Month: November 2012 Page 1 of 2

Romance Means Never Having to Say Midpoint

As I’ve been chewing my way through regencies lately (I’m just starting to read romances and have lately gone nuts over them), I’ve been trying to scope out their structure on a basic level: where’s the midpoint?  When do the characters go into the strange world?  When do they go into the final conflict?

I’ve gotten used to looking at this kind of thing in other books; it’s become a matter of habit.  As I’m flipping pages, I watch for the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks and the milestones that I’ve come to expect from them…I’m not usually disappointed.  “Aha, a huge reversal…and my ereader says it’s at 50% for this book.  Quelle surprise!”

But I’m struggling with breaking down these regencies.

What I need to do is take one of them that I like and do an outline of what actually happens, and on what page–and I will.  But I worry that I don’t know what’s typical yet, and I might outline something that isn’t typical and end up with a skewed view of things.  So I just keep cramming them down, keeping an eye out for something that seems typical, or picking up a sense of what’s typical, or at least finding The Perfect Romance.  But I barely know what constitutes my The Perfect Romance, so that’s difficult, too.

Case in point, I still find it pretty shocking when the characters get married before the end of the book.  Especially if they’re already in love.  I almost always flip to the end to see whether the ending is at the end, or if there are a bajillion sample chapters of the next book at the end or something.

I’ve come across the early-marriage thing several times.  The first part of the book shows the characters out in society, lusting after each other, stealing kisses, getting laid.  Then, two-thirds of the way through the book, they get married, and they head off to so-and-so’s estates, at which point they go through this whole process of feeling like they made a mistake and didn’t know each other, oh crap.

What I would expect, given the pacing on any other genre, would be: they don’t get into society until the 25% mark, they get married and suspect a mistake at 50%, then they go to the estate at 75%.  Into the strange world at 25%, out of it and into the final sequence at 75%.  You see it in book after book…outside the romance genre.  A major reversal at 50%, yes, yes.

But no. Strange world starts at 0, reversal at 67%, at which point strange world stops–or starts, if you count the setting at the beginning of the book as the normal world.

And yet the books don’t feel like they’re paced funny.  The beginning doesn’t drag on and on and on.  Imagine Star Wars if they started with the phrase, “These are not the droids you’re looking for,” didn’t have Alderaan blow up until two-thirds of the movie was done, and tried to get everything else packed into the last 40 minutes…losing 20 minutes of the last half.  The section from “not the droids” to “a billion voices cried out” would take 80 minutes instead of 30 and feel like molasses.  The rest would feel rushed.  They’d have to cut out most of them running around on the Death Star, probably.  The trash compactor sequence and all that.

Yet in a romance, it works.

An idea I’ve been playing with lately is “the four stages of a romantic relationship.”  It’s gone through a couple of different phases, but it’s currently at:

  • Focusing on getting a relationship.
  • Focusing on getting the other person to understand you.
  • Focusing on understanding the other person.
  • Focusing on delighting the other person.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who have had failed or meh relationships, where you bottom out in an early stage, you give up on ever really getting along with the other person, but eh, whatever.

In the first stage, it’s all about making the other person do what you want: go out on a date, have sex, whatever.  In the second stage, you want the other person to look into your heart and tell you that you’re worth something, that you’re the best thing ever, that you opinion is right (or at least not crazy), etc.  The third stage is about finding out why the other person is doing something, why they’re doing things that annoy you, where they came from as kids, etc.  The fourth stage is about accepting the other person, accepting yourself, and having fun.  You goal is to elicit a smile–that Heinlein definition of love as someone else’s happiness as essential to your own.

In regencies, the love story is almost always two people who meet each other for the first time, or two people who knew each other before, but it’s been so long that it might as well be the first time.  There’s a seduction.  Then there’s a phase where the characters try to convince each other that they shouldn’t be together for some reason, that it’s all an aberration, I’m not as hot for you as you think I am kind of thing; being in love with the other person will hamper them somehow.  Then they start digging into each others’ pasts, the things that made the other person the way they are, and the closer they get to the truth, the more the other person defends themself.  Finally the characters honestly try to get the obstacles to their relationship out of the way, either to get married or to change a miserable marriage into a happy one.

