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Parts, Chapters, Breaks: How Structure Affects the Reading Experience

Ever notice how some books are divided into Chapters, and some aren’t?  How some books break things up into “Parts”, “Books”, or even “Acts”?  How sometimes there are Prologues, Epilogues, Asides, and Interludes, but sometimes there are none?  Sometimes the Chapters have titles, sometimes they’re just numbered, and sometimes they’re time-stamped?

What’s up with that?  Further, how does the structure of a book affect the reading experience?  And, most important, why the hell am I blogging about this?

Well, I’ll answer the last question first: I love looking at book structure.  I’m a bit of a weirdo in that respect, I know, but I really enjoy breaking a novel down and examining its form, its layout, even its chapter length, because whether an author intends it or not (and I honestly think they rarely do) the layout of a novel affects the reading experience just as much as the content, even if that impact is more subtle.  So let’s break it down.

Chapters

Breaking a book up into chapters is not only the standard for modern novels — it’s pretty much expected.  Chapters allow the reader to pause during reading, often (though not always) having reached a temporary halt to the narrative.  A Chapter is usually a miniature story in and of itself, a brief snippet of the larger narrative: if the novel is about a journey to a distant land, a single Chapter can chronicle a day of travel, an encounter, or reaching some landmark along the way.

Depending on author preference, Chapters are sometimes titled, and sometimes just numbered.  I, personally, have done both, depending on the tone and flow of the story.  Chapters with names often highlight a smaller event that begins or is resolved in the course of that Chapter, while Chapters without titles are sometimes indicative of a more flowing narrative.  Ultimately, it all depends on the author.

In novels with complex structures, Chapter titles can help call out setting, time or character POV (Point of View) to help indicate to the reader what’s going on.  George R.R. Martin, who uses a large number of character POVs, uses this approach to identify which character the reader is with for that chapter; Gillian Flynn used a similar approach in Gone Girl.

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Sometimes books don’t have Chapters at all, and this stands out because we as readers are so used to having breaks in the narrative (if for no other reason than to tell our brains to check our watch and remind us that we shouldn’t stay up all night reading…).  Books without Chapters sometimes do so for a purpose: in The Road, Cormac McCarthy is describing a post-apocalyptic world where time has essentially lost meaning, and life has become a fugue of repetitive travel from one dreary locale to the next.  Reading the book without Chapters (just breaks in the text) puts us into the mindset of the characters, and by the end of the book we’re just as exhausted as they are because we’ve been trudging though a (metaphoric) landscape, just as they have.  In Molloy, Samuel Beckett takes a similar approach to highlight the monotonous and stream-of-consciousness nature of an investigation by telling an 80+ story in only 2 paragraphs (the first of which is just 2 pages long).

the-road-cormac-mccarthy

Parts/Books/Acts

Just as Chapters are ways of organizing the narrative components of a novel, Parts (or Acts, or some other title the author may decide to impart based on their personal preference) are often a means used to organize the Chapters themselves.  If a novel is extremely episodic or divided into large story arcs, Parts 1, 2, etc. might be used to divide those sections of the story; similarly, a Part of a novel can sometimes be used to mark major story shifts when the narrative switches geographic locations, periods of time, etc.

John Marco’s excellent “The Jackal of Nar” is a fine example of this structure, breaking down the story into several Parts: Richius’ days in the war, his journey to meet his emperor, his eventual return to the land where he lost someone important to him, etc.  Just as each chapter tells its own small story, each “Part” tells a single arc of the novel’s plot, so that in the end it almost feels as if we’ve read several tightly connected novellas in a series.

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The number of “Parts” or larger sections in a novel depends entirely on the overall plot.  Highly sectioned and episodic tales can benefit from this structure, while novels that are more stream of consciousness or whose stories aren’t divided into a tidy plot don’t normally make use of “Parts”.

Sometimes, a Part – which generally contains several Chapters – becomes a Chapter in and of itself.  Russel Brand’s The Sweet Hereafter tells the story of a school bus accident from the points of views of five different characters, but rather than switch back and forth between those characters over the course of the novel (as is the norm for a book with multiple POVs), Brand’s book has one long chapter devoted to each character’s POV, and each section of the novel tells the same tale from an entirely different perspective.

