Hunted in Shadow

Re-Evaluating Goals

So the year is slightly more than half over.  As is the norm, I made goals.  Then hubby broke his leg and I forgot all about goals.  Then I found out the department where I teach part time would be hiring two full time instructors.  I applied because it would be a way out from the crazy that is my boss, and I desperately wanted that.

I found out today that I didn’t get the job.  Actually, let’s be more accurate, I haven’t specifically heard a word, but I found out that one of my friends signed his offer letter today.  So apparently they skipped the interview process entirely and just made offers.  I didn’t get one.  I am mostly okay with this.  Once I heard about some of my competition, I worked on making myself okay with the notion of staying.  So I’ve come to terms with that.  This wasn’t a surprise.  There were other far more qualified people for the position and the department isn’t ready to move forward with their online program, which is what I am most qualified to help them do.

I’m not crushed.  But I am…conflicted.  I’d gotten to the point where I wasn’t certain that teaching in person was the right way to go.  Developing multiple classes would have put an end to my writing this year.  There’s also a component of “the devil you know.”  As crazy as my boss is, I still manage to juggle stuff and write.  I’d already basically said “God, if I’m not supposed to do this, just don’t let them offer me the job.”  Well, I guess God has spoken.  Yes, Sir.

So I felt compelled to go back and revisit what my goals WERE for this year.

  1. Finish Forsaken By Shadow and release it.  CHECK
  2. Redraft Hunted in Shadow and prep for submission by 2011.  DEFUNCT.  I put this one to bed and have since abandoned the traditional route of publishing.
  3. Plot out and write a second novella.  IN PROGRESS.  That was supposed to be Revelation and then that ran long and then came Edge of Shadow.
  4. Develop another online class for the 4 year university.  IN PROGRESS.
  5. Read John Truby’s Anatomy of Story. I haven’t done this one yet, but I’ll get there.
  6. Track my productivity.  IN PROGRESS.
  7. Make this year the year of exercise, where I make fitness a priority. IN PROGRESS.

So overall, I’m doing a pretty good job meeting my goals despite the leg break.  Since I 86ed Hunted in Shadow, I’d like to revise my writing goals to finish and release Edge of Shadow.  I’d like to finish plotting and begin writing out the stand alone YA I’m playing with, which would be good to serialize before release.  I’ll tell y’all about that in another future post.  Other than that…just keep plugging along.  Stealing writing time where I am able and seeing what I can do on the indie front.

And if that’s not enough, here’s a great post weighing up traditional publishing vs. ebook publishing by Robert Walker.

RIP First Blood/Hunted In Shadow

Yep, you read that right.  I am having a funeral for this book today.  I wish I could say its illness and decline was sudden, but unfortunately, all the specialist treatments and clinical trials it’s been through took more of a toll on the story than I had hoped.

:sniffs into handkerchief as shoebox filled with manuscript pages is lowered into the ground:

Really, I had such high hopes for you.  But you were envisioned as a stand alone book, and I’ve tried to force you into line with the series I want to write.  It just didn’t work.  It’s sapped all enthusiasm I had for the story.  And without that…I have nothing.  I still like the characters and they will retire for now to the Character Convalescence Home, perhaps to be brought out for a future story.   But the plot, such as it is, is being buried.

Honestly, it’s a relief to say it out loud.

I’ve been dreading coming back to this book, putting it off, and then struggling with the opening scenes.  None of these are good signs.

It’s really hard to make this kind of decision.  I put so much time and effort into this book.  I really hate to think of it just as a learning experience.  And it was.  I developed myself on several aspects of craft when I wrote it.  But some books are beyond salvage.  Whereas Forsaken By Shadow was very clearly a story about….  I was never able to clearly verbalize the story I wanted to tell with this book.  And frankly, I’m not willing to invest any more time in it.  If it was going to come together, it would have in the last year.

So now what?

I am moving on to the second novella.  I’ve previously mentioned that I’d already envisioned a hero and heroine and a basic plotline.  I’ve found faces for them.

This is Finn (and I think will lend itself nicely to a cover down the road):

And this is Ransom:

Both Forsaken By Shadow and this second novella predate the book I was TRYING to tell in First Blood/Hunted In Shadow.  They are, in many ways, the big set up for my metaplot that will span the series.  I am hoping that by finishing this novella (Update: it will be titled Revelation)  first, I will have a better idea of what that first full length book in the series SHOULD be.

Pivotal Beginnings

Last night my husband and I watched the latest Star Trek. We saw it in the theaters, of course, but watching it again at home, I couldn’t help but be struck by how incredibly well it begins.  For both Kirk and Spock, the introductions are perfect.  The writers picked pivotal moments in each of their lives to illustrate the kind of men they would turn out to be.  In 20 minutes, they take us from origins to present adulthood in a way that’s difficult to achieve on paper.  The childhood flashback of movies is tantamount to the prologues that seem to be so out of vogue in fiction, and it’s something that I personally like.

