Friday, September 30, 2011

The Viscount and the Witch, short story

Hello all,
This is Robin (Michael's wife for those that don't know). I'm commandeering his blog to announce: The Viscount and the Witch.  This is a little short story Michael wrote at my urging because...well as some may know I'm in love with Royce and Hadrian (sorry hun, but you know it's true) and I just can't get enough of them.

This is a strange time...the Ridan books are out-of-print and the Orbit books (although available for pre-order) won't be available for reading until Thanksgiving so, after three years, we have no books for sale ;-(

As we've both said, there will be no seventh book to the Riyria Revelations.  That particular story wraps up completely in Percepliquis and to "tack on" another just isn't going to work (and no amount of needling will get Michael to do -- trust me on this).

But...Royce and Hadrian spent many years together before the event that happened starting in The Crown Conspiracy so I begged, pleaded, and offered "favors" to get a tale of the "early years" and hence The Viscount and the Witch was born.  Here's a bit about the book:

Eleven years before they were framed for the murder of a king, before even assuming the title of Riyria, Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater were practically strangers. Unlikely associates, this cynical thief and idealist swordsman, were just learning how to work together as a team. In this standalone first installment of The Riyria Chronicles, Royce is determined to teach his naive partner a lesson about good deeds. Join Royce and Hadrian in this short story (5,400 words) about one of their earliest adventures.

It just went live late yesterday on Amazon and already is on the Hottest New Releases for Historical Fantasy (#7) and Short Stories (#14).  And while I hope people continue to buy it at the paltry $0.99 (as it will get Michael some Amazon visibility and possible recommendations for his Orbit books)  we are not releasing this to make money.

Why are we releasing it?
  • To say thank you for all Michael's fans who has gotten him to this next stage in his writing career
  • To have "something out there" that people can read while they wait
  • To hopefully give an "easy to digest" intro to new people to the series
The best way to say thanks is to make the book for free, but Amazon doesn't allow us to do this ($0.99 is the cheapest that we can list a book).  But...hopefully they will "make it free" as they will price match other sites where the book is free (such as Smashwords).  Usually a book has to have some "following" for them to do this so my hope is we'll get a few sales, get on Amazon's radar, then will price match to free.

This short is being released through Ridan Publishing (not Orbit) so we CAN make it free when bought direct. Here is a link where you can get your very own free copy.

I loved being reunited with my two favorite rogues. I hope you'll feel the same.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One More Page

In case you haven’t heard, I’m being published by Orbit, a subsidiary of Hachett, one of the traditional big six New York publishers. Currently most people know me as an ebook success story because that’s where most of my books were sold. Ebooks made my career, but I still love bookstores. I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find an author who doesn’t.

When I was first published, the small press who put out The Crown Conspiracy set me up with quite a few bookstore signings. Once I switched to print-on-demand this became more difficult and over the years I saw a shift in the mentality of many of the large chains and how they handled author’s events. Even though the store managers at Borders loved the number of books I sold at each signing, they had to stop booking me because corporate handed down an edict restricting author signings. Many of the Barnes and Noble’s I used to sign at have remodeled, adding more shelves, and now have no space for author signings. Not only could I not do my Orbit book launch at the store that launched the series, they also evicted my weekly writing group that met there for three years.

This has started me speculating on the future of bookstores. I think a lot of people have been doing that, mostly people in bookstores. I find this trend of big chains to increase the number of books in their stores at the expense of services, a bit of an odd strategy. What brick and mortar store can expect to offer a better selection than a virtual one? I’ve been to some awfully big bookstores, four-story behemoths and I find they almost never carry most of the titles I’m interested in—the ones I’ve seen reviewed online—the ones by independent authors. No matter how big the store, the selection of books are always the same. The same genres, the same authors. The new cutting-edge writers, who are breaking new ground, are missing from those shelves and, I expect, always will be. There are simply too many books being published each year for a physical store to house. Trying to keep up with a virtual store in a battle of selection is like bringing a knife to a nuclear war.