Prologues & Epilogues

There are some pretty serious feelings about whether or not Prologues or Epilogues should even be used in novels anymore, with a great number of people saying “Hell no, I never bother reading them”, but with most authors I know stating “I use them if necessary”.  Most “How to Write” books tell you NEVER to use Prologues, yet writers like Robert Jordan generally had Prologues numbering 50 or more pages in every book in his series.  (The argument that always follows is “When you get as popular as Robert Jordan, you can use Prologues…until then, don’t do it.”)

I still know many readers (my wife among them) who simply skip Prologues altogether.  I tend not to be a huge fan of them unless I feel they serve a purpose, like setting up interesting (but not necessarily vital) background info on the setting, or if the Prologue happens to be the only chapter not told from the main character’s point of view.

Epilogues are seen even less seldom.  Most of the important stuff is wrapped up in a novel’s last few chapters; an Epilogue, to me, is more like an afterthought, the fate of an interesting secondary character or the solution to the last piece of unresolved plot, not so important that the reader is on edge waiting for it but interesting enough that the author feels its inclusion is warranted.

For the most part, readers I’ve met either skip the Prologue/Epilogue or else don’t really care about them.  They both seem somewhat old fashioned to me, but I’ll still use them if they seem necessary.

What sorts of novel structure do you find enticing/off-putting?  Authors, what’s your tendency?

About the Author

Steven Montano is the author of Red Tide at Morning, The Last Acolyte, the Blood Skies series and The Skullborn Trilogy.  He and his family live in Michigan.

Learn more at http://steven-montano.com/

Do They Write What You Read?

I had a question the other day while working out the details of a character in my head: how often do writers develop characters who write and how often to readers get to read what they write?

I have no statistical answer to this question, but it has now been nagging me for a few days. Honestly, I’m not talking about the Mort Raineys or Paul Sheldons or Jack Torrances, who are all author-characters (or is that character authors?). These protagonists were designed to be mirrors of the actual author and likely a catharsis for the real; writing about writers is often therapy.

What I’m really referring to are the characters who dabble in poetry or song, who may be hunters or lawyers or mathematicians or magicians in sum, but have tangential creative bits that really, really, really flesh them out.

When an author drops in a bit of poetry that the character has “written” or they drop in the lyrics of a song (without the obvious and impossible to pen melody), readers are treated to something: an opening of a vein, a glimpse into the tender side of a hard ass, a glimmer of hope.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are ties which bind a story like an iron thread running through the pages to keep disparate thoughts together.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are just glimpses of whimsy.Writing-Poetry

Whatever the case, how often do readers really get to see that side of a protagonist/antagonist they have either grown to love or grown to hate?

Think of Bilbo Baggins and his whimsical songs.

So in my head, I envisioned doing a little research on this topic as a reader. It may take a while, but I’m going to look for the creative side of characters to see what they have done. Believe it or not, I would–as a reader–pick up the “Collected Poetry of Hobbiton” if such a think existed or maybe the “Whimsical Writings of Susan Pevensie.”

But I’m a geek.

Anyway, one of the characters I have been working on of late has a creative side. He’s asked to write something by a therapist as a way of getting in touch with the boy he had been.

With all that said, here is a part of a piece by Mark Allen Haines, protagonist of a work in progress:

On a street called Intention the spirits sigh;
Horse-drawn carriages bang over cobbled stones
As dirt covered urchins toss a ball
In front of shops and carts.
There is a ragged man,
There is a Bobbie,
There is a newsboy with tidings of joy
On a rag that costs two pence.
A bell chimes as a door opens
On the corner of Intention and Meaning.
A child steps out on the stoop,
Dirty face,
Adjusts his apple cap,
Looks at the beggar in the gutter and whispers a prayer:
“Let one live.”
In the boy’s grimy hands, a note:
“Take care to watch for toolers and nobblers,
As you cross to Intention and Sense.
Two tokes from the baker.
Skip home in haste.”

In the stillness of questioning there are wandering eyes,
Dirty faces, fake smiles,
And piercing gazes that probe
The soul of a boy who may be a man.
The child, afraid,
Hands in pocket,
Jangling coins,
Walks head down, feeling judged by all,
Trapped in a box of his own making.
“That’s a good job, but…”
Words that float like steel razors
Slicing the edge of esteem like teeth in meat.
“That’s good work, but…”
A voice, harsh, unkind,
Yet full of wisdom, age, what to be,
What he’s not.
What he is, the beggar in the street
Holding hands out for a halfpence,
A praise without condition,
Something never given, only wished.

