Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Misused Advice: Never Filter

The one thing writing has in common with Instagram—sometimes filtering is a good thing.

by B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing

This month’s misused advice is fairly straightforward, though it sill manages to get twisted into an ultimate rule by some. I must admit that I like this one. Writers I’ve worked with can tell you that I regularly strike filtering language in edits. However, I still don’t make it a hard and fast rule. So how is it meant to work?

What is filtering?

It’s language that puts distance between the reader and the character. It’s sometimes incorrectly assumed that first-person writing is always closer than third-person. However, those terms simply refer to the pronouns the narrator uses for the main character. Narrative distance can be brought closer or made more distant in any point of view, depending on how much the story is filtered.

Filtering puts a layer of perception between the reader and what’s happening in the story. It’s usually indicated with words for thoughts or senses: see, hear, taste, feel, smell, think, guess, believe, etc. By removing them, you put the reader more directly into the action.

Examples
  • I heard two people shouting in the alley.→ In the alley, two people shouted.

  • She thought the coast was clear. → The coast was clear, right?

  • He felt a cold needle poke his arm. → A cold needle poked his arm.

Active Voice

You probably noticed that this is closely related to the concept of favoring active voice over passive. By filtering, you automatically create a passive structure with your character observing the action instead of the action itself happening. Besides the narrative distance, passive voice is another reason to avoid filtering.

When is filtering useful?

There are at least two good reasons you might need to filter.

Do you see?

Sometimes the sense or thought is the whole point of the sentence. Let’s take that first example again:

I heard two people shouting in the alley, but I couldn’t see out the window.

The emphasis is on what the narrator is able to see and hear, not the people shouting, and that may be exactly what you intend. Or maybe your character has been drugged or injured, and you need to describe what they’re still able to feel. And for that all-important character growth, sometimes they need to directly acknowledge that whatever they thought or believed before is no longer true.

He thought she was his friend until she betrayed him.

Stay back!

Some writing is meant to be more distant, particularly if you’re emulating an older style like something from the romantic or gothic eras—or really anything pre-Jane Austen. Since styles have evolved greatly since then, you’ll have a hard sell on your hands if you aim for that, but you may have your own reasons for wanting to do things that way.

Children’s books also tend toward more narrative distance as children are still developing the empathy required walk in a character’s shoes as they read.

Before anyone gets defensive, this doesn’t make narrative distance a childish thing. In fact, some works are too dark or disturbing to write in a close perspective. If you’re writing in the villain’s point of view, you and your readers might not want to settle in too deep. Diane Anthony’s Supernova does this well. She alternates between a deeper first-person POV with a small-town librarian, who’s sweet but down-trodden, and a more distant third-person POV with an escaped convict, who has some rather unsavory view of his fellow man. There’s enough narrative to understand the convict’s downward spiral, but we aren’t settled in good and deep and invested like we are with the librarian.

A Time and a Place

Avoiding filtering will strengthen writing more often than not, but it’s certainly not a rule that must be adhered to at all times.

Were you taught that this was an iron-clad rule or some other strange-sounding writing advice? Let us know! Next time, we’ll discuss the advice that past perfect tense is passé (don’t use “had”).

Join us next week, when Rebecca Mikkelson will begin a new series on plot archetypes.


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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Author Interview: B. B. Morgan

B. B., thanks for sitting down with us today! Let’s jump right in. We’re in book two now! Is there anything you’re particularly excited about for the readers going forward (without giving any spoilers, of course)? 

I’m excited for the characters in Thick as Blood; one of my favorite characters that I have ever written really comes into this book. Confession: it’s Conrad. His personality came so easily, and he has a Chaotic Neutral moral alignment that is so versatile and super fun to write. We also get to see Raven on her own more so than in Hard as Stone. We’re also exploring more of the world, and that is always exciting! 

Conrad is also my favorite; he’s a breath of fresh air in this book. So, how was it writing in other countries besides Rhynweir?

