Menacing lizards (little dragons?)

Today we were menaced by a collared lizard. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

We had been out for a walk at about 8 AM. In Arizona. When it’s supposed to be (only) 109. (It was 116 yesterday, so I’d say 109 is an improvement.) Anyway, the heat has made the insect population explode. By extension, the lizard population has also exploded. They’re everywhere, lots of different kinds, all looking at you sarcastically as you walk by.

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This lovely guy is a Great Basin Collared Lizard. Look at the condescension in his eye.

Anyway, we were walking along one of the nearby washes, which is full of brush and animal life. A good sized collared lizard ran away from us into the bushes as we walked along. Suddenly its mate popped out onto the sidewalk.

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Not my photo–it’s from WIkimedia Commons

He looked like this one. Only with more red. He flattened himself to make himself look bigger, and extended his throat dewlap thing, which I’d only seen iguanas do when afraid or scared. Then he started doing pushups.

Lizard Pushups

This is a display of aggression. He was warning us to leave his territory, he was top lizard, and we were unwanted predators.

I sat and laughed. I mean, getting menaced by a critter the size of my foot is pretty funny. His resolve faded as we walked closer, and he zipped into the bushes again. Poor lizard, I don’t mean to laugh at you, but you’re just so funny.

Now imagine if he was elephant-sized and doing an aggressive display to lurking humans. That right there is a dragon.

I think it would be fun if somebody wrote a story with an actual reptilian dragon that actually exhibited reptile behavior. Imagine the huge dragon basking on a rock in the early morning, watching his domain and hoping a female shows up. 😀 Who shows up to ruin his day? Some irritating dragonslayer. Cue the aggressive head-bobbing and pushups, man!

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Dragon on the rock by Antimad1
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Stories that stand the test of time

In Story Engineering, Mr. Brooks talks about the importance of human psychology. He states that a book that gets psychology right will stand out from the crowd.

I started looking around for examples of this. Being a mom, we read oceans of children’s books. I’ve noticed for a while that my favorite books are really old ones, from the 60s and earlier. With the new angle of human psychology in mind, I started looking at them.

And you know, he’s right.

Look at Little Bear, by Elsa Holmelund Minarik.

LittleBear

Little Bear asks for more and more clothes to wear outside because he’s cold in the snow. At the end, his mother takes away all his clothes and shows him his fur coat. “And he was not cold. What do you think of that?”

Or how about Three to Get Ready, by Betty Boegehold and Mary Chalmers.

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“George was very sorry. George was very sorry for George. He said, “Gigi’s fish looks better than my fish. Ginger’s fish looks better than my fish. They have a better supper than I have.” So George bit Gigi. He scratched Ginger.”

Each little story in Three to Get Ready is a different exploration of a vice–bad temper, greed, or disobedience. Each vice comes with interesting consequences as some adventure befalls each kitten.

The same with Arnold Lobel’s little books, his most famous being Frog and Toad.

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In one book, for example, Toad has a dream that he’s on stage, being famous. Meanwhile his friend, Frog, is in the crowd. Every time Toad does something amazing, Frog shrinks a little more. After a while, Frog is too small to be seen or heard. Toad wakes up in a panic. I’ve posted before about the wonderful story about when Frog and Toad fly a kite.

But there are plenty of others. For instance, Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, a heartwarming tale about earth works. Or the same author’s book The Little House, (one of my favorites as a kid), a heartwarming story about urban development. The early Berenstein Bears (The Bike Lesson, the Honey Hunt, the Bear’s Picnic) inadvertently says more about marriage than it does about the story. (Seriously. Watch Mama Bear’s face.)

So, I think Larry Brooks is right. We love seeing the outcome of human psychology. It makes for the best stories.

Can Story Engineering save your book?

I’m emerging from building a new book like a groundhog from his hole. Blinking. Jumping at shadows. “Wait, you still want regular meals?”

It hasn’t been that bad, ha ha. After I officially retired the Spacetime books, I knew I would need serious help to turn them into marketable urban fantasy. Lo and behold, who should pop into my blog feed but Larry Brooks, talking about concept, premise, and his book Story Engineering.