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

Leaf by Justice

Leafpainting

Lizzie Harper. Botanical Illustration – Tips on painting sketchbook-style studies of leaves – May 4th 2013

J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of the fantasy genre, wrote a short story called “Leaf by Niggle” (look for it in The Tolkien Reader). When I was a teen, just beginning to write my own stories, this story struck me as “true,” and it resonates even more strongly now. The first half of the story is about an artist named Niggle whose only work is a massive painting of a tree. The painting is never finished, and he continues to scrape away parts of it and paint them anew, because they never quite reflect his vision. Niggle’s neighbor sneers at Niggle’s lack of industry (as he spends his time painting a plant and neglects the real ones in his garden) and plagues him with requests for help running errands and doing home-maintenance projects. Niggle grudgingly takes time away from his art to fulfill these everyday tasks.

Niggle dies mid-story and goes to something like Purgatory, where he slowly learns how to perfect his art. After he makes peace with the annoying neighbor, who has joined him in Purgatory, he moves on—we presume to Heaven. Meanwhile, the painting of the tree is torn up and recycled as roofing material, except for a single, perfect leaf, which ends up in a museum with the placard “Leaf by Niggle.”

Anyone who creates art can appreciate Niggle’s grouchiness in response to his neighbor’s lack of understanding. Friends and family members often think artists and writers spend their time lazing around daydreaming—they don’t see our work as work. They barge in, claiming our time and attention. The child wants a snack (or lunch, or dinner). The spouse wants help with a household chore (or lunch, or dinner). The boss wants a progress report on the project that’s due next Tuesday. Each request more irksome, we want nothing more than to slam the door of our workshop and perfect that damn leaf.

I’ve been working on the same leaf—and tree—since my teens, which is another reason “Leaf by Niggle” means so much to me. The Woern Chronicles began as a teen’s fantasy about being kidnapped by aliens (fortunately, that manuscript is buried in a landfill somewhere). In my twenties I began rewriting it, and the first half became the revenge and empowerment story Blade of Amber. In my thirties (and yes, it took my entire thirties), I wrote A Wizard’s Lot, which bears no resemblance at all to the second half of the original teenage fantasy featuring characters with the same names. In my late forties, I wrote Scion of Sovereigns (a branch I’m still painting). Given that I’m turning 49 this spring, I expect Legacy of the Sacrifice, the final chapter of The Woern Chronicles, will be written in my fifties.

BladeofAmber_final_sized for SWYet not only have I slowly added new branches to my tree, I’ve also scraped away twigs and leaves and replaced them. The version of Blade of Amber currently available for sale is the third version of that book, and I’m not done with it yet.

You read that right: I’m scraping that limb off the canvas and repainting it anew. A revised edition—leaner, meaner, and a better realization of my vision for that story—is in the works. I’m dropping some scenes and adding new ones, and I’m tightening and tuning the prose. A lot of writers (and perhaps some readers) might ask, why would you do this?

First, I received some very good suggestions from a friend who gave the book the clear-eyed beta-read it should have gotten before I released it. She said to me, “there’s a really good story in there, but it’s buried in a lot of unnecessary detail.” Second, and more importantly, Blade never was as good as I wanted it to be. Too often, the prose fell flat where I wanted it to soar. This branch of the tree was overgrown and burdened with dead wood, and my friend helped me see where it should be pruned. The rewrite is also letting me fix some inconsistencies with the later books, and strengthen the foundation for the entire series.

Previously on this site, I wrote about big word counts, making the point that every word should count. The new edition of Blade will be about 25% shorter than the currently available edition. I hope that in the new version, at least one of the leaves will be perfect.

A.M. Justice writes fiction about distant times and places and chronicles journeys in the here and now. For more information about her work, follow @amjusticewrites on Twitter, like her Facebook page, or drop by her website and register as a Citizen of Knownearth. She also blogs at A.M. Justice Journeys Through Time and One Year of Letters.

Celestrial triple-play

 

 

By Scott BuryMoon-2yq73kbrcl45nwdwuk0t8q

Today, March 20, 2015 is a rare day in celestial events. It combines the spring equinox, a “supermoon” and a solar eclipse in northern Europe—a total eclipse in some areas.

