Three Dirty Birds and Pacing

threedirtybirds-4001|Master List|

Three Dirty Birds are discussing Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! and her views on pacing your novel.

Zoe: This is the part of the book I need to spend more time with. I feel like I absorbed so much in the earlier parts that I ran out of processing room by the time I got here.

Ana: True for me too. It’s a bit hard to really visualize for me.

Kate: Now, I had the opposite thing happen with me. I found the plotting part overwhelming, but the concept of the triangle made perfect sense. Not only should your character’s choices become narrower and narrower, but it made me think a bit of a river or a stream where as you narrow the banks, the water moves faster. (I have weird visual associations.)

Ana: I understood what she was saying. I’m just not really sure how to apply it at this level.

Zoe: Same here. The concept makes perfect sense, but I fall down when thinking about how to apply it. Do I do it in the outline? As I’m writing? Theoretically I should do it in the outline, but do I want to put that much thought into it before I get to the writing—I’m worried that might hit my point of “too much known, now I can’t write it.” I’m kind of saving it for the revision stage.

Kate: I fine tune it, for sure, in the revision stage, but my whole structure is built on “How can I cut off choices? How can I force the character to think or react faster than he’s comfortable with?” The triangle makes perfect sense, because he’s wide open at the beginning, but at the end it comes down to two choices, and boy he better not pick the wrong one.

Zoe: You just got my wheels spinning. In most craft books, they say every scene needs a “goal,” and when I sit down to figure those out on a per-scene basis, I wind up watching TV instead. But if I frame it as a choice… “What’s the choice he’s forced to make in this scene?” I like that. I’m going to play with that today.

Kate: I’ve been doing it a lot in my fireman’s subplot, which is about how he’s trying to fit into his father’s legend. Most of it isn’t in the story yet, because I have to flesh out the romantic one first (though they overlap). But he chooses to transfer to his father’s old station, and work with men his father worked with. (Although I may change that.) Then he has to choose to listen to his mentor. Then he has to choose how to respond to the criticism he gets. At the end, he has to choose whether to face the possibility of the same thing that killed his father or to back away and be less of a man, as he thinks of it. But each chapter has to have something in it that puts pressure on the next choice. Choosing the easy path has to have consequences that he’s personally uncomfortable with. (I honestly don’t know if any of this makes sense–my brain is not linear when I write)

Zoe: My brain is stubbornly linear about everything. That’s why I found Libbie’s character arc/story core thing so great (or, one of the reasons at least)—it’s the first thing that’s been able to get me to see what an ending could be before I get to the ending.

Ana: I think my brain doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Zoe: 😀

Kate: And I work in more of a mind-map fashion–I have my character, I know where I need to get him emotionally and with respect to maturity. It all fans out from him. eventually everything lines up, but I’m more of a messy concept map in my head.

Ana: A lot of the time, my brain is all over the place, but if I don’t go through the story linearly, the individual pieces don’t end up making sense together.

Zoe: I did like the “cymbal crash” bit in Libbie’s book. I set up a separate sheet in Scrivener to go through and write down what the crashes will be for each chapter (if not scene). I just…haven’t actually put anything on that sheet yet. I’m still thinking it’s something that will be easier for my process if I think about it during revision. (I have Holly Lisle’s one-pass revision instructions printed out and ready to go for Dead to the World—I’ll just be incorporating Libbie’s pacing into that process.)

Kate; I liked her story about the historical novel that she read with all the problems that we complain about. And it made a lightbulb go off for me about so many books that I finished despite grumping the whole way through. The pacing dragged me through, never let me stop. (Not that that’s an excuse for slacking off on the other stuff, but if you have to pick one skill to work on, that’s probably the one to choose.) It probably explains a lot of those baffling 5 star reviews we scratch our heads about.

Zoe: Yes, I think getting it right creates a sort of magic. It’s like the show True Blood—I didn’t even like True Blood, but I was addicted to it. As soon as an episode ended, I was dying to see the next one. It really got pacing right. And it’s something I really need to work on.

Ana: I think I got some good practise in pacing from posting chapter by chapter on sites like fictionpress. If I wanted readers to come back I had to leave them wanting more at the end of a chapter.

Kate: That’s very true. There’s something to be said for that serial-like release.

Ana: I think one of the fastest ways to make me lose interest in a book is if nothing happens. I mean, then I can’t even snark about it to my friends! I’ve read some bad books only to see what other ludicrous plot development the author would come up with next. (I don’t want to encourage anyone to write a really bad book with really good pacing, but if you do, let me know!)

Kate: Lol.

Zoe: Choices and pacing, that’s what I’m going to focus on this afternoon. Maybe it can get me back into the story I’m working on.

Ana: Let us know how it goes.

Zoe: If I’m talking about movies and TV shows in chat all week, that’ll tell you how it went. *sigh*

Kate: We’ll pretend you’re just analyzing for practice.

