The Thing About Urban Fantasy

Okay, I did it!  I promised to post one chapter a week for a short urban fantasy novel until it was finished.  And I made it.  I posted the last chapter on Friday.  Once it was up, I spent the rest of the day, putting all of the images and chapters together into one book, and I’d written over 48,000 words.  Not bad.

River City Rumble is the last story, so far, in a series of novellas that I’ve been writing for a long time.  When I’m wading deep in middle muddles of other books, I turn to Babet and Prosper to re-energize me, to pull me out of the muck.  And they always come through.  That’s why I decided they deserved a novel of their own instead of a week or two of my attention in short spurts.  They’d earned their own novel.

The thing is, urban fantasy writers–at least, the ones I read–tend to use a big cast of characters, and those characters grow in number with each book they write.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I loved writing about all of the people I’d introduced in previous novellas, but it’s hard to keep track of them all in one book.  Before, in shorter works, I picked and chose who I wanted to highlight.  In this book, I decided to go bigger and better.  I wanted someone or something that threatened everyone in River City, so that they’d all have to work together to defeat him/it.  The trick was to try to bring each person in and then not forget him when the next person joined the team.

Hatchet and Colleen had to be part of the struggle.  Hatchet is Prosper’s partner on River City’s supernatural detective force, and Colleen’s his vampire/wife.  If Hatchet’s walking into danger, she’d be beside him.  Babet’s mom and Hennie had to help, too, because they’re all part of River City’s coven.  And since the villain/antagonist who instigates all of the trouble is a vampire who controls a huge seethe, every vampire in River City will band together to battle him.  And those characters are just for starters.  By the end of the book, the voodoo community and the shape shifters all joined in, too.  But you know what they say–the more, the merrier.  So we all just teamed together and did our thing.

The second decision I made while posting my weekly chapters was to include an image with each one of them.  I’ve done that with some of the short stories I post on my webpage (all available in its left column, if you’re interested).  But I don’t do it on any regular basis.  This time, I had to come up with an image every single week.  And to my surprise, I found ones that fit my idea of what suited each scene.  One of my readers–and I so appreciate this–complimented me on them.  That meant so much to me, coming from her.  My biggest challenge, though, came when I started to write the last chapter.

Urban fantasies–at least, my favorites–are a string of small battles that lead to a big, final battle, usually to the death.  That meant I had to wrap up every small subplot before I stepped onto the battlefield.  I’d created an antagonist–and I’m proud of this–whom many people loathed.  She wasn’t the main villain, but more than a few readers said they hoped she got what she deserved before the book ended.  I hope I satisfied them.  Then, I was clear to send almost every supernatural in River City out to meet Zanor.  This couldn’t be just any battle, though.  The good guys couldn’t win too easily.  They had to face near death to overcome their enemies.  And everyone had to have a part.  That’s when things got tricky.  And that’s when I had to bring in more evil reinforcements so that Zanor’s forces gave as good as they got.

My protagonists survived, and so did I.  But I really sweated that chapter.  Fingers crossed that it satisfies.  Now, it’s time for me to move on and concentrate on my fourth Mill Pond romance.  A complete change of style.  And that’s a good thing for me.  I’m a Libra.  It helps keep me balanced.   Hope you find balance in your writing this week!  Hit those keys.

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/?ref=bookmarks

Twitter:  @judypost

And FYI:  If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, my friend, M. L. Rigdon’s PROPHECY DENIED is FREE thru March 7: http://www.amazon.com/PROPHECY-DENIED-Seasons-Time-Book-ebook/dp/B004S7EQ92/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1457193638&sr=1-1&keywords=m+l+rigdon

 

 

 

How much do characters change?

I finally finished my third romance and sent it off to my editor at Kensington.  It took me longer than usual.  My grandson moved in with us for a while, stayed long enough to figure out what he wanted to do next, and then moved out.  The holidays came and went, and so did visitors.  I wrote, but sporadically.  And then I reached the final stretch and pounded out words.  My critique partners, bless them, sped through my draft so that I’d have plenty of time to do rewrites.  And I sent the novel off into the cold, cruel world on Friday, ahead of my Feb. 15 deadline.

