Posts Tagged ‘plot’

Risha went to her bunk. The woman in the mirror looked like a soldier, the same as she had when they left this morning. More than conviction burned out of her eyes. Or lineage. Risha leaned toward the mirror. She smiled. “Hello, your highness,” she said.

Today I jumped ahead in my Nanowrimo writing to work a scene inspired by a song from Risha’s playlist. (Yes, my characters have playlists.) In this one, Risha has to make a pivotal choice. She’s spent most of life learning about hard decisions and doing what’s necessary. This time, she makes a hard choice, but not the one people were expecting.

I don’t like jumping ahead, because I’m trying to start this out with some shred of continuity, but it’s a scene that has to happen. In fact, it’s going to be one of the more important scenes in the book. Based on that, I hoped it would give me some ideas of what comes before and after, to see how it ripples into the rest of the story. I learned… a few things. Less than I hoped, more than nothing.

PS: A little over 2,000 words today :). I’m almost caught up.


Meet the Scene Wall

Posted: August 28, 2014 by writingsprint in Dubrillion Burning, Science fiction, Writing
Tags: , , ,

Before I do tonight’s post — which is going to be a stream of consciousness on the mermaid story — I wanted to show you why things have been rather hit or miss around here lately.

It’s all Dubrillion Burning‘s fault.


This is everything that you’ve read here, in the order that you’ve read it. It comes to about seventy pages single-spaced with skipped lines between paragraphs, because I copied the content straight off the blog.

scene wall

Meet the scene wall. There are about seventy more pages here. Past and future scenes where I’ve jumped out of order, ideas, research topics, and other bits and pieces from all three books hang where I can see them and figure out what to do with them. In a notebook I have a road map of how it all comes together.

You’ll notice I’m using old fancy stationery for printing drafts. Paper’s expensive!


And then there’s about 10-15 pages of miscellaneous scenes, lines, bits and ideas that don’t have a home yet. So, all told, I’ve written about 150 pages, and I’ve barely gotten started.

Other than the occasional scene or short story about a modern mermaid that I write to take a break, many of my 400 words a day are going to be “for my eyes only” for a while. I’ll keep you posted and try to keep you entertained as we go along.

Plotting Mermaids

Posted: August 19, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
Tags: , ,

"The Little Mermaid" in Copenhagen

“The Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen

Tonight I’m going to do a stream of consciousness post as I figure out the plot of a short story that I want to do.

A long time ago I wrote a story called “Nereid” about a man whose wife vanishes while they’re snorkeling in Jamaica on vacation. He tries to find her, fails, then comes back a year later when he starts having dreams about her. It was a good story about obsession but not so hot on plot and character other than the hero. So, for the exercise, I want to rewrite that one.

The main character is Pete, whose wife vanishes while they’re snorkeling in Jamaica. He wants to get her back.

What’s the price he has to pay? What makes this difficult? Hmm. Let’s say… she didn’t actually “disappear,” she left to spend some time in the sea because she was fed up with him. Or maybe she was a mermaid spending a year on land and now she has to go back to her own people. For now I’ll stick with the former. For her to stay, he has to shape up. I like it but it sounds like a complicated problem for a short story.

Aside: this is always my problem with short stories. I can’t keep the problem small enough for a short story. I need to focus. Lately I’ve tried asking myself, what kind of problem could you fix in a day, or a weekend?

Well, this could be a country-mouse-town-mouse story, like I read when I was a kid. He asks her to marry him, she says no, because she’s a mermaid, and she misses the water too much. He tries spending a week under water with her and proceeds to get swimmer’s ear, chased by sharks, the usual. (Short! Short! Keep it short!) All right, like the mouse story, just make it one day or one night. If I keep thinking about the mice that’ll encourage me to keep it playful. I could also flip the story and make him a mer-man as opposed to having her be a mer-maid.

By the time the story’s over, he has to decide to stay, go, ask her to stay or go, or they have to find some kind of happy-joy-it-worked-out-anyway middle ground. Hmm. Well, it’s not the dramafest I was expecting, but I think this is what I’ll go with. Basic five-act structure, “oh my God,” “tension rising,” “pivot point,” “climax,” “denouement,” or something similar. Oh, and remember to have fun along the way. Got it.

Photo credit: “The Mermaid” by Leonora Enking at Flickr
Photo is unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license

Risk game map

Maybe I should use this map

Post #45 of the Dubrillion Burning series

I originally came up for the names of the royal houses of Dubrillion using The Star Wars Random Name Generator, which is where I get a lot of the names in this story.

The Bad Guys The Good Guys Neutral
Da Res

I came up with the name “Kala Ro” when I first had to put a name to the usurper king. For some reason I thought it should be a short, three-syllable name, something punchy and aggressive. I like it but I don’t love it. We’ll see if it sticks.

