publishing business

Romance and Fantasy

My panel last weekend at the Nebula conference was about romance and science fiction/fantasy. As usual, I thought of all the good things to say in the middle of the night days after the panel, so I’ll discuss the topic here.

I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about being put on the romance and sf panel every year, at just about every convention. I don’t mind so much at the Nebulas, since I probably do have more expertise in that area than most people at that conference, having actually written romance novels, and that conference is aimed at writers. But I also feel like I’m getting “typecast” by the industry in general, both at conventions and by publishers, and the fact that I keep ending up on the romance or paranormal romance panels may perpetuate that typecasting.

The thing is, I last wrote romance more than 20 years ago. I haven’t been involved with Romance Writers of America for about a decade. The books I write now could not be shelved as romance and wouldn’t even be considered by a romance publisher. The Enchanted, Inc. books got shelved as general fiction because they were published as “chick lit,” which is not romance, and that publisher keeps doing Book Bub ads (which is good) for them as paranormal romance, which they aren’t (which is not so good). When you look at that book, the heroine has bad dates with multiple guys, and just has a bit of attraction to the guy who ends up being the romantic interest for the series. There’s not even a kiss until book two. I said on the panel that I write “shipper bait” because the romantic content is more about readers wanting my characters to get together than it is about actual romance on the page. People consider my books romantic, but I think that’s mostly because they make readers feel romantic. It’s not because there’s that much romance in the books.

When it comes to readers, I don’t care how they consider the books, as long as they’re reading them. The problem I have is when it comes to publishers, because they persist in seeing me as a romance writer. As I mentioned, the publisher for Enchanted, Inc. promotes it as paranormal romance. If someone is really looking for paranormal romance, they’d be disappointed in this book, in which the only real romantic content is a general sense that you like this guy the heroine has no romantic relationship with and you want them to get together. Some readers are cool with that. I’m sure others are disappointed, and then there are all the readers who might like it because they aren’t looking for romance, but they aren’t being promoted to so they don’t find it or know about it. Then the fact that it’s promoted as paranormal romance means that the people who buy it also buy paranormal romances, and that triggers the bookselling algorithms, so it’s recommended to people who also bought paranormal romances, who are less likely to actually like it, and it’s not being promoted to people who might like it.

Then there’s the way publishers see other things I write. A Fairy Tale was rejected by multiple fantasy publishers, most of them with the comment that it was “too romancey.” This is a book without a single romantic relationship in it. There’s a little sexual tension between a couple of secondary characters, but the most that happens between the two main characters is that they both have moments in which they each admit to themselves that they find the other somewhat intriguing. There’s not even a kiss in the book. I’m not sure what’s “too romancey” about that. I suspect they read the first few chapters, saw that a man and a woman met, and assumed it was a romance because I have written romance and because they see Enchanted, Inc. as romantic. In at least once case, I’m pretty sure it’s because the editor “shipped” Owen and Katie, so she saw Enchanted, Inc. as romantic and classed me as a romance writer. Maybe there were other issues with that book that made them decide against it, but the reason they gave was that it was “too romancey” to be published as fantasy. The same thing happened with Rebel Mechanics. It was initially submitted to fantasy publishers, and at least one suggested I submit it to a romance publisher instead. Never mind that, again, the only real romantic content relating to the love interest is an awareness of attraction and the other relationship is strictly related to the non-romantic plot. A book that doesn’t even have a kiss between the hero and heroine wouldn’t sell to any romance publisher. I was eventually able to sell it to a young adult publisher.

And that’s an issue for a lot of authors. Women authors are more likely to get shoved into YA with their sf/fantasy books, even if they aren’t really YA stories. If the main character is young and female, it’s more likely to end up published as YA. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, since YA sells very well and there are a lot of adult readers who choose to read YA, but there’s also the problem that because so many books that really could or should be adult fantasy/sf are being published as YA, there’s less real YA being published. Librarians and teachers are complaining about not being able to find books for the 6th-8th grade readers.

