Category Archives: Plot

Breaking the suspension of disbelief.

I rewatched Transformers this weekend, a movie I haven’t seen in a while. In the middle of the movie, I ran into a scene I almost forgot about. Then I watched it and I remembered seeing it for the first time–not just seeing it, but sitting there and going “What? No way! How can they possibly expect me to buy that?”

This may seem like an odd thing to say in the middle of a movie about living robots that like to hide in plain sight as cars, but that’s the thing about suspension of disbelief. It has limits.

Transformers-posterNow, before I pick on this scene in detail, I have to say that I like this movie. Which is probably one of the reasons this scene bugged me so much.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the story establishes that giant transformable robots exist and that they’re searching for a giant cube that has the power to turn anything mechanical into one of their kind. Or destroy all life as we know it. You know, as giant cubes tend to do. They set this up as true, and I’m fine with that. Cool. Giant robots and the All Spark. Got it. And the story is set on Earth as we know it now. No problem.

Within this world that they’ve built, there are rules that we accept. We also accept that the humans follow the rules we know. Those rules collapsed completely when the blonde computer analyst working for the government managed to copy and sneak out a top secret file and bring it to her computer hacker friend. This friend, by some stroke of luck, has an alien language decryption program in his computer or something because as soon as he plugs in the SD card, he not only knows the signal’s strength, he can see the code hidden in the file and read part of what they downloaded from the government.

Umm… what?

An entire room of the best technical minds the government could acquire and equipment more powerful and advanced than anything available in the commercial sector couldn’t break this code. Couldn’t even figure out what the code was. But some hacker kid puts the information into his computer and BOOM! SOLVED!  No time lapse, no growing pile of coffee cups as he struggles through the night to crack the impossible code, no work AT ALL. Just done. Solved.

That moment bugged the hell out of me. I couldn’t buy it. Even in a world of giant robots, you can’t expect me to believe that one kid cracks in two seconds what an entire room of brilliant people couldn’t. Especially when he barely demonstrates any level of exceptional intelligence through the rest of the film. The blonde girl, however, is obviously a near-genius. She comes up with the brilliant ideas and she should have been the one to find some way to crack the code, but she wasn’t. She took it to the comic relief and let him do it.


Image credit Paramount, Hasbro, and Dreamworks 2007

At this point I could easily turn this into a post about taking away an important moment from a strong, intelligent female character, but I’ll save that for later.

The point of this post is this: no matter how entertaining or well-written the rest of the story, shattering the audience’s suspension of disbelief for even a moment can ruin everything. What do I always remember most about the first Transformers movie? That stupid hacker scene. Also, explosions. But mostly the hacker scene.

It’s why world building and consistency and listening to beta readers is so important. It’s why it’s worth it to take the time to dig into your world and figure out how everything works. What are the rules of your society and what technology is available to them? What are people capable of? Figure it out, establish it, and stick with it. If you do this, readers (or viewers) will stick with you. If not, you may end up with a lot of people shaking their heads and walking away muttering, “You have got to be kidding me.”

The road to discovery.

Make it Bigger 2 (c) Joana Croft

Earlier this week I talked about my state of overwhelm. Yeah. It’s still there. However, I have made a lot of progress toward the other side of the tunnel by coming up with a plot for book 2 that meets the approval of my editresses! And I’m excited. Not only do I get to play with some awesomely interesting new characters, the story itself should be a treat to write! All sorts of twisted and compelling.

The biggest lesson I’m taking away from the last few days is trust those you trust. That sounds weird to say, but let me explain.

After I wrote Sing, Sweet Nightingale, I had a vision in my head of where the story went from there. I knew more or less which characters had a part to play and how what happened in SSN changed those people and the world around them. I presented this whole idea to my editors and they came back with questions that made me go back and really take stock of the world. Now I’m still telling the same story–mostly–but the impact will be completely different. And better, I think. If almost anyone else had come to me with the same questions, I probably would have defended and talked them down until they went away and left me alone with my outlines. But I’ve already seen that Patricia and Danielle’s ideas–even when at first I don’t see where they’re coming from–are usually right. They’ve earned my trust, so when they wanted me to reexamine my story, I listened. And I’m really glad I did.

I still don’t know exactly how I’m going to pull everything off or where exactly I’ll end up if I do, but I’m thrilled to be on the journey, to discover new things about this world I’ve created. And, really, isn’t that the important part anyway?

You should usually try things more than once.

