Sunday, October 3, 2021

"I am you" vs. "I know you" stories

 Lately I've been trying to read a book written by a friend. It's in a genre I love. The plot is interesting. The stakes are high. The characters are intriguing and realistic. Yet I've been struggling to keep reading.

I've been trying to define what it is that's stopping me from fully being drawn into this book. Perhaps because the author used a trope that's not one of my particular favorites? Maybe it's my fault--I have had a lot going on this month, culminating in a minor surgery a couple days ago--and I wasn't able to focus as well as usual. 

But I think one element of the story that might make a difference is what I call "I am you" vs. "I know you". Before I define this, I want to point out that this is a stylistic choice in stories--both books and shows--and it's not necessarily a bad thing to choose one over the other. 

"I am you" stories are my personal preference. These are stories that make you feel like you are the main character. Often times the main character will be a bit more generic so that more people can slip themselves inside of them--for instance, Harry Potter or Twilight. Some genres are more likely to use this style than others: romance or thrillers, for instance. Books written for middle grade and young adult audiences are more likely to target these types of stories.

"I know you" stories make you feel like you're reading about a dear friend. They can be wonderful, fascinating people that you love, but they are very clearly distinct from you, the reader.  For instance, I love the Nate the Great chapter book series, about a young detective, but I see little Nate as a friend, not as myself.Mysteries, books for very young children, and anything with a contemporary setting are especially likely to fall into this style.

Since people are all different, which category a story will fall into will depend on the person experiencing the story. For instance, when I first watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, I immediately connected with the character Katara, and experienced the whole story as her. My mother did not connect to any particular character and didn't enjoy the series as much as others in our family. I don't enjoy watching movies and shows as much as many other people, and I think that's because my preferences are so firmly on the side of "I am you" stories. Shows can still achieve this level of relatability--and again, every experiencer reacts differently--but it's harder for me to connect to a visual medium because they cannot show internal thought or a character's experiences in the same way. 

Here's a warning for writers. I, personally, despised the movie "10 Things I Hate About You". When the movie began, I related to Kat. She was a big sister who was unpopular at school and seemed to have higher moral values than her classmates, all things that we had in common. Immediately, this story became an "I am you" story. Then we got to the party scene where Kat gets drunk. I've never been drunk, never wanted to, and so I could no longer relate to her. I felt betrayed. I was not her after all, and from that point on, my trust was broken and I no longer cared very deeply what happened to the characters. That was over a decade ago. I hope that, since that time, I've become more tolerant toward people who make different lifestyle choices than I do... but I never watched that movie again. So be very careful about breaking your readers' trust, or you will never get them back.

So, I think the difficulty with my friend's story is that, for me, it's an "I know you" story. I'm interested in these characters in my head, but I haven't connected to one of them so deeply that I feel that this character is me. Which type of story do you prefer? What's an example of a story that you really connected with, and which type was it? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The CVP Method: Story Structure

I started using an outline for my writing in 9th grade. I couldn't believe how much easier and faster it made writing down my story, especially the first draft. I've been an avid plotter ever since. I find that knowing the big picture helps me to concentrate my creative energy on the little picture. When I know where the story is going, I can concentrate my creativity on details, character growth, and theme.

I've already written about story structure systems and how to use them to teach kids the parts of a story. I mentioned that I picked and chose different elements of different systems to make my own. Today I'd like to go into depth about my system and how it works. 

 Since all stories are different, and are often different lengths, story structure is plotted out by the percentage of the completed story instead of word count or page number.The main feature of the CVP method (yes, those are my author initials) divides each story into eight roughly equal pieces, which I call clades (more on that later).

Story Metrics:

If I get too metholidcal for you, I apologize. Don't use it if it will stress you out. If quatifying a story this way kills your creativity, feel free to ignore my advice or skip this section. Or, better yet, pick up some bits and pieces that do help you, and set aside the rest.

Using a story structure system breaks down a story into more manigable pieces. It's not unlike how we use other measuring systems, breaking things into smaller pieces until you reach a level that is useful for your current project.

So, if you're familiar with the metric system, if our story was a kilometer: the Acts break it down into hectameters, the clades into dekameters, the chapters into meters, and scenes into decimeters. If you want to get really nerdy, you can have paragraphs into centimeters, sentences into milimeters, and words into micrometers. 

The analogy breaks down a little in that I don't usually have a set number of scenes or chapters, just a  range (for instance, most DreamRover chapters have 4-6 scenes, and most of my books have an average of three chapters per clade). Clades and Acts do have a set number, eight and three per story, respectively.