It’s not entirely sexism, as I’ve certainly read books with far more romance than I write that are written by female authors and published as adult sf/f. In some cases, it seems like a female author who establishes herself in fantasy with a male main character and with little to no romantic content can then go on to write something that’s a lot more romantic. But then I know of at least one book by a female first-time author that was published by a fantasy publisher in spite of it being something that could just as easily have been published as paranormal romance. I don’t know what the difference is, why the same editor who said Rebel Mechanics was too romancey and should be submitted to a romance publisher would have had no problems publishing a book that had kissing and sexy sparring between the hero and heroine in chapter two.

I’ve been reading an Old School epic fantasy saga, and the way romance is handled in it does make you wonder. In book one, the young male hero is joined on part of his journey by a girl. There’s maybe 50 pages of them traveling together in a 700-page book. After they reach their destination in the last third of the book, they split off into separate journeys, and he spends the rest of the book and the next two books pining over her and longing for her, thinking of the time they spent together, as though they’d established a deep, meaningful romance. I had to flip back through to look at the part they spent together because I’d missed it entirely. He didn’t show signs of admiring her in any way. There was very little awareness of her. He did do a little posturing, but it came across to me more as him competing with her in trying to impress others with them than trying to impress her. They are actually around each other in the last book, which is described as being “a romantic journey,” but I can’t tell why these characters like each other, aside from him being the main character and her being the only girl his age in the series. If those 50 pages of being around each other without really thinking about each other are supposed to establish an epic romance, then I can see where editors used to that sort of thing might be like, “Whew, better send this to a romance publisher,” when there are characters who actually show signs of attraction.

The nice thing about publishing for myself is that I can classify my books however I want, but I still have to try to find readers who might have trouble discovering my earlier works. I’ve started turning down romance-related panels at most conventions (not that there are a lot of in-person conventions right now). I’ll keep doing the romance panel at the Nebulas because we get into this sort of issue. I’m not opposed to romance. It’s just that I don’t really write it, and being classified that way has hurt my career.

A Brief Real World Intrusion

I’ve been struggling with what I should say about recent events in this country. I know that a lot of my readers turn to my books to escape from the real world, so the last thing they want to hear from me is stuff about the real world. I also don’t want to make these issues about me or come across like all those “we’re here for you in these uncertain times” e-mails I’ve been getting from every company I’ve ever given an e-mail address to. I use my online presence to promote my books, and I don’t want to use other people’s pain to promote my books.

At the same time, silence is cowardly. Some issues are big enough that you have to speak out. So, on this occasion, I’m going to let the real world intrude.

I like to think of myself as someone who isn’t racist. I’ve always had a fairly diverse group of friends, which is one of the benefits of growing up on military bases. I liked to think that everyone was pretty much alike inside and we were all equal.

But the fact is that the world treats us differently, and we have to acknowledge that in order to change it. My big wake-up call came when I tried to watch the movie Hidden Figures on HBO. I couldn’t deal with the opening scene, in which the women were confronted by a racist cop. I got so infuriated on their behalf that I was actually shouting at the TV. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to hurt him. I had to turn off the movie because my blood pressure was spiking.

And then it struck me: I didn’t have the strength to watch a movie about that treatment. Just imagine what it must be like to have to live it — all those daily indignities of dealing with people who regard you as lesser. It has to take so much strength to not be exploding with rage all the time.

It would be nice to say that things have changed since then, but clearly they haven’t, and what we’ve seen has to be the tip of the iceberg, given that this is how some police officers are acting when they know they’re being filmed, when there should be heightened awareness because of so many other recent incidents. That suggests they don’t fear the consequences, and that means there’s some rot at the core for them to feel safe acting that way in public view. I have friends who are cops or former cops, and I know that there are a lot of good ones, but the fact that there are those who fearlessly act this way in public suggests that there’s not a lot of peer pressure to the contrary. Things have to change, at the very least to the point where police are afraid to be brutal to the people they’re supposed to protect because they know there will be consequences. I don’t care what crime has been committed, the police are not judge, jury, and executioners.

