Thursday, February 26, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Outer Conflict in Defining Character

Outer conflict is easy, especially when you're writing a character whose go-to solution to problems is "punch in the face".  Of course, "punch in the face" is rarely an effective long-term solution for anything, and more often than not, conflict escalates. 
Of course, why a character gets into conflicts in the first place, and how they react to that escalation are crucial defining points for your main character.
That is part of why the Twelve Part Outline Structure* has "Investment" as one of the structural points.  The quick version of that is your character could be able to just walk away from the conflict, but doesn't.  Joining back into the fray is an active choice.  Stepping into the proverbial ring needs to be a source of agency.
That's what your outer conflict needs to bring to characters: the active choices they make.  Give the reader the sense that the character is deciding what they're going to do, rather than the story itself dragging them along by the nose.
All right, I've got a hundred and seven things to do before going to Connooga tomorrow, so I'll see you in the word mines.
*- I will be writing an extended post about that in the near future.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Connooga, Library Review, and Moving Forward

So, this weekend I'll be appearing at Connooga, and hopefully weather conditions won't trap me there for an extra day or two.  (I really don't consider that very likely.)  If you're in that area, come and say hi.
Here's my schedule:
6:00 PM       How Stories Work   
3:00 PM    World Building  
4:00 PM    Readings  
8:00 PM    Plot or Die! Gameshow Panel with Authors   
11:00 AM    Workshop: Story Structure
Also this past weekend, I learned that The Library Review named The Thorn of Dentonhill the genre debut of the month.  That's pretty damn thrilling.  Thorn's cover is also part of The Qwillery's February Debut Cover Wars.  You can still vote for another day!
Past that, it's high time to move forward*, planning future projects, locking things down for the Armadillocon Writers' Workshop, and, of course, taxes.  Ugh, taxes.  I may be nose-deep in spreadsheets and receipts for a while. 
In the meantime, I'll see you down in the word mines.

*- That doesn't just mean only talking about A Murder of Mages instead of Thorn.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Not Every Antagonist is the Bad Guy

Last week I talked about villains being the heroes of their own story.  But even in those cases, they do tend to still be the "bad guy" in an objective way.  In Thorn, Fenmere believes he's in the right, protecting his own, but at the same time, if you were to design a "Am I The Bad Guy?" Flowchart, the question "Did I Hire Assassins to Kill A Teenager?" would definitely point to "Yes, You're the Bad Guy."
But not every antagonist needs to be a villain at all. 
Take Rellings-- the dormitory prefect in Thorn of Dentonhill.  He's a constant roadblock for Veranix over the course of the book. He's obnoxious to Veranix, but mostly because he suspects Veranix is up to something he shouldn't be... and he's exactly right.  Veranix is sneaking out of the dorms at night, and it's Rellings's job to maintain discipline and stop students from doing that. 
So of course he's not a bad guy. 
Stories are full of this kind of antagonist, and it's far more interesting to have two people who believe they are doing 'the right thing' be in opposition to each other.  Sometimes that works well-- The Fugitive in the 1990s was an excellent example: Dr. Kimble knew he was innocent and was on the run to find his wife's killer; US Marshal Gerard was hunting for an escaped convicted murderer.  They both were doing the "right thing", and in the end, they both got to "win".  Heck, the sequel flat out made Gerard the protagonist.
The challenge is finding that balance.  When one person's "right thing" is more obviously "right" than the other, you lose that, and then you can overcompensate to attempt to bring balance back.
Take, for example, Marvel Comic's Civil War story line a few years back.  On the face of it, you have one side saying that there should be regulation and oversight to superheroes, and people who choose to do that should have accountability (just like police, firemen, soldiers, etc.), and the other side saying that any yahoo should get to put on a mask and punch people without regard to civil rights or due process.  (Am I showing my bias here?)  But the story, in seeing that one side of the argument has more of a point, overcompensates, turning the "supporting registration" side into jackbooted fascists who throw anyone who disagrees with them into an extradimensional prison. This includes having Tony Stark-- the face of registration-- decide that when Peter Parker abandons his side, he's going to send a team of "reformed" villains after Peter, including Bullseye. 
Remember that flowchart point I made before?  Yeah.
But it doesn't have to go that far. A genuine clash between two good people can make for a fascinating story. 
Have at it.  See you down in the word mines.
Also: If you are in the Austin area, tomorrow night (Friday, February 20th), I'll be at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar) at 7pm, reading from and signing Thorn of Dentonhill.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Boskone and Shenanigans of Weather

So, Boskone was a lovely experience.  All my panels were exactly the kind of panels you want to have: everyone is engaged in the subject, talking to each other, listening to each other, and the only thing the moderator really has to do is say, "I'm afraid we've run out of time."
Plus I got to actually hold up a copy of Thorn of Dentonhill instead of just a postcard, and point people in the direction of the dealer room to purchase a copy.  I even signed one that someone purchased-- someone who is actually a big fantasy author, so that just made my day.
However, if you hadn't heard, Boston got a bit of snow, which had some effect on Boskone.  Some people cancelled their appearances, and especially on Sunday, there wasn't much of an audience.  But the audience that was there was engaged and enjoyable.  And the fact that several people weren't getting out of Boston meant there was an extended BarCon on Sunday night, and that was quite lovely.
I'm really making the best of the fact that I'm stuck in Boston and not getting home until tomorrow.  But it's fine. Stay optimistic.
And why shouldn't I?  Here are some great reviews for Thorn of Dentonhill that showed up this weekend:
King's River Life (who are also giving away a copy to a lucky winner)
Once I started reading, I was like a forty-pound blue catfish after a herring bait—hooked! Catch this one, folks.
The Bibliosanctum
If you’re looking for something fun and adventurous for your next fantasy read, look no further than The Thorn of Dentonhill, an incredible start to a new series, from an author who is clearly on his way to great things.