Defining Clades:

The three acts can be called the beginning, middle, and end--which is why Act 2, the middle, is twice as long as the others. I split up each act into smaller pieces. Looking at those pieces balances them out and makes the middle feel less daunting. 

The eight pieces (Act 1.A, 1.B, 2.A, and so on) are bigger than a scene but smaller than an Act. I'm going to call them clades. A clade in biology is a group of organisms that all evolved from a single common ancestor, like the scenes in these pieces all evolved from the preceding beat (more on those in a minute) and retain common characteristics. Plus, clade sounds cooler than 'piece' or 'section'. 

Side note: in Shakespearean times, "Scene" would be the correct word for these pieces. Nowadays a scene means a section of continuous action, usually smaller than a chapter, that is in some way thematically held together.

Beats:

I'm guessing that you've all seen a diagram that looks something like this:



It works for a whole story, but guess what? This framework fits on almost every level or a story too. Each clade, chapter and scene rises up to a climax. This concept is especially important if you're using a publishing platform that pays you per chapter (kindle vella, wattpad, etc).

Pro tip: end most of your chapters just after the climax, but move most of your falling action to the next chapter. It'll entice readers to keep turning pages.

I am defining a beat as the climax of a clade. It's not on the story metric because there is only one in each clade, and the entire clade builds up to it. Beats are the major turning points of the story.  Each one has a name and a specific job.

Stories start on a beat. You want an exciting opening that shows your characters and their world, that convinces readers to keep reading. So the first beat has no clade attached. This is why there are nine beats, but only eight clades.

Here are the nine beats. I'll use examples from my books to illustrate each one. I think I've kept things vague enough that nothing will be spoiled, while hopefully leaving enough information to illustrate the point. If you'd rather have stories that you've definitely read or watched before, KM Weiland has a whole database of stories with all of the beats I name here (except the Trigger). I'm describing each beat and clade as a fantasy author, but these will apply for other types of stories (check the database for examples from other genres). For instance, in a romance, the antagonist might be the forces (internal or external) seperating the love interests instead of a villain. 

The Nine Beats:

1: The Characteristic moment (the beginning). You want to open with a scene that shows who your character is and how they see the world. In DreamRovers 1, Indra tries to help a sick man in the dreamscape, while Walker tries to help a refugee family. In Mira's Griffin, Mira climbs a cliff and meets a griffin.

2: The Key Event (between Act 1.A and Act 1.B). Something big happens that will make a big difference in your character's life. It's usually something external rather than something that your character chooses for him or herself. In Mira's Griffin, Mira is taken captive by griffins. In Keita's Wings 5, Keita reaches enemy territory and says goodbye to her betrothed.

3. The First Plot Point (between Act 1.B and Act 2.A). The main character(s) actively choose to step into the plot. In The Hero's Journey and The Seven Basic Plot systems, this is called "Accepting the Call". In Mira's Griffin, Mira decides to save a griffin's life instead of escape, which grants her the ability to communicate with them. In The Seventh Clan, Perrin promises to travel with Allee, so that she won't be trapped as a bear, if she will save his father from certain death.

4. The First Pinch Point (between Act 2.A and 2.B). The antagonist rears up his head. The main characters get a major clue about the antagonist and what he or she wants, and face a trial that puts them in danger and reminds them what's at stake. In DreamRovers 1, the antagonist Fenton learns that his neighbors are dreamrovers, people he detests. In Keita's Wings 2, Keita meets a pair of bounty hunters who reveals that someone is offering a huge reward for their capture or death. Notice that in this one, the antagonist is still "off-screen" because his identity is unknown, but the main characters get a hint about his exsistance and motivations.

5. The Midpoint (between Act 2.B and 2.C). Just about every plot structure system includes the midpoint, though the description of its job can vary a bit. The midpoint is a key turning point in the novel where the main character learns the Truth they Need to learn about the world (in KM Weiland's terms). In DreamRovers 1, Indra learns that depending entirely on her beloved dream world can destroy her, and chooses to return to reality. In DreamRovers 2, Walker realizes that clinging to guilt can hurt those around him, and starts to consider forgiving himself for his past.

6. The Second Pinch Point (between Act 2.C and Act 2.D). Again, the antagonist rears his or her head to remind the characters of all they could loose. Keita's Wings 1 has two (I wrote it before studying story structure). In the first, she meets the antagonist in disguise, who tempts her to turn against her companions. In the second, she spies on the antagonist of the series and the antagonist of the book, and has to flee for her life when they find out.