It’s alarming how similar today’s world is to the Gilded Age era I researched for Rebel Mechanics. We still have so much systemic inequality. I wish I could make everything better. In the meantime, I’m trying to listen and learn so that in my own interactions I can do better. And I vote. I would encourage my readers to do likewise.

My Books

Enchanted, Inc. Anniversary

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the first publication of Enchanted, Inc. I can’t believe it’s been so long. Amazingly, that book is still in print and still selling. It’s never been a bestseller (outside of some really narrow Amazon categories), but it’s sold steadily for a decade and a half, which is pretty good.

Thanks to all the fans who’ve gradually spread the word over all these years so that people keep discovering it.Enchanted, Inc.

Splitting the Team

I’ve been reading some Old School epic fantasy, and this weekend I read the novelization of The Rise of Skywalker and rewatched the movie, and it’s reminded me of one of my “epic” pet peeves: splitting the team.

I usually get into a story because I like the characters and the dynamic among them. The story usually starts with the team coming together, often beginning with an existing group, and then adding members along the way. And then just as I’m enjoying that, it generally seems that the author feels the need to split them up, with different groups going off in different directions on different missions. I suppose that’s necessary to make things truly epic. We can’t see enough of the world and what’s going on if we only see the small slice experienced by one group of people. That means we need multiple groups, and it’s easier to establish the characters and make readers care, so they have to start out together before splitting up. Usually in an epic fantasy series, they make it through the whole first book together and split up about a third into the second book, which is where I tend to lose interest in series. I may keep going to find out what happens, but I don’t enjoy it as much.

It’s frustrating to read and watch when that group and those friendships are what you love and then the writers take it away from you. I think that was in part why I was a bit disappointed in The Empire Strikes Back when I first saw it. I loved the trio of Han, Luke, and Leia. They bounced off each other so well. There was Han’s world-weariness, Luke’s idealism, and Leia’s focused determination. Luke on his own could be a little too earnest, but when he was bouncing off Han, he had to rise to the occasion and match the snark. Leia didn’t suffer fools and goaded both of them into taking action. The best parts of the movie were when they were all working together once they teamed up. They did split up a bit as they were running around the Death Star, but that was only for minutes. When The Empire Strikes Back started, it was a joy to see our friends again, all together as a team. And then they were split up for the entire rest of the movie, Luke off on his own (where he became a bit less interesting) and Han and Leia on their own. They had this wonderful team, but we didn’t really get to see them working together. The opening of Return of the Jedi was so much fun because it brought the team back together, and it looked like the rest of the movie would be that way, but then Luke went off on his own again. I get that he had to deal with that situation one-on-one, but I still feel like a lot of the energy left the movie once the team split up.

The newer movies did a weird thing where they teased the possibility of a team, with us just seeing a couple of different combinations of characters, then split the team entirely, then didn’t bring them all together until the third movie, where the dynamic was so much fun that I felt robbed of what might have been. And then they split them up again.

I guess one benefit of mostly writing in first person is that you can’t split the team. If you want the characters to be in the story, they have to be around the narrator. I haven’t really written that kind of “found family” team yet, even though I love that trope so much. It’s on my list of things I want to do. And then maybe I’ll be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to split my team up.


The Wolves Are Eating Me!

I had a nice, relaxing holiday weekend. It rained a lot of the time, which I didn’t really mind. I had just enough patio reading time, plus plenty of time to sit inside and listen to the rain.

One thing I’ve been doing during the lockdown is studying Norwegian. Part of my family came from Norway, and I’ve always been a bit fascinated by the place because it hits a lot of the things I like, with mountains, forests, and lots of water. A couple of years ago, I’d thought about taking a trip there, but that was when all the medical stuff hit and I didn’t want to make advance plans at that time. Now as I’ve been building a fantasy realm to write in, I’ve found myself modeling it on Norway. It has all the elements I need, along with some cultural things that I can work with. I’d been thinking of taking a research trip later this year, and then the pandemic happened, so travel isn’t likely for a while. But I figured that gives me some time to prepare for when I can go, so I got on Duolingo and started learning Norwegian.

