Mysterious Lack Of Conflicting Plans

I’m going to talk about how to plan novels.

Wait: where are you going? Why are you running away? Even if you don’t plan your first drafts beyond a few vague ideas and some character notes, you’ll need to know how to plan effectively when it comes to writing a second draft. (And really, planning first drafts can help. But I wrote my first ten or so novels with very little planning, so I get where you’re coming from if you don’t like doing that.) So stick around, kiddo.

The method I’m going to be talking about is combining standard three-act structure with something I read about called Conflict / Mystery / Lack. Now, not every novel fits three-act structure, I get it. But all novels should work with Conflict / Mystery / Lack because it’s not limited by how many acts there are.

This technique is to ensure you know exactly what’s causing the tensions in your novels, and trust me, it can help you figure out a lot about your characters too. How ‘bout that?

how bout that

So, you’re going to plan a novel. It’s going to happen in three acts (or not but roll with me here, ‘kay?). By the end of the first act, all your characters should all be in position for the Big Dramatic Events of the book. At the very least they are now on the road to coming face-to-face with the main antagonist and they know what their task is.

Like I said, this doesn’t work for all novels. But it’s a good rule of thumb if your novel is fairly standard in structure.

The second act is the longest, and when it ends, you should be on the brink of the climax. Which means that act three has everything exploding and the characters trying to deal with it. There are variations, but this is what we’re going with.

For example: our character is called Annie. At the beginning of the novel, Annie is a nobody. During act one, she gets zapped by some sort of magical thing that nearly kills her but survives and begins to develop powers. At the end of act one, Annie realises that she has to use them to take down the bad guy terrorising her town. Throughout act two, however, Annie runs into various difficulties, including enemies and obstacles, that make things harder. She overcomes them, and her powers get stronger. At the end of act two, she’s ready to face the bad guy … even if we’re not sure she’ll win. Act three comes along and there’s a big battle. Annie wins, but while doing so, loses something precious to her. The novel ends with Annie celebrating her victory but recovering from her loss.

So, you should be able to vaguely see where the divisions between acts fall, even if it’s a fairly dull plot because I just thought it up on the spot. Now it gets interesting.

bringing the party to you

Write a few lines about the events of each act and then, underneath, write three headings: conflict, mystery and lack. These are the things that we need to focus on.

What is the main conflict in act one? Annie vs magical zapper, because it nearly kills her, might be where we’re coming from here. It could be a simple as ‘Character X wants to go North but can’t because of flooding’. Conflict is two forces acting against each other.

What is the mystery? In this case it might be, “Why did this magical zapper give Annie powers instead of killing her?” Or there could be a secondary mystery, a subplot, which could relate to the antagonist.

And what does Annie lack? Does she lack the knowledge to use her gifts, or maybe just the courage? Is she trying to gain respect? She was a nobody at the beginning, so maybe she’s trying to improve her social status or gain friends. This is the one that will really help you develop your characters.

Act two should potentially resolve these three problems from act one (Annie didn’t die, the zapper gave her powers because she has a different blood type so it didn’t work on her as a weapon, she lacked strength but now she has magic) but introduce new ones (Annie v antagonist or obstacles, who’s behind all this?, and Annie still lacks the influence and social position to get close to the bad guy).

Then act three comes along and does the same thing all over again: Annie beats the bad guy, discovers his secret identity, and is rewarded with power and fame. Or, if this is litfic (though why it’d be litfic with magical powers I don’t know), she fails and everybody is miserable because society sucks.


Can you see how focusing on Conflict / Mystery / Lack helps to focus planning? Not only do you figure out key character motivations (seeking social advancement can be a pretty big motivator: see Jay Gatsby for an example), but also major plot points (face-off with the main antagonist) and tensions. It can help identify relationships, because they can often contribute to conflict.

And it makes sure your novel has tension and conflict the whole way through, because those are what make it exciting. (Plus, it ensures you don’t forget to resolve major plot points, although you can introduce further conflicts or mysteries or lacks in act three if it’s part of a series. I don’t necessarily advise it.)

Even if you hate planning, try sitting down when you’re halfway through your novel and taking this into account. Or before you write your second draft. Or, maybe, pushing the boat out and actually planning this one.

