subforum on the new Reluctant Forums; each of us has one, in fact.

This means I now have:

*a website (still under construction; there is a site up but it's horrible
*two blogs
*MySpace (grumble grumble. I hate MySpace. I will probably delete the MySpace page eventually; I never do anything with it.)
*Yahoo group

So is there anything *else* I'm supposed to have? Sigh.

So, remember the other day when I mentioned how January just sucked? Yeah. So far, February is TOTALLY KICKING ITS ASS ALL OVER THE PLACE. I've written over 10k words in the last two days. I have a new project that I'm falling-all-over-myself excited about. Seriously. The kind of shivery, gleeful excitement I felt when I started working on Unholy Ghosts. I started the thing yesterday; finished the third chapter tosay and wrote up a little synopsis/proposal, so we'll see what Mr. Agent Man thinks of it. I can only hope he likes it as much as me.

Also listed under "Ass-kicking" so far is the third Downside book. Oh yes. We crossed 30k; I have one little scene to twitch through and then all hell breaks loose, including getting to write a few scenes I've been anticipating with glee since I thought of them while writing the first book over a year ago(! I can't believe it's been that long! I finished the book in December 07, though, so...yeah, that long.) So, *very* excited there.

And of course I'll be back on Thursday to do Part 2 of our Novel in Three Acts. Part 2 is my favorite part, frankly; or rather, it's my favorite part to explain. So I'm looking forward to that. Last week I cross-posted the first part over at Fangs Fur &Fey, the livejournal group for published UF writers, and it got such a great response that I'm going to post the whole thing there as it goes up here. So if you're interested in getting in on that discussion, head on over and check it out!

It's kind of intimidating posting at Fangs Fur Fey. I've been a member there for over a year as well; a little over a year and a half, in fact, if memory serves. But there are so many members, some with multiple series and awards and all that Big Pro Writer stuff, that it's very difficult to think of myself as anyone who belongs there in any real way. I'm trying to get more involved there, as a way to give back and to try and boost my confidence level, so... We'll see how I do. :-)

...and I guess that's it. I thought I had something more to discuss but frankly my head is all over the place at the moment. That blasted miserable shiteating Mercury Retrograde has finally ended and I literally feel like I can breathe again (despite the cold. Or maybe because of it? Perhaps it's not Mercury redirecting, but Sudafed, that is to thank for my sudden sense of lightness. Hmm.) Hence the sudden big spurt of work and happiness and all of that. I'm sure part of it is that I was having a bit of tension with someone I consider a friend and we've resolved that, which is nice, and part of it is excitement over the upcoming scenes and the Shiny! New! Project! All I know is, for the first time in a while I feel pretty good, and I want to keep it that way.

How about you? Are you feeling better now that Mercury is behaving itself again?