I don’t know if it’s the words and sentences Duolingo chooses to teach or if there’s something I should know about Norway, but it’s starting to look like Norway might be the Australia of the north. One of the first words they taught was “spider.” Then we learned about wolves and bears. We learned how to say “The wolf is eating me” and “The bear is eating him.” We learned all that before we learned how to order in a cafe (which was one of the first things I learned in German).

What are the tourist brochures not telling us about life in Norway if you need to learn to say “The wolf is eating me” before you learn to say “A cup of tea, please”?

Annoyingly enough, I can remember how to say “The wolf is eating me” better than I can remember how to ask for a cup of tea. In fact, “Ulven spiser meg” is about the only sentence I can say in Norwegian off the top of my head. I’m not entirely sure how effective the Duolingo learning model is. I get most of the quizzes right, but I don’t know how much I actually am learning and remembering. From what I understand, “Norwegian” is a fairly recently constructed language, mostly based on Danish with a few touches of old Norse, and isn’t actually all that widely spoken. Most areas have their own dialects, and what we think of as “Norwegian” is mostly used as a written language and for things like national television broadcasts. It may be useful for reading signs and newspapers and getting around the country, but in a lot of places, people might be more familiar with English than with Norwegian when it comes to conversation. They start learning both languages in school around the same time, and they may watch more American television and movies than they do Norwegian television and movies.

Still, it’s good to know at least a few words. I like to know how to read things like signs and restaurant menus, and with my name it will probably be good to be able to understand what someone’s saying to me when they assume I speak Norwegian (I had that issue when I was doing PR for Ericsson). My library also offers a language learning system that’s more based on conversation, and I may try that one after I’ve picked up more vocabulary and sentence structure from Duolingo.

One thing I’ve learned is that the letter “d” is mostly silent in Norwegian. My whole life, I’ve been having to tell people that the “d” in my last name is silent, since it’s really hard to pronounce it if you try to sound it out. It turns out, that’s actually the proper Norwegian pronunciation. The family in Norway spells it with a “v” instead of a “w,” though. That got changed somewhere in the journey to America.

I may have to rely on YouTube travel videos instead of a research trip for now, but someday I hope to make use of my language lessons. The ordering in a cafe and getting around the country part, not the being eaten by wolves part.


Fantastic Journeys

While I’ve been reading some old-school fantasy, I’ve found myself thinking about what I liked about this genre in the first place. What made this the thing I wanted to read—and write?

The magic is a big part of it, and it was something I enjoyed in stories even before I was reading real fantasy. I liked fairy tales and any stories that had magic, even in a real-world setting, like Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Bewitched on TV. I like that sense of possibility, that there may be more to the world than we realize. Whether it’s miracles or magic, I like imagining that not everything has to fit the laws of science or make sense. There’s room for the ineffable.

But I realized while thinking about this this week that I also enjoy the sense of the journey. Most of my favorite fantasy stories, whether books or movies, have some kind of travel. I’m sure a lot of this comes down to the Hero’s Journey format, which is a literal quest, but that’s universal for a reason. It speaks to us on some psychological level. A journey also provides a way to let us explore an imaginary world as we travel with the characters. I love a fantasy novel with maps that let me follow along with the characters.

Looking at some of my favorites and the books that got me into fantasy … The Hobbit is literally subtitled “There and Back Again.” The Lord of the Rings is one big, epic journey (and my favorite part is the first book, which is a more straightforward travelogue before things become more about battles). All the Narnia books are to some extent about travel, since they involve going to another world, but the one that got me hooked, The Silver Chair, is a quest involving a journey within that other world. My second favorite is Voyage of the Dawn Treader, another journey. Going to more recent books, Stardust is a quest/journey story, as our hero goes to another land and then has adventures as he travels throughout that land. You could even look at Star Wars as a journey story, since it’s about Luke leaving his home and traveling to other places (Star Wars has spaceships and robots, but it’s structurally a fantasy story).