Fun. One of my favorite things about writing and reading fantasy is how easy it is to explore. As the writer, I can craft these different countries and kingdoms to be whatever I want (within reason, of course). Tinatun has been so much fun to create. It’s mostly tropical, and because it’s such a vast land, there are different cultures within it. It’s been fun to explore how all the different cultures in the world of Hard as Stone feel about magic and how they do things and what makes them different. As an introvert who is too poor to travel, books are as close as I’m going to get for a long time. 

I can relate to that, and I think we all need a bit of “travel” while we’re all stuck indoors. Now that we’ve expanded the cast of characters, who was your favorite to write? 

I probably should have read all the questions before I gushed about Conrad. He is definitely high on my favorite character list. Thalame is also up here. Thalame is rough around the edges, quiet, and has a dark history he doesn’t like to talk about. He also has healing magic. One thing that bugs me in fantasy is how healers are stereotypically female and have that motherly personality. Thalame is not motherly, and I love that about him. He isn’t the stereotypical healer. 

No worries! Well, just because Conrad’s your favorite character doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s your favorite to write. So, it’s only been a couple of months since Raven dreamed of seeing a much bigger world than Silver Glen—do you think she regrets that wish at all during the plot of this book? 

She does at certain points when the adventure becomes uncertain or scary. She has moments when she doesn’t know what is going to happen next, and it terrifies her. She is going to see parts of the world that she had only before heard about and learn that people don’t always hold the best interest of others and that she must believe in herself. 


I think it’s the same as when we make a life-altering decision: we have second thoughts halfway through and panic and lose sleep and can’t eat. Unless that’s just me. 


It’s not just you, that’s for sure. Switching gears a little bit (see what I did there? Eh? Eh?), of all the automatons in your world, which one do you think ours needs?

I had to think about this one. Right now, I think we could use the Slender. They patrol the streets of Moorin like street cops; only, they are incapable of bias or prejudice. They’re also super cool looking: seven feet of shiny steel and limbs made for easy movement. 


There are also Pots, which didn’t make it into the final draft. Pots are these short, wide automatons that have bodies that open to reveal a coffee and tea bar. They wander around the cities and serve fresh coffee and hot tea, ready at the inserting of a coin. In the summer, they serve fruit smoothies. In the winter, they serve hot chocolate and spiced cider.

A machine that walks around and offers people coffee? I’ll take three, thanks. Last question: What can we expect next from you?

After Thick as Blood, I have the final book in the Hard as Stone trilogy: Strong as Steel. In the Stars and Bones series: book 3, Dreams in the Snow; and book 4, Nightmares in the Ice. There is also The Reaper of Zeniba, a YA fantasy with a splash of magic and pirates.

Thanks again for talking to us today! Don't forget to join us for Thick as Blood's launch party on August 22nd!


Thick as Blood
by B. B. Morgan

With the stolen centrum recovered, Raven’s adventure with Zander is over. Or is it? Raven’s lingering fever worries the Dwellers, and Zander is set on returning her to Silver Glen, pushing her out of their plans to rescue Princess Rosaria. But even when the Hammel Forest seems quiet, a dangerous automaton is always around the next tree. After Raven finds herself in the midst of another rebel caravan, she has a choice to make. Will she return to life underground, find her way back to Zander and the mission, or get swept away on an exciting new journey?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What is plot structure?

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing, and B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing

First, what is a plot? The basic definition is: (n) the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. Whether you pants or plot down to the very last detail, your manuscript must follow a plot structure, so what does that entail? 

Basic elements of plot structure 

Please first bear in mind that this is a single blog post—we’ll cover all that we can without getting bogged down for pages upon pages. So what elements go into plotting a novel? Here are the basic elements of what will occur within Act I, Act II, and Act III of your story.

Hook: This will be obvious—the hook is where you draw your reader into the story, usually within the first line, but at the very least within the first few paragraphs.

Plot Turn I: In other words, this is your inciting incident. This is going to be the conflict introduced into the story that sets the whole plot into motion. For example, a war could break out, or someone could find out there’s a question of their parentage.

Pinch Point I: Your first pinch point should lead into Act II of your book; this will be a conflict that starts making the character’s goals hard for them to achieve.

