Three Dirty Birds Talk about Continuity (only it’s not)

Three Dirty Birds, tweeting about Story Trumps Structure, chapter 16.

Kate: He calls this chapter Continuity, but I do not think that word means what he thinks it means. (/mutilated Princess Bride reference)

Zoe: Yeah, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting based on the chapter title.

Kate: No, I was expecting something about making sure all your facts are in order, and that you don’t say a character can do something early in a book, then have them not be able to it later (unless they’re a witch with problems…)

Ana: Talk about messing with reader expectations….

Kate: The irony.

Zoe: So the first “half” of this very short chapter was about how he had a big plot hole in a book, and no one noticed because the narrative forces just rushed the reader right over it. And his point was… I’m so not sure.

Ana: I know I’ve had it happen to me as a reader. When I really liked a book and then I go look at the reviews and they point out issues I never noticed because I was too engrossed with the story. The reviews kind of spoiled the book for me after the fact.

Kate: The point of the matter being–there shouldn’t be a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through in your story.

Zoe: Was anyone else trying to solve his plot hole problem in the least rewrite-necessary way possible while they were reading?

Kate: Yes! I figure the snakes had to be left in the front of the helicopter, and it would have had to be the kind with the separate pilot’s compartment. A military one.

Zoe: I thought you could leave the snakes out altogether and find another way to kill the pilot…though even crashing the helicopter risks the character’s life—the character he was dead set on burying underground.

Kate: He could have just bribed the pilot, too. A little bit of foreshadowing here and there, and kaboom! Plot twist!

Zoe: Hey, yeah!

Ana: It sounded like it was too late for him to make rewrites, though.

Zoe: Excuses, excuses.

Kate: Never too late! I’ve made changes in proofs! (Not that the publisher likes that, but it was one of those ‘better to ask forgiveness than permission’ situations.)

Yes, I have had a lot of coffee this morning. Why do you ask? I’m a bit hyper. *bounces* Lots of exclamation points today…!!!

Zoe: The other part of the chapter was about subplots, and I found it somewhat reassuring because I’ve struggled with the subplot thing, the feeling that I need to add one, that I don’t have enough going on in my story, that it’s too simple. So it’s a relief to read that I should only have subplots if they’re supposed to be there.

Ana: He said: ‘If you can remove a subplot without changing the outcome of the story, it’s not a subplot–it’s a distraction.’ I think that would go on a sticky note if I had any. I usually have trouble identifying my subplots because everything ties into the main plot somehow. Now I guess that’s not a bad thing.

Kate: My subplots are usually–and I’m not sure how to explain it–but I write the main story from the MC’s POV, then as I rewrite, I look at what the other characters are doing and why they’re doing it. It often changes dialogue, and sometimes the actions of the characters. But usually, the secondary characters are making the best choices they can, given the situation they’re in and what they know.

Ana: Oh yes, please let secondary characters have lives and their own agendas!

Zoe: You don’t like it when they’re treated as potted plants? (Ana: Zoe actually typed ‘plotted plants.’)

Ana: I’d only forget to water them. My plants all grow crispy.

Kate: Any plant entering my house knows they need to be self-sufficient. The scattered corpses of their predecessors are ample warning. I can kill cacti.

Ana: That’s a talent.

Kate: Not good when you’re married to a farmer. :) Well, that was a short chapter–only three pages in the book. And half of it was spent telling us the helicopter story from his book.

Next up: Fluidity!

Checking Out Publishers

fountain pen

I’m getting to the point in my career where I think I need to branch out in terms of publishers. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve very happy with Loose Id, and I have no plans to leave them. I’ve got several stories lined up to be written, or to finish editing, that should take me well into 2015. These plans have been in the works for a while, but the events of the past year and half have pushed everything off by about six months or more.

There are a few reasons for having more than one publisher.

One is to gain experience with different editors and pick up new skills. Every pub and every editor has their things they do well and things they don’t cover quite as well. They’ll point out different things in your writing, push you in different directions. Some market better than others, while others have a stronger editing department.

Readerships tend to be like a Venn diagram–there’s some overlap between pubs, but there will always be some readers that visit one website, and never go to the other. However, if they like the book you put out at your new pub, they might be encouraged to pop over to your old one and try some of those too.

Myself and several other writers I know are currently debating the issue of multiple genres and whether going to a second or third publisher to handle other genres is a smart thing to do, or just makes it harder for readers to find you. Would it make sense to have contemporary and fantasy at one pub, paranormal and scifi at another, and then a third for anything that doesn’t fit in those categories? In essence, using the publisher’s name as a branding tool for that genre? Or should an author make the effort to keep everything at one publisher for ease of purchase by a reader? (That being said, there are some pubs that seem to be more open to odd categories of fiction, like erotic romance in a fantasy setting, or erotic horror, or steampunk.)

So I’m probably going to test the waters on this. I have something that I’ve been holding onto, that needs some revision, then I’m going to try sending it out again. We’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out the way I’m hoping, then no harm, no foul, right?

What have I been doing to figure out which publishers I want to try? Some of it is personal experience. There are a couple I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, after either having dealings with them (or attempting to), or reading things that came out from them.

