Michaeline: One More Thing You Need To Start a Story

A little girl offering root beer syrup to a young woman in black.

Older and wiser, but still obsessed with root beer. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you read Saturday’s blog post, you already know three elements you need to get your story started: a character, a setting/situation and finally, another character to play against.

The final thing you need to get the ball rolling is an inciting incident. You need the spark that sets the whole ball of wax on fire, and starts it rolling toward the finish line.

Yesterday, I talked about Rachel, who is producing illegal root beer on a spaceship. She is up against Ms. Pratchett, an atmosphere engineer who is disturbed by the sudden increase of carbon dioxide in the air – and she isn’t very fond of exploding bottles of semi-alcoholic liquid in the cabin next door. Plus, she hates the smell of root beer. It reminds her of an old Chinese remedy her mother used to force down her when she was under the weather.

In this case, the inciting incident is pretty easy to find. In fact, if you put your mind to it, I bet you could think of several. The first one I thought of was having the carbon dioxide detector go off in the middle of the night, awakening both Rachel, the fussy Ms. Pratchett, and the entire ship.

But hold on a minute! The first idea MIGHT be the best idea, but then again, it might not. It would be better to brainstorm at least a half a dozen ideas – things start to get very interesting around idea 12, they say.

So, here goes:
2. The captain calls Ms. Pratchett into his office, and orders her to investigate (strengthens Ms. Pratchett’s position, but a lot less exciting than an alarm going off).
3. A bottle of soda explodes, and Ms. Pratchett must investigate. (I do like a good explosion.)
4. Change the perspective: Ms. Pratchett is the hero of this story, and Rachel is an evil rule-breaker. (This is worth exploring: the villain is often the hero of her own story in a good book. This could deepen Ms. Pratchett’s characterization, and who knows? Ms. Pratchett, or Susie as we come to know her, might be the real hero.)
5. There’s no root beer yet. Susie Pratchett finds Continue reading

Michaeline: Part 3: Weddings Interruptus

I think that I have never read
A story as thrilling as a Reddit thread

Or in the words of the old cliché, truth is stranger than fiction. Over the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how a wedding can drive the action in a story for better or worse. Love, money, the desire to have one’s own way (a form of power) – and sometimes even elephants are included in the wedding, so it’s a ripe ground for conflict and trouble.

A young lady from the mid-1800s embraces a judge in a courthouse; at the foot of his bench, two lovers embrace, and there's a guitar on the floor, bedecked with ribbons.

Nothing like a courthouse wedding! Now with added flamenco guitar. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, let’s say that you are ready to write your own story. Of course, personal experience is the best source for good, truthful fiction. But sometimes you don’t have those sources. My husband and I were married in a town hall in early June to get my visa set up properly, then we had three different ceremonies/receptions in August. I don’t remember any particular drama, although I may have been oblivious at the time, and skillful at blocking the bad stuff out later. My sister’s wedding also went well. The only thing I remember is controlling my portions of delicious, delicious American food in order to fit into the dress she’d ordered for me. Otherwise, it was lovely colors, lovely flowers, and a very lovely bride. Great for a real-life wedding! But not very good fiction fodder.

However, the internet is full of wedding stories. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the term “Bridezilla” rose in popularity at the same time the Internet was growing quickly. First-person, third-person, tight and omniscient, all sorts of true-life stories were put on the internet to blow off some stress and gain a little cyber fame. Reddit, the site devoted to citizen journalism in all its amateur glory, is a gold mine.

So, here are a few ways from Reddit that weddings could be disrupted fictionally. (I take no responsibility for the truth or accuracy of Reddit’s reporting, or my reporting here. The point is to fictionalize for entertainment purposes.)

One fun way to distract during a wedding is through sounds. Have an ice cream truck drive by at the height of the ceremony. Maybe the bride (or groom) realizes they’d Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Should I Hurt the Dog?