Midpoint: This is when your protagonist or main character (they’re not always the same as we explain in our blog series on characters) turns from simply reacting to the conflict around them to proactively working to solve the conflict.

Pinch Point II: This is going to be another obstacle for your character encounters to make their goals harder to reach. 

Plot Turn II:  This is the point in the story where the conflict turns in your character’s favor—or against them, depending on how you’ve planned your series—and they should have the tools need to go into the climax.

Climax and Resolution: This should be where the conflict that’s building throughout the book and through the midpoint will come to a head and you can start working toward the resolution. As things resolve, you should be tying up and loose ends that won’t be following through to your next book to become the main conflict. 

Four types of plot structure

There are more than four different types of plot structure, but we’re going for the basics here. Heck, tomorrow you could develop your own type of plot structure that becomes popular in ten years that we’ll all be writing blog posts about. 

Dramatic or Progressive Plot

A progressive plot structure is one of the most common ones. This plot is told chronologically and establishes the conflict within the first chapter and continues to build the conflict until the climax occurs (much in the same way I laid out the basic elements of plot structure above). After the climax, it will resolve any remaining threads created throughout the story that won’t carry into the next book as the main conflict.

Episodic Plot

This type of plot is told, well, episodically. This means that it has several different stories that build up to the climax of the book, much in the same way that a TV series that actively character builds for on or several characters in each episode while working eventually toward to climax of the season. Think of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and how Jake consistently becomes a better person and better police officer in each episode as he learns something new about himself or a life lesson.

Flashback Plot

Flashback plots will start in with the climax as its hook and then flashback to tell the story. Think of those TV episodes that start at the end of the episode and we get flashes of things that happened “earlier that day” or “twenty minutes ago.” and we understand how the climax came to be.

Parallel Plot

This is a plot structure that has two interweaving plots that are linked by similar goals, events, or characters. For example, you could be writing a historical fiction about the French Revolution where one character is a commoner trying to throw off the yoke of the nobility and the other character is a noble who wants things to change but doesn’t want to meet Madame Guillotine.  

Genre-Specific

Many genres have specialized plot structures with their own spin on the basic elements. These structures go hand-in-hand with the four types, rather than replacing them. For example, you can write a parallel romance or a flashback mystery. How strict the structures are varies from genre to genre and even from element to element with genres. Let’s look at some of the genres we frequently see at A4A. Any one of them could take a whole post itself, so this will be a brief run-down of the essentials.

Romance

The most immutable element in a romance plot is the HEA or happily-ever-after; the story must end with a positive resolution to whatever relationship stage the couple is in. The other elements help to support the relationship toward that HEA. That’s why the second-most important thing is to have the main characters meet (your inciting incident) as soon as possible in the story—the story can’t focus on their relationship if they don’t know each other. If there are events that need to happen before their meeting, you may have to tell the story out of chronological order. All the points in between that are normally attributed to the protagonist are applied to the couple instead.  

Mystery

Much like romance revolves around a relationship, mystery revolves around a question. You want to raise the main question that will run through the story (your inciting incident) as soon as you can, ideally in the first chapter. Though “who?” is the most common question thanks to subgenres like murder mysteries, “what?” “where?” “why?” and “how?” can also work. And of course, whatever question is raised needs to be answered in the end. For all the plot points in between, you generally match up high points with epiphanies or solid clues, and setbacks with red herrings.

Paranormal and Horror

Paranormal and horror both work on a similar concept: things are not what they seem. At first, they function similarly to a mystery, with questions and doubt raised in the inciting incident. However, answering the question is not the end of the story. That’s because answering the question involves a follow-up: what is the protagonist going to do about it? If the initial mystery is the harder question, it will typically be answered at Pinch Point II, with Act III revolving around the protagonist’s solution. If the initial mystery is fairly simple but requires more work to find a solution to, it will be answered at Pinch Point I.   

