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Heir of Tanaris Story Grid

I think I mentioned before that I’m studying The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, a really cool editing method that takes you deep into how a story’s theme and structure work together. The approach it takes really struck a chord with me, so I gave it a try with Heir of Tanaris. This might be more interesting for writers, but if you’re an avid reader and like seeing how the sausage is made, so to speak, you might find it interesting too.

Heir had already been through one major revision and was out with the beta readers while I was working through the Story Grid book, but I felt like I hadn’t gone deep enough into what the story is about. This is a novel that has given me a hard time for years, trying to really get a grasp on it. So I decided to take Heir through the process, which involves making a spreadsheet of different sets of info about the story and a 1-page summary of the story then putting it all together into a grid.

Here’s a screen shot of part of my spreadsheet for Heir:

Because spreadsheets are awesome, and doing this helped me start to clearly see the patterns of the story.

My “1 page” summary kinda turned out to be a lot more complicated than that. The Story Grid summary is based on a 3-part structure, beginning – middle – end, while I myself am more partial to a four-part structure, beginning – middle 1 – [midpoint reversal] – middle 2 – end, and Heir actually falls more naturally into 5 parts. But the basic principles are the same, each section consists of complications rising to some sort of crisis and climax, and I eventually got that beaten into shape.

And then the fun part, making the actual grid. You do this on actual grid paper with actual pens (it is possible to do it on a spreadsheet, but it would be a lot harder unless you’re a spreadsheet virtuoso, and the examples I’ve seen are hard to read); I used my new set of Tul colored gel pens 😀 which was fun. And here it is:

The boxes above and below the center line each represent a scene. The Story Grid method evaluates scenes based on how the story situation changes, from bad to good (negative to positive) or good to bad (positive to negative); you can also have bad to worse (which is fun) and good to better (use sparingly). Scenes that move in a positive direction go above the line, scenes that go in a negative direction go below the line. The tricky thing, and the thing that really helps you strengthen the theme of the story, is the direction the scene goes in has to relate to the overall storyline. For example, if the villain gets something he wants, that’s positive for the villain but negative for the overall story. So that scene goes below the line.

​Trickier is if one of the good guys gets something he wants that he shouldn’t want, because he’s trying to overcome a character flaw; that is also a negative turn for the story, even though it’s temporarily positive for the character. Or if the character has to make a sacrifice in order to achieve their goal; negative at the moment for the character, but positive for the storyline. It can especially get complicated if you have two conflicting goals. A scene can be positive for one storyline and negative for the other. For example, in a romance, if the hero passionately kisses the heroine even though he’s got no business kissing her at all right now, that’s positive for the romance but negative for his moral development. Heir of Tanaris has a lot of that conflicting stuff going on, so this helped me get a firmer grip on all of it.

I had fun with my colored pens 🙂 The blue boxes are for scenes where we’re in Davian’s head, pink boxes are for scenes in Isamina’s point of view. Imaginative, I know 😛 Brown boxes are for the villain. The colored lines going up and down represent the rise and fall of the different storylines. Blue is one of Davian’s storylines, green is the other, pink is Isamina’s, and orange is the romance storyline. That line, for example, goes down when something happens to keep Davian and Isamina apart and up when they’re together and their relationship progresses.

Now, over on the right hand side, not all the way to the right but kind of in the middle of the right side of the graph, you might notice a problem. That’s right, hardly any scenes with a negative turn. Almost all the action is above the line. This means everything through here was going very smoothly for our hero and heroine. Which is nice for them but makes for a boring story. That was a huge flaw in the story which was really made clear by the grid. So what I did was go back and evaluate the story conflicts in each of those scenes, the larger-scale problems the characters are facing throughout the book. What problems did I solve too easily? Where do the characters need to struggle harder?

Another problem is all the way to the right, near the end, there’s one scene that stretches both above and below the center line with a bunch of lines zooming up and down and up and down all within that one scene that takes place over maybe an hour of story time. What that showed me is I was trying to do too much in that one scene and the climax of the story was rushed. So there again I had to deepen the struggle, and also spread it out over more scenes and over time within the story.