There are some exceptions. I love Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books, but that’s because of the characters. They’re not really quest/journey stories. The Discworld books are more about the world, though I suppose some of the individual books involve journeys that are about exploring that world.

Oddly enough, even though journeys are something I love in fiction, I haven’t used that element much in my own writing. Spindled is about the only book I’ve published that really fits that pattern. The Fairy Tale books have some element of that, but that wasn’t what I was thinking when I wrote them. No Quest for the Wicked, book 6 in the Enchanted, Inc. series, was meant as a kind of spoof of the quest story (I actually re-read The Hobbit and watched The Lord of the Rings to prepare for writing it and outlined some of the tropes I wanted to play with), though it was all set within the same city. I have written one other journey book that’s a more traditional fantasy. It didn’t sell (though it did win a writing contest), and I have plans to rewrite the story since I don’t think my writing skills were up to the concept at the time I wrote it.

I guess that means I need to write a journey book. I’m developing a fantasy series now, and I think I need to make book one a quest or journey.

I think next week I’ll be posting Tuesday and Thursday because Monday is a holiday and I’ve got an online conference on Friday.


Generic Fantasy Novel

I’ve been reading a lot over the past couple of months. During the time when the library was closed, I took the opportunity to read some of those things I’ve had lying around. There was one Big Fat Fantasy Series (which shall remain nameless) taking up a lot of space on my bookcase, and it existed in the limbo between To Be Read and Read. I remembered plowing through the first book and rushing out to get the rest, but for some strange reason that I don’t recall, I stopped halfway through the third book. I don’t think I decided I didn’t like it. I believe there may have been life events getting in the way. That was around the time I sold a book and had to do revisions, so I suspect that was why I put the book aside, though it might also have something to do with my tendency to burn out on a series if I try to read it straight through. By the time I was ready to get back to it, I’d forgotten what was going on, so I’d have had to re-read the whole thing, and that meant it got put aside for more than 20 years.

I decided that now was as good a time as any to pull those books out and finally read the whole series. Then I could decide if they were Keeper Shelf material or if I could donate them when I was done and clear a significant amount of shelf space.

It’s interesting how much my reading tastes and expectations have changed since then because I don’t think I’d have bought the rest of the series if I were reading the first one for the first time now. I think a lot of it is my age. I have a lot less patience with the very young main character now than I did when I was in my 20s. Reading expectations have also changed a lot since then. The first book in this series was published in the 80s, and I don’t think you could get away with such a slow start now. It was about page 180 before the action really started. You’d have to get that event in by around chapter three now. But reading this made me realize that the fantasy of the 70s and 80s certainly had a template. I present to you the Generic 1970s-1980s Fantasy Novel:

Our hero is a teenage boy or very young man (early 20s at most). He has a menial job in a castle or palace, working in the kitchen or stables or as a servant, and he’s not very good at his job. He tends to get sidetracked easily so that his work goes unfinished or done badly — could it be that he’s meant for something more than this? If it’s a multi-viewpoint book, we may get a look at our hero from some other character, who despairs of his prospects if he doesn’t get his act together and may remember his mysterious origins or the night of his birth. We get a tour of the castle through his eyes as he goes exploring when he gets sidetracked from his work, and during this tour we “meet” the major players in our story, including the ruler, priests, nobles, etc. There’s some kind of plot brewing, which our hero overhears but doesn’t entirely understand. Our hero likes to hang out in the chambers of the wizard/scholar/wise man/sorcerer/alchemist because he’s intrigued by the cool stuff there. The wizard takes him under his wing and teaches him some things, like reading and writing, and may make him his apprentice (if he isn’t already his servant). During our hero’s wanderings, he either stumbles upon something or learns something that he reports to the wizard, who becomes alarmed, puts it together with some other info, and decides to take action. He takes the hero with him on some quest or sends the hero away on the quest.

