Tag Archives: plot

When to Write a Series

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Writing a novel is similar to knitting a scarf. It can be stunning, colorful and intricately designed, but no matter how brilliant, if it’s too long the loops can bury the person on the receiving end. If they’re too busy trying not suffocate in all the details to notice them, then what’s the point? Enter, the series. Heroically breaking our favorite tales into bite-sized pieces since who knows when. I have an enormous amount of respect for good series writers. So why are series so great, and when might a novel become a series?

The Temptation of Familiar Characters

Series are fantastic for those of us who don’t want to say goodbye to characters after just one adventure. When we readers comes across developed, timeless characters, we weep at the thought of letting them go. The proof is in the fan fiction. Picking up the next book in a series has all the warmth and excitement of running into the arms of an old friend. It’s homey, thrilling, and downright addictive. Unfortunately, characters can dull over time if forced to return to old habits after they’ve outgrown them. Be wary of writing a series for the sake of keeping characters around, rather than for the purpose of developing them and those around them.

Complex Plots

Breaking down stories with complex and/or long-running plots are probably the simplest way for a novel to transform into a series. If important aspects of the main plot, or even subplots, become too lengthy, it can tire the reader. I’ve had this happen to me while reading on several occasions, even when I absolutely love the book. I want to keep reading, but begin to develop a feeling of obligation in place of enjoyment. Turning a novel into a series can give readers a chance to better digest multiple complicated events that are vital to the overall story. In other words, it offers a bit of respite so readers can recharge their bookish hunger.

Prequels & Sequels

God bless the brave writers who successfully tackle prequels. Among the many great things the Star Wars franchise has taught us, it’s that prequels are like quicksand (Anakin knows what I’m talking about, that angsty sand-hater). They have the ability to suck us in with promises of revelational backstories and beloved characters. When done well, prequels have the potential to be the crowning jewel of a series. When they’re not, they leave us with a mouthful of mud and regret. Sequels that lack depth of plot can have similar effects. While a squeal doesn’t have to be a continuation of the original plot, it shouldn’t ignore it either. (Scott Lynch, author of the Gentlemen Bastards series, is excellent at maintaining purpose while working with different plots.) When going the series route, write with intent, and attack that prequel and/or sequel with gusto!

Happy Writing!

Questions of the week: What book do you think deserved a series, but never got one?

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What to Read: Red Seas Under Red Skies

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Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch


Summary

Having narrowly escaped their previous caper in Camorr, a battered Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen strike out for Tal Verrar, home of the infamous gambling house, the Sinspire, for what could be their biggest con yet. But nothing is ever simple for these daring thieves. When plans go array, Locke and Jean find themselves embroiled in a feud between powerful parties and hunted by others unknown. The pair escaped Camorr with their lives, but Tal Verrar may not be so generous.

Overall Impressions

A perfect compliment to The Lies of Locke Lamora. This sequel maintains the suspense and laugh-out-loud wit as its original, propelled by the lovably incorrigible energy of its characters. Locke and Jean return as one of my favorite con artist/old married couple duos, and Captain Drakasha is the pirate queen we all aspire to be. Dark, though less edgy than the first installment, I loved riding along side the Gentlemen Bastards on another “insane misadventure”. Lynch easily weaves old threads of plot with the new, and once again has readers ready to follow the Thorn of Camorr to hell and back. Recommended for adult readers of fantasy and adventure.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


Summary

Art student Karou’s double-life has long been filled with dark magic and strange beasts. Yet her place among her adoptive, inhuman family has always been a mystery. When supernatural events begin to occur around the world, Karou finds herself alone and thrust into the makings of a war. A run-in with one of the angel-like Akiva only leaves her with more questions. Unsure who to trust, Karou must discover the deadly past that has led her present, and face an uncertain future.

Overall Impressions

Gorgeously written, this is one of my favorite YA fantasy series. After book one I gleefully tore through the rest of the series. The characters are highly developed and charming, and I always appreciate books with a strong female lead. Taylor constructed an equally dark and fantastical world to compliment her characters. Suspenseful and romantic, her writing balances a quick-paced plot with elegant style. I recommend the series for lovers of YA fantasy.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Shadow and Bone

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo


Summary 

Thrown together by war, Alina Starkov and best friend Mal have grown from orphans to soldiers. When their regiment is shredded upon entering the Shadow Fold, Alina unleashes a power she’s suppressed since childhood in order to save her comrades and Mal. But this revelation tears her from the life she’s known, including Mal, to become a Grisha. Far from home and entangled in dark conspiracies, Alina’s magic may be the only thing capable of ending the war. She must decide who she is willing to trust, and what she is willing to sacrifice for her country.