The confluence of these three events opens up vast possibilities for the fantasy writer.

When I was writing my first novel, The Bones of the Earth, I created a character who was special in many ways. First, Javor is autistic. (And no, it had nothing to do with being vaccinated—it’s set in the sixth century CE, long before vaccinations.) For magical associations, I decided to make him the seventh son of his family. I also thought it would be cool to have him born on the summer solstice.

Then I decided to open the story on Javor’s sixteenth birthday, the day that he would become a man in his culture. I also decided to begin the tale with a full-moon fertility ritual.

Why? Because the sun and the moon are powerful, central figures in almost every mythology. They’re powerful symbols and give rise to so many tropes, ideas and possibilities for stories.

FULLMOON-MUFFINTOPMOMMY-204x300Many fantastic animals are associated with the sun and moon. Griffons are often seen as solar symbols; werewolves, of course, link to the moon. And there are many, many more.

The sun and moon imbue scenes with portent. A sun-drenched plain, glistening after a rain, or a wind-swept coastline intermittently lit by a full moon obscured by low, scudding clouds. They evoke completely different modes and prepare readers for different kinds of stories.

And think of the power when the full moon and the brightest sun are together in the sky. How could I resist that?

It wasn’t easy

But how do you get the solstice sun and the full moon together? I had to figure out when a full moon happened the night before the summer solstice in central Europe. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to recur all that often. Not even every 28 years, because both events drift in the calendar from year to year. Add to that the fact that, to go back to the sixth century, the Dark Age, meant going back to when history recorded according to the Julian calendar. That threw some doubt into the calculation of the date. But I had to start somewhere.

I found an online lunar calculator, which I cannot find now. And according to that, the closest the full moon came to the summer solstice was the year 593 CE, when Maurice was the Roman Emperor in Constantinople.

A new opportunity today

Through history, solar eclipses have been feared even more than comets as omens of doom. The ancient Greeks said it meant the gods were angry.

Of course, solar eclipses can only happen during a new moon, when the moon is not visible from the earth. Today is a new moon that coincides with the closest approach of the moon to the earth, called perigee-syzygy, or more popularly, Supermoon. Today, the moon is a mere 357,000 kilometres away.

Unfortunately, as it’s a new moon, rather than a full moon, the Supermoon won’t be visible to us. But it’s still pretty cool.

And it’s the equinox, when the length of the day equals that of the night. Even today, it signals the beginning of spring, of new life after the dead of winter. Many cultures and mythologies place mother-earth celebrations on or near the equinox. There are traditional celebrations for Astarte, Isis, Cybele and the Virgin Mary. And of course, the Christians will celebrate Easter soon. Many writers have pointed out the similarity of the Easter myth with older myths about the sacrifice of a god or demi-god, who returns to life in the spring.

eostre

Many Christian traditions around Easter derive directly from the northern European myth of Eostre, including rebirth of a sacrificed god and rabbits laying eggs.

Putting these three elements together should be an irresistible temptation for a fantasy writer. Combine angry gods, rebirth of a sacrificed child of a god and virgin human, and increased lunar power. It’s a heady mix.

So, here is a chance for readers and writers to get together and suggest a new myth, a taking-off point for a fantasy story. I’ll start with this:

Some celestial gods of something are angry with a group of humans, who have been consorting with a demon of the underworld (who may or may not be evil). This causes the eclipse as a sign that they are about to unleash some kind of vengeance on humanity.

However, as it’s the equinox, the power of the earth-bound gods is waxing, and a god or demon once punished by the celestial gods is about to come back to life.

What happens next? Readers, that’s up to you. Leave a comment below that brings the story one step forward. The next reader should write the next step. We can keep this going as long as we have fun with it.

And for an extra incentive, I’ll give the first five commenters who add to the story a free copy of my fantasy novel, The Bones of the Earth.

Let’s see where this takes us.

Scott BuScottry is the author of fantasy tales Initiation Rites, The Bones of the Earth and Dark Clouds. His non-fantasy titles include One Shade of Red and Army of Worn Soles.

Visit his:

  • blog, Written Words
  • website

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter

 

Vlog and Podcasts – the future for online writers?

by Autumn M. Birt

A recent article over on NY Times bestselling author Joanna Penn’s blog the Creative Penn said that blogs with video capture more interest and retain visitors much longer than those with only prose.