No reason not to look on the bright side.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Having Fun With Your Villains

There's an adage that everyone is the hero of their own story, and I think the key to writing interesting villains is to embrace that idea. 
Take Thorn of Dentonhill for example.  (Sorry, it's a book I know really well.)  Willem Fenmere, the crime boss of the Dentonhill neighborhood, is definitively the villain.  But at the same time, one could easily write the same events as a book that's embedded in his sympathies.  Here he is, a successful underworld boss who's built an empire, and some mysterious upstart, outside of the system, starts chipping away at it.  At first it's just a nuisance, but it quickly escalates.  How and why is this happening to him?  Is it an old score being settled, or just the inevitable result of being the old man at the top of the ladder? 
I actually like writing my antagonist POVs, unless something in the story structure takes it off the table.  (A Murder of Mages, for example, wouldn't be much of a mystery if I just showed you the killer's POV, right?)  I think it goes back to my theatre and acting background.    Villains are the most fun, after all.  Heck, some of my favorite scenes in Thorn are where Fenmere is dealing with the Blue Hand Circle.
The best advice I can give for writing villain POV is to write them like you want the villain to win.  At least for that moment. Don't give them stupid mistakes for the sake of propping up the hero.  When you're in there, writing that scene.... root for them.  And that'll come through in the writing.

Just a reminder, I'm at Boskone this weekend.  Check out my schedule, and come say hi!  I don't have a signing period scheduled, but I'll gladly sign any copy of Thorn shoved into my hand at any reasonable moment. Though I do stress: reasonable moment.

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's a Brand New Day, Just Like Yesterday

Thorn of Dentonhill is now out.  It's really out there in stores, I've seen it.  It's really, truly, utterly official.  It's getting noticed with the likes of Elizabeth Bear and Neil Gaiman.  I'm hearing plenty of excitement, and not just from family and old friends.
In other words, things are quite excellent.
But things are also still the same.  No magical transformation occurred to make me "published author".  No parade, no ceremony. George R. R. Martin didn't stop by the house to teach me the secret handshake.  I still have to drive my son to school in the morning, wash the dishes, fold the laundry.
In other words, the authorial glamour doesn't kick in immediately.
But that's just fine by me.  The writing career grows: more interviews and guest blogs are coming, and hopefully more reviews as well.
And, hey, if you've already read Thorn and you enjoyed it, by all means, write something kind at Goodreads and/or Amazon.  Or on your blog.  Or even just drop me a line.
In the meantime, I'm moving onward and upward.  A Murder of Mages is out in five months, after all.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Perils of the Writer: Embracing Your Characters' Flaws

Perfect characters who get everything right are no fun. Heroes that are worth reading are ones who can screw up royally.  Now, of course, you can write them just getting unlucky, or being overpowered, but the most interesting mistakes are the ones that come the core of the character. 
Take, for example, the two protagonists of my upcoming A Murder of Mages.  Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling are both heroes with a lot of problems.  Right from the first line of the book, we know that Satrine is a liar.  She's lying and faking her way into a job she hasn't earned.  She hates that she has to do it, but it's the only choice she has to make the money she needs to support her family after her husband suffers a horrible injury.  So she lies, she forges documents, does whatever she has to-- and she knows she can do it very well, which is the part that makes her angriest of all. 
Minox has his own problems.  He's a brilliant inspector, but his colleagues don't like him and don't trust... in no small part to him being an Uncircled mage.  He has the ability to do magic, but no training-- it's all self-taught, raw, unfocused, and dangerous.  He felt that was his only choice: being in a Mage Circle would prevent him from being a constabulary officer.  For a man whose father, grandfather, grandmother-- not to mention aunts, uncles and cousins-- have all served the city in the Constabulary, not wearing the Red and Green wasn't even an option. 
Satrine and Minox are both very good at their job, but they've also got a huge blind spot to their own weaknesses.  And that's going to get them into trouble.

Monday, February 2, 2015


The Thorn of Dentonhill comes out tomorrow. It's finally here!  A lot of things are happening, of course.
Right now, I'm the Fantasy Writer of the Day at Reddit.  There's an interview with me over at The Qwillery.  More pieces and interviews are coming out soon.
Over at BookCountry, I've written a piece on city-based worldbuilding, and you can still enter a sweepstakes to win a free copy.
The first early reviews have been coming in at GoodReads, and I suspect we'll be seeing more this week.  If you've already read it and enjoyed it, by all means, head over there and write a review. 
Some things being said:
Maresca's debut is smart, fast, and engaging fantasy crime in the mold of Brent Weeks and Harry Harrison. Just perfect.
Fast paced read, couldn't put it down.

Wow!! The book is fantastic! I'm so excited to discover Marshall Maresca and I can't wait to read more from him!

So what are you waiting for?