Word of mouth. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get involved in the community somewhere, so you hear things that might not be said in an official capacity. Very often, writers are reluctant to discuss concerns they have with a publisher, because they’re afraid of being blacklisted, or graylisted. It’s also the place where you’ll hear about the really good stuff too. About times when publishers went above and beyond their responsibility to an author and sorted something out, or even just made a change to a release schedule to help someone having a rough time.

Check their sales rankings for books in the genre that your manuscript would be placed in, and look to see how, and if, they promote themselves. Check Novelrank sales, check ARe rankings, check Goodreads for reviews of the books. Because some publishers are very good at the “Rah, rah, we’re a fantastic publisher!”, but the proof is in the numbers, and sometimes the hype and numbers don’t line up.

Last, but not least, read books from the publishers you’re considering. Especially, read books in your genre. Even if all you can get to is the ‘Look Inside’ from Amazon, read the books. Because that will tell you what their editing is like, if there’s a general trend in the types of characters they prefer in that genre, and it will tell you a little bit about house style.

There’s one pub I’m considering, because their sales are great, but I keep hesitating because their editing is less than stellar. There’s another with great sales, and better editing, but when I read the stuff in my genre, I DNF the books more often than I finish them, which tells me that I might not be writing the kind of stuff that they like. There’s a third with sales that aren’t quite as good, but they seem to be working on their marketing, and the style of their books lines up better with mine. And a fourth that seems to be a bit of a powerhouse, but I’m afraid I’d get lost in the number of books they put out.

These are all things that need to be considered. Each one will have a different weight, depending on where a specific author’s strengths are. Me, I don’t want to have to do much promo. I don’t feel particularly comfortable with it, and I’d prefer to spend time in my imaginary worlds than researching blogs and trying to figure out what, exactly, is the optimal schedule and number of guest posts for a blog tour. I also look at this as a chance to learn something new, so I want a place with editors that will challenge me, but also know how to show me where the path is when I get so all I can see is the trees.

And the last thing I want is a crystal ball, so I can just look ahead and see which is the right choice to make. :P Because, really, the only way to find out the truth is to make a choice, and jump. So, that’s what I’ll be doing, once I’ve got Loose Id looked after. A little experiment, if you will. Should be fun. :)

Three Dirty Birds Talk about Genre Expectations


We’ve moved to Ana’s side of the nut tree, to talk about reader expectations and genre blending and to basically shake our heads in wonder at Mr. James and his apparent conviction that no one reads romance anyway, so he doesn’t need to do his research on that topic.

Three Dirty Birds Talk Believability, and Kate tried very hard not to jump up on her soapbox


We’re over on Zoe’s branch today!

Tuesday Tickle: The Payne Principle (Working Title)

This is the start of a new science fantasy series that I’m toying with. It’s post-apocalyptic, with shifters and dragons (who are not the shifters) and a new branch of the military. and is taking way more research than I expected. I think you can look for this one next year, late summer or fall I hope. And it kind of depends on whether I can come up with a title that’s a lot less cheesy than up above. Because I really don’t want it to come out with that one. :)

“Private Miller?” The corpsman’s voice held only the faintest quiver.

“You don’t need to be scared of me,” Riley said.

“I’m not scared.”

“That’s good. I’m terrified myself.” As jokes went, it sucked, but it seemed to break the tension. After all, he couldn’t be that dangerous, if he was still cracking jokes, right?

The corpsman washed him with rapid efficiency and held the jug for him to piss into. There was little enough to come out, since he hadn’t been able to keep anything, even water, down for—he didn’t know how long. It felt like forever. He’d moved well beyond being thirsty a while ago.

His vision was going weird again.

Please, not another seizure.

The corpsman was tucking a clean blanket around him when it hit, but this one was different. His muscles snapped tight so quickly he literally bounced off the mattress. This time, they didn’t stay tight. Instead, he flailed on the floor, barely aware of the leather sleeve breaking and his IV tearing out of his vein, streaming blood tainted fluids everywhere. He didn’t hear the corpsman screaming over the sound of his own muscles and bones as they tore themselves apart.

He did feel the bite of the tranquilizer darts. And they made something inside him very angry.

The Three Dirty Birds Talk about Cause and Effect


And the Three Dirty Birds are chirping again about Story Trumps Structure by Steven James.

Ana: Okay, so this chapter was about how cause leads to effect and never the other way around.

Zoe: James stresses that it’s important to make sure it’s clear to readers why something happened, so they’re not pulled out of the story by pointless questions (“Did I miss something? Why did she do that? Where did that come from?”). By making it clear what caused something to happen—by putting the cause before the reaction—you avoid those questions.

Kate: I thought it was good where he said not to give readers time to think between the action-reaction pair. How often have we read something where the reaction comes a paragraph or more later in the text? And you’re wading through miles of the action character’s thought, feelings, memories…

Ana: I love when that happens. Especially when that character goes through the same emotional roller coaster several times in the course of the novel. Can’t get enough of it.

Kate: I love sarcasm… :)

Zoe: Ana is made of sarcasm.

