Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fast Writing: Tracking Set-ups and Pay-offs


There is one major rule that all good jokes and stories have in common: the three beat set-up and pay-off. 

What this means is in a story or a joke, you foreshadow a situation twice before paying it off with the third mention. Think of your favorite joke - how many times is the humorous bit repeated? Usually three times, with the third time leading to the punchline. 

Within a long novel, a complicated plot thread may end up getting set-up more than twice before it is paid off. This is okay. It shouldn't be overdone, but in a longer story you may need a tad more repetition to keep the element within the reader's mind. A good set-up is a memorable detail that sticks in the reader's mind for it' original place within the story. Only later, at the pay-off, does the reader usually  realize that the initial two mentions were setting up something bigger in the final act.

(Since this is Harry Potter Anniversary week, I'll mention that J.K. Rowlings, whatever her other faults, is pretty masterful with her set-ups and pay-offs. Keep an eye out for them next time you read through the series!) 

Many big items will likely be mentioned in the initial outline of your work, and you'll know from the get-go that you need to work in a few mentions of a character, place, object or technique before it really comes into play in the third act. However, sometimes you develop a set-up or pay-off later on in the writing process. Perhaps in the third act you insert a weapon that you realize wasn't foreshadowed at all. Or maybe as you are writing the second act, you create a set-up that you need to make sure to pay-off later. 

Now, you could go and write the other two thirds of the sequence immediately. However, this takes time, and time is money! I have found a really nifty way to keep track of set-ups and pay-offs that come up that saves a lot of time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

10 Years of Harry Potter

Nope, that's not a typo. This week marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" but I would not read the series for another 10 years. Ironically, I finished an article marking this 10-year milestone just days before the internet exploded over the 20th anniversary.

This article will appear in an upcoming edition of the online magazine "Fellowship and Fairydust." F&F is a new publication emerging from a merger of "The Fellowship of the King" and "Ink and Fairydust," the latter of which was an online publication I founded back in 2009. Over the years I eventually got too busy to serve as Editor-in-Chief, a position which has been filled by many capable ladies, and it's been quite some time since I've even contributed. However, to commemorate the next stage of the journey, I am excited to be contributing a piece.

"Fellowship and Fairydust" - Facebook Page
"Fellowship and Fairydust" - Online Magazine and Back Issues

In the meantime I've been celebrating my love of all things Harry Potter by playing "The Battle for Hogwarts," participating in two Harry Potter RPGs, and rereading the books. It's been a great treat to pick up the series for the seventh time, particularly because a year ago my hands were in too much pain to hold such large tomes. This year, I could hold them and read for hours, lost in Hogwarts again.

I'll post a link to my article when it is released, but in the meantime you can check out my previous musings on the series here:

Harry Potter
What's the Point, Jo? (The Harry/Hermione confession)
In Defense of Hufflepuff
Pottermore Review and the Truth about Hufflepuff
Firebolt - a Musical Celebration of Harry Potter
What Hogwarts House are YOU? 
Deathly Hallows Part Two Review
Why do we all love Harry?
If Doctor Who went to Hogwarts
Harry Potter and the Cartoon Prince Index
How Harry Potter Brought My Family Together
Half Blood Prince Movie Review
Harry, A History ~ Book Review
Hogwarts and the Importance of REAL Education

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dogs: Smiles and/or Allergies?

I love being a dog owner, but I am well aware that not everyone feels the way about our furry friends. So when I read that last Friday was "Take Your Dog to Work Day," I had mixed feelings.

On the one hand, as someone whose mental and physical health has benefited from a house dog, I love the idea of a dog friendly work space like the Etsy corporate offices have. On the other hand, I find myself worrying about how employees or potential hirees with allergies manage. Are you just out of luck if you are allergic to dogs and want to work for Etsy or Amazon?

The irony of the timing is that I just got done updating my Etsy product listings to clarify that we have a dog in our house. Although I do my best to keep him from coming into contact with any products, air still moves allergens around and I want anyone with a serious dog allergy to be informed. As part of figuring out the best wording, I solicited opinions from my facebook circles, knowing that there were both dog experts and allergy sufferers to weigh in. The ensuing conversation was really informative and helpful.

Now, as best as I can tell (and assume true, based on US laws), the companies in the Parade article are not letting dogs run around their factories--the work environments impacted are offices, not manufacturing companies. So you don't need to worry about food being contaminated with dog hair. But as someone who has other sorts of allergies, I find myself thinking about the employees who might not benefit from the situation. That said, HR departments exists for exactly reasons like this, so if the policies have been in place for so long, they must have a working arrangement.

And while I would never expect to be allowed to take my dog with me everywhere, I am always grateful and pleased when I can. Last week we took Mateo to the local bookshop (after calling ahead to confirm the rules), and it was so fun to see his excitement and also how much the employees LOVED seeing him!