That doesn’t apply to every fantasy novel published during that era, but I can think of at least four series off the top of my head that follow that pattern. They generally diverge after that point in the story, varying by what the hero has to do and where he goes. I think being more aware of this pattern affected my enjoyment on this read. I’m about 3/4 through book two, and I’m committed to seeing it to the end this time. I remember just enough for some elements to feel familiar, but not enough to have any idea what will happen next. I think after I’m done, these books will be donated to the library book sale because I can’t imagine wanting to re-read them again. That should clear up some space for books I really want to keep. I’m trying to space out this read so I don’t burn out, reading other things in between books.

I do think that part of my issue is that I have little patience for the teenage hero, who is acting like a teenager. My interest is more with one of the other characters, someone I recall thinking of as “old” on my first read. Now he’s younger than I am. Ouch!

Still, it’s fun diving into the kind of fantasy series that made me a fantasy fan back in the day, exploring another world that takes me away from the present.



The serial book is now over, so I guess we’re back to normal operations. I don’t have any more novels just hanging around. Everything else I’ve got didn’t make it to the point of submission, so it would take a lot of work to get it ready for people to read. Most of those things, I do hope to actually revise and do something with them in the future.

I think I’m going to go to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule of posting for now, though I may adjust that later. I plan to put out a newsletter next week, so if you haven’t yet signed up for that, you can do so here.

The weekend was pretty much perfect for me, weather-wise. Saturday, it rained all day and into the night. It was a perfect time to bake and read. I started with blueberry muffins for breakfast, then in the afternoon I tried the DoubleTree cookie recipe that Hilton posted. It was pretty close to what you get when you check in to the hotel, perfect for having with hot tea on a rainy afternoon. When I wasn’t baking, I spent most of the day reading. I didn’t even do a movie night because I was enjoying listening to the rain.

Sunday was nice and sunny, so I spent much of the day on the patio. I got the best of both worlds for reading conditions. Now I’m geared up for a busy work week. I want to finish revising this book, and I’m getting my house in order for taking an at-home “vacation” for the holiday weekend.

I’ve decided to pretend my house is a hotel. I may even go somewhere Friday afternoon so that I can come back and get the sense of checking in (and get my cookie when I do). I figure that since there probably won’t be a real vacation for a while, I can play a little at home. I’m trying to make weekends and holidays feel different from weekdays. I’ve always tried to do that while working from home, but it’s more important now that I don’t have any of my usual weekend activities.

My church is probably going to continue doing online only services through June, since this metro area still has a pretty high case count, and it may be a long time before we get back to doing in-person choir, since it turns out that singing in a group is probably the most dangerous thing you can do right now. Singing projects droplets farther in the air, and then the deep breathing you do when singing can bring potentially virus-laden droplets deeper into the lungs. We’ve done a couple of “cell phone choirs” where we record our part at home and it all gets edited together, and I’m joining in an online choir project one of my former choir directors is doing. I’m getting used to singing into a camera by myself.

I figure this summer will be a good time to really buckle down and get a lot of writing done. I still have a book to write in my mystery series before I’m ready to launch, and I’m developing a new fantasy series. I’ve also been kind of itching to play with a fantasy/paranormal romantic comedy, though I don’t have any ideas at the moment. It’s just something I want.


Serial Story Epilogue

We come to the end, at last, with the epilogue. If you want to start from the beginning, you can find it here. The previous chapter is here. Or you can buy the whole thing as an e-book (it’s not that expensive. You can think of it as leaving a tip and getting something in return). If you’ve enjoyed this, please consider leaving a review at the usual places (Amazon, Goodreads, etc.). The last time I checked, there was one review at Amazon, and it wasn’t very good, so that’s sad. If you know someone else who might enjoy this story, share the link to the first chapter.


Lucy stood behind the soda fountain counter, her history book open beside her. Knowing that there was a remote possibility that she might be a queen someday made her focus more on her studies. She might need to know stuff about history, government, and economics. But as weeks had gone by without a word from the other world, she started to wonder if she’d imagined it all. Only the fact that she could talk to Dawn and Jeremy about it convinced her that it had really happened.