7. The Low Point or Second Plot Point (between Act 2.D and Act 3.A). The main characters thought they had everything figured out, but at this point, everything that could go wrong, does. The antagonists seem to win. The characters feel like they've lost. Often, someone dies.  In Mira's Griffin, griffins and humans go to war even though Mira has been working hard to reconcile them. Some people are killed in the battle, and she and her closest companions are captured and mistreated. In Keita's Wings 5, a beloved character is killed, and Keita chooses to wipe out an enemy even though she hates killing.

8. The Trigger (between Act 3.A and 3.B): Something huge happens which kicks off the climax. In DreamRovers 1, the refugees can no longer run away and prepare to stand and face the mob that has been hunting them. In Keita's Wings 1, Keita and her friends set out to rescue their rebel friends who were captured, even though their worst enemies stand in their way.

9. The Resolution (end of Act 3.B): The main characters show that they have grown and changed, and we leave them demonstrating that they are in a better place than in the beginning. If this isn't a series finale, there might still be some loose ends, but the characters still show growth and hope for the future. In Mira's Griffin, the scene closes on her climbing with her close friend/ love interest. She's found her place in her new role as a translator, accepts her interdependance on her companions, and is happy in a place that reconciles her relationships with both people and griffins. In Keita's Wings 6, the scene closes on Keita fully accepting her new home, which she has been trying to find throughout the series.

The Eight Clades:

Important things happen in the spaces between each beat. They may have plenty of action, either physical or emotional. This is especially true if you have multiple chapters inside each clade, because each chapter will still have a climax. The main difference between a chapter climax and a beat is that the beat causes major changes in both your plot and your characters. A chapter climax may be exciting, but it won't have the same power to create change that a beat does. Like Beats, each Clade has its own specific function.

Act 1.A: The Hook

Starts with the Characteristic Moment, ends with the Key Event (in other words, starts by introducing your character and ends with a disruption). 

The first clade is all about hooking your reader. Genre plays a huge part here. As Brandon Sanderson explains, you're making promises to your reader about what kind of story they're getting into. Make sure that this first clade represents the kind of story you are writing. The priority here is character and plot first. World-building takes a distant third--you want small quirky tidbits and small details that embody what the setting is. Keep big explinations/info-dumps as small as you can without confusing anyone. There will be a space for world-building, I promise. In Keita's Wings 1, Keita and her new friend escape captivity and struggle to cross a desert without being recaptured. Keita talks a little about the magic system, but mostly shows her abilities as she needs them.


Act 1.B: The Normal World

Starts with the falling action of the Key Event, ends with the First Plot Point (in other words, starts with a reaction to the disruption, and ends with the main character choosing to step into the plot).

This clade is your setup. We see the main character in a world that they are more or less comfortable in. This is where you can slow down and introduce more elements of your world-building. Still not a huge info-dump, but now you've hooked your reader and you can start to give them more depth. In DreamRovers 1, the three point of view characters meet each other and set up a home together.


Act 2.A: The New World

Starts with the falling action of the First Plot Point, ends with the First Pinch Point (in other words, starts with a reaction to their choices, and ends with the influence of the antagonist).

Here's the second part of setting up your world-building, only this time, you're showing us a world that is unfamiliar to your character. It might not be a literal different world. It might not even be a new geographic location, but it's a setting in which your character is not comfortable.  In Mira's Griffin, Mira finds herself living among griffin and starts to learn how their society works.


Act 2.B: Reactions

Starts with the falling action of the First Pinch Point, ends with the Midpoint (in other words, starts with a reaction to the antagonist, and ends with a major turning point).

In this section, your characters are going after their wants--which are often in conflict with what they really need. According to KM Weiland, your characters have a Lie they believe about the world. It helped them survive in their Normal World, but now they're getting negative consequences. In Keita's Wings 4, Keita needs to trust her betrothed, but she discovered that the antagonist had been tricking her, and her betrothed had known about it. She still wants to defeat the antagonist, but her attempts to do so without trusting her companions almost result in a deadly shipwreck. 


Act 2.C: Act With Purpose

Starts with the falling action of the Midpoint, ends with the Second Pinch Point (in other words, starts with a reaction to a major character change, and ends with a showing from the antagonist).