I’ll have to do more reading to make sure the actual and hypothetical structures line up, but at least it’s another line of thought to try: that the structure of the story has very little to do with the external events of the story, and everything to do with the internal journey.  Which, when I look at it a little more objectively, sounds exactly like what a romance should be.

Goodreads Giveaway: Exotics Book 1 New Cover

All, I’m giving away a signed copy of the new Exotics 1 softcover.  You can sign up here, at Goodreads; the giveaway ends on December 2.  Pleeeeeeeeeease sign up!

Goodreads Giveaway: Exotics Book 1 New Cover

All, I’m giving away a signed copy of the new Exotics 1 softcover.  You can sign up here, at Goodreads; the giveaway ends on December 2.  Pleeeeeeeeeease sign up!

Goodreads Giveaway: Exotics Book 1 New Cover

All, I’m giving away a signed copy of the new Exotics 1 softcover.  You can sign up here, at Goodreads; the giveaway ends on December 2.  Pleeeeeeeeeease sign up!

Plot Structure for NaNoWriMo

A lot of beginning NaNoWriMo writers get stuck due to poor planning.  “Oh!  I’m just going to sit down and write!”

One of the solutions to that problem is to look at structure.  The idea that you can plot out what you’re going to write next offends some people: what if your work isn’t that original?  There’s a whole discussion to be had around the idea that you can be original in a story, but the important point to remember with NaNoWriMo is that nobody gives a damn whether you’re original or not, and looking at a good structure will tell you what kind of thing to write next if you’re stuck…something fun to write that will help keep you motivated and un-frustrated.

I’m a proponent of the Blake Snyder/Save the Cat! plot structure, although I strip it down to the most basic elements and throw in a few bits and pieces of other structures.  Here are the points in my simplified/modified outline. I was shooting for 2100-word chapters, although I’m running over just a tad.

Try to end each chapter on an “Oh Shit” moment.

Setup and Introduction: 1-12,500 words (Days 1-7.5, Chapters 1-6)

Introduce the main character, setting, and problem ASAP.  Show/hint at the main problem the character will eventually have to deal with, and show the character vacillating on how to deal with it, usually between Stupid Solution A and Stupid Solution B (thesis and antithesis).

Have something desperate and major go amuck toward the end of this section, driving them into the next section.

C1: Intro character/setting and give a mini-quest (problem).

C2: Start out on the mini-quest; something horrible happens just at the end of the chapter.

C3: Resolve mini-quest; resolution troubles the main character and foreshadows the main plot problem.

C4: Just when there was supposed to be a moment’s peace to think about things, the next quest (the start of the main quest) comes along, and the stakes are much higher, the solution much more muddied.

C5: One of the two solutions (A) is tried out, goes horribly awry.

C6: Nobody’s happy, and there’s nothing we can do about the real problem at this point, but the main character has to get the heck out of that situation in a hurry.

Fun and Games: 12,500 words to 25,000 words (Day 7.5 to 15, Chapters 7-12)

Enter into the “Strange World” of the main part of the story (crossing the theshold).  The setting itself changes significantly.

This is the stuff that made the idea of doing this story appealing, before you get to all the reversals (tests, allies, and enemies).  The emotional core of the story (B plot) happens here.

Right before the next section comes the midpoint, in which there’s a false victory or a false defeat: one HUGE event that is the “tent pole” for the rest of the story (crisis/reveral, abyss, etc.).

C7: New setting is cool, and often a team of unlikely allies forms.  A breather in which the subtext is “but we’re missing the point, aren’t we?” The beginning of a mini-quest to solve the main problem along the lines of the other solution (B).

C8: A new problem emerges, one that should just take care of itself, if only people were emotionally tougher, but they aren’t.

C9: The emotional problem does a headbutt into solution B and causes even more problems.

C10: Everyone tries to get solution B back on track, but the emotional problem just makes everything worse.  A moment of slapstick.

C11: Solution B is back on track, the people with the emotional problem have been bullied into keeping their mouths shut or otherwise silenced into semi-functionality, and POW!!! the main problem rears its ugly head.