I needed pretty much all of the above, so I checked out the book at the library.

After four chapters, I realized that I would need to buy this book. It is destined to be filled with underlines and sticky notes. I read a few chapters, furiously write things down, then read some more.

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One of my ideas involves a panther, because they’re so pretty. And deadly.

Story Engineering takes screenplay writing and applies it to novel writing. To become a successful author, you have to master the six core competencies:

One: Concept
Two: Character
Three: Theme
Four: Structure
Five: Scene execution
Six: Writing voice

Each item has five or ten chapters devoted to it, along with helpful worksheets to get the juices flowing. For example, at the end of this post is the list of questions for building a character, their backstory, salient characteristics, and arc.

Following his guidelines, I’ve got a rough outline of a tight plot that pleases me very much. The nice thing is, I already knew most of this. It’s an in-depth version of Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants. But this book takes it to an extremely detailed depth.

So if you’re like me with a few books under your belt and you’re looking to up your game, check out Story Engineering. Any tool that lets me write fewer drafts is great, in my opinion!

And now, that character sheet:


What is his backstory, the experiences that programmed how he thinks and feels and acts?

What is his inner demon, and how does it influence decisions and actions in the face of the outer demon?

What does he resent?

What is his drive to get revenge?

How does he feel about himself, and what is the gap between that assessment and how others feel about him?

What is his worldview?

What is your character’s moral compass?

Is he a giver or a taker in life?

To what extent does he adhere to gender roles and stereotypes?

What lessons has he not yet learned in life?

What lessons has he experienced but rejected or failed to learn?

Who are his friends? Are they like for like, or above/below him in intelligence?

What is his social I/Q? Awkward? Eager? Easy? Life of the party? Wallflower? Faking?

Introvert or extrovert? How does this manifest?

What is his secret yearning?

What childhood dream never came true, and why?

What is his religion?

What’s the worst thing he’s ever done?

Does he have secrets or a secret life?

What do his friends/family/employer not know about him?

When, how, why does he hold back/procrastinate?

What has held him back in life?

Who would come to his funeral–or not?

What is the most unlikely or contradictory part about him?

What are his first dimension quirks, habits, and choices?

Why are they in evidence, what are they saying or covering for?

What is the backstory that leads to these choices?

What are the psychological scars that affect his life, and how does this link to backstory?

How strong is he under pressure?

What is his arc over the course of the story? How does he change and grow?

How does he apply that learning toward becoming the catalytic force that drives the denouement of the story?

Rebooting Spacetime

It was time. Time to write the final Spacetime book. I grimly faced the computer screen, forcing myself to read the first book in the series. I had to reread the whole series in order to write that final book, and I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Except I did. I read Facebook. I watched videos. I chatted to friends. Everything except read the book.

Finally I confronted myself. I usually love to read my own work. Why was this so hard? What was wrong with me?

As I began to answer those questions, I realized what I needed to do.

Spacetime was my “learning to write” books. I experimented. I tried things. I practiced editing. And the books are terrible. Downright awful. I could detail all the ways that they suck, but I’ll spare you.

The point is, I unpublished the whole series this week. As of next month they will be unavailable online any more. It’s been a regular ice pick through the heart.

I still like the characters, though. I feel like I didn’t do them or their world justice. (I even had a review that mourned that the ideas were good, but the execution was lacking.) I’ve been dying to reboot their world as a tightly-written urban fantasy joyride. So I talked it over with my husband, and he agreed.

Spacetime is going away. It’ll be reborn as a trilogy that will be so good, I’ll actually want to read it. Right now the world building is consuming my consciousness. We’re revamping the magic system, combining and rethinking characters, and basically doing all the things I couldn’t do before. Lesson learned: don’t write fantasy books when pregnant/nursing. My brain cells just don’t operate at full capacity.

The five books will be condensed into a trilogy. Here is the rough summary of the new first book:

If you can’t kill them, catch them.

When a wild kelpie rampages through downtown Phoenix, James “Carda” Chase captures it using forbidden space magic. Hired as part of a secret coalition of mages defending Earth, Carda must figure out who is breaking the World Wards and letting monsters through before the wards fall and magic creatures overrun a world unprepared for them.