The Case of the Curious Formatting

It’s recently come to my attention that there was a formatting problem with my latest release, In Memory of Us, where certain characters ended up being shown as questions marks in the ebooks. I want to apologize to everyone who ended up with a faulty copy. This should not have happened.

Loose Id has since fixed the error and reuploaded the file to vendors. I hope that you can redownload the book wherever you’ve purchased and get an updated file that way.

Agan, I am so sorry.

(If you have received the book from me through a giveaway I will contact your personally.)

Three Dirty Birds and The Ally

threedirtybirds-4001|Master List|

The Three Dirty Birds are discussing Libbie Hawker’s Ally today.

Zoe: I think “ally” could use a better name. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat uses “love interest,” which is even worse. The “ally” doesn’t have to be a friend, and the hero may not even see the ally as someone who has his best interests in mind. It’s all about the role the ally plays in the story arc, not the role he plays in the story in general.

Ana: While I read about the ally I actually did think of my Love Interest because they’re often the person who won’t put up with the protagonist anymore unless the protagonist overcomes their flaw, and sometimes they tell them that. (You know, in novels where they actually talk.) But it can be other characters as well.

Kate: I’ve taken to calling it the catalyst.

Zoe: I like the “catalyst.”

Ana: I like it because it has cat in it.

Zoe: And we must save the cats. In James Scott Bell’s SuperStructure, he expands the ally beyond sentient possibilities, saying it could be an icon (like the mockingjay pin in the Hunger Games series) or a memory that bubbles up at the crucial moment and gives the hero strength to begin his strive for growth (or destruction, if you’re writing a tragedy).

Ana: Oh God. Don’t remind me of that book I read yesterday where the cat wasn’t saved. (That also shows something about a character.)

Kate: 🙁  But I just put Super Structure and Save the Cat in my shopping cart. You guys are killing my budget.

Zoe: I keep almost adding Save the Cat to my cart, then I read the reviews again and get scared off by the complaints that it’s a way to write a formulaic, blockbuster-movie story.

Kate: I’ve had so many people recommend it, though. I keep going back and forth on it. It’s been in my cart more often than wine (but has never stayed there, unlike the wine.) It is a book on screenwriting, so it’s not surprising that it would focus on the kinds of scripts that get you a director and a contract.

Ana: Maybe you should buy both and consume them together.

Zoe: Seconded.

Kate: I thought I might. I’ll let you guys know what Save the Cat is like.

Ana: So long as you don’t end up with nine rescue cats in your house….

Zoe: I like Libbie’s statement that the ally is the one who finally presents the hero’s need to confront his inner flaw in stark, unavoidable terms. That the ally is the one who forces your main character to change his actions, confront his weakness, and embark on the journey to win his hero status (or bring about his ultimate failure, if you’re writing a tragedy—this book didn’t really address tragedies at all).

Kate: Yes. In my Christmas story, the ally points out to the MC that he’s been fairly sheltered, middle class, and his ideas of how the world should be are not what it really is, and if he’s interested in pursuing a relationship, the ally is interested, but only if he gets his head out of his rear end. Then it’s up to the MC to decide if maybe he’s being an idiot, or if he wants to watch Cutie McSexypants walk out the door forever.

I got a kick out of her reference to Liam Neeson in Taken. I’d watch anything with him in it.

Ana: I had to google him. Did he play a crazy person at some point? I don’t know why, but I saw his face and thought crazy.

Kate: He’s done a lot of stuff.

Ana: Did you get the feeling that the ally had to be one character or that there could be more of them? I mean, different allies at different points of the story.

Kate: She didn’t make that part terribly clear, but I got the sense that you could have more than one ally. She keeps referring to Ender’s Game, and there’s way more than one ally in that story.

Zoe: I think in this section Libbie is talking about a specific moment in the story arc, that one when the hero picks himself up for the final battle. So there could certainly be minor allies along the way, but there’s only going to be one at this major plot point.

Kate: And that was a major plot point. But there’s a bunch of smaller ones that built up to this, and it couldn’t have happened without them. It would have been nice to see her demonstrate the build-up with one story, showing different allies and how they forced the MC to do something or become something.

Zoe: I rather like that she stuck to the major stuff.

Kate: True. I think that was important, but it does kind of leave the impression that there is only one, and I would worry about people that might miss the implication.

Zoe: The trade-off is that it gets people focusing on the most important one in the story/character arc, which helps them to make that one powerful, rather than diluting it because the book said there could be lots of little ones, and here’s an example of doing that.

Ana: Keeping it simple is probably the only way she got me to write an outline at all.

Zoe: Yeah, and then once you have that solid story arc core, you can build on it.

Kate: It’s certainly worked for me.

Zoe: I think I hear the pigs squealing out there as they zoom around. I didn’t think anything would work for Kate, outlining wise. (Not that I think Kate is unteachable, just that I had a feeling she’d already found what worked for her.)

Kate: I would very much like to find an outlining method that works for me. So far, so good. *Ducks flying pig*