C 12: The main problem is too much to handle, solution B is knocked off course again somehow, the emotional stuff bursts out around the seams again, and everyone runs around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Bad Guys Close In: 25,000 to 38,500 words (Day 15-23, Chapters 13-18)

The bad guys get closer, members of the team are stripped away, and THE BIG PLAN TO SAVE EVERYTHING goes horribly awry, leading to a black moment/moment of death when the character realizes all the things they thought were doing right are failing miserably.

C 13: Everything is massively worse, yet there is a glimmer of hope: a big plan to save everything, and the main character puts the plan in motion.

C14: A mini-quest that is the first part of the plan kicks into motion with all hope of success, but something comes up, tied to the emotional crap that we made shut up for a while in Fun & Games…

C15: The bad guys have anticipated the plan somehow (a trap!), and attack the good guys, who fight back valiantly, hampered by their emotional vulnerabilities that they put off dealing with…

C16: The good guys are pulling ahead, and things look like they’re going to succeed (even if some unacceptable compromises that would just break your heart might need to be made), but then…

C17: Everything falls to pieces.  Every single element of solution B goes wrong.  Every new idea they’ve tried has failed.  The team is struck down, stripped away, even killed (especially if there’s a mentor).

C18: But wait, there’s more!  Even more things go wrong, and the main character is worse off than when they started.  They may as well never have tried; everything they tried to do has made things worse, and everything they care about is stripped away.  They don’t care whether they live or die at this point.

Storming the Castle: 38,500 to 50,000 words (Day 23-30,  Chapters 19-24)

The main character regroups, gathers as much of the team as they can, and leaves the strange world to invade the bad guys’ stronghold in one way or another.  They have a PLAN, which the bad guys thwart easily – it’s usually a trap that strips off every defensive/offensive advantage the main character has, at which point, they have to reach deep inside, slap something they learned from the beginning of the book (Setup), something they learned in the middle of the book (Fun & Games), and the desperation of the black moment (BGCI) to craft a final, original, surprising solution.

The rewards of victor are at 50,000 words, Day 30.

C19: The main character has a new plan, a desperate plan, a risky plan…”That’s so crazy it just might work!” They gather all the resources they can muster and head forth valiantly.

C20: Ooh, it’s a trap; didn’t see that one coming.  The emotional crap from the middle two sections rears its ugly head and says, “I told you so.”

C21: The main character frantically fights back, but every resource they brought into the fight is stripped away from them, one by tortuous one.

C22: The main character is utterly defeated, ripped down, ego smashed into a thousand pieces.  The light turns on: hey, maybe if I stuck parts of Solution A onto parts of Solution B using the values I had in Setup with the tools I picked up in Fun & Games, and knowing the failures of Bad Guys Close In, maybe I could…Nah, it’ll never work.  But what else have I got to try?  If the bad guys have to make a speech, do it here to give the main character a moment to go, “What idiots…I was almost like them…but now I know better…NOW I will listen to the emotional crap.”

C23: The new solution (synthesis) is tried out.  It shouldn’t work.  It almost doesn’t work.  There’s no real reason, from the point of view of the character as they were in the Setup, for it to work.  It’s like magic.  And it works.

C24: Bloodied but unbroken, changed but undefeated, the main character applies the new solution (or sees the ramifications of the new solution) to their world, seeing benefits both to themselves and their loved ones.  Peace at last, even if (in a series) the peace won’t last for long.

You can split the pieces up however you like, as long as you hit each new section at the end of each NaNoWriMo quarter.  Being a gamer, I find it helpful to think in terms of mini-quests vs. main quests.   You have to follow the main quests throughout the story, but if it looks like things are slowing down, then throw in a mini-quest (aka subplot).  If the main quest is mostly an emotional quest, throw in active mini quests, and vice versa, but always come back to the main quests, which should take up 75% of the time.  I’m really seeing this in romances.  Too many action mini-quests, and I’m disappointed with the book.  The mini-quests should help level the character somehow, too, without feeling like you’re grinding.



Book Review: Tempest and Serena, by Marty Mokler Banks


**** Excellent.

Two female main characters, no strong male characters but boys (especially ones who are having trouble with bullies) might still be able to relate.  For 7-8 year olds, a chapter book rather than a middle-grade.

About 136 pages.