Lost1 by Sanja Gjenero
Lost 1 (c) Sanja Gjenero

As of last night, book 2 of The Dream War Saga has a plot! Well, it’s had a plot for a while, but it was more like a vague, “I know this stuff needs to happen somewhere in this book” kind of plot. Now it has chapters and everything! The gloriously wonderful Lani Woodland spent HOURS with me on Skype this week going through the story chapter by chapter to help me flesh out the ideas and figure out where I needed more meat on my skeleton of a novel. I’m kind of ridiculously excited by what we came up with! Things will probably change along the way, but in my humble opinion, my as yet unnamed book 2 will be freaking EPIC. 😉

Some of the ideas that now play an integral part to this completely epic plot probably wouldn’t have been born without Lani or the order to provide an outline to my editresses by the middle of next month. While I have used outlines before, overall, I’m not an outliner. I think that’s mostly because I’ve never tried outlining while bouncing ideas off someone else. When I’m sitting there staring at a chapter by chapter outline, nothing comes. Seriously, nothing. It’s frustrating and annoying and makes me want to avoid writing completely because if I can’t even come up with ideas how the hell am I going to build a career as an author? And I don’t like feeling like that. When I have someone to talk to who asks questions and makes suggestions and gets my brain working, though, I end up with an entire plot in about eight hours.

So here’s my advice: Try things at least twice. Preferably three times. If you don’t like a method or idea the first time, fine. Go back to the way you’ve been doing things and let it rest for a while. Try it again, but change it up somehow. Approach it from a different direction. Still doesn’t work? That’s fine. If you can come up with a third alternative approach, try that before giving it up entirely. If not, maybe this idea/method/whatever isn’t for you. And that’s okay. Not everything is going to be. The important part is getting words down on paper that make your heart beat faster and tears well in your eyes. As long as you can do that, the how doesn’t matter so much.

Communication, miscommunication, and Flight of the Conchords.

Shadows (c) Alex Bruda

For writers, communication is kind of important. And by kind of I mean OMG SUPER DUPER CRAZY IMPORTANT. Not only do you have to be able to communicate with your readers, but all of your characters have to be able to communicate with each other. You want your message to come across as accurately as possible and so correctly relaying information is crucial.

But that’s the problem. Information isn’t always relayed correctly. And even when it is, that doesn’t mean the person receiving said information will interpret it correctly. And that’s okay. It happens. Which is my point.

Have you ever been having a long, in-depth conversation with someone only to realize half and hour later that the two of you are talking about two completely different things? How about a text message from someone you don’t know quite well enough to be able to tell if they’re being sarcastic or not? Misinterpretation, misinformation, and miscommunication happen a lot. A LOT. It’s part of life and something we all have to deal with. What I realized last night while plotting book 2 in The Dream War Saga with the wonderful Lani Woodland, is that, as writers, we have to remember that. Whether the miscommunication is accidental or purposeful, it can play a huge part in a story. It can lead someone down the wrong path for a while (to build tension) or push them down the right one (to get yourself out of a tight corner). Or it can just be really funny watching two characters realize neither of them has any idea what’s going on.

One of my favorite funny examples is a song by Flight of the Conchords called Jenny. If you’ve never seen it, watch it below or find it on YouTube. It’s awesome and worth the seven minutes it’ll take out of your day. So, watch it! And then go ruin a character’s day by putting the wrong words in their mouth. 😉

Good times they are a’comin’!

Jumping Man (c) Asif Akbar

Yesterday, out of the blue, I heard from both of my editors! We’re finally getting close to the time when I have full permission to pelt them with questions and revisions and ideas and new plot points and anything else that pops into my head! I am so excited about this it’s kinda ridiculous. What’s even more exciting is that their texts perfectly coincided with my day-of-final-tweaks on SSN. Yesterday (excepting the three-hour break after a rodent electrocuted itself in my backyard and blew our transformer–yes, really), I went through SSN with my CP’s notes and made little changes per their suggestions. Now I just have to go back through it one last time before I can send it to Danielle and Patricia and start holding my breath in hopes they like the changes I’ve made. Cause they are numerous. And important. And OMG. O.O! Please, please, please like the changes!

I love my editor’s idea to have the entire series planned out before SSN releases. I’m also very happy they intend to help me do that because I am so not a plotter. Most of the time, I have an overview in my head and let things unfold from there. It’ll be an interesting experiment working with an outlined story. The closest I’ve come to this before is when I turned the short story version of SSN into a novel. But even then I had to expand it so much from the core idea it was almost like writing an entirely new story.

Updates on progress shall continue here throughout the publication process with as many details as possible. I really can’t wait until I can share real things like cover copy or, you know, a cover. Which I don’t have yet so don’t hold your breath for that one. The release date is still so far away it’ll be a while before any of that happens, but you can always check back here for updates and you should definitely consider adding Sing, Sweet Nightingale to read on Goodreads!

Okay, self-promotion over. The next six months will be full of amazing writerly things and I’m all atwitter to dive into it. I have new projects in the works and heavy edits to look forward to. All I have to figure out is how to fit it all in.

Wish me luck!

Inspiration: The Fictional Real World

I’ve mentioned more than a few times over the years that one of the best ways to find inspiration for stories is to pay attention to the world around you. Sometimes it’s coming across a biography or a report that reads like fiction and sometimes it’s something you witness. Today I’m going to give you examples of both.

To start, yesterday I almost saw someone die. The woman in the car behind me didn’t notice a blockage in the road ahead and almost didn’t switch lanes in time to avoid hitting a guy at about thirty-five miles an hour. Considering he was standing in front of a solid object, the impact would probably have killed him. For the rest of the drive home, my mind spun out disaster scenario after disaster scenario. Partially this happened because the whole incident totally freaked me out, but it also happened because I’ve trained my brain to respond this way to sparks. This is how I process, by hashing out what could have been. I have a chapter and a half of a story that may or may not ever see daylight and it all came out of a almost-accident that lasted about thirty seconds.