The one advantage a book store has over a virtual space is community interaction and the undeniable fact that people like being in bookstores. They enjoy going to them. They prefer the warm, bookish atmosphere that’s like a library without any priggish rules. Unlike any other kind of store, you can usually get a cup of coffee, relax in a cushion chair, and spend all day sampling their wares. You can chat with employees about the new releases like kids do about new games or movies. And everyone can find something they enjoy, something that appeals to them, that they can get lost in.

Given this, I have to wonder why corporate managers are choosing to stuff their stores so full of books that there’s no longer room for customers?

The Theft of Swords book release is coming up, and I wanted to have a party at a local store. As I mentioned, where I originally launched the series now can’t accommodate an author event.  I was wondering where I might hold the party—or if I would even have one. To my surprise I received an email out of the blue from someone who works at a store called One More Page.

Hi Michael!  We are a new independent bookstore in Arlington--we opened in mid-January.  A friend of store-owner Eileen McGervey forwarded to us a message you sent out in February about your new publishing deal with Orbit Books.  Please keep us in mind when you hit the road and start doing press and promotional tours.  We're just in your back yard, and we'd love to host you for an event, or sell books for you at any local off-site events.

Of course, with this deal, you're probably getting ready to move to New York!  In any case, congratulations, and thanks for letting me introduce our nifty little bookstore.  I could really relate to your invocation of "the little indie that could"!

A bookstore wrote to me? A bookstore contacted me and just threw their arms wide and invited me to hold whatever!

I had never heard of One More Page, but that was certainly about to change. Robin and I accepted an invitation by Terry Nebeker, whose intriguing title is, Author Whisperer, and rode over to this little bookstore hidden away on a business side street off of Washington Street, in Falls Church, Virginia. It is not a big place and its brand new—they opened this year. I had to ask myself who opens a bookstore in 2011, the year of the ebook? The year that killed Borders? It’s like deciding that this is the time to invest in Wall Street. It turns out a woman by the name of Eileen McGervey did. A former marketing executive, Eileen apparently left that world to do something she felt she would enjoy more, something that would allow her time with her family—a world of wine, chocolate, and books. I’ve yet to meet Eileen, but I already envision her as a Willie Wonka of the literary world.

Her store is a beautiful, quaint place with a few soft chairs, and plenty of books, but also plenty of space. Best off all, in some incredible, high-tech coup that has clearly taken all the other bookstores by surprise, One More Page has managed to invent the wheel. Okay, maybe they didn’t invent the wheel, but they put them on the bottoms of the book display shelves so they can be wheeled out of the way for such things as book signings, and writers, and readers groups. This astounding advance in bookstore engineering has allowed them to do the impossible. In a space smaller than a chain store’s coffee shop, they have created a retail space that can also allow for community events.

And they are making use of this.

Their website has a schedule of events, and not just a once a week children’s story time, common to most stores and libraries. They have book club meetings, chocolate and wine tasting, author events, readings, discussions, critics-in-residence, baseball night, writer’s groups, and…yes, children’s story time. Their schedule is—pun intended—booked. And while they don’t have a coffee shop in the store—they have a whole café right across the tiny side street.   

Will they be able to compete with the big stores on the block? With Amazon? Obviously not on their playing field. Yet I don’t think that’s their plan. Instead of trying to offer as many books as possible, One More Page offers a limited selection, but it appears to be a carefully chosen one. These are people who read. Their book buyer is Katie Fransen a grad student with a voracious appetite for books. How voracious? When I walked into their store and we were introduced for the first time—she knew me, and my books. That’s never happened before. Usually, when I tell people I’m an author they ask, “Write anything I’d know?” to which I laugh and shake my head. But she knew about Riyria. She was a living breathing, female version of Myron Lanaklin.