I just finished the revision incorporating everything I got from this and also the beta reader feedback, and I think it’s made Heir of Tanaris a much stronger, deeper book. I’m going through a modified version of the process with the first draft of the Defenders of the Wildings series, combining it with Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel method, in hopes of nailing all the major story issues in one big revision instead of two. Which hopefully will help me get those books out faster.

To learn more about the Story Grid, visit the Story Grid website. Most of the content from the book is also available for free on the blog, and you can also view story grids that Shawn Coyne made for Silence of the Lambs (the book he uses as the example throughout the blog posts and book) and Pride and Prejudice.

Anyway, Heir of Tanaris is currently on track for release in late September. To make sure you don’t miss out on the release (and the special limited-time low introductory price), sign up for my email newsletter. Subscribers will also get the first peek at the cover, before I do the cover reveal here on my blog. So excited about this; Mominur Rahman’s art for this book is gorgeous!


Summer Sci Fi/Fantasy Romance Sale

Aug. 7-13: Love Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, & Sci-fi Romance? Then check out this great sale, hosted by the authors of the Dominon Rising boxed set, which releases tomorrow. Even heroes and heroines need a little romance at the end of a long day of saving their corner of the galaxy. You’ll find 40+ books by the Dominon Rising authors and guest authors (including me 😀 ) for only 99c, for a limited time.

Want more books? Here’s more books!

Current book promotions I’m participating in:

August 5-6: The 99 cent Science Fiction and Fantasy Promomotions hosted by Patty Jansen are back. You’ll find around 100 books in a wide variety of fantasy and science fiction genres, all 99 cents. This sale includes all the major retailers, not just Amazon. (Selection varies by store.) The Lost Book of Anggird is in this sale; I rarely discount this book, so if you haven’t read this epic fantasy about a stuffy professor of magic, his free-spirited assistant, and the most dangerous book of all, here’s your chance to get it for only 99 cents!
Aug. 2-16: The summer/winter book promotions continue with Geektastic Books’ August Instafreebie giveaway! A unique selection of 17 books, plus you’ll find exclusive author interviews and a giveaway to win a Fire tablet and Amazon gift card! (Please note that some of the books may require you to sign up for the author’s email list in order to download them.)

New Daughter of the Wildings Box Set Cover!

You may or may not notice a slight difference in the site banner and the cover gallery over to the side – I’ve done a slight refresh of the cover of Beneath the Canyons, and also got a shiny new cover for the Daughter of the Wildings boxed set! Here it is in all its glory:
Write, Dream, Repeat Book Design put that beauty together for me 😀

And here’s my refresh of the Canyons cover:

Same awesome art by Mominur Rahman, but I adjusted the color and lighting a bit and changed the color on the lettering to bring out that magical glow thing happening around the edges of Silas and Lainie, coming off of the ore they’re holding, and also cropped in a little closer on the characters so that the magic is a more prominent element.

Anyway, as for actual books, I’m still chugging along. I’ve been slightly less exhausted this week than I was last week, but my brain is very unfocused. I’m mainly concentrating my efforts on the second big revision of Heir of Tanaris right now; I want to get that done and edited and released. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say end of September, but I can’t make any guarantees this far out.

Once Heir of Tanaris is out, I’ll turn my full focus (such as it is) to Defenders of the Wildings. I’ve got another story/series idea I want to work on, that I think I can set in the Islands of the Wildings world, but first I’ll just work on the big edit on Defenders. It’s almost scary how much work it’s going to need, but I’m trying out a process that I hope will let me cut my two major revisions down to one. I also have a bunch of short stories I’ve been meaning to get to in the evenings on days when I get my full quota of work done during the day, but that never happens. At least I’m making progress, slow though it may be.