You never know, you might even like it.

Good luck to all taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo this April: just a few hours to go where I am.

-- Iron Man

What Makes It Worth It

Every writer is going to have troubles. Whether crafting, writing or editing the story, there are going to be countless bumps and ridges to deal with. There's going to be slumps and a lack of creativity or the right words. We the YAvengers have addressed all these and more in variety, so I'm not going to repeat any of those. Instead..I want to offer a simple yet effective tool to help you get out of whatever writing rut you're in.

Remember Why You Love To Write

It's going to be different for everyone! But remember the small moments that give you warm fuzzies! Maybe it's when you get an idea out of the blue and it won't leave you alone until you write it down.

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, but when I went to see myself in my own movie two years ago, one of my most distinct memories was not seeing me hit every target, but having the most random idea pop into my head and in the middle of the film pulling out a pen and piece of paper to scratch down the idea.

Maybe for you it's re-reading old work and being filled with a familiar sense of pride and joy at your hard effort. Or perhaps you love those moments when you create the most brilliant line in the whole world.

It could be sharing it with other people and seeing their reaction to your baby. Maybe it's finishing a novel and closing the laptop with the biggest grin on your face. You might be the person who loves to edit and rewriting crappy phrases is manna to your soul. Perhaps it's even something as simple as meeting your world goal for the day and knowing that you're doing something you love.

Mary Poppins, the 8th YAvenger
Whatever it is about writing that makes you giddy and excited, that's what you need to be doing. So think about them, let yourself just remember the fun, and then bring on the fun. Because tedious painful writing is going to boomerang back in a painful re-read later. So find the fun, and poof! The job's a game!

Later Days,

How To Make Your Fantasy Novel Stand Out

It's been a while since I glared my green eyes at you, hasn't it? Currently, I'm neck-deep in highly classified S.H.I.E.L.D work (meh, book revisions) and gamma research (procrastinating from said revisions). Revisions turn me into the Other Guy all. the. time. It's quite exhausting.

But one of the things I'm working on, while I revise my book, is making my book stand out from others in its genre. This is important! I've been turning green trying to edit cliche weirdness. I know my greenness makes me a special snowflake, but people don't see ME when they're reading my book. They just see several hundred pages that they hope isn't like Every Other Book.

Try to avoid boring your reader. They get cranky.

Since I'm writing a high fantasy book, I'm going to zoom into that genre. Let's look at some things most fantasy books have. Also, don't forget Thor talked a bit about cultures on Monday! You should check out that post, if you haven't already.

Note: Just because high fantasy books use certain plot devices, doesn't mean they're "cliche". To BE a high fantasy book, you need certain things (but not necessarily all of them): as in, setting it in an ancient/medieval world, having magical creatures (dwarves, elves, dragons, etc.), supernatural or dark evil forces, good vs. evil, wars and battles, etc.

magical/unique creatures

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: elves, spirit demons
Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan: wargals
The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson: dragons
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: volcra
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: dragons, hobbits, elves, orcs
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: dragons

How do these books make their magical/fantastical creatures different and unique?
- Tolkien created hobbits. He also created his own strand of villainous evil thingies: orcs. (Since he's one of the first fantasy writers, most of his stuff WAS extremely original when he invented it. There are a lot of rip-offs of his work these days.) Unique? Yes.

- John Flanagan created wargals. Hairy and mindless evil creatures that followed their dark lord. Unique? No. They're basically hairy versions of orcs.

- Rachel Hartman used ancient dragons. But instead of making them mindless fiery lizards, she made them shape-shifters. Unique? Yes. She put the ancient feelings and culture of dragons into slimy human form.

Using magical and unique creatures is awesome fun! You don't HAVE to think up your own creature, though. (But you can't steal other people's, as in, say, making your own version of Hobbits. They're Tolkien's.) The important part is to put a unique spin on whatever you use.

For example: Dragons are everywhere. How is your dragon different? Is it a mindless killing machine? Does it have a culture or needs? Why is it killing everyone? What does the dragon community hope to achieve?

weapons and wars

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: tournament to find a champion
Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan: good vs. evil battle
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: good vs. evil battle
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: hundreds of good vs. evil battles

How do these books make their wars and weapons different and unique?