Looking around at the moveable shelves, at the signs on the walls announcing dozens of up-coming events, listening to the passionate conversations the staff held with a constant stream of customers, hearing them instill a giggly exhilaration in others about the promise of a new book release, I had one thought running through my head—this is the future of bookstores. This is the place you can go to ask what you should be reading next. This is the friendly face you can trust to know what you like, to even set aside a copy for the next time you wander in. This is your own personal library, cared for by a staff who don’t demand a weekly pay check from you, just the price of a book, a glass of wine, or a bit of chocolate now and then—and who can’t appreciate something sweet and wonderful now and then. 

And just to be clear, no one at One More Page has any idea I’ve written this post, and probably won’t ever know, unless their in-house-Hermione-Granger, Katie Fransen, also reads my blog, but that might be beyond even her powers.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Writing Advice 14 — Multitasking

I once had a discussion with a neighbor about writing. He was a fan of books that he said, “challenged him.” Books that he had to work to get through and when he was done, never completely explained what happened. He liked the idea that the author left that task to him. To me however, this sounds a bit like hiring a painter to paint your house, only to have him show up with paint, ladders, and brushes saying, “Here you go, have fun.” I have no doubt there are many others who agree with my neighbor—some may enjoy the experience of painting their home—but I also know dude ranchers out west can hardly believe they can get city-folk to pay money to do their work for them.

As an author, I feel it is my job to do the work, not the reader. As such I try to make reading my stories as easy and enjoyable as possible, and one of those ways is to not make a reader read one word more than is necessary. Whether you like Hemingway or not, his minimalist style was a necessary counterpoint to a literary tradition of poetically bloated books. I personally feel Hemingway went too far, carrying his idea to an extreme that hinders the art that words can create, but his idea is a sound one—take out the unnecessary words.

Bob sat down.

This is a pretty simple sentence. There are only three words, but nevertheless it is wordy because one of those words is not only unnecessary, it’s redundant. Can you find it?

So then, Bob went back into his room to get his wallet, and then he ran back out to the car again.

Lots of unnecessary words here.

So then, Bob went back into his room to get his wallet and then he ran back out to the car again.

Better yet: Bob got his wallet from his room.

Trimming the fat in this way, makes prose cleaner, tighter, easier to read, and more powerful, but you can do more than just cut excess words. You can multitask.

Multitasking is doing more than one thing at the same time. Applied to writing, it is saying more than one thing with the same words. Why make a reader read a whole paragraph describing Harvey who is visiting Bob and then another whole paragraph describing Bob’s house. Wouldn’t it be better to do both at the same time?

The house was a two-story colonial painted yellow with green shutters, and a brick chimney. It sat on a quarter acre lot that sloped to the left. There was a maple tree in the front and a pair of birch trees in the back. A vegetable garden could be seen to the left of the house, and a swing set to the right, and the garage door was open reveling the back of Bob’s car.

Harvey did not live in as nice a home as Bob. In comparison, Harvey lived in a dump. The reason was obvious, Bob made a lot more money than Harvey and he could afford to have the nicer things in life. When people asked Harvey about Bob, Harvey was always polite,  saying Bob was a great guy, but he actually hated Bob, not because Bob had ever done anything to deserve his hate, but because Bob always got what he wanted and Harvey never did.  

In the above two paragraphs I described Bob’s house and then Harvey and how Harvey feels about Bob. But let’s see if we can do all three at the same time, and with less Telling.

Bob’s house was one of those perfect colonials always pictured on the cover of magazines that Harvey could only afford to look at. It was painted vomit yellow with showy green shutters, and a brick chimney built with all the craftsmanship of a robot. On the side was one of those huge wooden playgrounds parents appeased their kids with. On the other side was a vegetable garden. It was well kept. Bob probably had illegals working it at night so he could stand out there on weekends waving at his neighbors. Bob’s garage door was open and Harvey could see a newly waxed Mercedes. Harvey guessed an American car was just not good enough for old Bob. 