This romance has a bigger cast of characters than my last ones.  First off, my editor asked if I’d try for a longer book, closer to 70,000 words than 60,000.  Secondly, I wanted to have more men to juggle for Paula, lucky girl.  And third, I wanted an extra subplot since I was writing longer this time.  I’m not a big fan of love triangles, so I wanted to make sure my novel didn’t have that feel, even with three men in the story.  My editor e-mailed that he probably wouldn’t get to Love on Tap (the current title–but that can always change) until the end of February, so I won’t know if everything worked or not for a while.  But at the moment, I’m pushing it all out of my mind.  I’m ready to move on.

The thing is, I see-sawed back and forth on one of my characters.  I wanted Paula to be attracted to him, but I wanted the reader to know he wasn’t the right guy.  If I made his flaws too obvious, then readers would wonder why Paula was interested in him at all.  As my writer friend put it, “It makes Paula look stupid if she’s attracted to a jerk.”  Okay, I get that.  So I needed Mr. Wrong to be appealing, in some way, to her.  I toned down his flaws to the point that I started to like him.  Not as much as Paula’s real love interest, but enough that I didn’t want the story to end badly for him.

And that brings me to one of my flaws.  I tend to like most people, to see their potential, what’s good in them.  It’s rare that I meet someone and instantly dislike him/her. Another writer friend teases me that it’s hard for me to be mean to my characters.  They might go through rough patches, but I want things to end well for them.  So, I wanted Mr. Wrong to change, to grow, and find a not-as-wonderful, but good-enough happy ending of his own.  And I wrote it that way.  But it didn’t work.  Because when I looked at the story, his character had changed too fast.  He couldn’t cover that much ground in such a short time. Don’t get me wrong.  I think that people can change.  I think it’s hard, but it’s possible.  I think Life buffets us around and makes us change.  But it takes times…and work..and usually some unpleasantness.  Mr. Wrong wasn’t ready yet.  So, unfortunately for him, he ended up in a messy transition instead of a sort-of-happily-ever-after.

I know that characters need to change from the beginning of a book to its end.  But how much?  How much change is realistic?  And what does the character have to endure to force those changes?

Good luck with whatever you’re writing!  And keep your characters your real:)

P.S.  I’ve posted links from Les Edgerton in my blog before, but he gave a speech for the Oklahoma Writers Association that’s pretty useful for writers:  http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2016/01/keynote-speech-at-owfi.html?spref=fb

His link on outlining:  http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2010/04/outlining.html

And if you’re interested, Kensington is offering a contest for readers to win my first romance, COOKING UP TROUBLE, by Judi Lynn (my pen name for romance): https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/172144-cooking-up-trouble

 

Outline to Finished Draft

This post is too long…again.  But it should finish explaining how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I hope.  If you still have questions, let me know.  But here goes!

When I start a book, I do pretty detailed plot points.  I didn’t always.  I used to stick to the basics of what had to happen to move the story, but now, when I think of a chapter or scene, I scribble down whatever comes to mind, and the more I scribble, the more things I think of.  That way, when I read my notes, I just need to bring them to life.

Every book starts with a hook.  For Wolf’s Bane, I show Reece racing to her mom’s house. Her mom remarried after Reece’s father died and had two children with her new husband. Eugene’s proud that he has a son, but Jenny reminds him of his mother.  He doesn’t like his mother, so whenever he’s had too much to drink, he likes to smack Jenny.  Reece, who teaches martial arts, rushes to prevent that.

However, Wolf’s Bane isn’t a literary novel.  It’s urban fantasy, so Reece’s family isn’t the main plot.  When she jumps out of the car to rescue Jenny, she sees a woman sitting on a porch stoop.  The woman raises her face to the sky and howls before she runs away. Later, after Reece has sent Eugene to the kitchen and gotten her brother and sister to bed, when she starts to her SUV, a werewolf attacks a young man on the street corner.  The man seems doomed until a gargoyle plummets from the sky to rescue him.  He kills the werewolf, and it shifts back to the woman Reece had seen earlier.  Plot point 1.

Now, that’s all plot point 1 is, a summary of what happens in that chapter.  But I’d already decided that I was aiming for 80,000 words for this book.  As it happened, I ended up with 30 plots points, and the novel ended up being 364 pages and almost 91,000 words.  But at the time, when I finished figuring out my 30 plot points, I figured I needed 2,600 words for each plot point, or about 10 -12 pages.  Each point might involve a few different scenes.  For my latest romance, I plotted forty plot points for 70,000 words.  Why?  Because I knew I wanted shorter, punchier scenes and chapters, only about 7 pages each.  How do I make one plot point into 7 to 12 pages?  By bringing the scene to life.