- Tolkien set his battles in different places. Sometimes near rivers, sometimes on wide plains, sometimes in castles. This definitely shakes things up. He gave specific weapons to his people groups. Hobbits fought with short swords. Gondor had catapults. Elves had longbows. Orcs fought with scythes and clubs.

- Sarah J. Maas used lots of weapons throughout her tournament tests. She tried poisons and ropes and staffs and swords. In the end test, her main character used a metal-tipped staff to fight.

 - John Flanagan used longbows for his rangers. A lot of emphasis was put on how hard they needed to practise until they never missed a shot. ("Don't practise until you get it right. Practise until you can't get it wrong.") He also set his battles in different terrains: deserts, rocky outcrops, open plains, snowy mountains.

The first weapon that always comes to my mind is: sword. But there's so many more options! I google around (aaand Pinterest) to find lot of medieval type weapons. It's great fun shaping your people groups' cultures around their particular weapon. If you have people who live in mud huts, are they more likely to use longbows or scythes? Do you use battle-axes and spears? Don't just give everyone a sword and tell them to play nice with other kids! Expand.

setting and worlds

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: set in Adarlan, medieval
Rangers Apprentice by John Flanagan: set in Araluen, with medieval English cultural elements
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: set in AlagaĆ«sia, medieval culture
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: set in Ravka, with Russian cultural elements
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: set in a Skulendore, with desert, medieval, and Indian cultural elements

- Melina Marchetta made her world huge! Like earth (if you live in earth, and you might not, so in that case forgive me for being so narrow in this post; I'm sure your planet is interesting too) there are lots of countries and cultures. Besides having the average medieval castles and problems, she used pirates and desert tribes and people who lived in tents (kind of Mongolian, really).
- John Flanagan did the same. He used Skandanavian and Asian influences for his different countries.
- Leigh Bardugo set hers completely in a Russian influenced world.

Medieval England is probably the norm. And there's nothing wrong with setting your world there! (I find the ones based off Asia or Russia or whatnot more interesting because I haven't read them as much.) If you want English culture, just think about how you could do it differently. Do they HAVE to live in castles? Do they have kings...or maybe there's a different ruling system? Are the villages poor? Do you have trade routes with other cultures? Do people ride horses, or maybe they plough their fields with dragons? (Good luck with that, by the way.)

Brainstorm what's "average" about your fantasy world and then see what you can do to spice it up! It might seem overwhelming, but, seriously, writing lists breaks everything down.

And don't worry about being cliche all the time! Pfft. You'll never be fully "original", because everything has probably been done before. It's up to you to do it differently.

what makes YOUR fantasy world stand out? which fantasy authors do you admire who have unique fantasy worlds?

-- Hulk



this is so whoa on any blog

What Readers Search for in a Book

Have you ever read a book and couldn't pinpoint what was missing from it? A bit of je ne sais quoi? Here is a list of quotes about reading that helps pinpoint why people read in the first place, because it's that driving factor that changes a reader's opinion from giving it four stars to adding it to their favorites on their Goodreads shelves.

We read to know that we are not alone.
- William Nicholson, Shadowlands
 One of the top characteristics of a protagonist reader's search for is relatability. On the surface, that
seems a daunting task to a writer whose main character is an assassin or zooming through space.

But look at this quote. Really look at it. We don't care that the character lives in the same town as us, has the same skin tone as us, or, on paper, is like us in any way. It's the struggles that the character faces that are universal. The boy in love with someone but too afraid to act on his feelings. The girl worried about her sister's depression or drug use.

When characters worry about their loved ones or their own happiness, every reader can relate. No character wants to be alone. By reading about people who share that central fear, the reader is not alone, either.

No two persons ever read the same book.
- Edmund Wilson
One of my favorite parts about other people reading my writing is listening to their perspectives on my characters. They have different opinions of certain characters than me, including their favorites. They read the dialogue in a completely different style than I imagine for the character. They make my characters theirs, of sorts.

The more layers of a story and characters, the more interpretations can develop. If readers develop an opinion of an aspect of your story, they are claiming part of it as their own. They are invested in being proved correct and daring you as the author to prove them wrong.