I have notes in this chapter that I actually took from another book that goes even deeper into the cause-effect structure. Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer breaks the reaction—the effect—down into three pieces. Not all three pieces need to always be present, but they always need to be in the right order. According to Swain, first the cause happens, then the very next thing is feeling. He’s careful to point out that feeling isn’t thought—it’s the kneejerk emotional reaction. It drives the other two parts, which are action (which may or may not be kneejerk—perhaps a gasp, or the character turns and begins fiddling with a flower arrangement) and speech, which is almost always not kneejerk. The more thought or conscious effort a reaction requires, the later it happens.

Ana: Good input. Though I’d argue that with some characters speech can be kneejerk. I have at least one who seriously lacks a filter.

Zoe: That’s why I said “almost.” Also, along these lines, that puts “thought” in the speech category in many cases, not the “feeling” section where some writers tend to place it (causing the break-up between cause and effect that drives us nuts).

Kate: I think that sometimes happens because the character is thinking through his or her emotions, and not just feeling them. You know, the “I’m so angry at him right now. I’ll just leave, and then he’ll be sorry!” thing.

Zoe: Yes, but it’s still higher-level processing than actually feeling the anger, which is what drives the thought process to happen. Swain’s big on chronological order. (Not in plotlines, just in how things like this play out.)

Ana: I like chronological order at sentence-level.

Kate: James does get into three situations where you can reverse the order to effect-cause, in order to better serve the purposes of the story with respect to tension. The first one, where he talks about starting a chapter with the effect, is not my favourite.

Zoe: I like that he included those, because it shows that you can absolutely break the rules—as long as you’re doing it intentionally and you have an idea of why. Like with the dialogue example he gives—it wouldn’t read as realistic if you always put what people say in cause/effect order. People tend to shout the most important thing first: “Get out! There’s a bomb!”

Kate: Coming back again to “What would this character naturally do?”

Zoe: Yes!

Ana: Also coming back to ‘story trumps structure’!

Zoe: That too. :) And the third instance he gives for breaking the rule is like the first: putting the cause second to place emphasis on a dramatic cause. It looks like a cliffhangery (and not necessarily terrible) way to end some chapters.

Kate: It works to raise tension. You should already be raising tension at that point, but the last line, showing the dramatic cause, creates a spike in tension that should carry the reader over the rest point between chapters.

Ana: Yes, and if you use your exception well and go from cause to effect in the rest of the story, I think you easily create a story that ‘flows well.’

Zoe: That’s a good point. If you reserve effect-cause for well-thought-out exceptions, they shine more than if they’re buried among not-so-well-thought-out ones.

Kate: What Zoe said. Can we jump back a few pages? He said something about all emotions needing to have a cause and I find that’s something that certain writers don’t make sure. The physical causes and effects all cue properly, but there are some authors who drive me to incoherent rage in their clumsy handling of emotional effects.

Zoe: Yes, what he actually says is “every change in thought, emotion, and action needs to be caused,” but you’re right—actions are more likely to have the causes apparent, and emotion (and thoughts) just kind of…go all over the place…in some stories.

Ana: I feel in those stories the emotions of the characters are what the author needed them to be at that point, without really giving a cause / making it relatable.

Kate: Serving the plot, not the character. But then it affects actions, or perhaps they do it because they know they need a cause for the action they want the character to take?

Zoe: Nail meet head!

Kate: For me, it’s more like desk meet head. It’s one of my many quirks.

Ana: I always find it most baffling when someone appears indifferent, and then suddenly they’re in love.

Zoe: So writers, ask yourself “why is this character feeling this way?” when you’re working a scene, and once you figure it out, show us that why. (I’d even posit that it makes the emotion play better, just because you set the reader up to anticipate it. The cause is a promise!)

Ana: I had a problem like that with a story I was reading recently. A guy and a girl were working together, then the girl gets herself into a damsel in distress situation and the guy had to risk his job to save her, which he did, because he loved her. Only I didn’t believe it because, before the damsel in distress situation, there was no build up of a romantic relationship between these characters, or even an indication (or maybe small indications if I’d been looking, but nothing strong enough to promise me a romance.) So this guy’s emotions that were supposed to be strong enough to make a life-changing decision seemed to come out of nowhere.

Kate: Lots of effect, but no cause. What they didn’t do was foreshadow, which I think we’ve talked about already in other chapters, but I think we also get into it in the next chapter, where we’re talking about making things believable.

Ana: He comes back to foreshadowing a lot.

Kate: Maybe it’s just a personal thing, but I really believe in foreshadowing, and I’ll stick stuff into the first chapter that doesn’t become important until near the end, because I think we need to build the world with all its details.

Ana: Oh, I do too. I love foreshadowing. Makes that dun-dun-dun sound in my head when it plays out.

Kate: Lol, now I’m going to be doing that too. It’s really fun, isn’t it? Like a little game I play with myself and my crit partners. And my readers. :)

Zoe: Little did the Dirty Birds expect what was waiting for them in the next chapter….

Dun, dun, dunnnn…

Three Dirty Birds Talk Scenes in Story Trumps Structure


Back at Ana’s place again. We finally find out what Mr. James is talking about when he’s talking about scenes, which was totally not what we thought it was.