Here’s Trouble! from mplsmutts.com

Ladies, I need your help. I’m at the end of my book. I have a big fight scene. My villain, Vlad the Assassin, has a tire iron, and he’s swinging it like a madman. He hits my hero with it, a blow that separates his shoulder and requires five stitches.

Then Vlad hits the dog, Trouble, breaking two of Trouble’s ribs. I need Trouble out of commission (that is, off the page), and I think the best way to do that is to have the villain hurt him, because then we’ll hate Vlad even more, right? If he hurts the dog, it’s abundantly clear that he’s No Good.

I did a little research on treatment for this kind of injury. Trouble’s lungs aren’t affected, so he doesn’t need surgery. He’ll recover much like a person would who cracked a couple of ribs. Trouble just has to take it easy, and in a few weeks he’ll be good to go again.

In the final chapter, my hero and heroine jet off for a few days to get married, leaving Trouble with his best friends, the neighbors, who will take excellent care of him and spoil him half to death. He’ll be fine. Better than fine.

But here’s my concern. I just recently read a blog somewhere where a commenter posted that she’d never read another book by a particular author because that writer had injured a dog in her pages. And then a bunch of other people chimed in and said the same.

Argh! Whatcha think? Would you read another book in the series if Trouble gets hurt, if the injury isn’t life-threatening, and if he makes a full recovery? Or is hurting a dog beyond the pale?

 

Michaeline: Wedding Stories Part 2: When They Don’t Work

1950s wedding scene with a female guest approaching the bride and groom as they cut the cake.

Remember when we were protesting the patriarchy, darling? And now, here you are, married and everything! To my boyfriend! Just imagine!(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, I talked about two of my favorite books in the world, and how they had weddings driving their plots. Then, I read a short story about a wedding industry worker who finds romance, and it didn’t work at all for me. So, I guess that while I love a trope, a trope isn’t going to do all the work of enchanting me into a story.

What exactly went wrong?

Well, first, the heroine was selfish and kind of whiny. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that, because I do like a snarky heroine who knows what she wants. Where is the line? This one was delayed by protestors in delivering a cake, and thinks to them, “Hey! I have a business to run here!”

Intellectually, maybe I can give the author back a couple of points that I deducted. After all, when she wrote this a few years ago, protest and rallies weren’t a major part of the American national dialog. But today, in 2018? I could feel a little sympathy, but combined with Our Girl’s other character faults, it just came across as self-entitled.

Another trope the author used was “he was once my love, but I still resent him for dumping me” which isn’t a trope I have strong feelings about, either way. The author used the “his wife died of cancer” card, and I really didn’t like the sudden self-realization that flooded over Our Girl – that she was being bitchy to a guy who lost his wife to cancer.

“I got a girl preggo, then married her (even though I didn’t want to impregnate and marry you), and then she died.” “Oh, good, now I can feel sorry for you, instead of angry.”

First, I don’t like that he gets a pass because of personal tragedy, and second, I don’t like the way she feels she has to swallow her anger and feelings. But hey, it was a short story. We don’t have enough real estate to spare for a long reconciliation. This did the job, quick and dirty as it was.

We did, however, have plenty of real estate for TWO wedding cake assistants and description of high heels. I feel the pacing could have been sped up a bit.

The biggest problem, though, Continue reading

Michaeline: Wedding Stories

Five Swedish people in fashionable dress, circa 1851; person one and two are getting married, I think. There is a curious exchange of glances amongst the five, though.

(Thoughts, from left to right) “I say, Hilda, I didn’t expect you to show up!” “Oh, Frederick, you have arrived too late, and I am marrying James.” “Jimmy Boy, rraowr!” “Hilda, you cat. Stop trying to pounce on the wedding boy.” “Oh, baby, I’ll see you after the ceremony but before the cake!” image via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the middle of June, and weddings are on my mind this week. Possibly next week as well, and into July. But at any rate, today I’m thinking about weddings.

