Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Key to a Great Story – ‘Overcoming a Threat’ Plot

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The Key to a Great Story – ‘Overcoming a Threat’ Plot
Harry's victory or Voldemort's downfall? Depends on the plot type really as to which you choose.

Harry’s victory or Voldemort’s downfall? Depends on the plot type really as to which you choose.

One of the easiest plots to understand is where the protagonist has to overcome a threat posed by the antagonist. Stories like the Harry Potter books, Star Wars: A New Hope and the James Bond films all revolve around this premise.

The plots in these types of stories threaten the status quo, and it falls to the protagonist and their companions to try and return their world back to the status quo. Plots of this type generally escalate. The situation gets worse and worse until near the end the antagonistic force is overcome.  Along the way the protagonists and their companions might fall out (as frequently happens in the Harry Potter books), but in the end their goals unite them all together to help defeat the enemy.  The world then is able to slowly return to normal for the vast majority of people.

The world through might not be the same for your protagonist. They might have had to make sacrifices along the way, had to overcome grief and they might have had to fight because they had lost everything in the first place. It might not be possible for the world to be the same ever again. They might not be heroes: they might have been acting because they were angry or frightened, or because their only other choice was to die.

What makes these types of stories interesting is the emotional trauma that the protagonist has to go through and overcome in order to get to the end. In Lord of the Rings there are many characters, but two of the most compelling are Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. No one will ever convince me that Sam was just Frodo’s companion (his gardener); he is very much his equal. He might not have been the first one who volunteered in Elrond’s Council to go to Mordor, but he stuck by Frodo’s side the entire way. The burden of the ring might not have affected him as badly as it did Frodo and Gollum, but he had the burden of watching his friend being destroyed.

frodo and sam

For Frodo the world could never be the same again and he had to leave the world he helped to save in order to come to peace with what he had sacrificed in order to save it. For Sam the world got better; he found out that there was so much more to life than being afraid of love. That was how the same journey had effected those two characters.

In my opinion the journey characters go on to overcome threats can be some of the most compelling plotlines. The nature of threats to be overcome can be as complex and varied as the methods the protagonists try to overcome them. The thing to always remember though is the sacrifice of your characters in these stories, because it is their sacrifice that the reader will remember.

The Key to a Great Story – The Basics of Plot

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The Seven Stories Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, Great Britain, dedicated to Children's Literature. Named after the theory of the seven story types.

The Seven Stories Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, Great Britain, dedicated to Children’s Literature. Named after the theory of the seven story types.

This post is about the basics of the different story types and how they can be helpful, but I will be posting about each one of them individually and then I will posting about how combining them can make for much more realistic and complex stories.

It is said in theory that there are seven story types; it is always a good idea to at least know which category the story you’re writing falls into. However, I would never advice that you choose a story type and try to structure a story around that type. That would just be boring.

The story has to come from you. If you already have a good idea of what you what to have happen, then how using story type can be helpful would be as an aid to structuring your plot, building tension in the right places and striving towards a conclusion. If you’re less sure about what you want your story to be about, then having a basic understanding of the different story types might give you inspiration, but it should never dictate to you what you can and can’t do with your story. Variety is what brings readers back to reading. Nobody wants to read the same story over and over again.

So, the basic story types are as follows:

  • Overcoming a threat
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

There is debate about whether there are seven types, or only three, or even as many thirty-six. The seven are the ones I’m going to focus on in my posts, but just remember, it’s your story that you want to tell. The story types are guidelines, they are not hard and fast rules.

A Dragon Scale Shawl

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So after a Star Wars marathon, a Tolkien marathon, the six episodes of Pride and Prejudice, the four of North and South (twice), a couple of other random films, several stages of the Tour de France and a couple of the La Vuelta a Espana and I’ve made a shawl worthy of a dragon queen. Just not the Khaleesi, becuase it’s not blue.

  
A crocodile stitch shawl, (but I prefer calling it Dragon Scales), made with a UK number 4 crochet hook and thirteen and a half balls of Sublime Tussah Silk DK 50g. (www.sublimeyarns.com). 

Film Review – The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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man from uncle

I have to admit I didn’t know much about ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ when I went to see it. I pretty much knew that the trailer looked cool, I like Guy Ritchie as a director, that like a lot of things in Hollywood it was a remake (this time of a 1960s British TV Series) and I have a soft spot for spy thrillers based in the 1960s and the Cold War. ‘Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’, was the nitty-gritty film that introduced me to the intriguing and the subtle moves and counter-moves of Cold War espionage. I absolutely loved it, because it was intelligent and tension filled film making.