Geektastic Books giveaway

July 4-14: Check out this big fantasy and science fiction giveaway sponsored by GeektasticBooks.com! There’s also a giveaway to enter, and exclusive author interviews. Here’s mine 🙂

Still Making Progress…

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Whew, ok. Yes, I’m still here, up over my head in revisions on two large projects, Heir of Tanaris (the upcoming Tehovir novel) and Defenders of the Wildings, the follow-up series to Daughter of the Wildings. I’m making progress; Tanaris went out to the beta readers early in the month and the reports are coming back in, and I finished making my revision notes for Defenders (a couple hundred pages’ worth) and now I’m trying to systematically set about making sense of it all and organizing the revision so I don’t miss anything, from adding the actual plot to book 1 to characters whose reason for being in the books I’m still figuring out to what exactly that green stuff is.

I’ve also got some more short stories I want to put into a collection, and then there’s the Source-Breaker stories, which will be a newsletter exclusive. Life’s been kind of crazy for the last month, with one thing and another, but hopefully things will settle down. I’m hoping to be able to cut back on extra demands so I can recover from everything and get caught up on my writing projects.

Since I’m always trying to improve my writing craft, besides my usual revision methods I’m working my way through The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, which is basically like a big textbook about story structure and story theme and how they work together, and how to analyze them in your project. I’m doing this with the revised version of Tanaris, and it’s making me look at things in a different way that’s both mind-blowing and makes a lot of sense with how I think about writing. I’ll definitely be incorporating it into my workflow. It might even streamline my process a little by catching more of the big issues at the beginning of revisions.

With Heir of Tanaris coming into the later stages of revision, I think I’ll do the cover reveal coming up before too long. Newsletter subscribers will get the first peek, so if you’re anxious to see this gorgeous artwork, sign up if you haven’t already! And Sivael from Source-Breaker has been waiting to be interviewed, so I’ll try to get to that next. Back to work 🙂


Great Deals on Chosen of Azara and More Books

April 1-2: It’s the Science Fiction and Fantasy 99 cent sale! Load up your ereader with science fiction, dystopian, horror, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction and fantasy romance, and even some box sets, all for 99 cents! Chosen of Azara is in this sale, 99 cents at all retailers.

New Release: Darkstorm


March Progress Update

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Looks like it’s time for a progress update. Two big projects are occupying my time and (limited) brainpower and energy right now. The major revision of Heir of Tanaris is under way; I’m about halfway through. As always, scenes I thought didn’t need a lot of work are getting totally rewritten (just finished a long one that I decided at the last minute to change from Davreos’s point of view to Isamina’s). But I’m really happy with how this is coming together so far. The soundtrack for this book is mainly the album Haven by Kamelot. Give it a listen if you want to get a feel for this book, the next book in the Tehovir world.

I’ve also started the triage phase of revision on the Defenders of the Wildings series, the follow-up to Daughter of the Wildings. I was going to wait until the big revision on Tanaris was done, but decided I couldn’t wait that long. And I think (hope!) I’ve got readers waiting for it too. So I started that, revising the whole series like it’s one big book (which it basically is, much more than Daughter, which divided itself up neatly into separate novels), and I was going through book 1 and it was going fine, highlight these characters more, move this to this other scene, combine these two scenes, dum de dum, HEY WHERE’S THE PLOT???

Yes, I forgot to put a plot in book 1. Which probably explains why this “novella” is only 38 double-spaced pages long. My excuse is that I decided that what was originally book 1 needed to be book 2, so I took some stuff from the original book 2 and wrote some new material and stuck all that in front to make the new book 1, just so I could get the general scaffolding of the story in place. I know what the plot is supposed to be; a thing happens, as often does in novels, and this thing has potentially dire consequences for Silas and Lainie and their livelihood, and they talk about doing something in response. Well, then, other things happen and we get to the end of book 1 and they never did the thing they talked about. So doing the thing they talked about is the plot of book 1, and now I just need to actually write it. Fortunately, it fits in well with the other stuff happening that I wrote.