The Adventures of Tempest and Serena

by Marty Mokler Banks

In short: The two main characters, Tempest and Serena, are twin sisters. One, Tempest, is tempestuous; the other, Serena, is shy. On the first day of school, Tempest rebels–she’s not going back. Having obtained a magic flashlight, she makes a wish to have a forever summer, sprouts wings, and flies off, leaving behind her sister Serena to cope with all the responsibilities, here represented by having to defend Tempest’s empty bus seat, lunch seat, etc., from a school bully.


I normally write book reviews trying to see things from a kid’s perspective.  I just couldn’t on this one; I apologize.  So this is for parents.

It was well-written, with solid characters, fun episodes, and lessons to be learned, but–I almost had to read this as an adult; there were too many interesting adult-level things going on. I’d definitely give it a try on your chapter-book reader who’s bored with Ramona and that ilk but isn’t ready for the intensity of a middle-grade yet. It’s a gentle book, the equivalent of a Mr. Rogers episode, all sweetness and light on top but a bunch of powerful, subtle things going on underneath.

I think I’ve been in too many college literature classes to read that straight on. Anytime you see twins, you have to suspect that the characters are really one person, split in two. Or, in this case, perhaps an imaginary friend. Is Tempest real or not? The mom acts like it’s not important that Tempest, one of her daughters, is gone. For months. And the way that Serena has to defend the empty places where Tempest isn’t, like her lunch seat…it seems like something my daughter would have done, at eight-ish, when she loved an imaginary friend.

In the end, I don’t know–some people acted as though Tempest were real; others, not. I think it’s not meant to be figured out so much as appreciated. At that age, what’s real is what’s in front of you, even if it only comes out of your imagination.

Read on a literal level – it seems impossible, and almost sad: the wild sister comes home. I got the sense that she was foolish to go, even though she had such great adventures; she had such a time of it getting back. But–looking at it as though Tempest were an imaginary friend–of course your imaginary friend has to come home; your imagination has to focus on the here-and-now sometimes, too, and it can certainly go haring off whenever it wants to.

I think that what it comes down to is that I’m too old, too adult to be able to judge this through a kids’ eyes. Normally, it isn’t a problem–I love it when a kids’ book takes me away from the adult world. Ahhhh, it’s nice to lay all that “adultness” aside. But this? You never get to lay that responsibility aside, so it’s not a perfect kids’ book for an adult reader–but I can’t tell you whether it’s a perfect kids’ book for a kid. I suspect it is, for the right kind of kid.

Book Description:

Tempest and Serena Cooper think they are nothing alike. That all changes when Tempest flies off a wild, brave journey to find summer forever, while Serena promises to save her sister’s seat on the school bus. As each battles bullies, disasters, and loneliness, they find they’re not so different. A suspenseful, charming chapter book adventure for readers ages 7 and up.

About the Author: 

Marty Mokler Banks writes for the travel and business worlds, but is most passionate about her work in children’s fiction. She received a B.S. in journalism from the University of Colorado-Boulder and attended the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. An active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Marty lives in Colorado with her family and dogs.

Marty welcomes comments and feedback via Amazon’s reviews and likes to hear directly from readers through her website,

New cover: Exotics Book 1: The Floating Menagerie.



Here it is, the new cover by Martha Lancaster!  So sweet.

As soon as the POD goes live (I’m waiting to check the proof), I’ll set up a contest on Goodreads.  Right now, I’m finishing up the last book in the series…I’m waiting to see if I need to make any changes to fit the whole series together before I publish The Exotics Book 3: The Subterranean Sanctuary.  I think my daughter’s about ready to kill me…

Find copies at, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and more!









New cover: Exotics Book 1: The Floating Menagerie.

Here it is, the new cover by Martha Lancaster!  So sweet.

As soon as the POD goes live (I’m waiting to check the proof), I’ll set up a contest on Goodreads.  Right now, I’m finishing up the last book in the series…I’m waiting to see if I need to make any changes to fit the whole series together before I publish The Exotics Book 3: The Subterranean Sanctuary.  I think my daughter’s about ready to kill me…

Find copies at Amazon.comBarnes and NobleSmashwordsKobo, and more!

New cover: Exotics Book 1: The Floating Menagerie.


Here it is, the new cover by Martha Lancaster!  So sweet.