Hero’s Journey (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Adventure)

The Hero’s Journey is a cycle that was first attributed to Joseph Campbell. It’s usually seen in series and classic mythos, which is why it’s a popular structure for speculative fiction and adventure. It breaks the Three Act structure into twelve parts, but the key feature is in the turning points between acts. The first one takes the protagonist away from their normal world, and the second one returns them to it. Unlike the other genres mentioned, this is not a strict structure, as speculative fiction is defined more by its setting and inhabitants than the plot. It just so happens to be a common structure.

Mix and Match

Remember how I said that the genres are layered onto the four plot types? They can also be combined with each other. If, say, you’re writing a mystery romance, you have to incorporate the plot structure of both mystery and romance. Since both genres require involvement from the inciting incident, it must do double duty: the question of the story must be raised in the same scene where the characters meet. 

Join us next week for our latest installment in our Misused Advice series, where we’ll talk about filtering. 


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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Am I Writing for My Audience?

Making sure you’re reaching who you want

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Writing a book for an audience can be difficult—where do you even start? First by identifying what type of audience you want for your story by both demographics and psychographics, and then writing your story. Knowing what kind of audience you want will help you plan your book to fit within those parameters. 

First, identify your audience by demographic

The first thing that you need to know about writing for your audience is who your audience actually is. Bear in mind that, even if you write for a specific audience—say, thirty-something white men who like quests—that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to be who is reading it. So what goes into figuring this out? Just a few simple questions. 

How old is your audience?

We all know that this question is slightly arbitrary—plenty of adults read middle-grade (MG) and young adult (YA) books with more and more frequency. But—there’s always a but when it comes to writing, if you haven’t learned that yet—you’re still going to need to tailor your tone and word choice toward a younger audience. If you’re targeting teens, you’re not going to wax poetic about the hardships of raising children and making ends meet. And the same for the opposite: you’re not going to write a book for “adult education,” as Bowker classifies it, about a high school teen group and the cute boy in the classroom down the hall.

What is your audience’s education?

This might seem like an insulting question, but it really isn’t. This goes hand in hand with the question of how old your audience is. Anyone whose been taught to read can read at any education level, but not necessarily comprehend it. Your goal is for your work to be comprehensive. What I mean is, if you’re writing an MG book, you’re not going to have words like ‘nonplussed’ or ‘indefatigable’ within the work, because those are words that readers of that age/education won’t have learned yet.

What is the main gender of your audience?

This isn’t to say that men aren’t going to read a rom-com or women aren’t going to read a gory military fiction (or that gender norms are even something that can be discussed within a tiny section of a single blog post), but it is going to change how you talk about things. Women, to put it plainly, care more about the emotional why of the characters more than men do.

Second, identify your audience by psychographics

Wait, what? What on earth are psychographics? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s market research or statistics classifying population groups according to psychological variables (such as attitudes, values, or fears).

What emotion do you want to convey?

This goes a little further than “I want my readers to be happy reading my book!” We all want our readers to be happy reading our books. Do you want to instill a sense of nostalgia? Scare the crap out of your reader and get their adrenaline pumping? What about a sense of unconditional love and acceptance? These are things you’ll want to think about while writing for your audience. 

What values or beliefs do you want to convey?

This one is pretty easy to figure out. These are going to be things like putting faith into your books—sometimes to the extent of proselytizing. But really, it goes even further than that. It can be anything from talking about how wrong racism is, that family should be put before all else, or the classic that honesty is the best policy. These are just a few examples, there are far, far more that could be listed, but to cover all of them, it would require a ten-blog series. 

Last, write or edit and get some betas

Now that you’ve figured out what kind of audience you want, you can start writing your story to fit those parameters. Alternatively, if you’ve already written your novel and found that you didn’t quite get it right, you can edit it to better suit your audience.

This is the most important step in the whole process. You have to test your book with your target audience to see if you’ve succeeded in connecting with them. Once everything is settled, that’s when the magic happens and you can start submitting to agents and publishers. And then, hopefully, be published. (Or self-pub, because that’s a very viable option.)


Join us next week for an interview with A4A author B. B. Morgan about the sequel to Hard as Stone, Thick as Blood!


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