In Wolf’s Bane, I’d already shown that Reece is attached to her step-brother and step-sister.  If they call, she’s there.  Why?  Why does she care?  How much of an age difference is there between them and her?  How does she feel about her mother now?  Why does her mother tolerate Eugene’s drinking?  And how does her mother feel about Reece popping in to protect Joseph and Jenny?  What was Reece’s father like?  And what does Reece do now that he’s gone and she lives on her own?

Plot point 2:  This is still set-up.  Usually, the entire first fourth of my books are set-up.  This scene takes place a month later.  Reece is back at her mom’s house, and when she leaves, the man who was attacked gets off the bus at the corner and starts toward her.  Moon light hits him, and he starts to change.  He attacks Reece, and again, the gargoyle comes.  This time, he saves her, but his wing’s hurt in the battle.  She drives him to her condo, and he notices that she’s been scratched.  The wolf’s paw mark makes a tattoo-like stain close to her heart.  A sign that she’s a witch.

Again, this plot point only summarizes what happens in this scene or chapter.  I have to add details to bring the scene to life.  What did Reece do when she watched the man shift into a werewolf?  How did she feel?  How did she feel when the wolf attacked her?  When the gargoyle came to help her?  Does she believe him when he tells her she’s a witch? How will she cope with that?  What does it mean?  etc.  Question after question to bring the characters and actions to life.  Anyway, that’s what I do–scene after scene.

For me, once I get the plot points, I can concentrate on “seeing” what’s happening, what each character is doing, what the setting looks like.  I can “hear” the characters, listen to the grunts and shuffling of the battles.  That’s how my outline becomes a draft.

Now, a quick note:  I divide my stories into fourths, and that helps me keep my plot points on track.  The hook is extra–something to grab the reader.  So here’s how I start:

  1. Hook:  Reece races to her mother’s house to protect Jenny from Eugene.
  2. Plot Point 1:  Reece sees a werewolf attack a man and a gargoyle save him
  3. Plot Point 3:  The man shifts and attacks Reece. The gargoyle saves her and she learns she’s a witch.

I know I want 80,000 words, and I’ve decided I can reach that with 30 plot points.  That means that I want my first turning point to come at the end of chapter 7 or 8, at the end of the first fourth of the book.  Reece knows she’s a witch, but she has no idea what that means or how to awaken her magic until the end of the book’s set-up (the first 7 or 8 chapters).  Also, a rogue werewolf tries to kill her, so she’s been targeted for some reason and doesn’t know why.  At the first turning point, an owl brings her a moonstone necklace to awaken her magic and she teams up with the gargoyles who protect Bay City to fight the rogues.

The second turning point comes at the middle of the story.  Wedge Durrow and his werewolf pack join Reece and Damian to fight the rogues, and they have an idea who the rogues are.  Hecate, a powerful witch, joins them, too.

The third turning point hits at the three-quarters point of the book, and the fourth quarter of the book leads to the final, big battle and resolution.  It ties up all the subplots, etc.  For plot points and structure, I highly recommend: http://storyfix.com/story-structure-dummies.  The point is, once you have your hook, first plot points, three turning points, and the end of your book, all you have to do is fill in more plot points from A to Z.  And then, all you have to do is bring each of those plot points to life.  Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Writing: My Experiment

I’ve put up 12 free chapters on my webpage for Babet & Prosper’s short novel RIVER CITY RUMBLE.  I have at least nine more chapters plotted.  It might go longer.  And I have to say, this has been an interesting experiment.  What have I learned?