In a good book, the best is between the lines.
- Swedish Provert

I think that every author has probably filled out something resembling a fact sheet about their characters. The kind that lists everything from hair color to horoscope. The problem appears when writers attempt to include every single detail in their story.

If you feel like your dialogue or narrative is starting to run dry, give a character or two a secret or a backstory that will transform your entire perception of them. This should affect their motivation in some way, either positively (a goal, running toward something) or negatively (a fear, running away from it).

Here's the trick: never directly talk about it to the reader. An easy way to pull this off is making your main character out of the know while having secondary characters drop hints about this secret. Whether or not you decide to reveal the secret at the end is up to you, but that added tension can do wonders for your reading. (See BBC Sherlock)

Books are a uniquely portable magic.
- Stephen King
It's amazing to think about the idea of a book. It's paper with million of small lines and dots arranged into symbols, in a row, with other symbols to tell us how to read those arrangements. We get words without speaking them, that turn into sentences and chapters that touches all of our senses. We don't really remember the act of reading--I barely remember where I read a book, how old I was, or what mattered at the time. I remember the book. It's scenes are engraved in my memories as if I personally experienced them. And in a way, I did.

That is the closest thing to magic I can imagine. This magic could be a whole post in itself, but I think to summarize it, it lies within the reader's emotional investment in the story.

The reader is merely an observer, yet they care. They're desires are intertwined with those of the protagonist and other characters. For them to cry as the character cries, or laugh or curse or have any reaction at all, that is brilliant. To steal someone's emotions and drag them through a roller coaster, that is the ultimate je ne sais quoi.

Thor's Thoughts: World Building Cultures

Good day, fair writers. And may I take a moment to wish you a pleasant holiday? I know not who this Saint Patrick is, nor what his affinity for green is meant to represent. Humans have odd holidays.

Which brings me to part of my point today. In writing, especially speculative fiction, it is important that we pay attention in world building. If your story takes place in the human world, you have experience to draw from. However, if your story takes place in a different land (for example, Asgard) you would require an entirely different set of colloquialisms, holidays, flora and fauna, and quite possibly currency.

Many authors create a world that is quite similar to Earth in most respects. This is for a purpose. It serves to provide familiarity to the human reader and, therefore, a sense of security. In other words, it helps with the learning curve of the world. Along with the basic similarities, however, it is wise to provide some drastic difference which will set your world apart. You do not want to use a world or have anything too similar to anything that has been used before.

In the Fantasy genre, it has been a practice for many years to base worlds off of existing European cultures -- particularly Great Britain. In recent years, that mold has begun to shift with the help of such authors as Saladin Ahmed, Brandon Sanderson, Guy Gavriel Kay, and others. (Listen to Saladin, Brandon and others talk about this here.)

In Science Fiction, there are different ways to push and pull. If you are building an alien world you have a huge amount of freedom. If you are writing a future-earth based on existing human civilization, you are somewhat more limited in scope in that there is a history already built, from which you must draw. If you do not, your readers will expect a different history and assume your world is not human-based.

In most cases, it is always better to go too far and possibly have to pull back, than to not go far enough. Use your best judgement, but remember: Hobbits did not exist before Tolkien. Quidditch did not exist before Rowling. And your world cannot come from anyone else's mind but your own.

Build carefully, and use your imagination. Good luck.


Be The Man, Not Just The Suit


oh what are you mad at meA security breach? Okay, that was definitely not me. In fact, normally under those circumstances I’d suspect Loki, but given that he’s implicated, that seems illogical. Unless he genuinely thought he was in the right and was trying to mock his brother, but he never struck me as being stupid – quite the opposite. So now that we’ve established we’ve no idea how those emails got out, I guess someone should take them down…

…but actually it’s quite a good point, so maybe I’ll just use them as a springboard for this post and then go back to fiddling with our internet security and email encryptions, since somebody has clearly got through it.

Thor’s right: nobody likes a spammer. (I don’t know if our readership has a lot of crossover with ‘people who have seen Monty Python’ but all I’m getting right now is, “I don’t like spam!” There you go. Monty Python has spoken and thou shalt not spam thy followers because it is a silly thing to do.)

However, it can be very difficult to know what else to do, especially when we first go out onto the internet. We’re afraid of showing our true face. Maybe we’re scared that people won’t like us, or we think they’ll be bored. Pro tip: the minute they get bored, they’ll leave. So if they’re still there, you’re doing something right.