As much as I loved it though, I did want to see a 1960s Cold War Thriller with a little bit of a fun edge, and Ritchie’s ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ delivers the tension, the counter-moves and the humour all rolled into an action packed and glamorous couple of hours.

The plot is fairly simple; a rogue organisation with links to Nazism has the means and the ability to make themselves a nuclear power. In order to try and prevent this, and also to bolster their own nuclear position, America and Russia team up in order to stop them. Henry Cavill and Arnie Hammer deliver flawless performances as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin; their rapport with each other is brilliant to watch.

Their characters are both very competent spys, but with very different skill sets that compliment each other very well, much to their irritation. Despite being from America and Russia, as much as they do dislike each other just on principle they do have a great deal of respect for each other, and watch each other’s back.

The utter brilliance of the film though cannot just be credited to the male leads; they are essentially the brawn when compared to Alicia Vikander’s Gaby and Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria.

The former is the daughter of the nuclear scientist helping the Nazi’s and is recruited by Solo and Kuryakin to help stop them. She is witty, feisty, and completely at ease with just being herself. While she adds to the glamour and the beauty of the film, she is well aware of her importance in trying to help stop a nuclear disaster. She is not just there to wear the thigh skimming mini skirts and look pretty. She is the most vital cog in the team; in truth the only reason she needs a team because she needs Illya to pose as her fiance.

And then there is Victoria; stunningly beautiful, brainy and the film’s main villain. I absolutely loved this character. Posed and confident, she is the perfect match for Solo, Illya and Gabby. It was a wonderful, refreshing change to see a female villain that in truth is better than most male villains I’ve seen over the the years. The character was just flawless.

I loved the film from start to finish; the plot wasn’t overly complicated but not so simple it was insulting; the cinematography and editing made for a beautiful film; and the characters were three dimensional human beings. I know that Hollywood is getting a lot of stick at the minute for remakes and sequel, but this was a brilliant remake which I very much hope gets a sequel.

The Importance Of An Author Platform

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The Importance Of An Author Platform

An author platform is very important to begin to build. It can be grueling but it can also be a great deal of fun.

Lynette Noni

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In this day and age, as painful as it is to admit, agents and publishers are drawn to writers who have evidence of a platform already in play. This is partly because it means there is already a readership ready to purchase any books that may be signed on, but it’s also partly because it shows a willingness on your end to do some of the hard yards of marketing. And I say ‘hard yards’ because building a following is not easy. It takes time, it takes dedication, it takes vulnerability. So if an agent or publisher can see you already have people interested in your words – whether through blogging or other social media avenues – that tells them that they can consider taking you seriously as well.

I know, I know, it kind of sucks. I mean, what happened to the good old days when all you needed was to write a decent story? Well…

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Book Review – Veiled by Benedict Jacka

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Book Review – Veiled by Benedict Jacka

Benedict Jacka’s ‘Veiled’, the sixth novel in the Alex Verus series more than makes up for my disappointment with the previous installment ‘Hidden‘. The thing that I absolutely love about the Alex Verus books is that with each installment Benedict Jacka comes up with a new angle to look at the magical world he has created; it is that innovation and development that I really love, because there is nothing I hate more in a fantasy series than being bored. Even with ‘Hidden’ I wasn’t bored, even if I wasn’t as enthused with it has I had been with the first four books.

‘Veiled’ though opens up a whole new can of worms for Benedict Jacka to explore. Like ‘Chosen‘ this is one of those books I was hoping that Jacka was going to write at some point. ‘Chosen’ was about Alex’s past and about how that has made him into the character that I have come to love. ‘Veiled’ is about the present and about the future developments of his world, because this one is about the politics of the magical world.

From the very beginning of the series, it has been hinted at throughout the books that the politics of the Council and the various factions that exist can be very complicated. However, because Alex was an outsider it has never really been vital to know more about the complexity of the Council’s politics. ‘Veiled’ is all about that politics and the beginnings to develop it as part of the series. It has given ‘Veiled’ the much needed boost in innovation that I found a bit lacking in ‘Hidden’.

And it is utterly brilliant.