My first thought was…

 

- Autumn writes novels set in worlds without cell phones, internet, or video. OR if it technology does exist, she finds ways to blow it up. She likes it there. Learn more about her epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order and check out her newest release, the beginning of a military dark fantasy series Friends of my Enemy, at AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. And now on video. Good gods.

The Trouble With George R.R. Martin

by Bruce Blake

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Recently, our good friend Scott Bury lamented in his post, Spies Everywhere, how it seemed that Hollywood and Sony had been ripping off his ideas.  Inspired by his post, I decided to take a closer look at a similar subject.

One George R.R. Martin.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him…he is writing a little series about some place called Westeros.

Like most of the free world–and by free world, I mean anyone who has cable, a DVD player, or loose enough morals to take advantage of sites like thrones, Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros, George MartinProject Free TV–I’ve recently finished watching season 4 of A Game of Thrones. Unlike the majority of people watching this excellent series, I have also read the first three books of Mr. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For those of you who are unaware of the parallels, that means I am in the same place both televisionally and literarily (I think I made at least one of those words up).

Since this is the case, I decided it was time to pick up the fourth volume, A Feast for Crows, and get it read before season 5 arrives so I can stay ahead of the game and bother my wife, who hasn’t read the book, by letting slip the odd important detail before it happens whenever she makes me mad.

I’m not far into the book–only about 150 pages (and still waiting for something of importance to happen. It’s sad that, the more successful an author gets, the less say the editors have…happened to J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, too)–but I’ve come to notice a pattern in the books of Mr. Martin’s that I’ve read.

George RR Martin is stealing my ideas. Here’s how my observation differs from Scott’s, however:

George isn’t just stealing my ideas, but he’s doing it, writing them, and publishing them before I ever have them!

Mr. Martin smiling about another idea he stole that I haven't even had yet!

Mr. Martin smiling about another idea he stole that I haven’t even had yet!

The unmitigated nerve! I imagine that a number of other authors are finding much the same thing when they read his series. What it boils down to is that the man is so creative and imaginative, and the series looks to be stretching on for so long, George may actually use up every good idea there is to be used in fantasy.

How many of you have had the idea of an army created from men bred from the time of their birth to be warriors? Or of people who can ‘warg’ themselves into animals (you may have used a different term)? God trees? Cities built on islands interlinked by bridges (Scott Lynch must be stewing over that one!)?

Similar comments may be true of many other lengthy fantasy series but, to be honest, I haven’t read too many of them. I started Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series years ago, but found it too slow-moving to slog my way through all one hundred and thirteen books, so abandoned it after about 400 pages. The only author we likely can’t accuse of pre-stealing our ideas is JRR Tolkien (as I’ve probably wondered on the very blog in the past…should I change my name to Bruce RR Blake? Would that guarantee me some measure of success?). Since Mr. Tolkien pretty much invented the entire genre, it is he whom the rest of us deign to pilfer from.

The thing that makes Mr. Martin’s reverse larceny most concerning is the massive amount  of exposure his ideas have received. Seven million people thiefwatched the season 4 finale on HBO, and I presume that number doesn’t include the pirates who watched it (Arrr!). If I’d discovered some unknown–or even relatively known–author had plagiarized my cool ideas before I had them, I probably wouldn’t be quite so concerned. But seven million people watched one episode…one episode!!

How will I ever get credit for a reasonable idea if he keeps writing?

I may as well give up this genre and start writing about  a boy who goes to wizard school…wait. What? Someone already did that?

See what I mean.

So, George, I beg of you…lay down your quill, unplug your Selectric typewriter, lose the password to your laptop. For God’s sake, and for the sake and sanity of all the fantasy authors in the world, leave some good ideas for the rest of us!

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Bruce Blake is currently writing the third book in his Small Gods series and it was George Martin’s use of the term ‘small gods’ in A Feast for Crows that sent him over the edge.

You should still read his books, anyway.

Do Wizards Have Sick Days?

by Chantal Boudreau

16862_375871140031_2570479_nSuffering from a cold myself at the moment, I find myself reflecting on how illness is one of those factors of realism a reader might hope to see in fantasy fiction. Fantasy is often based on medieval culture where illness was abundant thanks to less than sanitary living conditions and limited medical care. Poverty meant crowded living quarters where the malnourished and overworked couldn’t avoid ill family members. Livestyle led to epidemic plagues and a lower average life expectancy.