It might seem unlikely, but I’ve been in this exact situation. See, when I first built the suit I kind of didn’t want the whole world to know that I was inside it, so I went anonymous. The suit was like a disguise, an alibi, an avatar. I took that thing flying, and guess what? People were suspicious, frightened, and they assumed it was a weapon.

Honestly, if they hadn’t been so busy trying to destroy it, I’m pretty sure I would’ve been ignored to a point where your middle school loneliness seemed like a happy clappy idealistic lifestyle.

That’s what you’re like every time you tweet nothing but links to your work, even if you occasionally retweet somebody else’s. You’re a suit with nobody in it. You know how you make a hero? You lift up the mask and let people see what’s inside, and then they start liking you and trusting you.take off mask

Twitter’s a key tool for writers because you can reach a lot of people that you don’t know, but it’s very easy to get caught up in only self-promoting instead of the most important part of social media: building relationships. You might be thinking that you didn’t get into this writing lark to be sociable, and I get that. I’m not much of a team player either. But it’s important.

You see, if you meet someone and they instantly tell you about their book, you’re going to feel like they only view you as someone who could give them money, right? That’s not how you approach it.

Be human. Be the man inside the suit, not just the suit itself. Tell us about the dinner disaster that happened when Pepper left you in charge of cooking, or the fact that you’re stuck at a bus stop for forty minutes. Share with us the puns that made you laugh, the books that made you cry, and the struggles that made you punch walls violently out of sheer frustration.

And then when we have laughed with you and cried with you and supported you, then we might be interested in your book.

If one of my close friends writes something, of course I’m interested. They’re my friend. But I don’t care about a stranger on the street yelling at me that they’re a novelist as though they’re filling in for that one guy who’s been telling you THE END IS NIGH since 1994. So you need to make friends. Make people care what happens to you. Make them care if you succeed.

World domination’s one thing, but selling books is another. Don’t be a fool. We’re trying to persuade Loki to realise this, too, but it’s taking a while. Still, maybe he’ll catch on eventually…

-- Iron Man


YAvengers Email Insight: Thor and Loki

The following is a top-secret transcript obtained by agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D. network. 


Dear Brother,

I am concerned about your recent social media activities. From what the Captain has told me, sending an identical post regarding your book to every person who follows you is not received admirably. I suggest you attempt to personalize said posts, or limit yourself to a small number per day. This will let many see it, but not alienate you to them.

Best of luck,



How can I alienate the people I rule? And I have limited myself to a small number per day. One billion. That spreads my messages throughout the course of one week, which is quite patient for me. 

Maybe you should think before taking advice from Grandpa about the Internet. 

Loki, Lord of Earth



Though your inference of the Captain's modern-Earth knowledge was rude, I admit you may be correct. I have therefore checked his information with the Man of Iron, about whose technological knowledge you cannot argue. 

He agrees, with some hesitation, that my first advice to you was correct. He called what you are doing, "spam," and says he has officially blocked you from all forms of messaging. You do not want your readers to do the same. I am trying to save you embarrassment, brother. Do not give me cause to use force. 




I'm not embarrassing myself, brother, nor do I care that Stark blocked me, as he is the least favorite of all my subjects. 

I have hit a road block, however, as apparently a huge portion of the Earth population does not have email or Twitter accounts or even computers, for some reason. I have yet to determine how to inform them of my novel.


Stark would be interested to hear that you consider him a subject.

As for your media, I will concede defeat in my attempts to persuade you. You obviously lack any semblance of tact, and therefore your book promotion will suffer as a result, whether you believe it or not. If you change your mind and wish for my help, I will, as always, be willing to assist. Until then, I will watch as you make a complete fool of yourself. 


Well, brother, let us see who will have the last laugh when my book becomes a best-seller (I have decided to send the non-Internet-using Earthlings the blurb by carrier pigeon, so you see, I've now reached an even larger portion of the population). My success is inevitable. You see, it is not tact that sells books, it is constant presence of the book, by Twitter feed, email, and carrier pigeon. I am merely giving the mortals a taste of how my constant presence will feel during my upcoming reign.


Document end.

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