Two – no, three of my most favorite books have weddings in them. Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me and Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign both feature the “gotta find a date for the wedding” trope. Let’s take a quick look at how the wedding works in each story.

In Bet Me, Min needs a date for her sister’s wedding, and she’s just been dumped by the man she was counting on to validate her place in the party. He was going to be Min’s offering to her volcano mom, in order to appease her and divert her mother’s attention to other things. It didn’t matter very much that he was a rat . . . he was her rat, at least for a few more weeks, or so she thought. Instead, he breaks up with her, and Fate steps in to provide a shining new gift horse, eminently suitable for getting her mother off her back . . . her pack pony, at least for the next few weeks, or so she thought. Continue reading

Jeanne: Romance vs. Love Story

Matrix Analysis of Romance vs. Love Story

When I got The Demon Always Wins, the the first book in my Touched by a Demon series back from my editor, Karen Harris, she said my story didn’t know whether it was a romance or a love story.

I was mystified. A romance is a love story and vice versa, right?

Wrong.

Karen explained that romances always have happy endings, while love stories don’t.

As part of the general background she provided on how she analyzes story, she also explained that the issues keeping the couple apart in a romance might be internal to the characters, or their external circumstances. The same polarity exists in love stories.

Eight Lady Jilly and I spent the next couple of weeks puzzling over this and sending each other dozens of emails with examples, and where we thought those examples fell along the two continuums.

Then, of course, given my background in working alongside computer geeks and statisticians, it occurred to me that this conundrum really lends itself to a matrix analysis. If you make the vertical axis internal vs. external circumstances and the happy/unhappy ending the horizontal axis, you come up with a matrix like you see above.

Once I had the matrix set up, I plotted in a few well-known stories along the axes.

On the Happy Endings end of the scale, I plotted romances. At the top, where the issues keeping the lovers apart are primarily internal, I put a couple of books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (It Had to be You and Nobody’s Baby But Mine) and Jenny Crusie (Bet Me).

As you move down the chart, external circumstances start to play a larger role. In Twilight, I treat Edward’s vampirism as an external circumstance–it was forced onto him from an outside agency. However, his controlling behavior and insistence that Bella can’t become a vampire, too, is an internal, character-based issue, and that plays a large role in why they can’t be together.

Most romantic suspense novels–think early Suzanne Brockman–fall into that bottom left quadrant–whatever creates the suspense serves to keep the couple apart, but generally, so do their own character flaws. At the very bottom of that axis, I put Princess Bride–Wesley and Buttercup would be perfectly happy to be together but circumstances force them apart.

Since happy endings are binary–they either are or they aren’t, there’s nothing in the middle of the diagram.

Over on the right, though, we have all the stories with unhappy endings. The issues keeping Rhett and Scarlet apart are internal (except when she’s married, and that never lasts long).

In Wuthering Heights, class-ism keeps Heathcliff and Cathy apart, but so does their wildness.

Still further down the axis, we find Brokeback Mountain. Ennis and Jack are held apart by the danger of being openly homosexual in a profoundly homophobic world, but also by Ennis’ commitment to his family.

At the bottom of the axis lies Romeo and Juliet,  another pair of teenagers kept apart by the world.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? If you write romance/love stories, where does you work fall on this matrix?

Jeanne: Getting to Know You

StilettosRecently here at Eight Ladies Writing, we talked about our cold start processes–how each of the Ladies gets herself going again on an existing project when she hasn’t written in a while. Michaeline wrote about what I’d call a “fresh start” process–how she gets started on a new project.

In mid-February I started work on the third book in my Touched by a Demon trilogy, The Demon Wore Stilettos. I’ve been looking forward to this one, because the she-demon Lilith, who has been a minor character in the previous two books, finally gets to take center stage.

I’ve had this book in the back of my mind for a while, so I knew the general premise: Megan Kincaid, a recent MFA graduate, sells her soul to Satan in exchange for making the New York Times bestseller list. Continue reading