Granted, characters in the typical fantasy tale aren’t necessarily the type of person exposed to these conditions. Royalty, or heroic figures from noble stock would be less likely to succumb to illness than the ordinary peasant, but including illness in a story allows a writer to explore realistic aspects from a more fantastical angle. How would illness be treated in a realm where magic is available, for example? Would it impact the lives of rogues, warriors and wizards in a significant way?

One of my favourite science fiction novels involves a time traveller who ventures into the days of the bubonic plague, Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I consider this book a part of the inspiration behind the magic plague I introduced in my Masters and Renegades series. The ailment only afflicts those who wield magic and is the central theme of my second book in the series, Casualties of War. Not only does this illness make the practicing of magic dangerous, but it serves as the source for biological warfare – another way of applying real-world concepts to fantasy stories.

If you look at the type of illnesses that tormented soldiers in the trenches during real wars, you might expect similar obstacles for fantasy warriors entering massive battles. Trench foot, caused by standing in mud and water for long periods of time, parasites (trench fever was caused by body lice,) dysentary and shell shock were all real problems, but how often to they occur in fantasy fiction? Not all characters, like my dark elf, Urwick, have the mindset to tolerate combat. It’s refreshing to see such things realistically depicted in the fantasy we read.

Consider the weather conditions that questing characters would have to face while treking through wilderness. Getting drenched might make a less physically hardy wizard or rogue more susceptible to the flu or the common cold – perhaps even pneumonia, but how often does a wizard actually fumble a spell because of sneezing or congestion? It might actually add an element of comedy relief to a tense situation.

An illness need not land a character on the brink of death to add flavour to your story but it could be a welcome touch of realism. I definitely think it would be something nice to see, now and then.

And maybe then somebody could actually offer up the answer as to whether or not wizards get sick days…

Research

It’s A Mystery: Research and The Evolution of A Writer’s Method

One thing I never really imagined changing was my writing routine. I write pretty consistently (every day, in fact, unless I’m in the midst of a massive editing project, and even then I try to squeeze a few hundred words in just to say that I did), but the level of planning and preparation I need for a new writing project — aka the “pre-writing” work — has never been that much.

For science fiction (like my recent release, The Last Acolyte), I usually come up with a list of all of the major alien races, planets and pieces of technology, and if necessary I’ll write a few paragraphs about the major concepts in the setting in order to maintain consistency. Once that’s done, I create a rough outline, and then jump right into writing.

kindlecover2

For fantasy and epic fantasy I tend to do less outlining and more world building, since that really is the bread and butter of that sort of work. I go overboard drawing maps, writing timelines, (badly) sketching new weapons, writing up bios for major characters and monsters, etc. I absolutely LOVE world building, and with as much effort as I put into building, say, Malzaria (from The Skullborn Trilogy) or Earth After the Black (from Blood Skies), the actual stories practically wrote themselves.

Basically, in both cases I was able to do lots of world-building and very little advanced plotting, but the world building was so detailed and complete I had no trouble writing the actual novels from the seat of my pants (aka “pantsing”, for those of you playing the home game).

Now, I’m writing a mystery novel…and it’s an entirely different ball park.

Sport

I’m still doing quite a bit of “world” building for this project (in this case it’s “setting” building), though not as much as usual. My as yet unnamed novel is set on the fictional island of Raven’s Gate, a community north of the San Juan Islands and off the western coast of Washington State (an area I know pretty well), but since I based the place on an amalgam of a few different very real locations I spent a great deal of time researching realistic weather patterns, temperatures, fauna, tree life, history, etc.  I had to come up with a believable demographic, determine what would be the size and make-up of an appropriate police force, and tried to calculate what sorts of resources an island that size would have available.

But wait, there’s more! Since it’s a murder mystery and the world has grown so savvy with CSI-fu, I, too, have been pouring through Crime Scene and Forensic texts and learning all about securing a crime scene, the shortcomings of fingerprints, how to take a mold from a shoe print and other fun stuff I’d never really thought about before. I’ve learned a lot about illegal drugs, which prisons are the worst, the truth about the modern mafia and how hard life would be as a cop in Philadelphia.