Yeah, there’s a tiny influence from Monster Hunter International in there.

There was so many ideas in the original Spacetime drafts that got cut, like angeli ascendants, and geomancers, and various other worlds and characters that never saw the spotlight. The original series was closer to superhero fiction than real urban fantasy. Casting it as actual fantasy means fantasy creatures running around our modern world. I get to play with modern applications for magic (like, for instance, powering a car’s engine purely by fire magic). I get to write a character in a codependent relationship with an elemental. My werewolf doesn’t have to be so sciencey anymore–he can just be a dang werewolf.

I’m so excited to write a proper couple of books in this genre. Everything about urban fantasy excites me. Imagine if Harry Potter grew up and roamed Muggle London, beating down magical creatures that threatened to expose the wizarding world to Muggles. That’s urban fantasy. And it’s awesome.

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Top Five Fandoms I’m No Longer In

I borrowed this topic from Thrice Read, who did it as part of their Top Five Wednesday theme. I loved the idea of talking about fandoms we’ve loved and abandoned, so here we go:

5. Harry Potter

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I started reading Harry Potter when book 4 came out. The controversy over them was raging, and I’d heard both sides of the argument pretty thoroughly. So I picked up the first Harry Potter and the first Redwall (both of which were very popular at the time). Harry was so much more fun than Redwall. My whole family really got into the Harry books, trying to guess what might happen next, trying to guess who the Half-Blood Prince might be, and so on. But after book 7 … I don’t know. I’m done. I still admire the books for being a great story, but that ship has sailed.

4. World of Warcraft

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I played WoW with my siblings from the first version onward through the first two expansions. I had a top-level character with epic gear, did Heroic Dungeons and raids … and then I burned out. I had babies and less and less free time. Then the fourth expansion came out, which changed the original game … and I don’t know. I never got into it after that. I still buy a month now and then, but it’s such a time sink, I just can’t get back into it.

3. Doctor Who

DOCTOR WHO *embargoed 19th March*

I watched a smattering of Doctors 9 and 10, but I started really watching it with 11. And, let’s face it, the story arc for 11 had some real high points. Trying to guess what River Song would do next, and if she would really kill the Doctor? And the whole arc with the Doctor trying to escape his own death at the hands of the Impossible Astronaut? Silence will fall? The crack in the wall? The Weeping Angels? Oh man, it was amazing.

Then the head writer started writing Sherlock instead, and the brilliance faded. The Eleventh Doctor kind of fell by the wayside, his series ending with a whimper. Then the Twelfth Doctor started up, and instead of the dignity I felt the Doctor should have, he was overly silly. I fell off the Doctor Who wagon and never got back on.

2. His Dark Materials

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A friend gave me the first book when it was still called Northern Lights (it was changed to the Golden Compass later, which annoyed me, because the alethiometer wasn’t a compass). That first book was AWESOME. Then the second book came out, and it was … well, still good, but where was this all going? Then the third book came out. My friend and I read it … and we never spoke of it again. You don’t split up the main characters and take away their powers at the end, man. Growing up isn’t as horrible as all that. But this book makes adulthood into this horrible, horrible thing. Not to mention all the other … uh … issues this author seemed to have. We’ll leave it at that. Talk about disappointing.

Number 1: The Raven Boys.
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I picked up the first book when it came out because I had liked Shiver so much and I wanted to read more of the author’s work. Raven Boys took me on a wild romp with preppy school boys, psychics, a treasure hunt, leylines, ghosts, and all kinds of fantastic magical realism stuff that flirted with real magic. The second book, Dream Thieves, was even better. Then the author started talking on Twitter about the directions she was taking the characters … directions I honestly didn’t think worked for the characters … and then book 4 came out .. and all I had to do was read the reviews. Very disappointed reviews. The big reveal was a bust. The big reversal was flubbed. It was like getting to the ending of LOST and going, “What, did the author run out of ideas or something?”

So there’s my top five no-longer-fandoms. How about you? Do you have any fandoms that you jumped into and then left later on?