There are writers who claim they can write a complete, organized, well-structured story in one draft, with only needing to clean up the typos to make it publishable. I am not one of those writers. 😛

So, anyway, that’s where things stand. No idea yet on release dates; to make sure you don’t miss out, sign up for my email alerts to get release news, special offers, the occasional freebie, newsletter-exclusive sneak peeks and trivia quizzes, and other fun stuff when I can think of it.

One more note: a very talented young writer named Cristian Mihai is in dire need of dental work that is far beyond his means to pay for. He has a condition that leaches all the calcium from his teeth, with the result that he has a mouthful of crumbling teeth, which causes him a great deal of pain and makes him unable to eat or speak normally. His writing is best described as literary fiction, which you may know is usually not my reading material of choice, but his stuff is really good. Anyway, if you can make a donation, or buy a package of reblogs on his site if you have a WordPress blog, buy one of his books, or even just share on social media, every little bit helps.


Character Interview: Ardavos

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Here’s an interview with Ardavos, the antagonist (it’s really kind of hard to think of him as a villain) from Source-Breaker:

1. What is your full name? Is there anything significant about your name?
I am Lord Ardavos, Master of Source Vadaerna and seeker after knowledge. You may simply call me Lord Ardavos, or “my lord.”

2. How old are you?
Age has no relevance to genius. However, I do worry that I don’t have enough decades of life left in which to complete my work.

Well, if you insist, I am 46 years old.

3. Tell us about your family. What do you like and not like about them?
I have not had contact with them since I left home in my youth to begin my training as a healer, but my parents supported my ambitions and I believe they would be proud of what I have accomplished in my life.

4. Who was your first kiss, and what did you think of it?
*turns red* My lady Sivael is the first woman I ever kissed. Fifteen years later, she is still with me, so that must mean we both found it pleasing.

5. What is your occupation?
As I said, I am a seeker after knowledge. By training I am a sorcerer; my original training was in the field of healing. Since then, I have turned my attention to finding improved ways to store and use Source-power. One of the great limitations on the use of magic is that only one kind of Source-power can be used at a time, and the magic practitioner must either be at a Source in order to draw on its power or carry a limited amount of power with him, either within himself or in a special, magically-prepared container. I seek to take the practice of magic far beyond what is possible under current restrictions and practices.

6. What are your best and worst qualities?
I am dedicated to my work, to improving the practice of magic for the benefit of mankind. I am talented in developing theorems and making precise calculations in order to predict the results of the experiments I will carry out. And I am methodical and orderly in my work.

I have always had difficulty in developing relationships with people. Very few people understand me, though some have suggested that it is I who does not understand them. However, this is an insignificant thing; I have surrounded myself with people who are grateful and loyal to me, and I feel no need for any other company.

7. What quality do you value most in a romantic partner?
*turns red again* I had never given any thought to such a thing – it always seemed unimportant compared to my work – until I met my lady Sivael. After I healed her of life-threatening burns, and you can see that she has not so much as a scar from her injuries, I had a sense that she would be the one person who would understand and appreciate both my work and myself. I had a sense that… this is very hard for me to put into words, but I had a sense that if I accomplished nothing else of note, saving her life and healing her injuries would make all my work and sacrifices worthwhile. I knew that even if I never had anyone else I could trust, who could understand me, if I had her, it would be enough.

Sivael has no magical ability, but she is well-educated and does a superb job of keeping the records of my work. And she is unfailingly kind and patient with me. Even when I become excessively absorbed in my work and short-tempered, she reminds me that my work is not the only thing of value in my life.

8. What is your favorite thing to do?
Studying magic. Experimenting with different ways of using Source-power. Learning and expanding our knowledge of what is possible.

9. What is your greatest fear?
That I will not live long enough to be able to make the results of my studies widely known, or that something else will happen to cut my work short.

10. What is your most treasured possession?
My magical abilities, and my lady Sivael.