Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An Update on the BLOG Tour and Treating NESS

Before I do my actual post about multiple storylines, let me pass on some great news. The ARCs are on track for early May. I haven’t seen the sketches for the cover art yet, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds like the cover is going to be great. I am supposed to get final edits back about the third week of this month. Okay, stop yawning. I’m getting to the good stuff. What this means to you is that the Farworld Blog Tour is officially a go.

Sometime early next week I will post the juicy details, but the 2000 foot overview is that on Monday April 14th I will take the first 200 people who sign up for the tour. You agree to post a review of Farworld book one along with ten or so questions and answers appropriate to your blog. Shadow Mountain agrees to send you an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) for you to review and to ship a copy anywhere in the US as part of a contest which you tie to the tour. Just as an FYI, if you haven’t ever seen an ARC, it looks very much like the hardback—same cover art, same size, same formatting inside—but often it doesn’t have the inside illustrations, and it could have a few typos since it is created from the gallies of the book before they get the final, final, edit.

Here’s one new twist I decided to add. It looks like we are going to get a really good response as I’ve already heard from over a hundred bloggers wanting to take part. But you can guarantee that you are part of the tour and help build publicity for the event by posting a link on your blog about the tour when I post the actual details (on or about the 7th of April.) Everyone who blogs about the tour and encourages other bloggers to sign up will be guaranteed a pair of ARCs. How can you complain about that huh?

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program. Have you ever read a book and come away from it thinking, “You know that was a cool plot, but I really didn’t feel any connection to the characters?” Or have you ever read a book where the big twist of the story took so long to get to that you either found yourself turning to the back of the book to see what the solution was, or abandoning the book altogether? If so, the book might have been suffering NESS. Not Enough Storylines Syndrome.

NESS is pretty much what it sounds like. A severe weakening of your plot and or characters because of a deficiency of storylines, causing the reader to become disinterested and or frustrated. Additional side effects may include nausea (that book made me puke), bleeding (I swear I was about to jab my eyes out with a bookmark if something didn’t happen), trembling (I was shaking with rage because I couldn’t stand how the author dragged out the story), or worst of all drowsiness (it put me to sleep.)

The reason it is important to have multiple storylines is much like the reason a good meal must have multiple dishes. Steak is great. But ask anyone who’s been on an Atkins diet. Without anything else, meat gets old fast. But it’s not just about variety. Storylines allow you to reveal enough information that the reader can live with the fact that you are hiding the ultimate answer. They allow you to keep the story moving forward without having every chapter build up to one big climax. They allow you to give the characters additional depth.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say our main storyline is about a girl discovering she is really the Queen. How do we begin the story? Well if it’s like most stories where ordinary people do extraordinary things, we probably have to begin with her living a simple farm life. That way we can enjoy the surprise along with her when she discovers her true identity.

Let’s take the first five chapters of our book and examine how exciting they are in relationship to that one storyline.

Chapter 1 Nothing happens
Chapter 2 Nothing happens
Chapter 3 A wondering wizard finds a mysterious letter
Chapter 4 The protagonist’s mother dies and tells the girl she is not who she think she is
Chapter 5 Nothing Happens

On a scale of 1 to 10. with 1 being no moment on the storyline and 10 being the most exciting point, we probably have something like 1,1,3,6,1.
Three chapters of absolute nothingness. Now you could fix that by creating a linear storyline something like this, 1,2,3,4,5. But even then, you start out with a boring beginning and how long can you keep raising the stakes without the reader revolting?

Instead, let’s add a secondary storyline. Since we want the reader to empathize with our protagonist, let’s have her supporting her sick mother and four younger brothers and sisters. And since we want to begin with a bang, lets start with a fight at work that ends up with her losing her job. In fact, to be mean, let’s have her lose her job in the first chapter, and get robbed by the mean boss in the second chapter. Then in chapter five we’ll have her offered a job by the wondering wizard. In this storyline, we now have an 8,10,1,1,5. True there are two ones, but those are chapters that already have a three and a six.
So now if we take the highest score—from either storyline—in each chapter, it looks like this, 8,10,3,6,5. Not bad. But chapter three still has me a little worried. All I’ve really got happening is the wizard finding the letter, and I really like to have all of my chapters be a six or higher. There’s nothing worse than a chapter that feels liked it was just stuck in to connect the chapter before it and the one after.