In the first paragraph, the house is described objectively, in the last it is infused with Harvey’s negative PoV. The result is how Harvey sees the house tells you just as much about Harvey as it does about Bob, Bob’s house, and the two men’s relationship.

Using PoV in combination with description can result in delivering twice, to three times the information, to a reader with far less words. If done well, you can describe a place, a subject character, and the PoV character all at the same time.

Danny was always a stickler for precision, even his pens were lined up on his desk an equal distance apart. That’s what made him such a good pilot, it also made him a pain in the ass to room with—particularly in zero-g.

In these two sentences I managed to explain that the scene takes place in Danny’s office, and that it was very neat. I further related that Danny is a good pilot, and that he is a very orderly person who pays attention to even tiny details and that this assists in helping him with his job as a pilot. I also revealed that Danny is an astronaut. In addition, I revealed that the PoV character respects Danny, but also finds his obsession with orderliness irritating. I also revealed that the two characters have both been in space on the same mission. We can also assume Danny was the pilot of that mission. All this is added simply by playing with the PoV in conjunction with the description.

The idea is to focus on the primary task of describing the setting, or the subject person, but also, through how that description is written, reveal who the PoV character is by showing how that person interprets what they experience. A dog can be a cute puppy, or a mangy mutt. A woman can be hot, or a whore. A lake can be serene, or a death trap. A birthday cake can be festive, or one more nail in the coffin.

You can also apply this same idea to the plot. Don’t write a chapter or even a scene merely to demonstrate that a character is smart, or evil, and don’t write a scene where a character walks though a town, just to describe the town. Don’t even do both at the same time. Always make certain that you have a legitimate plot point, an event that advances the story and then around that add the character and setting aspects. If the character has to see a specific car to advance the plot, have him wandering the streets looking so you can also describe the town, and have his method of searching reveal his intelligence. Always do more than one thing, or you are wasting space and your reader’s time. 

Let’s go back to the now infamous Seven-11 milk buying scene. If you were to write the scene where the PoV character walks in and buys a gallon of milk, how differently would you describe the store and its clerk, if in the first instance your PoV character was an urban vampire, like Angel, trying to kick the habit of killing humans, and in the second he was Sherlock Holmes on his way home after a tough day working a frustrating case? Do you think that you could adequately illustrate who the main character is without using any descriptions of the PoV character and restricting yourself to only using the description of the store and clerk?

Here then is another homework assignment. Try writing those two scenes. No more than a page each. But under no circumstance are you allowed to provide any direct descriptions of the PoV characters. You can’t say, “as a vampire, he didn’t really like milk…” You can only reveal the PoV character by how they view the world around them—by their unique PoV.

After you write them, give each to a friend to read and see if they can figure out who the PoV characters are. If you don’t like Angel and Holmes pick others, someone the person reading will know. You can present it like, “Read this and tell me who you think the main characters are—they are famous people who may or may not be fictitious.”  For more fun invite more than one person to read them and have them discuss who they think the main characters are.

If anyone does this, please leave a comment letting me know how it went.

That’s the bell. No pushing or shoving.

Next week: How to Begin

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Frustrated Muse

I know, the title of this sounds a bit like the name of someone’s poetry blog, or perhaps a novel about an artist obsessed with a woman he had seen briefly in a crowd. Actually, it’s the answer to a question that I’m frequently asked.

I suspect a lot of authors get this question in interviews or while at conventions and signings. It’s one that stumped me for a while—one that took far more time to figure out than I expected. It seems like a very simple inquiry, but those are often the hardest to answer. Why do people laugh? How high is up? This question follows in those traditions, but unlike ones that suggest a need for specialized education or research to attempt an answer, this question appears to be one I should know immediately. It is a question more like: what’s your favorite color? The question is deceptively complex, and I saw it as a potential trap until recently when I finally landed on a satisfactory answer. What I came up with may not be the answer, it’s just mine. So what’s the question?

