Versatile Blogger Award

When I woke up today, I was surprised to see I had been nominated the ‘Versatile Blogger Award!’  First of all, I want to give a Big thank you to jmmcdowell who nominated me. It’s a good feeling to know people are reading and enjoying my posts.

Now, apparently there are some rules. I stole this via copy & paste, so I’m sorry if I missed anything.

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

1. Well, The first one was done above but for the sake of Formality and completeness, Thank you jmmcdowell!

2. Lets see.

       1 – I hope to study Psychology at university, but I am currently stuck in the world-between-words (I have graduated high school, but not yet started Uni)

       2- I have two younger brothers, who are twins.

       3- My favorite color is Blue, particularly electric blue.

       4-my favorite ‘real’ food is Chicken Kiev, but I can’t go past a serve of hot chips.

       5 – I recently started learning German Sword fighting (but I am terrible) and hope to complement it with Japanese kendo.

       6 – I am a Brony.

       7- At the time of writing, I was listening to ‘Europa’ by Globus.

3. Now, I’m relatively new here and I don’t think I actively follow fifteen blogs, but here’s what I can give so far (in no real order)

       1 – Tales from the Mad Monk 

       2 – Elizabeth Barrow

       3 –  Cigarettehugs

       4 – Kristin’s fantasies

       5 – Emmie Mears

       6 –  Lets get digital (this is particularly interesting for those looking to self publish)

       7 – Reshaping Reality

       8 – Sarah Painter

Well, Okay. That’s eight.

I don’t know what else to say besides Thank you again, jmmcdowell!

Redemption is hosting its annual ‘Legends contest,’ and this year the topic is ‘Redemption.’ At first, I was a little worried about this topic and didn’t know how I could handle it in such a small word limit (only 3500.) Redemption by definition is a very character driven thing; meaning for it to be a truly effective and meaningful device, the character must be well-developed and have some sort of emotional connection with the reader.  That’s hard, but not impossible to do in so few words. (But I suppose that puts the challenge into it!) No, the biggest worry I had was setting up a redemption arc. For a character to be seeking, or find, redemption, it follows that they must have committed some atrocity in the past. This can either be in their back story or, as I prefer it, earlier in the story itself. In Treasonists, Zyrina grows more and more jealous and spiteful of Nerolie as the book progresses, until she finally crosses the moral event horizon.  The build up to that point takes a long time, but it helps foreshadow the transition into villianhood and makes redemption all the more meaningful. However, in a short story I can’t do that effectively.

Whilst thinking about how I was going to approach this challenge, it seemed inevitable I was going to be stuck in a generic redemption quest story. A character feels depressed, angered and guilty, haunted by a bad choice in the past that isn’t fully revealed until nearing the end. He seeks redemption, and just after revealing his dark and troubled past to the reader he sacrifices something for someone else, redeeming himself.  How many times have you seen that before?  (And how many of those are romantic comedies?)

First, I had to get that image out of my head. Because, frankly, looking at a black & white still of a man sitting on the floor, head bent and sobbing with a cigarette and flask of whiskey is depressing!  Now, I’m all for having sad themes in my writing – I even like a good teary ending sometimes – but the generic image wasn’t helping me at all.

So first, I changed the character. I changed every little thing about them, from their gender and age to their preferred drink. Then, I addressed the next problem.  How was I going to set up a redemption arc in 3500 words? I didn’t want to rely on flashbacks because in general I find them a poor method of storytelling (lets ignore the fact I use the device in Treasonists for now) and that’s especially true in this case.  That meant my only option was to have the Atrocity happen in the beginning of the story, or throughout.  Putting it throughout would mean the first part of the story lacked focus, especially dangerous with so few words.

Another important aspect of a redemption story is scale. Anyone who has read anything of mine before knows I think and write on a large scale anyway, which is why I stick to novels. But scale is especially important with this kind of theme. For example, I am not going to feel particularly moved if someone wants to redeem themselves for stealing a candy bar. However, a Cop may want redemption for shooting when he didn’t need too, or a military commander may seek redemption for sending men into a suicidal mission. Similarly, the redeeming act needs to be at a larger scale for effect. Using the same example, I’m not going to be moved when someone returns the candy bar, But will be much more impacted when the cop saves a criminal from death, or when the officer holds off an attack to let his men escape themselves. Put generally, the more a character had to gain from the first ‘bad’ act, the more they need to lose in their redeeming act, and both need to be at a large scale for the story to be effective.  Writing about someone stealing from a supermarket, and then returning the candy, will fit in the word count, but it won’t be fun for reader or writer (…unless there is some twist?). Writing about a general sending his men into the Somme, and then holding a German counter attack while the rest escape is exciting, but too long. The challenge here, for me, is to figure out something that is exciting, short, and still allows room for character development and plot maturity. Some people may be perfectly adept at writing well on a smaller scale, but I am not.

Eventually I came up with not one, but two redemption arcs that run concurrently. Weird, I know. I went from searching my brains to find one, to creating two that play against each other in the story. And it will fit. I think, I hope. Whats more, it allows me to explore a nice twist and an outside-the-box perversion of ‘Redemption.’ .

If anyone is interested, you can still sign up for the contest, the final ‘due date’ is December 28th.  You can sign up for fiction, non-fiction or Poetry. Legendfire is a good bunch and I’m excited to read the other entries – They never disappoint with their creativity and unique thinking. Somewhat ironically, I will be surprised if one of the entries follows the generic redemption quest I outlined above.

Also, you get this nice little badge.

The Contest announcement is here.