Overall Impressions

This intriguing, chillingly beautiful story captured my attention from the start. The first in the Grisha series, I was struck by Bardugo’s stylistic noir and strong characters. Alina is a true heroine faced with a delightfully sophisticated villian. The Darkling stands out for his elegance and ruthlessness, so much so it was hard to decide whether I wanted Alina to kill him or marry him (read it, you’ll see what I mean). Bargudo has created a world real enough to step into, and who wouldn’t want to explore the enticingly dark yet enchanting world of the Grisha? Well written, suspenseful, and romantic, I adore this entire series. HIGHLY recommend to fantasy fans (and totally going on my Christmas list). Also by Leigh Bardugo: Six of Crows

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Sunlight and Shadow

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Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey


Summary

When Mina was born to feuding parents, a deal was struck. She would live with her mother, queen of the night, until after her sixteenth birthday. But her father breaks the pact, setting in motion a dangerous series of events. To bring back her daughter, the queen enlists the help of a young determined prince armed with his wits and a magic flute. So begins Dokey’s masterful retelling of “The Magic Flute”.

Overall Impressions

A light read for fairytale lovers, this book is my version of comfort food. It has everything: humor, romance, an age-old prophecy. Not to mention the charming characters who adventure across each page with wit and tenacity. What’s not to love? Told in true yet original fairytale fashion, I was immediately drawn into Mina’s competing worlds, and after reading it once I was happy to return time and time again (I think the count is somewhere around five?). Sunlight and Shadow speaks to a storyteller heart.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: The Diviners

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The Diviners by Libba Bray


Summary

In the streets of 1920s New York City, darkness is rising. Evie O’Neill, a girl with a taste for trouble and speakeasies, is forced to live with her eccentric uncle Will, but only Evie knows of her strange talent-the ability to divine a person’s secrets through touch. When a serial killer begins leaving a trail of bodies, Evie discovers her powers could be the key to saving lives. But she isn’t the only one, and not every diviner has good intentions.

Overall Impressions

This. Is. It. Beautifully written, this book rocketed to my top five favorite series. Fantastical, thrilling, and chucked full of dramatic irony, Bray’s book had me flipping pages so fast I’m surprised I didn’t get paper cuts. The characters are real enough to touch, each a work of art in their own right. “Just one more chapter,” I whispered, and then promptly read six more. But hey! Who needs sleep, right? The Diviners will have you scrambling for your credit card and the Amazon check-out.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read

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Zodiac Station by Tom Harper


Summary

In the cold and lonely grip of the Arctic, US Coast Guard icebreaker Terra Nova has gained a suspicious new passenger. Upon being rescued from the ice, the man says his name is Tom Anderson, sole survivor of the research outpost Zodiac Station, which has been left in ruins. He recounts his story of sabotage, paranoia, and murder to the captain of the Terra Nova, but when others survivors are found Anderson’s tale is brought into question. What exactly did happen at Zodiac Station? What is the truth? And most importantly, can anyone be trusted?

Overall Impressions

A great choice for lovers of suspense, mystery, and adventure. Harper’s cast of characters keeps the reader guessing from beginning to end as suspicions rise and secrets are revealed. His use of the Arctic landscape was perfect for the tone of the novel and sucked me into the cold, paranoid world of Zodiac Station. Just reading about it made me want to burry myself in a warm parka.

Science is not my area of expertise. Because of this I sometimes found myself a little lost trying to understand the more scientific portions of the story, which slowed down the action. Still, even with some slow spots, I did enjoy reading the story from multiple points of view. It made me question every character and their motives just as I was beginning to think I found a narrator I could trust. Harper’s use of unreliable narrators is marvelous, overlapping each story almost seamlessly.

Happy Reading!

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Sidekicks: The Center of Their Universe

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Sidekicks. They’re the lovable other halves to our favorite protagonists, but they are also so much more. Side characters have their own lives, their own philosophies, and their own individual purpose to the story being told. I sometimes find myself more drawn to the characters surrounding the protagonist than the protagonist himself. The characters surrounding the protagonist are more than props for the hero to lean on. They are complex and unique, and without them storytelling just wouldn’t be the same.