For simplicity’s sake, I started out assuming that Dubrillion was about the same size as Earth, with about the same population. Maybe less; maybe much less, even as little as 1/10th as much, which to me is still a very populated world. The more technologically advanced the civilization is, the less population you need for farming or industry. While Dubrillion isn’t a frontier wasteland like Tatooine, it’s at the edge of the galaxy, and the Star Wars wiki doesn’t have much more to say about it other than it’s lush and pretty. So while it may have some good things to offer, it’s not an industrial, technological, educational, or cultural hub.

Next, also for simplicity’s sake, I assumed that four or five evil houses that were ruling the planet, including the usurper’s, and on the order of a dozen weaker houses opposed them. Combined, they’re stronger, but alliances are very, very tricky to keep together. To spice things up a bit, I’m currently leaning toward five evil houses, six good guy houses, and five neutral houses. They might be small fry, or they might be opportunists. I need to work all that out.

So there are 16 houses, on a planet the size of Earth. Over time, whatever nations originally populated Dubrillion unified themselves along geographic and cultural boundaries that formed the houses we have today. Here’s the first stab that I took at how the houses break out geographically:

Central America
South America
South America
Sub-Saharan Africa
Northern Africa
Da Res

The names above are rough geographic zones for the houses. Note, these are not parallels to our Earth in culture, weather, or resources. For example, I’m assuming that Antarctica is littered with volcanoes and hot springs that generate enough heat that it’s bearable to live there underground, and that it’s rich in natural resources.

When I first started thinking about it, there were no neutral houses. Based on the geography above, here’s how I saw the rebellion shaping up:

Indonesia (Da Res) and China (Rinald) knock Australia (Laurent) out of the war quickly, if Rinald can’t cut a deal with them to stay neutral.

Central America (Montari) would hold on bravely against South America (Foda) but it’d only be a matter of time.

Locke and Widom (Africa) would attack Europe (Bishto) from the south while India and Russia (Hannica and Fel) would attack from the east. Bishto would fight bitterly but they can’t hold against so much force.

This puts the king in a vise. Rinald invades over Alaska and Fel hits from the sea. By now, someone’s probably fired nukes in desperation.

Now, if some of these houses are neutral or the militaries aren’t evenly matched, things become much more interesting. I don’t know much about geopolitics, but I do know that everyone is out for themselves. Everyone. This is where Risha’s ability to see angles and play sides will earn her a seat at the bargaining table.

Photo credit: “Risk game map” by Orthuberra at Wikimedia Commons
Photo is unmodified
Shared under GNU Free Documentation License

It’s Not the Same without Lightsabers

Posted: June 27, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
Tags: , , ,

So lately I’ve been thinking about taking the Star Wars fan fiction that I’m working on, changing the names of all the characters, getting rid of the lightsabers, and turning it into its own, original, standalone story. When it gets to the point that you’re doing research, trying to polish it up, and wrestling with the story from different angles, you’re past just doing something for fun. It’s veering into “labor of love.” When you look back and realize that you’ve put over 16,000 words into it, and the story’s only just begun, you have to ask yourself: should I be working on something of my own?

Would you write a novel just for fun? Never to have it be published?

I might. At least for now. It’s difficult to let go. Cartog, Jeana and Raffa are like friends of mine. I invented them, if not their Old Republic stories. I didn’t invent Risha, but changing her name feels like asking a friend to call herself by another name because otherwise you can’t get into a party. Jeana just wouldn’t be the same without a lightsaber.

All true. I talked about this with a close friend, who responded that “Fifty Shades of Grey” started out as Twilight fan fiction. I’m not writing “Fifty Shades of Star Wars,” but I get the point.

The other day I was thinking about this in my car. “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons came on — Jeana’s “end credits” music — followed by “Heroes” by David Bowie. I thought, don’t mess with the mojo. This isn’t about being published. It’s about a story that I want to write. The most important thing a writer can do is be true to their characters. If this turns into another story, another universe, that’s one thing, but for now, this is their story and I’m telling it how it is.

What do you think? Am I nuts, or does this resonate with you too?


This is how my brain works. It’s not pretty.

Post #41 of the Dubrillion Burning series

I promised myself that after the battle of Cainar spaceport was over, I’d try mapping out the story, just to see if I could do it. It’s far harder than I thought it would be.

I’ll start from here and see how far I can go. I’m going to keep it high-level because the first time I tried I got bogged down in the weeds.