Armed with new understanding from the midpoint, the main character begins to act instead of be acted upon. In KM Weiland's terms, they still haven't lost their Lie, even though they learned a Truth in the midpoint. This adds to the conflict as they are torn between who they were and who they need to become. In DreamRovers 1, Norma is torn between her new farm (offered to her by her older sister, who plans to turn against her dreamrover family), and the rest of her family. 


Act 2.D: Try and Fail

Starts with the falling action of the Second Pinch Point, ends with the Second Plot Point (in other words, starts with a reaction to the influence of the antagonist, a major character change, and ends with a low point).

Your main character actively strikes back against the antagonists. They might even score a victory... only for everything to come crashing down around them. In Mira's Griffin, Mira convinces a griffin to release some of his human slaves and become an ally in their cause to unite their species... but then a battle breaks out. 


Act 3.A: Build-up

Starts with the falling action of the Second Plot Point, ends with the Trigger (in other words, starts with a reaction to the low point, and ends with a catapult into the climax).

Save the Cat (specifically Save the Cat Writes a Novel) calls this "The Dark Night of the Soul". The main character reacts to the low point. After a little bit of wallowing, he or she "digs deep" and finds the inner strength to rise again. This is also where subplots get wrapped up. In at least half of the Keita's Wings books (hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it), Keita finds herself captured and seperated from at least some of her friends, with execution eminent. She must find a clever solution, along with the strength to pull it off, to get free. In book 4, she meets a young boy first and convinces him not to join the battle, wrapping up his subplot.


Act 3.B: Climax

Starts with the falling action of the Second Plot Point, ends with the Trigger (in other words, starts with a reaction to the low point, and ends with a catapult into the climax).

At last, the protagonist faces off directly with the antagonist, and his own inner Lie. Although I don't always use it, Save the Cat Writes a Novel breaks the climax down into five steps, which can be useful if you get stuck or your climax isn't climactical enough. These are 1) Gathering the Team and/or Tools, 2) Enacting the Plan, 3) The Hightower Surprise (the antagonist had a twist up their figurative sleeve), 4) Dig Down Deep, and 5) Execute the New Plan (usually successfully). In DreamRovers 1, the main characters face down the mob trying to exterminate them. They (1) gather their family together and (2) use their cart as a shield while they shoot down their attackers, until (3) enforcements arrive from the other direction. (4) Each main character finds a way to use their strengths. (5) Combined, they escape... but, since this is the first book in the series, they still face exile in the wilderness with limited supplies (okay, that's a minor spoiler, but did you really think I was going to kill off the family in book 1 of a trilogy?)

So, that's the CVP method for story structures. It's mostly adapted from KM Weiland's system, which was expanded mainly from Dan Well's Seven-Point System, which he expanded from a Star Trek roleplaying guide. Don't you love how the internet allows people to build and grow and learn from each other? I'd love it if any of you want to run with these ideas and come up with your own system. If you do, please let me know!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sneak Peek: The Seventh Clan

 I'm working on The Spectra Crown Tales. Here's the beginning of the first book, The Seventh Clan:


Perrin picked up a loose bayonet from the wreckage of a burnt-out farmhouse. The Vangtons had destroyed yet another family. He wiped the ash from the metal with shaking hands. One day, his people would drive the intruders across the sea. He only hoped he’d contribute to the cause. 

“Perrin!” 

The barking command made him jump. His messenger’s bag flew around him in an ungainly arc. General Niles himself stood behind him, stern and stiff, and only someone who knew him well would see the pity under the lines of his face. He held out a tightly folded message. “Deliver these orders for Captain Prentis, on guard duty at the beach.” 

Perrin set down the bayonet and forced his hands to stop shaking as he accepted the paper. “Yes, sir.” 

He couldn’t contribute until he became a soldier instead of a glorified errand boy. The inability to act left a taste in his mouth worse than the smoke-filled air. 

“Stay safe!” General Niles called after him. 

Perrin rolled his eyes and pretended he hadn’t heard. The general never gave ordinary soldiers a command like that.  

Writing is for Weirdos--Connections

 I always thought I was weird for writing. No one else I knew went from class to class clutching a notebook to their chest, scribbling away every spare minute. 


But one year in middle school, my best friends and I wrote Pokemon fan fiction together. We shared our stories with one another, invented love triangles, and occasionally even wrote a line or two in each others' stories.


This picture appears in my 8th grade yearbook. It's supposed to make me look studious. Nope, I'm writing pokemon fanfic.