I think we really need another storyline. The one area we haven’t focused on is the antagonist. And as I discussed in a previous blog, the antagonist is one of the most important parts of your hook. The current queen would be the obvious choice. But remember that wondering wizard? The one who finds the letter and gives our poor protagonist a job? How evil would it be if we made him the bad guy? Of course he will have his own motives that we’ll fill in later. But let’s have him find the letter, realize what it means, and try to poison our heroine. We can’t kill her off in the third chapter of the book, but . . . mom’s death certainly looks a little more suspicious now doesn’t it? And how on edge will the reader be when the girl they now love takes a job with the man they hate?

Our third storyline would look like this, 1,1,8,7,10. Chapters 3,4, and 5 build up with the wizard finding the letter and trying to poison the girl, the mother accidentally ingesting the poison and dying, and the girl taking a job with the very person. Our overall storyline, with each of the three arcs looks like 8,10,8,7,10. Now that is a story!
One of the other benefits of having the three storylines going is that we can have smaller resolutions along the way to the major climax. It wouldn’t be much of a story if the heroine regained the title of queen halfway through the book. But we could have her come into enough money to support her family halfway through. And we could certainly have her discover the true nature of the wizard 3/4s of the way through. These little victories keep the reader satisfied on the way to the ultimate conclusion.

You can get too many storylines going on, making the reader lose focus. But if you stick with somewhere between three and five main storylines in a typical book of 70k+ words, you should be fine. Middle grade novels or early chapter books will probably not have as many storylines, while a series like the wheel of time could have dozens.

What’s your opinion?

8 comments:

Brian said...

Scott-
I loved the idea of NESS. The storylines idea was very useful too. I also can't wait for the ARC chance. I will certainly do the blog tour, Qs, As, and reveiws! I have a Q though: To enter, should we post a comment, or send an e-mail? Either way, I can't wait.

J Scott Savage said...

Thanks Brian. I'll probably just have everyone who wants to take part e-mail me. That way I can get the mailing address for sending the book, name of the blog, etc. But I'll post all the details on Monday.

Kaleb said...

you're so right on the plotting. it's like slogging through mud in a scene when there is no turmoil motivating the characters :)

Brian said...

Thanks for clearing that up for me Scott. By the way, did you make up the example story as you went along?

Anna said...

I picked something else on the poll.

I think that in a YA novel, I look for good writing. For Harry Potter, this is creativity and well-fleshed out characters. For Cornelia Funke, it's a unique idea and a poetic way of writing the story. For Leven Thumps, it was the elements of the story. It bugs me if I find a story that is written so badly that I can't get into the story. If I'm bored, I'm not gonna finish it unless that changes. I like books that have lots of different characters with their own story lines. My only problem with that is if a character that I don't like gets a ton of time in the story, and if that story line bores me. I didn't like that Roran had so much time in the story, because I thought his story line was boring.

J Scott Savage said...

Kaleb,

Exactly right. It's like the reader is begging, "PLease make something happen! Anything to keep me interested."

Brian,

Yep, I made it up. Want to take it and run with it?

Anna,

I agree. I hate it when their are dual storylines and one is really interesting while the other is really boring. If I have to chose an exciting story or good writing, I'll take story. But if a writer can give me both, I will buy everything they write.

Sean Ashby said...

I love this graph approach! On one hand, I wonder if a graph would turn off the really "artistic" right-brained writers at first (you know, those who shrink and whither away at any relic from the business world like a vampire confronted by a crucifix). But on the other hand, I would think it could be very helpful to see an abstract idea presented in a visual way (which is how right-brained people look at the world anyway). I like it a lot, personally.

I've read a lot of interviews with authors who prefer to "plunge" into a story and sort of "make it up" as they go along. Unfortunately, it usually means they have to do a lot of editing afterwards, no doubt in order to remove all the points in the story that would rank below a 6 on the graph.

Me, I'd rather know up front if I'm off on the right track, and save myself the work. Every author's different, I suppose...

Booklogged said...

Scott, thank-you for posting on my blog. It's fun reading your plans and excitement for your upcoming book. I am not an author and have no ambitions in that area, but I do love reading.

I'm glad to see that you are doing a blog tour. I hear that the blogging community is what helped make The Thirteenth Tale such a big seller.

Also, Shannon Hale has been helped a great deal by blogger reviews. I would be honored to read and review your book on my blog, so I'll send an email in hopes of receiving an ARC. I love to see LDS authors make good.