The Center of the Universe

In most stories, readers perceive events through the eyes of the protagonist, but what’s going on around them may be more important than the character himself. Readers experience this greater meaning through interactions with supporting characters. A sidekick does not merely exist to serve the needs of the protagonist. He existed and had a life before whatever fates steered him into the hero’s path. When you think about it, the sidekick isn’t really a sidekick at all. He’s the center of his own universe.

Lessons

There are many times when side characters are used to teach lessons, usually indirectly, by helping the hero make some sort of personal or philosophical discovery. It’s a very important and time honored role to play. However, I find more complex supporting characters go beyond this general arch type and, at least for me, are far more enjoyable to read about. In addition to helping the hero develop throughout the work, a sidekick should be developing and making his own discoveries. No matter the closeness of their relationship, the protagonist and sidekick are individuals. Individuals do not always agree and even those with similar experiences and viewpoints often have their own personal value and insights to offer.

Romanic Counterparts 

Alright, I admit it. I love a story with a good bit of romance. A lot of times romance develops as a part of the protagonist-sidekick relationship. For example, Peeta and Katniss from The Hunger Games, or Percy and Annabeth from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (both of which are wonderful and should be read immediately by everyone). Yet, there can be a fine line between a developed side character and one who is inserted to merely serve as a love interest. It’s a grey area to be wary of, and something I have struggled with in my own writing. As I mentioned in earlier posts, romance is not a requirement, and sometimes removing characters who don’t serve a major theme or plot purpose can improve the quality of the work.

For more ideas, check out:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/309622543104546114/

http://www.shesnovel.com/does-your-storys-sidekick-serve-a-purpose/

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/19844054585017305/

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/minor-characters-help-discover-theme/

Happy Writing!

P.S. — Who are some of your favorite sidekicks/supporting characters?

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Pitfall: Not Just a Fun ’80s Video Game

Pitfalls of Writing

Hang in there, little buddy. We’ve all dangled from a fraying rope over that same pit. Every writer has his or her fatal literary flaw, whether it be time management, structuring plot, writer’s block, Pinterest — the list goes on. I personally struggle with outside distractions (Another video of a cat stuck in a cardboard box? I’d be crazy NOT to watch it!), sticking to a linear plot structure, and constantly rummaging through the pantry to see if a bag of chips has magically appeared in the five seconds I was away. Today though, we’re going to look specifically at plotting, outside distractions, and writer’s block.

Plotting: Stick to Your Guns

So you’ve started a new story. Huzzah! It’s an exciting place to be, but beware, it’s a long rode to that final period. Not everyone likes to plot out their story piece by piece, some prefer to sit down and go at it without a specific direction in mind. If that’s you’re style, awesome! I approached fiction writing that way for a long time. The more I’ve written though, the more I’ve realized I’m the kind of person who needs a bit more structure. This doesn’t mean planning page by page, or even chapter by chapter. Sometimes it’s just breaking down the story in your mind into a beginning, a middle with several distinct plot points, and an end.

Often though, I get overexcited about certain plot points and start skipping around like a crazy person. And so,  we’ve come to our first pit. Skipping over scenes with the intent to come back to them later can be dangerous. It creates literal holes in the story, and if I’m not careful I sometimes find myself building a rushed, poorly constructed bridge across the gap. So if you’re the type of writer who needs structure in plotting, I would recommend sticking to your guns and plowing through tough scenes rather than taking your chances with a grappling hook.

Distractions: Munchies, Phones, and the Internet

A writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do, even if that means skipping the cat video. There are a lot of things out there to keep us busy, things that try to lure us away from our laptops and notebooks with lovely promises of entertainment. A lot of the time, it probably works. This pit is going to be tricky to cross.

The best advice I can give is this: Keep snacks and drinks with you while you work, leave your phone in the other room, and do your best to resist opening irrelevant tabs on the internet. The internet can be an unbelievably valuable writing tool for inspiration, spelling, fact checking, the works, but it’s a bit of a “keep your enemies closer” situation. Know when to use the internet as an asset, but don’t underestimate its addictive powers.

Writer’s Block: Lord Help Us All

Um…uh…yeah. This pit’s got alligators and poisonous snakes, and all you’ve got a rope that’s about to snap. Get up, stretch your legs, and take a walk. Paint something. Call a friend and ask what he would do in your character’s place. Dang it, go ahead and indulge yourself. Watch that cat video. Maybe it’ll teach you how to claw your way out of your own metaphorical cardboard box.

Happy Writing!

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