In fiction you only have a very brief window during which to hook you reader.  Some readers are more forgiving than others.  If your style isn’t offensive to them, they might give you a little more leeway before they put your book down, never to be picked up again.  But at most you have maybe three chapters to snare their interest.  In such light, it behooves you to be economical in your choice of how to begin a story.

In 2008, I read something that I really didn’t understand well at the time.  I can’t remember where or who said it, but the thing that I read was that you should begin your story with the inciting incident.  Okay I went back and dug up the post where I talked about this.  I got it from Shery L. Clark during a LBLI series on Great Beginnings.  According to Sherry,

The inciting incident is what propels the story into motion. It implies, and must have, action, conflict, drama and movement forward. It’s not description or exposition or backstory or characterisation – it is purely and simply a key point of action that makes your main character act or react. If you are starting with something that doesn’t demand action or reaction, you’re probably not starting in the right place.

This seems very obvious.  You should start your story with action.  That’s not the part that I didn’t understand well.

What I misunderstood about the idea of inciting incidents is that this does not necessarily mean start with the scene in the story that is really what kicks off THIS story.  The point of no return so to speak.  Not that it’s a bad thing to begin with such a point.  It’s how I started the first draft of Hunted in Shadow.  With action.  Marley is using subterfuge to break into Anya’s hotel room to try and find out where her friend has disappeared.  And it doesn’t suck as a beginning.  It certainly doesn’t drag, and it says something about her character.

But the thing that didn’t gybe for me is that in my mind, many stories are served by beginning with action at a different point in a character’s life. Something that might not necessarily be what set them on the path of the current story, but which is a defining or illustrative moment in their lives.  What I think of as pivotal moments.  The story that most clearly sticks into my mind about this is Til Death, what I was writing when the inciting incident concept came up.  Pot and I argued about the beginning of this book.  It starts with a prologue, yes.  Really unpopular thing, prologues.  I’ve talked about that elsewhere, not coincidentally during a time when this particular argument was taking place.  The thing that we were arguing about was whether the moment I chose to start this book was the inciting incident or not.  The scene takes place 20 years before the current story, when our hero Wyatt is a boy.  He’s playing around on his grandfather’s back 40 and finds human remains.  The scene isn’t very long.  A few pages.  But the reason I chose it was that in my mind, it was a pivotal moment in Wyatt’s life.  This is the reason that he becomes the man he becomes, and I really felt (still feel) like it’s the best way to begin the story.  Including it somehow as a flashback or a dream or simply being told wouldn’t be as powerful as being in his head at the time this occurs.  Pot disagreed with me on this.  She didn’t think it was a bad way to begin, but she didn’t think it was the inciting incident.  Right this moment, I can’t remember what she said the inciting incident was because I opted to go with my gut on this.

Then last year, along comes the idea of Story Structure from Larry Brooks at Storyfix (which is still a marvelous idea even if he’s taken to sounding a bit like a car salesman with most of his posts since then–I’ve never seen anyone so adept at doling out breadcrumbs [I do not refer to the Story Structure series here, which is rich and detailed and amazing, but rather to the more recent posts, which seem to be a bit less substantive] ).  Brooks talks about The Setup and its five goals:

  • Setting a killer hook
  • Introducing your hero
  • Establishing Stakes
  • Foreshadowing Events to Come
  • Preparing for Launch

All of these lead toward what he calls The First Plot Point. In Brooks’ words:

Because the First Plot Point is the moment when the story’s primary conflict makes its initial center-stage appearance.  It may be the first full frontal view of it, or it may be the escalation and shifting of something already present.  In either case, nothing about the story is the same from that moment forward.

There is a time and a place to introduce the reason your hero/protagonist sets off down the appointed path of your story – at roughly the 20th to 25th percentile.   That moment is the First Plot Point (FPP), sometimes referred to as the Inciting Incident (emphasis mine).

It is the bridge between Parts 1 and 2.  Which means, everything that comes before is a set-up for it, and everything that comes after is a response to it.

The angels might as well have sung the hallelujah chorus when I read that.  I felt like I finally was getting a clue.  The inciting incident is the point that sets the CURRENT conflict into motion and ISN’T necessarily where you start the book.  If you throw your reader directly into the story at this point without really introducing your hero, without establishing stakes, giving a hint at what’s coming or whetting the reader’s appetite–why should the reader really care about him/her?

That’s what I feel like I accomplished with how I began Til Death.

This is something I skipped in the first draft of HiS. I had no set up.  You’re getting to know Marley on the fly, and while her actions are moderately interesting, they don’t necessarily hook you in and give you a clear idea of why she’s doing what she’s going.  One of the biggest changes I’m making to the book in Draft 2 is to add a clear setup, establishing the stakes, and really giving a clear picture what her life is like before the story begins.  I am starting with a pivotal moment–not a flashback or some childhood event, but a lonely Christmas Day where it becomes painfully clear in a very big hurry that her best friend and only family has been missing for the better part of a year, and we get to see the aftermath up close and personal.

Either way, I feel like I understand both pivotal beginnings and inciting incidents a helluva lot better now than I did before.