I get similar reactions when I take Mateo on walks. I never presume that I'm walking past a dog person and keep Mateo's leash short when we pass others--but Mateo adores people and wags his tail and grins at them, and most of the time they beam back a matching grin, and you can tell their walk was just made. And that fills my heart with such joy. I love, love, love spreading smiles.

In short, I really want my impact on people's lives to be one that makes them better. Sometimes that means bringing in Mateo--and other times that means leaving him in the kennel. And sometimes, just sharing some cute photos on social media is a happy middle ground.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Secret of the Fast and Messy First Draft

I hate messy first drafts. Well, hate is a strong word. They can really 'bug' me, you know? From what I've observed, I'm hardly unique in this aspect. In fact, being perfectionist about one's first draft can be one of the biggest hindrances keeping an author from finishing their novel!

Guess what? This year I am writing my messiest first draft ever--and it is going okay!


Here are the stumbling blocks that have been tripping me up and wasting my time in the past:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Her Royal Spyness

Wow, I can't believe I haven't blogged about "Her Royal Spyness" yet! I was certain that I had, and yet, when I tried to find a review to go with the announcement that the kindle was on sale ($1.99 on Amazon), I came up with nothing!

I think this is because Matt, the Novel Ninja, who got me into the series, wrote such a good review that I felt anything I did would be completely redundant. Which is still largely true--but since I've gone and read the whole series twice now, and actually own all of the books in one form or another, I'd be remiss if I didn't take the time to personally recommend the series to you all.

You should read "Her Royal Spyness" if you like...
-period mysteries
-screwball comedy
-plucky heroines
-the 1920's
-England's royal family
-historic comedy (think P.G. Wodehouse)

Although the delightful heroine, Georgie, is a fictional distant member of the royal family, the series is strewn with excellently executed cameos of real historic figures. I particularly adored the appearances of Coco Chanel and Queen Elizabeth II (as little Lillibet).

There's some innuendo throughout the series, nothing tremendously over-the-top, but I'd still say this is an adult series, and even that will depend on personal taste. Georgie's personal opinions on sexuality are refreshing, however (Again, Matt's review goes into more detail about this, so I won't be repetitive here.)

So, even if your summer reading docket is full, take advantage of the kindle sale because normally the ebook is upwards of $7.00!

Monday, June 5, 2017

"The Mermaid and the Unicorn" on sale for $0.99!

"The Mermaid and the Unicorn" e-book is currently available on Amazon for just $0.99! It'll go up to $1.99 after Wednesday, and back to $2.99 at the end of the week, so you'll want to hurry and purchase yours now! Whether you are looking for some good summer reading for yourself, or the perfect gift to send the graduate in your life as they head off to college, today is the day to get your digital copy of "The Mermaid and the Unicorn."

Learn how to gift a Kindle Book here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Did I love it?

I've been trying to be more intentional about reviewing things over the past year. Books, items on Amazon, even a few game reviews have made it onto the list! This is in part because I married a guy who reads all the reviews (or a lot of them) before buying anything. I've come to appreciate the benefits of researching something before buying, and want to return the favor for other shoppers.

But there is another side too, and that is (unsurprisingly) finally being a published author. I will not lie, I regularly check reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I'm fairly certain that the good reviews there were significant in convincing several librarians to stock my book in their systems. (I don't know for sure, but if they did any research at all, they found good reviews).

I'm a fan of 'show not tell' and living by example. I mean, I write a blog so sometimes there just has to be some telling involved (like right now), but I really can't expect people to write reviews for my books, if I don't try and at least do a few reviews for the authors in my own life. Of course it is easier to do reviews for authors I don't personally know, because then I feel less awkward about identifying any weaknesses in the story.

I've also found it interesting to compare how people rate books on Goodreads and Amazon. Amazon is a commercial service, and the stars are overall geared towards measuring how happy customers were with their purchase. A reviewer can 'like' a book, but give it four or five stars because it was worth the purchase. However, on Goodreads an average book is only going to get about three stars, as the rating system is presented differently:

1 star - did not like it
2 stars - it was okay
3 stars - liked it
4 stars - really liked it
5 stars - it was amazing. 

I do appreciate that Goodreads actively assigns a specific reaction to each star, as I feel it makes the rating system clearer and less arbitrary. Also, in general, in Goodreads reviews I get more of a sense of "here's what I did or didn't like" in a more critical manner, whereas on Amazon the reactions are often less analytical and more 'loved it, good purchase' or 'horrible, don't bother'. This makes sense, of course, because Goodreads is specifically a community of readers and Amazon is specifically a (non)-community of purchasers.

Anyhow, it's been interesting to reflect upon and analyse these differences a bit over the past year.

By the way, if you haven't had a chance to read "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" yet and would like to get your hands on a Kindle Version for 99 cents, sign up for my quarterly newsletter (or keep an eye on this blog!). I've got a sale coming up very soon, but it'll only be lasting for a couple of days, so you'll want to be ready to buy!