Where do you get your ideas from?

The tricky part is that the question isn’t where did you get this idea from, that would be hard enough, but what it’s asking is where do all your ideas stem from. The real answer is, “I don’t know. It just sort of came to me.”

I mean, why did I decide on pizza for lunch? Why did I wear the blue shirt rather than the green one today? And why is there no emote for shrug? These are impossible questions, but while no one really cares why I ate pizza, except maybe the pizzeria’s marketing department, and few are interested in my shirt color, where my ideas as an author come from are clearly a hot topic. 

The answer, while mildly interesting to readers trying to get a better understand of their author, is taken more seriously by aspiring writers. They may consider this a well that they might like to find and dip their cup in, I guess. I mention this because the follow-up question is usually: how do you deal with writer’s block or a lack of ideas?

I think those asking the question make a fair number of assumptions. Romance novelists are hopeless romantics who never found true love. Science fiction authors wished they could be astronauts. One has to ask, if such a theory holds true, what would that make H.P Lovecraft or Poe? People like to get at the truth. They like to figure out the mechanics behind the magic trick. How is it done? What caused it? Can it be duplicated? My conclusion is that sometimes what appears to be magic, really is magic. Maybe one day scientists will figure out the workings of the human brain enough to explain the creation of an idea by some mathematical formula, but for now there is no explanation other than magic—or as I call it: A Frustrated Muse.

A muse is a goddess in Greek mythology who inspires creation. Daemons are similar, although less grandiose than muses. While still Greek, they are more popular in Roman culture. But both concepts are the same—something other than the artist provides the idea, the spark, or since this is the modern era, the light bulb. In his recent book Incognito, David Eagleman suggests it’s our own sub-conscious. So whichever way you look at it, the idea appears to come out of nowhere. 

I’m sure this is not the answer that people want, particularly those trying to replicate the process. So how do you find a muse or rouse your sub-conscious? As it turns out, this is easier than you might think.

You piss them off.

When I was trying to get published, I knew that the best chance I would have is if I could get my wife to help. Being a high school valedictorian with a degree in engineering, who went from a grunt programmer to president of a software company in four short years, you can see she tips the over-achiever scales and has a good mind for business. I knew if I asked her to help she might resist, or put out a half-hearted effort. After all she is a busy person and has other things to do. Knowing her as I do, I also figured that if I made an intentionally pathetic attempt she would be appalled, shove me aside, and demonstrate how to do it right. My theory worked and today I am a published author as a result.

Just imagine yourself watching someone struggle with a problem that you find simplistic or second-nature. Desires to demonstrate your skill, irritation at watching them fail, or compassion at their frustrations will eventfully motivate you to take action. I think the same principal comes into play with those muses and daemons. When you write, she is forced to sit by, looking over your shoulder, watching you screw up again and again. It’s got to be frustrating. You can almost imagine her doing repeated facepalms, shaking her head, or muttering obscenities under her breath. The words moron and hopeless may slip out. You hear them, not audibly of course but inside your mind, and it makes you want to give up. Most do. The true basket-cases ignore the insults and keep pressing keys. You keep struggling to create interesting characters, landscapes, and emotionally compelling plots…and keep failing.

Unbeknownst to you, you are also torturing your muse. Stop it! she cries, but you press on because you can’t stop. You’re a writer, even if no one cares, even if everything you put out is contrived, weak, clichéd and utterly hopeless, it’s who you are, and you can’t stop trying anymore than you can stop breathing. Try holding your breath—you’ll just pass out and start breathing again. Muses try to inspire you to use a plastic bag and a rubber band next time, only it doesn’t work. You just keep writing—badly. Copying others, imitating styles, you’re foolishly mired in being a mirror.

