Posts Tagged ‘Deby Fredericks’

Recently I read a book that disappointed me. I’ve been trying to share reasons why that book didn’t work for me. Again, no author or title — this isn’t meant to be personal. So I’ve mentioned that the villain was mostly a caricature, and that the main characters were too powerful compared to those they were up against. My last lesson is about pacing and suspense.

Over and over, this author introduced a problem and then telegraphed the solution within a few lines. For example, two different MCs had to work together and they had never met before. Someone would ask, “What if they don’t get along?”

This was a great question. It created tension. The stakes were pretty high. If one of the two refused to cooperate, things were going to get ugly.

But then in the next paragraph, someone else would say, “It will be fine, they both share the same element.” And, indeed, when the two characters met, they got along just fine, for exactly that reason.

After this happened a couple of times, it was pretty hard to worry about the things the author was saying we should worry about. They wrecked their own suspense by giving the answers away. I wasn’t sure if they wanted the reader to worry, but not too much worry, or if they were a know-it-all and couldn’t resist telling the reader everything.

Whatever the reason, the lesson here is to know when to quit. “What if they don’t get along?” would be a great way to end the scene. No rebuttals, no reassurances, just go on to the next scene and let the reader sit with that worry. “What if they don’t get along?”

To me, this would make the reader more invested as they try to figure out what will happen. What do you think? How do you keep from spoiling your own suspense?

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Last time, I mentioned a book I’d read that left me disappointed. The villain was a caricature who talked a bigger fight than he delivered. Today I’m thinking about issues with the main characters.

First of all, there were too many of them. There were about four groups of characters in the same locations, but nine points of view. It was hard for me to keep track of which were working together and where they were. I could have looked for maps or a family tree, but honestly? If you have to stop and read the footnotes, the author is not expressing relationships clearly.

In addition, several characters were only the POV when they died or were otherwise taken out of the story. My lesson here is that the author could have chosen one POV for each of the four groups (including the villains) and the story would have been more consistent over all.

My second issue was with the power levels of the main cast. In this setting, all witches and wizards drew their power from channeling a divine source. But some of them had a much stronger connection, so that they basically mopped the floor with every opponent. The author would build up to a battle, and try to make you worry, but then it fell flat because the MCs were so much stronger than their opponents.

This isn’t so much a lesson for me, since I usually focus on the humble characters, but your MC cannot be too godlike. The essence of a great story is how characters overcome obstacles. Even the most powerful characters have to be challenged.

In other words, when you have Superman in your story, don’t forget to pack the Kryptonite.

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So I read a book by a highly respected author and it… disappointed me. No names, no title, because this shouldn’t be personal. I’ll be examining that book for my next few posts. Just trying to pick apart why it didn’t work and what I can do differently in my own stories.

My first issue was with the villain. He was all swagger and bluster, with an incredible arrogance. He was so indignant that his enemies were defying him. Just because he was invading them, torturing and murdering a certain segment of the population, oppressing everyone else — why could they not see his greatness?

Which sounds like a villain, right? But that’s all there was to his character. There was no characterization, it was all shtick.

Plus, for the first 3/4 of the book, his reputation as a villain was way out of proportion with the abilities he showed on the page. When he finally started doing evil stuff, as opposed to just badgering underlings, the author was so coy about it. He would look at “the thing in the cage” and gloat over what he’d done. But I had no idea what he actually had done. Maddening!

As a writer, I can guess that the author was trying to create suspense about a Big Reveal. As a reader, I felt like I was being played games with.

This is my first lesson from the book, because I have a hard time with villains, too. I usually have two POV characters who are in opposition, and I tend to focus on their conflict. The so-called villain is left as an afterthought. I really need to not be such a weenie, I guess, about fully inhabiting my villains.

That said, playing games with the reader is definitely not the answer. What do you guys think? I could use a few tips for creating effective villains.

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Well, I knew it would be hectic. It’s the week before SpoCon, and I have to tie up every loose end for programming. People who haven’t followed up with me in months are getting in touch about program ideas. I needed those suggestions in February! And, why didn’t I know they wanted to bring a guest? Maybe because they haven’t answered my e-mails. And by the way, their laptop went out and they hope I can come up with one for them to use.

But, I will be gracious to everyone in print, and they will never see me rolling my eyes in disgust. It will all be great!

In addition, there are those mass shootings, and the usual round of deflection that follows. “Thoughts and prayers.” Video games. Mental Illness. “Freedom from tyranny!” which can only be defined by owning a gun. It’s maddening.

The guns are the problem. Not video games. Not mental illness. Not the immigrants. It’s the guns.

And now, I return to packing for the convention, which is something that I can exercise some control over.

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Creativity is a muscle. It gets flabby when you don’t use it.

Am I right?

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I mentioned that as Fang Marsh develops I have to make some decisions about the plot and the outcome. The most significant of these is about the magic my mages wield.

In the series, Minstrels of Skaythe, mages rule the land through fear and oppression. Their power is based on lethentros, an energy born from entropy and death itself. Because their source is so dark, it inevitably destroys them. Either another mage kills them to seize their power, or they go mad and their own power consumes them.

The Minstrels, who seek to bring hope to the land, use a different energy. Their source is vitalis, the energy of pure joy and life itself. With their power, they can heal all injuries and create hope in the hopeless. However, people who are healed by them develop an attachment. They can no longer live in the despair they knew. This power to literally change who people are is a grave crime to the Minstrels.

What I have to decide is whether vitalis can cure a mage who has channeled lethentros. Meven’s foundling, Elldry, is using lethentros after experiencing a deep trauma. It makes him volatile and paranoid. Meven wants to teach him to use vitalis instead. I have to figure out if this is even possible, and what the consequences may be.

I’ll have to confront this same question at other points in the series. Enemy mages may want to seize the Minstrels’ power for themselves. Others will be offered healing and have to decide whether they want it. Ultimately, if the Minstrels confront the evil overlord, Dar-Gothull, they might try to heal him instead of fighting back. Will that work, and is it ethical?

By the end of Fang Marsh, I will have to decide what happens when vitalis meets lethentros. It should be an interesting discovery!

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This summer I’ve been plugging away at the next Minstrels of Skaythe novella, tentatively titled “Fang Marsh.” Yes, that’s the one whose title I’ve been trying to figure out. I’ll get there, eventually.

Meven, a mage who rejects her society’s cruel way of life, stumbles on a traumatized child, who is also a mage. She takes this foundling with her, hoping to save him from the madness that eventually claims most mages in Skaythe. Meven herself is very closed-in and doesn’t recognize that she might need help, too.

That was all planned. What I hadn’t planned for was a house boat full of water folk whose lives she might affect. The authorities are going to come looking for Meven. (Thus keeping up her tension and danger.) If they hide her, the consequence will be severe. I want to establish the possibility that the water folk may betray her, even though they are good and kind people.

There’s also a young man who is smitten and will keep turning up, despite her rejecting him. Shonn doesn’t know she’s a mage. I have considered that he might be the one who betrays her, after learning the truth. Or, he might be just the man she needs. I haven’t decided.

So it’s going slowly, but it’s going. What had been vague ideas and outcomes need to come into focus. And I know that they will. I’ve learned to trust my muse over the years.

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