The team has to go after the plasma bombs. That’s what kicked off the story and it needs resolution. In fact, I’m going to say that if the story was a five-act play, the end of act one has to be getting rid of the plasma bombs. Our heroes start out as newcomers, at least to this game. By the end the good guys, the bad guys, and the common people have all taken notice of who they are and what they’re trying to do.

So in act two, we raise the stakes.

Jeez. What’s higher than nukes?

Fate of the planet. People’s souls. Hearts and minds.

Something tangible.

Got it. They’re driving on Ro’s forces. At the same time, Risha gets to use her diplomatic skills and her smarts to drive wedges between Ro and his allies. (I get to challenge my creativity to figure out what the ever-living gesundheit that would look like.) People are noticing Risha and getting drawn to her as a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, the Republic and the Empire both start taking steps to intercede in their own interest. There are a multitude of smaller threads that involve the other characters, but this is all about Risha.

And then, turning point. Risha has gotten too good too fast and people in power are threatened. Assassination attempt? Betrayal? Powers that be setting her up? Something like that. Nemesis? Maybe but I can’t see one for her. There’s no one like her—that’s what makes her so dangerous as an enemy, in the field and politically. Enemy gets smart and she suffers a crushing defeat? Or they go after her friends. Or a friend betrays her.

Hmm. Lots of good (awful) opportunities here. I’m imagining Risha’s sitting on the other side of the room saying, “I’m glad you’re enjoying this.”

Focus on Risha.

It’s her rise to power that threatens everyone. Ro, the Empire, the Republic, and the established nobles. They begin taking aim at her and her friends, chopping her legs out from under her. They may discredit her, have it so that she’s blamed for a defeat, something like that. She may even get word from someone: play nice, or lose it all.

I like it, but I feel like… a normal person would write that. It makes sense. What would I do?

Still going after Risha, but it’s Jedi. Sith. Something mind-blowing happens. Someone under mind control does something unthinkable. Someone is captured and cracks under interrogation. The spacer fleet gets bought off and betrays them, leaving them in the field surrounded by foes. It doesn’t have to be grotesque, but I want the reader’s jaw to drop. Hard.

That’s more like it. I don’t know which one it’ll be, but it’s something like this. What would Risha do?

She’s smiling now, by the way.

She would outsmart them. Risha is a younger, prettier Danny Ocean. She would anticipate their moves and be ready. Hmm. Thinking about it… tearing her down only makes her stronger. It puts her back in the shadows where she’s untouchable. It’s probably the worst thing they could do. On a side note, Risha would also see very clearly who her real friends are, because the fair-weather ones would leave.

I want to see her stage a victory with the common people of Dubrillion, with local partisans or someone like that. By the time it’s all over, everyone knows that she spins straw into gold. This girl is magic. She’s also not going away, like the naysayers said she would.

Meanwhile, the Rebels have lost multiple battles and are about to settle for a negotiated peace. With her underground contacts, Risha finds out that Ro, or the Empire, or even the Republic plan to slaughter everyone at the meeting. She’s the only one who can save the day, along with our heroes.

Hmm. Snazzy. I was really looking forward to writing about Risha leading from the top, though, not the bottom. I’ll think about that, see if there’s a way to throw everything into doubt and keep her in charge.

A cool article from Allyson Everard that talks about bad guys and plot arcs. It’s amazing how we all do what we do.

Bloodstone Sci Fi


In any work of fiction, these are the two areas more vulnerable and more precious than any other. Sex and the challenge of the Bad Guy. I covered sex already (HERE), so now let’s move on to the Bad Guy.

The Bad Guy and the why-how challenge: Writing a villain is easy enough, but you really do have to make him or her strong and to some extent unstoppable. If your villain isn’t a serious force to be reckoned with, then there is no threat. You can have the meatiest book ever, you can have a saga of strong emotions, action and adventure, marvelous obstacles to get over, through, around, and all the trauma and excitement in the world. You can have the twistiest plots with the best winning-through-in-the-end formula. It could be expertly written – everything – but it won’t help you one iota if the average…

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Turning Weakness into Strength

Posted: May 10, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

This post illustrates a great example of the kinds of hoops authors jump through when plotting their stories. Half the time you’re falling down the mountain, but how many of us think to try to fly instead?

[Plug:] I had a similar situation when I wrote Slave Soldier. The main character was completely outclassed by his enemy. I knew it and he knew it. So instead of having him get lucky (first draft) or having him get help (second draft) I finally came up with a plan that was so crazy it worked (final draft).

Bloodstone Sci Fi


The problem started when I gave my lead villain royal credentials – it seemed like a good idea at the time – the Chiddran had been introduced, bringing in their own Empire and their own colonizing expansion into space, and they were/are currently engaged in war with the aggressive Khekarians, who have possession of most of the galaxy and want the rest of it.