The Alex Verus books can be characterised as being a quick-paced urban fantasy thriller and ‘Veiled’ is no different. It is a page turner in every sense of the word, and very nearly kept me up far later than it should have done one night because I didn’t want to put it down to do something as trivial as sleep.

From the very first book ‘Fated‘, Alex has had to struggle as an independent while the events around him were manipulated by the various Light and Dark factions. He has pretty much had to survive on his own, usually only just and only because his divination and his loyal friends have been able to help him survive. In ‘Veiled’ though Alex Verus is no longer as independent as he once was; he’s now part of the Keepers, a police-like force that upholds the Concord and answers to the Council.

In previous books it has been hinted at that the Keeper’s aren’t quite like the police force we would know; the complexity of the magical law means that they don’t just go after criminals who say commit murder or kidnap people. It very much depends on who was killed, why and whether there was a faction of the Council that want to pursue the criminal or whether even under magical law they are even deemed to have done something wrong at all.

In ‘Hidden’ Anne Walker disappearance wasn’t really the concern of the Keepers, who didn’t fully commit to finding her even when attempts at linking her disappearance to a known and wanted criminal would have made it their priority. Alex has no choice but save Anne himself, which leads him to seeing his old master again.

In ‘Veiled’ though in order to try and help protect himself and his friends from his old master, Alex joins the Keepers and is thrown head-first into the complicated politics of the magical world, where he no longer can go ahead and do what is right if those aren’t his orders. He also has to contend with the fact that as an ex-Dark Mage not everyone trusts him, because to them ‘once a Dark always a Dark.

So when he’s given a small seemingly unimportant job to go and investigate, and then finds himself right in the middle of the trouble and a massive political battleground, Alex has to watch his back, because not only does he have to follow orders (which he struggles with when he disagrees with them) he also has to contend with the possibility that his own colleagues might get ordered to kill him in order to keep him quiet.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series

Book Review – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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‘Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know you heart well, it would never be able to do that to you. Because you will know it’s dreams and wishes, and you will know how to deal with them.

You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to hat it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.’

Book_the-alchemist

It is not very often that I pick up and book and realise that if I had of read it sooner than I wouldn’t have had to learnt a life lesson all on my own. A couple of years ago now I started a blog series called ‘Notes on Life‘.  The first ever post I made was Note No. 1 – Love’s Betrayal, where I said that ‘Your own heart will betray you more fiercely than any person ever could.’ It does make me wonder though if I hadn’t of learnt that profound life lesson all on my own whether the quote above from ‘The Alchemist’ would have even registered. I doubt there will ever be an answer to my question.

However, I have in reading this book at last answered another question on my own; why does everyone always exclaim that you have to read ‘The Alchemist’?

Normally when people tell me that I have to do something simply because it is ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ or the ‘thing that everybody is doing’, my gut reaction is be disinterested. I am a fiercely independent person; I like to make my own decisions about whether I am going to do something or not. I don’t like people making those decisions that I will like it and therefore I should be doing it for me.

I know the vast majority of the time people are very well meaning and want to introduce me to something that will make me happy, but I have always believed that my happiness comes from me satisfying my own curiosity at the pace that I have chosen to do so. My parents and my partner are some of the few people I listen to more closely than others, but even then I do things in my own time, I just generally think about it a lot quicker because I trust their instincts.

I wasn’t interested in fads like Twilight, or Fifty Shades or Hunger Games, at the height of their popularity. In truth the majority of the time I only ever end up reading trends like this because they are were so popular they registered on my radar on a fairly frequent basis. So in my own time I read the Twilight books, and wondered immediately why anyone actually liked them. I didn’t even make it halfway through the first Fifty Shades book before I just put it down in horror that something so badly written with such one-dimensional characters actually got published.

I read the Hunger Games trilogy from start to finish, and while I didn’t fall in love with the books as deeply as I have with others in the past, I really love the originality of storyline and the female protagonist who wants to protect her family more than just find a boy to live happily ever after with. I approached all of them with my own curiosity, not at the insistence of others. I can feel my curiosity about The Maze Runner building and I suspect by the end of the year I will have tried it out, but not until I am ready.