Then, one day the muse just can’t take it anymore. Uncle! You hear the faint whimper. She just has to make the pain stop. The endless parade of ghastly words must be fought. And if you won’t give up, then she will.

Here. An idea flares.  

In mid-sentence your typing pauses, stunned. Whoa. That’s good! Fingers race. Words pour. It is as if someone is whispering in your ear. The whispering stops. You trail off, staring at the wall.

Oh for heaven sake! Really? You can’t take it from there?

More whispering and the words come again. When you’re done you’re breathless, exhausted and have no idea of the time. What just happened? How did you do that? Will you ever be able to do it again?

The next time you write the words don’t flow and you’re stuck again. Despair grips you. Eventually you just start typing miserably again. Whatever it was that you had has been lost. You’re hopeless again. The magic must have been just a fluke. But you’ve broken the will of your muse. She tries to resist, but each time you hammer away it takes less to frustrate them into helping. Her fight is gone, and they relent faster and with more frequency. The more you write, the less she resists. If you take a vacation, you let your muse rest. You give her time to recover and the next time you write she has the strength to rebel. Writer’s block can be as simple as letting a muse catch her breath.

This is why writers are encouraged to write every day. This is why even if you don’t know what to write, you just start typing until it comes to you. This is why muses and daemons hate NaNoWrMo.

Whether it is a muse, a daemon, or your sub-conscious, ideas come from frustration, from the need to do something the “right” way, or say what isn’t being said. This is the heart of passion, the drive of desire that gives birth to that spark, that light bulb—that idea that will prompt others to come to you one day and ask: where do you get your ideas from?

At this point, the weary head of the battered and beaten muse will lift with anticipation of recognition and listen carefully, and you will say…“I don’t know. It just sort of came to me.”

(This post was originally published on Jon Sprunk's blog about two months ago when I guest blogged. I reprinted it here for those who missed it, and so I know where to find it again.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Writing Advice 13 — Weaving

Weaving is a technique I love. I love to use it when I write and I love to see it when I read. I often use it as an indicator when determining how good an author is at their craft, because weaving is a true art form and not easy to do.

Weaving is exactly what it sounds like. Just like in basket or cloth making, you take one thread, wrap it around another, then let it go, only to bring it back later and wrap it again. Checkov’s Gun is a famous, but extremely simple form of weaving. You show the gun early on in the story establishing it. Then you allow the reader to forget about it, and then you bring it back. In this way, the gun is not perceived as a deus ex machina event. It is instead something the reader had information on and could have figured out if they had remembered it. The problem with the Checkov Gun is that modern audiences know this technique very well and using it usually tips your hand. It is the same in movies, where the camera lingers for a second too long on a book hidden under a magazine, or a credit card that no one noticed falling from a purse, these things scream, “This is going to be important in the future so remember it!”

The challenge is to avoid the deus ex machine by planting clues, but to hide them making it possible to surprise the reader. There are two ways I’ve found to do this.

There is the Horton method and the Genre Bias method.

In the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who! An elephant named Horton hears the mayor of a microscopic world called Whoville speaking from a dust speck. No one else can hear the Whos and they don’t believe him. In order to stop his foolish behavior other animals of the jungle take the flower and hide it in a massive field of other identical flowers. This method of hiding in plain sight is the Horton method. A writer can present Checkhov’s Gun, but then also present a knife, a blow dart, a bottle of arsenic and Uncle Herby’s pet alligator who has a love of human flesh. The reader will have no idea which of these will ultimately be used.

The Genre Bias method, is a bit more devious. In this technique you use a reader’s expectations against them. If it is the trope of every mystery novel that the butler is the killer, then point the clues at him. Let the reader believe that you are doing the same old tired plot. They will ignore the Checkhov’s Gun in the hand of the policeman because they are so certain that the author is following the same path they’ve been conditioned to expect. (Note: this has the unfortunate side effect of readers giving up on a story partway because they are convinced they know what will happen and that you are an unoriginal, hack writer.)