Oh, and since one of the main characters is Black (which, I shamefully admit, I am not) and the other is a German hacker (which I also am not), I did yet more research to try and make sure I present realistic characters.

Malcolm StoneLara Richter

(My main characters, Malcolm Stone and Lara Richter, kindly portrayed by Idris Elba and Antje Traue. Hawt.  Check out my Mystery Project Pinterest Board to see more inspirational images for the new project.)

Finally, prior to starting this project I hadn’t actually read a lot of mysteries, so guess who’s been binge-reading novels about Matt Scudder, Walt Longmire, Cormoran Strike and Inspector Gamache?

Oh, and the whole “plot as you go” thing I was able to do with science-fiction and fantasy? Not going to fly with a mystery novel. Dropping random bits and details I can tie together later isn’t going to work so much, because when writing a mystery you have to know exactly where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and why you’re going there in the first place. For the first time in my writing “career”, such as it’s been (this will be my 12th fully written novel), I’ve had to lay out a fully detailed plot before I even sat down to write, complete with thorough notes.

Now, there’s still room for pantsing (especially with character details and interactions, subplots, stuff like that), but the amount of work I’ve had to do prior to even starting this novel has been, in a word, insane.

But I’m loving it.

Research

So maybe I need a shove every now and again to get out of my wheelhouse. Maybe I needed to take on something I never thought I’d actually do (which, in this case, is writing something totally out of my normal genre). My writing routine was starting to feel a little stale – I was still enjoying the work, but I felt like something was missing for me personally in the act of the actual writing. Maybe this is just what I needed to spice it up.

Will I completely change my writing routine now that I’ve tried things the “Prepare and Plot” way versus using the diploma I acquired at Pantsers University? We’ll see. But writing has become fun for me again, and that’s got to be worth something.

 

About the Author

Steven Montano is actually a Bond villain, so don’t piss him off.  You can, however, check out his work at http://steven-montano.com/

The Multi-Verse

by Joshua Johnson

Recently, I started work on a second series set on the world of Zaria. It follows a new set of characters and a new plot.

One of the aspects of fantasy worldbuilding that I’ve never really had a chance to explore (for one reason or another) is the concept of multiple storylines built out of from a common base.

Many of my favorite authors have done this in one degree or another, and I’ve always been interested in doing it. So I’ve started.

I’ve found it very interesting to begin planning multiple novels or series using common worldbuilding, without having them directly related. This approach has many benefits but many drawbacks.

I’ve found it convenient that I can use a lot of the same basic world information (length of the year, seasons, geography) when I’m plotting out the new series. I also have a lot of basic information about the nations of Zaria that I’ve been able to expand.

On the other hand, trying to manage multiple storylines has proven to be a challenge. While the new story doesn’t happen directly parallel with my existing story, there’s enough information that I’ve had to adjust the planning several times. I think that the biggest challenge has been managing multiple timelines and deciding where along the technology timeline each story is going to be and why.

So what authors have you read that have used a common worldbuilding base to write multiple stories that do or don’t intertwine? What do you think makes these kinds of worlds better or worse than linear or consecutive storylines within a series?

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Book Release: THE LAST ACOLYTE, by Steven Montano

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A NEW SAGA BEGINS!

Mercenary. Soldier. Lover.

All in a day’s work.

John Rike will never see his home again, but he’s ok with that. Back on Earth he was nobody, just an anonymous grad student with no personality, no ambition, and nothing that made him stand out.

But after nearly fifteen years in the dangerous and war-torn Auran Galaxy, Rike has become an infamous soldier-of-fortune. An Acolyte of the vicious Bloodthorn Monastery, Rike’s adventures have taken him from the dregs of crime-ridden fringe planets to the deck of the fabled starship Vigilant.

Now Rike has come to the oppressed planet of Sares 6, the latest in a string of worlds subjugated by the vile Taur, where he must track down and kill the man who trained him.

Aided by a mysterious mercenary and faced with the horrors of the Taur’s despicable occupation, Rike soon finds himself in a desperate race against time…because if he fails in his mission, what little he holds sacred will be forever lost.

Grab your copy today for just $3.99!

Amazon (US)

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About the Author

Steven Montano is a mild-mannered accountant and indie author who recently decided to summon a Cthulian horror into the heart of rural Michigan.  He hasn’t had much luck yet, but he plans to keep trying, so you may want to steer clear of the south of Detroit area for a while…