As soon as the POD goes live (I’m waiting to check the proof), I’ll set up a contest on Goodreads.  Right now, I’m finishing up the last book in the series…I’m waiting to see if I need to make any changes to fit the whole series together before I publish The Exotics Book 3: The Subterranean Sanctuary.  I think my daughter’s about ready to kill me…

Find copies at Amazon.comBarnes and NobleSmashwordsKobo, and more!









Fear and Character

I was reading Syd Field’s Going to the Movies: A Personal Journey through Four Decades of Modern Film in the bathtub, accompanied by a cold mug of tea and an even colder but faster-to-disappear cherry milkshake, when I came across something and knew I couldn’t stay in the tub any longer.

He’s talking to Robert Towne about Chinatown:

…I asked him how he went about creating his characters, especially how he’d conceived Jake Gittes, the Jack Nicholson character.  He replied that first he asks himself, What is this character afraid of?  In other words, what is his or her deepest fear?  Gittes, a private detective specializing in “discreet investigation,” has a certain reputation to uphold, so he does everything to make a good impression.  He dresses immaculately, has his shoes shined every day and his own code of thics.  Gittes’s greatest fear is not being taken seriously.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of character goals being the same thing as character motivation.  What does the character want?  I don’t care.  What is their inner journey?  It always sounds trite when you say it out loud.  But when I size people up in person, my friends, strangers on the street, things like that–I think about how they see themselves, and what they’re afraid of.

Yes, I’m sorry.  I look at people like I’m a writer.  I do.  I judge people all the time.  I especially like judging strangers, because it means I can make up stories about them without a significant amount of guilt, but I do that for people I know, too.  A crazy flaw that gets called “talent.”

Here is something you’re afraid of.  I’m watching for it…there it is.

And there is the way you see yourself; I can tell because the same story keeps coming up, the same facts, anecdotes, favorite songs, books, movies, attitudes…yep.  If you’ve mentioned something to me three times, I mentally file it in the “how X thinks of themselves” file.  Consciously.

What you’re afraid of is usually at odds with the way you see yourself.  If it’s not, it’s because you’re depressed, usually; a certain amount of depression brings a horrible clarity, although too much does tend to blind you as much as not enough.

–Anyway, so now I’m thinking of some of the books I have sketched out for future projects.  I’m just rambling and brainstorming here; neither one of these is the epic fantasy I’m worldbuilding for.

The Earl is afraid of dying because his despicable, middle-class cousin will take over the estate if he doesn’t produce an heir: the protections of the upper class will also damn it.  His immortal soul is worth less than the idea that his desperate gamble might save a dying society for just a little bit longer.   While she is afraid of crossing the line between propriety and ruin, seeing herself as a young woman–not one of those pesky independent types–who has an innocent habit of reading lurid novels.  She thinks willing to sell her virginity to a dead man, hold an affair with his blessing, and live a lie in order to produce his heir, in accordance with her parents’ wishes–to do her duty–but she can’t; she’s too afraid of losing her chance for love, even though all decency and duty stands in her way.  Both of them, damned if they do, damned if they don’t, trapped by a false self-perception and fear.  That one’s a Regency, of course, with a plot ripped out of the Romantic novels of an earlier generation, i.e., Frankenstein.

Hm, the fantasy one.  She sees herself as soiled, evil, ruined–all because she’s infected with a curse, blood magic that destroyed France a century ago, inherited from her mother, who went mad and murdered with her knitting needles, and had to be struck down in the middle of a killing spree.  She fears that the curse will drag her down into her mother’s madness.  And so she lives recklessly, sleeping with a married man, stealing antiquities, dressing as a man in 19th-century French Algieria.  Playing with fire, almost hoping that she’ll be locked up or killed before she can do serious damage.  He’s a magician believes in tradition over all, even the idea that his branch of magic is an “evil” one, against the will of God.  He holds himself still, restrained, silent, dignified–fearing that his every true thought and feeling is heresy, even when they are good.  Allah punishes him for his pride in his skill, binding him to a demon who can’t shut up–can’t stop from saying all the things that he will not–or cannot.  He fears to be known, to be judged as nothing, before the will of God.  Heh.  They fight crime!

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