Writing can seem a lonely thing, but it makes the times when I really connect with people all the more worthwhile. These days, I have a great writing group, where two friends and I submit a chapter every week, check upon weekly goals, and have our characters converse with one another. I have online writing friends in various social media groups (and I would love for you to be one of them! Look for TheSpectraBooks on most social media). I've enjoyed reading some good reviews of my books (Please add to them!). And, just this month, I attended and even taught at my favorite writing conference, ANWA, on using personality systems such as Meyrs-Brigg and enneagram for developing characters.

Writing may happen in solitude, but it's a form of communication. I love knowing that we're not weird--or at least, that there are plenty of other weirdos out there!

Stay weird, friends!
Christie Valentine Powell

Book Recommendations, October 2021

 Here's a few books that I've read, enjoyed, and reviewed this month:


Rereads:
I took some time this month to reread a couple of favorites:

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce feels like the quintessential fantasy. From nature magic to mythical creatures, characters that feel real, and action that grabs me from every page, this one is well worth a read!

High Sierra by Adrienne Quintana has a cute contemporary romance, an inspirational message, and exciting survival action. 

And I also tried a few new books:
Trial by Sorcery by Richard Fierce is a dragon rider (academy) type book. It appeals to readers of Eragon and Pern, and has a lot in common with other dragon rider academy books like two I've referenced on here before: Dragon School and The Brindle Dragon. If you enjoy the genre, you'll enjoy this one.

Limitless by Jaclyn Weist is a fairytale retelling that combines Aladdin with Beauty and the Beast.

The Perfect Spy by Amy Martinsen is a romantic suspense with a great premise: middle-aged moms have excellent spy skills! 

If you'd like my recommendations spread over the month, you can follow my reviews on twitter under the hastag #CVPReviews.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Old Blog Posts

 Hello, everyone! I'm starting a blog that is specifically related to reading and writing. 

I have a lot of material spread over many different websites, and this blog will help to keep and organize the information in one place.


I've transfered several articles from other sites onto this blog. They come from three major places:

Atypically Ordinary: This is a personal blog that I've kept on and off for many years. I've moved the articles that have to do with writing, poetry, and stories in general onto this blog. They're all on here under the tag "from atypicallyordinary blog".

The Spectra Books bonus material: This is a collection of short stories, background information, and sneak peeks.They were originally published on the spectra books website, but will now appear here instead, with the tag "from spectrabook's bonus material".

The Spectra Books monthly newsletter: These include book recommendations, personal stories and explinations, and more. If you'd like to receive these, including announcments and deals not found on this blog, you can find a sign up on my website, www.TheSpectraBooks.com

Moving forward, this blog will continue to include writing articles, short stories, and everything else represented by the original sources, as well as some original content.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Book Recommendations, September 2021

 I was sick this month, which meant... lots of reading time!

Here's a few books that I've read, enjoyed, and reviewed this month:

Retold of Old series by G. Lawrence: Basically a feminist take on fairy tales, sprinkled with wisdom. Though there is exciting action, these are books to be savored instead of binged.

Gingerbread Hag Mystery by KA Miltimore: I enjoyed the quirky characters in this cozy mystery with a bit of paranormal and a girl-girl romance. It has a good message for everyone no matter your idealogy. The main character was an older woman with lots of sense.

The Marquess Meets His Match by Julie Coulter Bellon:
I loved the mix of regency romance and mystery. It has the feel-good romance, as well as an exciting mystery.

A Timeless Romance Anthology: California Dreamin': 
I have to admit, as a California girl from a small desert town, I was hoping for a little more representation. My state is not all beaches and big cities. But that doesn't take away from the stories. I was looking for a light, feel-good story, and this collection delivered

Manor for Sale, Baron Included by Esther Hatch:
This book had me laughing so much that my husband thought I was having a coughing fit. I tried to read them out loud and couldn't get the words out through my laughter (they involved an inept flirter gifting a girl a dead squirrel). Jonathan certainly needed to grow up in the beginning, but that added to the hilarity and made his arc that much better

Fathom by LL Standage: An excellent urban fantasy with mermaids. Exciting action, relatable characters, fantastic worldbuilding. The information comes out little by little, waiting just long enough for me to want it before revealing. What's not to love?

If you'd like my recommendations spread over the month, you can follow my reviews on twitter under the hastag #CVPReviews.

"I am you" vs. "I know you" stories

 Lately I've been trying to read a book written by a friend. It's in a genre I love. The plot is interesting. The stakes are high. T...