Second, I recently found two different stories (both, coincidentally, on, which I have to reference for work sometimes). The first one explains the rise of billionaire Sara Blakely, the inventor of the undergarment line Spanx. The author goes all the way back to the early days of Sara’s career and chronicles the invention of the now globally recognized Spanx products. Honestly, when I read it I immediately thought it sounded like something out of a movie. Sometimes reality has better fiction than some fiction does.

The other article I found on Forbes popped up today. Apparently Vogue Magazine is finally taking a stance on two incredibly important issues within the fashion industry: underage workers and eating disorders. According to the Forbes article and a statement released by Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Vogue plans to follow these six guidelines:

“1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.
“2. We will ask agents not to knowingly send us underage girls and casting directors to check IDs when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.
“3. We will help to structure mentoring programs where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.
“4. We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.
“5. We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.
“6. We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.”

Yay, Vogue! I think this is awesome, but, honestly, doesn’t it sound like something that would come at the end of a YA book centered around a teenage model battling anorexia?

So go forth and see the world, writers! There are so many little sparks of inspiration out there just waiting to light your fire.

Plot: Figuring Out The Middle Bits

I am just over 56,000 words through my novel My Own Prince Charming, but unlike the last time I hit this mark in a project, I’m not fighting my way word by word to the end. I have the end. And I like it. I have the first 8 chapters. I like those, too. It’s that whole middle section that’s giving me trouble this time.

The story I’m building is complex and a little creepy and needs a lot of hints, subplots, and foreshadowing. Right now I’m not able to decide what scenes and dialogue are best to get my characters from where they are to where they end up. It’s a struggle writers have to face in every book they’re ever going to write and it’s going to be harder for some stories (and some authors) than others. How do you overcome it? Well, you just have to …. Honestly, I have no clue. Random scenes have popped into my head periodically through the last few months and I’ve written them as they’ve hit, but I haven’t made a significant dent in the progress in quite a while. The worst bit is not really being sure how much more I need. Am I three or four chapters from being done or do I need eight or nine chapters worth of story to really flesh everything out? Hopefully I’ll find some way to figure this all out. If/when I do, I’ll come back and let you know.

Do you have any ideas?

Writing: Creative ADD

I have had writers block. It sucks, but it’s not an everlasting thing. (Honestly, I think that’s the trick to beating it–seeing it as a finite, manageable event.) But for a long time I’ve had what I consider Creative ADD.

Not including Fallen, I am currently juggling twenty-four separate novels in my head. Some of these are fully formed stories with characters, plot, conflict, motivations, and even pieces of dialogue in place. Others exist only in a vague idea form that may or may not ever turn into a book. The problem right now–for me, at least–is sticking to just one.

The ideas I get are varied, each sparked by something different. Sometimes it’s books I’ve read recently (see my earlier posts about the right way to steal ideas), sometimes it’s something I hear someone say, or a random occurrence of synapse connections that scientists have yet to explain (really, sometimes I have no idea where these ideas come from). A few of these ideas already have a strong hold on me–I love them, they’re my babies, and I will see them completed one day. Others…not so much.

But picking and choosing between the ones I love? (Anyone else hear REM in their head, or is that just me… Just me? Yeah, I was afraid of that…)

I guess I just have to be grateful for the fact that I’m not yet working on a deadline, that I can come and go between stories as inspiration carries me without worrying about how many words I’m writing per day or when the polished draft of a certain book is due to the editors. I write this down so I remember this realization and enjoy it while it lasts.

Does anyone else notice that this is me looking for a bright side to the life of an unpublished writer? 😉

Update: Trees and Googlegängers

Sometime in the next couple of weeks (probably on April 30th), the tree in my backyard that has been a constant and obvious threat to my sanity will be removed! I’m very excited about this despite the fact that it’s costing my parents… well, a lot. I feel bad about that part, but I’m not in the financial position to help them with it. Maybe after I sell Fallen.

In other, unrelated news, I found this article through Maria Schneider’s blog The Writer’s Perspective. It draws attention to the newly developing hobby of cyberstalking people who have the same name as you. Not necessarily stalking in the creepy sense, but stalking all the same.

At the same time, the acknowledgement of these googlegängers (a play off of doppelgängers, for those of you who missed the pun) could bring about some interesting stories. Angela Shelton, a writer mentioned in the article, has already written a book about finding 40 other Angela Sheltons across the U.S. Her particular story is about the trials and triumphs of overcoming sexual abuse (you can see her website here). This is just one example of the hundreds of stories–both fiction and non-fiction–that could spring from a well like this. Maria Schneider’s blog even exposes a case of merged identity–another Maria’s picture on a page that was supposed to be about her.

So what do you think about all this? Do you see this as a possible well of plots or something we should all let die before it explodes in our face?