Boneshaker in Hindsight.

I like Steampunk.

In fact, Steampunk is my favorite genre. I also really like zombies. (Odd considering Treasonists involves neither.) So when I picked up ‘Boneshaker’ by Cherie Priest, a ‘Steampunk-zombie-airship adventure’, I was really excited. A little jealous I hadn’t done it first, but excited.

Unfortunately, it was a big letdown. The main characters are flat and I never really ‘connected’ with them or cared about them, which is a shame because if they were fleshed out some more it could have led to a very touching ending. The plot itself was largely fate driven, with characters flopping around until the antagonist was introduced in the last third of the book.  The plot starts off with Zeke’s quest to prove his father’s innocence and ‘rewrite history,’ but that gets lost somewhere in all the floundering around and it turns into a simple ‘overthrow the bad-guy’ plot. I guess I can’t talk, considering that’s what Treasonists is, but I think I’ve done it better.  The characters themselves don’t ever contribute to the plot (besides to get it rolling at the start), and just followed other characters. Even at the end of the book, they don’t do anything that couldn’t be achieved by a nice painting hung on the wall. During the climax, a large-scale battle breaks out. However, we only hear about it because the POV characters never take part. I think, at the very least, Priest should have head-hopped to a side character’s POV so we could take part in the action, as it felt a little like watching an action movie from the POV of someone sleeping in another room.  I honestly think the book would have been much better if it were about the side characters and their tensions with Dr. Minnericht.  There is a good book here, It’s just about the wrong people.

I think Priest could have done better if she fleshed the world a little more, developed the characters and strengthened the plot. Which doesn’t really leave much, does it? I honestly think she relied on the concept of the book (which is awesome, a quarantined city teeming with Rotters , scavengers and a tyrannical mad scientist) and forgot she needed to develop anything for it to work. I feel bad for saying that, because I know a lot of work probably went into the book – it just doesn’t seem like that.

Don’t let this spoil your views on Cherie, though. I’ve also read Dreadnought which was a an exciting novel, once it got started. It did take a while to get started. But it’s better in every way – better plot, better characters, and better zombies. That makes sense, considering it is a sequel (in the sense it’s set chronologically after Boneshaker and in the same world, and written after Boneshaker. They are entirely stand-alone.) I would recommend Dreadnought to any Steampunk fans, or zombie fans, or train fans. But unfortunately I can’t say the same about Boneshaker. I’ll admit I’m looking forward to reading the next one, Ganymede (And Clementine if I can get my hands on a copy), and if that has the same leap in quality as Boneshaker-to-Dreadnought has, it could well become one of my favorite books, especially considering its premise. I mean, who doesn’t love sky pirates?

But then, I said something very similar about Boneshaker a few weeks ago.

End of the First Week

As my first week of seriously editing comes to a close, I’ve learned one major lesson; Editing is not as scary as people make it out to be.  It’s a slow, time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention and energy, but it’s not scary. Even when I’m cutting entire scenes or re-writing parts I spent hours perfecting a few months ago, it’s not heartbreaking.

It’s exciting.

It’s not like I’m burning the novel, laying waste to hours and hours work. No – I’m making it better. Much better, with results visible right away. Comparing the edited chapter to what it used to be I can see an immediate improvement, and it’s almost a little embarrassing to read parts of what I had. I say this with the knowledge I’ll come back to what I worked on today and improve it even more, genuinely astonished that I didn’t make the changes now.

Yes, I can happily say editing isn’t nearly as scary as I pretended to myself it was, In fact, I’m enjoying it!

So, in honor of my first chapter surviving its first run in with the surgeon, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about the all important first chapter, which is one of the most important parts of a novel.

The first chapter of a novel is the reader’s introduction into the world, characters and plot but that’s not all. The first chapter introduces the Writer, and their writing style. For me, the first chapter is a critically important factor when I decide to buy a book or not. So, what makes a good first chapter?

Conflict.  A compelling introduction to the plot is central to my decision of whether or not to read past chapter one, as a good plot is the most important part of a story. As such, introducing the plot is the most important job of the first chapter.  Conflict is what drives the characters to do everything they do. It’s what hooks the reader, and keeps them turning pages until they realize its 5 AM and scratch their heads in confusion. In essence, Conflict gives the novel purpose.  If I can give the reader an idea of the main conflict and stakes, and set the plot rolling with a sense of danger and uncertainty within the first few pages, then I have achieved success with the first chapter.

So, how do I do that?

The best way to introduce conflict at the very beginning is by putting the Protagonist right in the middle of it. Keep in mind, conflict doesn’t have to be gunfight’s or bar brawls – just some problem the protagonist needs to overcome. You don’t even need to start with the central conflict, though I much prefer to.

One technique I love to use in the opening is a confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. It’s a Brilliant way to show the relationship between the characters and demonstrate the conflict early, but it’s not always possible – It depends on the story and nature of the antagonist. In Treasonists, I open with the protagonist Prince Sephiran and the Antagonist Princess Silvara attending a meeting in their father’s throne room, both proposing different ways of dealing with the seemingly unavoidable civil war and famine. Through this, I contrast their characters, develop the situation and throw coals on the conflict. The first fifteen hundred or so words make up one of my favorite scenes in the entire novel, and it does an excellent job of setting the plot-ball rolling before I calm down to develop character in the following chapter and, hopefully, throughout the novel.

I could go on talking about what I think makes a good first chapter, or start rambling what makes a bad first chapter, but I want to know what you think,

What do you think makes a good first chapter? Leave a comment below!