Great, I thought. A bit of depth, a sense of history, basically background stuff. Then I wanted to use it. I wanted to plug my story more deeply into that, somehow. As the governing hierarchy for the Khekarian Empire is a vast system of royals, from major to minor, I figured making my lead villain an exiled royal would give him a suitable cause and reason to do dastardly things.

To push him right to the edge of acceptance, if not outside of it, I made…

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Characters and Plots

Posted: April 16, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
Tags: , ,

pen and paperCharacters drive plot. Characters need to want something, the kind of wanting that gets them out of bed to work on it.

Characters who go after something are more interesting than characters who are reacting to something. (Who are much, much more interesting than characters who sit there and watch life go by.)

A short story’s plot should be focused, something that the main character could resolve in a day if he set his mind to it. At most, a weekend.

Most writers will have heard the first two of these before. The third one is a rule of thumb that I’ve just invented. I’m talking about these because I experienced these things like a punch in the face while working on Don’t Mess with the Dreamcatchers.

It was an entertaining enough story to write, but about halfway through I realized that I’d condemned Carl to reacting to both the spiders and the fireflies in every single scene. Carl wanted to protect his family. That’s a good thing, but how much better would it have been if Carl was an exterminator and he made it his personal mission in life to defeat the bugs? Too much of it was reacting, and that’s because it was wrapped around Carl just wanting his regular life back. It’s like being the straight man in a comedy act. The act needs the role, but it’s not half as much fun as being the comic.

Compare this to Dubrillion Burning. It does start off with a villain taking action, as opposed to our heroine, but now Risha is firmly in the driver’s seat. She reacted by starting a resistance movement, and she’s not going to stop until either she’s dead or sitting on the throne. That’s a character driving the plot.

Off the top of my head, I were inclined to write it again, still inspired by the phrase “be nice to spiders,” I might have gone the Arachnophobia route. Carl detests spiders. He kills the ones infesting his house, and they respond by hanging his car keys in a web. Carl kills them too and fights them at night on infra-red. He walks into a trap and gets a bowling ball dropped on his head. Pinned in webs, the spiders tell him Charlotte’s Web-style to back off or they’ll make a meal out of him. Carl reluctantly agrees.

That leads to one more lessons I’ve learned: give your stories the time they deserve before you get started. Be willing to play around with them after you’ve started, too. Half of writing is play. More, if you’re doing it right.

Not every story sings off the page. Dreamcatchers was good for laughs and it gave me a chance to at least try out the ick factor. In a backwards way, it also taught how to write more compelling stories.


Let’s face it, it’s her story

Post #14 of the “Dubrillion Burning” series

Before I dive in with the Don’t Mess with the Dreamcatchers, I need to write about a “problem” that’s come up in Dubrillion Burning.

It’s about Risha, the minor character who demanded to be a major character. It’s worse than that. Now I think the story is really hers. Dubrillion is her world. Her involvement takes what could be as remote as headlines in a newspaper and brings it into the reader’s lap. It’s not a civil war on the far side of the world. It’s your best friend’s civil war and it’s happening in your living room. She’s also primed to undergo the biggest transformation in the story—at least the biggest I’m aware of now. She goes from being one of the galaxy’s elite criminals to taking the throne to rule her home planet, as a legitimate, responsible queen. She has to let go of her freewheeling life and hold the lives of millions of people in her hands.

Things came to a head while I was working on yesterday’s scene. Jeana’s going to lay it on the line for Risha. She brings her face to face with what she is and what the road ahead of her looks like. This does two things: it foreshadows Risha’s story arc, and it positions Jeana as Risha’s mentor. While Jeana is around the same age as Risha, or younger, her life happens near the seat of Imperial power. While she’s a warrior, she understands how power games are played. (Unlike the author.)

When I wrote that moment, my first thought was, “I don’t want to read about these other guys. I want to read about her!”

To recap:

  • Risha is a minor character
  • Who became a major character
  • Who is at the center of the story
  • Who has the best-developed personal growth arc ahead of her
  • Which is anchored to one of the original “big three” characters, and will give them one of the strongest relationships in the story — one that’s classic in heroic mythology, I might add.

Writers dream about things tying together this well. This is a problem for me on several levels.

I don’t know Risha. Not as well as I’d like. I need to get to know her better if I’m going to make this work. Raffa, Jeana and Cartog were the main characters originally. I’m under their skins, not hers.

This isn’t where I planned for the story to go. Among other things, I’d been planning to take a look at Raffa and Jeana’s chemistry. That story line may go completely out the window. Jeana might like the guy but her main focus would be on her “pupil.” Without a more emotional tie to the war, and with Risha having a “new best friend,” Raffa may get distracted, which is interesting, too. Hmm.