  1.  As far as marketing, I’ve read on other blogs that offering free stories on your webpage helps increase sales.  I thought that if readers liked the chapters and free Babet and Prosper stories in the side column, they might spring for some of the bundles on Amazon.  I’ve gotten the occasional hit, but I’ve had better luck paying for advertising than offering free stories on my webpage.  I’ve had a lot more visitors, but that hasn’t translated into sales.  For now, I’m just happy I have more visitors and reach more people, so I’m okay with that.  But as a marketing tool, advertising seems to work better.
  2. As for writing, telling a story as a weekly serial has made me really concentrate on what I put in each chapter.
    1.  Have I kept the characters interesting and alive in the reader’s mind?  It’s been a week since they’ve thought about them.  Do they remember Viviane, Jacinta, or Hennie?  Have I made them distinctive enough?  How do I jump start their personalities again?
    2. Something significant has to happen in every chapter.  There are no “down” chapters that link from one event to the next.  Whatever happens has to be important enough to hold the reader for another week.
    3. Is there enough variety?  Yes, a chapter has to be significant, but I can’t write a battle for each of them.  Yet I want an event that’s significant, that makes the reader feel satisfied that it’s going to impact the final outcome.
    4. Have I offered the reader a variety of emotions?  Have I made the characters complex enough that they care about them?  Worry when they’re in trouble?  Be surprised about how they react?  Have I offered some laughter or amusement to buffer the tense moments?  Some warm or poignant moments to touch the heart?
    5. I try to permeate the feel of River City into the story.  I hope to show the bond between the protagonists who live there, so that each character is part of the whole.  The series is long enough, the cast of characters has grown, and it’s hard to give them each a part and let him/her shine.
    6. Am I cranking up the conflict and tension, so that things just keep getting worse, so that the final showdown will be big and bad enough to satisfy the reader?  Zanor won’t go down easily.  Defeating him has to test the protagonists past anything they’ve done before.

I’ve written other serial stories, but they’ve been short–four or five chapters, and I like them because they challenge me.  This is the first time I’ve tried a serial novel, something longer with more characters and events.  And it’s challenged me, too.  But I’m enjoying it.  Whatever you’re working on, I hope it stretches your writing muscles AND brings you joy.  Happy Writing!

 

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

Writing: Can a writer be too nice?

I live in the Midwest.  Last Monday, my husband and I drove to Shipshewana, Indiana to look for  a calendar.  I know.  A long drive to find one, right?  But we take our calendars seriously.  You have to look at the picture above the numbered boxes, counting down days, for an entire month.  We’d rather look at something we like.  Last year, my daughter, who doesn’t shop ahead like we do, ended up with a calendar of birds of prey.  I cringed every time I turned my head and accidentally saw talons, ready for a kill.  Besides, Monday was an absolutely beautiful day.  Sunlight gleamed on golden, crimson, and orange leaves. Farmers were working in their fields.   Best of all, Shipshewana is Amish territory.  We drove through Topeka and saw Amish laundry drying on clotheslines, stretched in side yards.  Horses grazed in pastures.  We had a wonderful day.

It was sunny enough that I needed my sunglasses.  I viewed the world through amber, not rose-colored glasses.  But the amber made everything brighter, more striking and dramatic.  That’s sort of the way I see the world when I write.  Everything’s amplified.  One of my friends teases me and tells me that I’m never mean enough to my characters.  That I’m too nice to them.  It’s possible, but I don’t need suffering and tragedy to keep me turning pages.   I just need enough tension and conflict to make me root for the protagonist to find the solutions he needs, characters that I care about, and a plot that twists and turns enough to hold my interest.

I thought about that as I worked on plot points for the Babet and Prosper that I’m writing on my webpage (I put up chapter 3, if you’re interested).  I started with a hook that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote the damn thing.  I kept seeing Hatchet chaining his vampire/wife to the wall of his basement.  Hatchet’s devoted to Colleen, and she’s devoted to him.  So why in the world would he lock her in silver chains?  And then the answer came to me.  To help her.  Happy day!  I liked my hook.  And I liked my villains.  Worthy antagonists make for good stories.

Now, I’ve read over and over again that most authors state the book’s “big question,” on the first page, if not the first paragraph or even the first sentence.  Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I don’t, but it needs to be somewhere in the first chapter.  So I needed to decide what the big conflict in the book would be–what would the protagonists struggle with for the rest of the entire novel?  Once I had that, I concentrated on pacing, how I wanted to up the tension chapter by chapter.  And I was lucky enough to stumble upon K.M. Weiland’s seriously deep blog about the inciting incident and the first fourths of books.  She said–especially well–what I usually do (in a not so clear pattern).  She must divide her books into fourths, like I do.  Only she’s even better at it.  Take a read: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/your-books-inciting-event-its-not-what-you-think-it-is/

While plotting away, my wonderful editor–John Scognamiglio at Kensington–sent me the book cover for my very first romance novel that will come out next April.  I’m pretty excited about it, but April feels like it’s FOREVER away.  Some of my writer friends do awesome cover reveals, which I’ve never tried, so I’m trying to decide how to go about it.  No brilliant ideas yet:)  Anyway, last week was busy enough for me.  I wish you a Happy Halloween and a spectacular November!

Happy writing!

My webpage:  (chapter 3):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/chapter-3.html

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

Catch me on twitter: @judypost