The copy of ‘The Alchemist’ I ended up reading was brought into work by a colleague who picked up the copy from the 2012 World Book Night, and put it on the staff room’s ‘Leave a book, Take a Book’ shelf, where I will return it to on Monday morning for the next person to discover. It’s been there for a while, and my curiosity about book’s made me look it up on the web. I generally don’t read books that I have no idea about or I haven’t heard about. ‘The Alchemist’ came back as one of those books that is on lots of must read lists, and is high up in the estimations of literary circles as a great book. I’m not disputing that, but naturally as curious as I am, I like my curiosity to lead me to a book when I am good a ready to be lead there.

So on Friday lunchtime, after having been near a copy of ‘The Alchemist’ for what must have been nearly eighteen months, I finished the book I had brought with me to work to read on my breaks and on my commute. I hadn’t actually anticipated I would finish it, as I usually remember to bring a back-up for such occasions. I wasn’t in the mood to play a game on my phone, so I picked up ‘The Alchemist’ to read on my way back home. I certainly didn’t discover the book by accident, but I very much love my journey towards finally reading it. I listened to my heart, and to the good omen of having finished my other book, and I found myself reading ‘A fable about following your dream’.

The plot of the book is fairly simple to follow; if your heart desires more than what you have in your life then no matter what obstacle you have to face, don’t give your on your dream, for that dream will live on in your heart. You do not want to reach the point in your life where fulfilling your dream is no longer possible. I think the most profound lesson that anyone would learn from the book is a simple truth; don’t ever give up. Sometimes there are signs in your life, omens are frequently referred to in the book, that you should listen to; good omens are to be followed and bad omens are to be listened to with a great deal of cautious.

So in answer to my question; hy does everyone always exclaim that you have to read ‘The Alchemist’? Because it will make you listen to your heart and your dreams, and it will teach you that you shouldn’t give up on them.

What a brilliant lesson for a book to teach you>

Book Review – Hidden by Benedict Jacka

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Hiddne

I would happily recommend ‘Hidden’ to anyone as it is a good read, but I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed when it came to reading the book because I had been so enraptured by the previous book in the series. I felt as if I was reading a combination of plots from ‘Taken‘ and ‘Chosen‘ again. The situations were sort of new, but I also sort of felt like the book was treading back over old ground. Fine some of the characters were still reeling from events of Chosen and didn’t want to be associated with Alex anymore, but I sort of felt that the entire book was just one long story about some of the characters getting over the last book.

Don’t get me wrong though it is a great book. Jacka has still delivered a page turner and I didn’t want to put it down, but that wasn’t until the last third of the book. Normally I can’t put down an Alex Verus novel from the very beginning, but I unfortunately found it very easy to put down to the extent it took me days to read when it normally only takes me hours for a Verus book. The first two thirds of the book certainly have its moments; the return to Tiger’s Palace was certainly a highlight, but some of the encounters with old favourites like Sonder, were just downright annoying.

I think the problem I have with the book is that I really, really like the character of Alex Verus, which isn’t a bad thing for Benedict Jacka. On two dimensional paper he has created a three dimensional person, which I know from experience of creating characters myself is no mean feat. Alex is a good guy in a tough situation; some of that is his own fault but he is at the point in his life when he is more than aware of that he has made some very bad mistakes in the past. He holds up his hands and admits that he’s not perfect and that quality is for me what makes him so believable. I just unfortunately feel that for this book the plot and the other characters have let the protagonist down a little bit.

It really irritates me when the other characters can’t see that he does have very good intentions but that sometimes he doesn’t have a choice about following them. Here in lies one problem with using the first person voice; you only see the story from that character’s perspective. Add in my own realism and I really do struggle to understand the motivations of some of the characters that do not like violence. As idealistic as they are, it also makes them incredibly naive, even though none of the characters of the magical world are ignorant of the fact that some people in their world are going to be violent over reasonable.

One of the very best interactions though is Alex with his father; a strained relationship to say the least, but his pacifism is based on the reality of the real (our) world, not on the dangers of the magical one. He is the only one of the characters who have problems with Alex having to use the violent option in order to survive that I can find believable. He lives in a different world; academia, which for all of its wisdom and intelligence can be a very isolated place. I know this from experience after completing two degrees and I now work at a university as well. The harsh realities of our world rarely touch academic places, so his father’s problems with his son’s past which are based in a world he doesn’t even know about is very well conceived, if a little bit undeveloped in ‘Hidden’, I hope it is the beginning of a new perspective on Jacka’s world; that of an outsider who doesn’t know magic exists. Trying to explain it exists could be a great conversation.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series.