It was hard to feel like a princess, though, when she was making ice cream sodas for bratty kids after school, especially while wearing a hairnet, an apron, and a paper hat.

The bells on the door jingled, and a group of people came into the drugstore. She didn’t look up from her book until she realized they’d taken seats at the counter. Dawn and Jeremy were there, along with a guy who looked familiar but totally out of context. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and he looked about their age. He had chestnut-brown hair, cut short on the sides and back, but a little longish and wavy on top, and he was wearing new-looking jeans and a polo shirt.

It was only when he smiled at Lucy that she recognized him. “Lucy, you remember my cousin Sebastian, don’t you?” Dawn said with a grin. “He’s spending the summer with us.”

“What are you doing here?” Lucy blurted. Why did he have to show up while she was wearing a paper hat, when he’d last seen her as a princess? But the smile he gave her made it clear he didn’t mind.

“The enchantresses believe they know where the king and queen are,” he said. “One of them gave the royal family a talisman to transport them away in an emergency, and the talisman was to take them to this general area, near where the guardians of the princess were.”

“So they’re around here, in East Texas? Gee, normally the most royalty we have in this part of the world is beauty queens.”

“They want us to help with the search, and they sent Sebastian,” Dawn said.

“They thought that from my time with you, I might know more about the local language and customs,” Sebastian added. “I also brought some friends, but they’re waiting outside.”

Lucy came out from behind the counter to look out the window, where she saw Leila and Larkin waiting patiently on the sidewalk outside, wearing collars and tags. She turned back to the others. “First, ice cream sundaes all around. Then, it looks like we need to come up with a search plan.”

Actually, first came a big hug and a kiss from Sebastian, but even a princess had to have her priorities.


Grasping Scene and Sequel

I had a grand epiphany about writing on this morning’s walk, and it should make writing so much easier for me.

I’ve always understood and yet still struggled with the “scene and sequel” structure. I think maybe I’ve been doing it unconsciously, but the moment I start thinking about it, it doesn’t work for me, and yet it’s a great way of testing a plot. When a story isn’t working, it’s usually because it fails on scene and sequel.

The idea is that in the scene, the action part of a story sequence, the character has a scene goal related to the story goal (usually a subset of the story goal). She encounters obstacles and conflict in trying to achieve the goal, ending in a “disaster” in which she can’t achieve the scene goal. In the sequel part of the sequence, she reacts to that disaster and then regroups and comes up with a new goal, which drives the action into the next scene.

That always makes sense to me when I read books on writing or go to workshops, and then when I try to apply it, it falls apart, mostly because I feel like it ends up with the character spinning her wheels. At some point, she has to achieve something in order to ever accomplish her story goal. In a mystery, for example, scene goals would be things like getting information from a witness or finding clues at the crime scene. The “disaster” in which she doesn’t achieve her scene goal would be not getting the information or not finding clues. While you don’t have much of a story if the detective gets all the info from the first interview or finds the critical clue early in the book, you also don’t have much of a story if the detective fails in every scene and never gets information or finds clues. She’s going to have to get answers somewhere along the way if she’s going to solve the case at the end, and you don’t have a very good detective if she’s wrong every step of the way.

My realization this morning is that I’ve probably been taking it all too literally. “Disaster” might be too strong a word for the kind of outcome you need. It just needs to be something that requires further work. You don’t want the character to be right all the time, but she can still get useful information. So, that witness may not have the information she expected or wanted to get, but the information she does get sends the investigation off in a new direction. She does find a clue when searching, but that clue is going to require her to track something else down. Or it may implicate someone she doesn’t want to think could be guilty. Not every scene has to end in a “no” for the goal. It’s possible to have a “yes, but” or even a “yes, and.” The main thing is that the end of the scene needs to lead the character to a decision about what to do next, and that should involve escalating levels of difficulty until she achieves the story goal.

That’s probably obvious to a lot of people, but it finally clicked for me this morning when I was thinking about it while walking. And then while writing this post, I realized what’s wrong with the book I’m revising and how to fix it. It’s like the heavens have opened and the angels are singing to me.