But these are only a small part of weaving which is not simply confined to hiding clues to avoid a contrived plot. True weaving is when story elements are reused repeatedly.

I’ve read books where whenever a scene needs a character, a new one is invented. Whenever a new place is needed, it is created. I considered this to be linear, or straight-line writing. Single straight lines of threads are useful, but they lack the abilty to draw in a reader and heighten tension. If however you reuse elements, bringing old ones back to fill the new roles you need, weaving begins. Not only is this reuse helpful in the form of not having to completely build an element from the ground up, but it causes the reader to feel a sense of familiarity that helps with the all important suspension of disbelief—this world is real because things don’t just disappear never to be heard from again.

This weaving allows for the creation of twists and patterns—something you just can’t do with a linear style. Twists are obviously unexpected occurrences, but patterns are what result when you take a story element and weave it so that it changes into something different. Whether a character, a place, or even an idea or motivation, these can be twisted from one pattern to another. A bad character can become good. A desire to right a wrong, can become a wrong in itself.

By causing elements to weave back across the main plot line, each intersection becomes a possible opportunity to develop something new—to build a new idea. And this building on top of an existing foundation adds depth to the story. Usually the path of a main character who grows from one type of person to another is a form of weaving. But it is much more interesting when the weaving effect is used on multiple characters, settings and plot elements.

I know this sounds a bit abstract, but we are in the advanced class now, so I expect a higher level of understanding—or at least more patience with my inability to communicate. Remember I’m only a writer. Still let me try to present an example.

Let’s say your group of adventurers stop at an inn for the night, and the next day they really can’t have their horses, so you decide they will be stolen that night. You’re first instinct is to create a wayward theft, who will be captured later when they need the horses back and he will be forgotten. However, if instead of inventing a new character to steal the horses you could use a previous character—the squire wannabe—one who may have been a trusted friend. The advantage is that it would make logical sense for them to trust this friend with the horses making the adventures appear less inept. Of course now you have to find the motivation for this previously good guy to do this act of evil. Was he always intending to cause harm and just pretended to act nice? Is he being blackmailed? By whom? Will the adventures now need to help him? There are tons of possibilities here, and by solving this riddle, the story will gain detail and depth and rather than one more bland, backgroundless character—the horse thief—you have instead what used to be just the squire wannabe, who now just may be…the illegitimate son of the main character! (Well, hopefully something better than that.)

The more interconnections with less starting points, the tighter the weave of a story. It also helps to ensure that all loose threads are tied up. Readers don’t much like it when you leave a plotline or a character unaccounted for. (I know a few people still upset with Rowlings wondering what happened with the house-elf revolution.) My goal is often to make nearly every element in a book have at least more than one use. Nothing that I take the time to introduce, and force the reader to use their time to read about, should ever be a one shot deal.

In my mind, tighter weaves, that use less characters and settings to tell the same story, are like plays in contrasts to movies. The restrictions generated by the limitations of space and cast demand greater effort, skill and creativity on the part of the writer. And writing almost always benefits from extra effort and greater challenges.

In a recent review of my latest work, a friend commented, “I was surprised to see the girl coming back into the story. I just thought she was there to establish the main character as sympathetic.” This person had not read any of my other works or I would have been surprised. But it does say something about the state of reader expectations.

In what I consider a well constructed story, nearly every element is a Checkhov’s Gun. If you show it, you’d better use it. Nearly every character, setting, prop, or idea, is reintroduced and used for a new purpose, a purpose that utilizes its unique history already established in the story to lock that new pattern in the bedrock of the plot. Builds upon builds, foundations lending themselves to new foundations.

What happens if now that Squire Wannabe turned Illegitimate Son, is in the end the real antagonist? How wonderfully buried would be that Gun! Weaving provides you with the freedom to take a story in new and unexpected directions, for intersections are exciting things.

That’s the bell. No running. Next week: Multitasking