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Category: Behind The Scenes

Behind The Scenes: King's Warrior

Time to drag you behind the scenes!   

I wanted to show you some storytelling decisions that go into writing a book, and show you how real-life research can fuel a story.

This one’s about King’s Warrior.

First, a little backstory on the story.

Originally, King’s Warrior was part of an anthology of connected stories, & mine was kicking things off, so I knew I wanted something big and exciting for all the other stories to reference.

The theme for the anthology was a ‘captured’ theme.  

The stories were all going to be connected via this theme,  all have Celtic heroes, and all were going to have a jeweled dagger running through them.  The SAME jeweled dagger. And yet, the stories were going to span hundreds of years.

Since my story was appearing first in the anthology, I wanted to set up a compelling, exciting ‘story’ for the dagger that the other authors were going to be working with.

I knew I wanted to set it during the 2nd Crusade, with King Richard the Lionheart and all that crazy jazz. Lots of potential for drama, but where to focus…and get my dagger??

Assassination, of course. Of a Crusader king. By ANOTHER Crusader king.  Amiright??

The History

Okay, so what REALLY happened?

In 1192, Conrad of Montferrat,  Marquis of Montferrat (Northern Italy) and one of the leading crusaders, was elected King of Jerusalem by the other crusader leaders, although he’d ruled as de facto king as a result of his marriage to the heiress to the crown, Queen Isabella, in late 1190.

(I’m not even going to go into that crazy, convoluted history, but it’s worth a look!)

Anyhow, England’s King Richard was pretty unhappy about this bonhomie among the other crusading leaders. Richard didn’t want Conrad to be king: he wanted someone else.

In fact, Richard had lobbied hard for one of his own vassals to be elected king.  More specifically, one of his troublesome vassals, in the even more troublesome duchy of Poitou, Guy of Lusignan.  But Guy wasn’t a popular…well, guy.  He wasn’t brave, he wasn’t honorable, and he wasn’t really a very good fighter.  Also, he was a right arse. I suspect no one in the entire world actually liked Guy. 

But Richard was extremely motivated to hoist his independent-minded, belligerent vassal off on the Holy Lands where he would trouble Richard no more. 

Alas, the English king’s candidate was outvoted by the other crusader kings.

I’ll go out on a limb and say this wasn’t something the strong-willed Richard appreciated. 

(Of note: Richard really, really, really did not want Guy returning home to bother him, so at this point, he SOLD Guy the lordship of Cyprus (where he could still be called ‘king’) to keep him away from Poitou. Ha.) 

Everything seems good, right? 

Richard got rid of his troublesome vassal, plus some money into the bargain.

Conrad, who was a courageous fighter & leader and respected by everyone, would get the kingship. Happy days ahead in the land of fighting.

Then tragedy–or opportunity–struck. 

The Murder

Two days before he was to be crowned, Conrad was assassinated by, well, two Assassins.  As in, the real-life Assassins. They’d been disguised as monks and had infiltrated the grounds for awhile before they struck. Conrad was basically hacked up in the gardens.

The Assassins fled. One was killed, but one was caught alive.  And guess what?

Under torture, he claimed King Richard contracted them for the kill.

Whaat??   Yup.

Medieval crazy sauce.

Whether or not King Richard was actually involved in the assassination, and whether that involvement was direct or indirect, no one knew. 

A lot of people believed it.  And the rumors spread throughout Europe, driven in large part by the French king’s enthusiastic support of them.

Oh how King Philippe wanted Richard to have done this deed. Or at least be thought to have done it. It would make his take-over of England so much easier.

Because that’s what Philippe was planning, of course. He’d already hie-tailed it out of the Holy Lands, and he was conspiring actively with Richard’s younger brother, Prince John. (Yes, the one who became the evil King John of so many truths & legends).

So, did Richard plot for the assassination of a king?  It was never proven, but it was a compelling enough rumor that the king was required to submit proof that he hadn’t been involved at one point. (A hard thing to do, but there you have it.)

(Second parenthetical: I’m not going into this crazy backstory either, of King Richard’s travels home from Jerusalem et al, but omg, the drama!!!  Another day, another post.)

But whether he did or didn’t conspire, all you need for Story is plausibility, and this was intrigue I couldn’t ignore: King Richard accused of conspiring to commit regicide and assassinate another king.

But I still needed my dagger…

Fortunately, history provided that too.

The Dagger

What you need to know about the Assassins was they really like daggers. Like, a lot. They used them as weapons, but they also used them as threat.

They were legendary for sneaking into the tents of political opponents at night and leaving behind one of their daggers and a note, right next to the leader they’d stood beside, undetected, in the dark.

The message was clear, but in case it wasn’t, they often followed up more overtly. 

For instance, one of their exploits: In 1092, upon his coronation, the new sultan of the Seljuk empire rebuffed a Hashashin ambassador. Bad idea.

One morning soon after, he woke up to find a dagger plunged into the ground beside his bed. Terrified, he didn’t say anything about it–who wants to announce a weakness like that?  A little while later, a messenger from the Assassins arrived, saying, “Did I not wish the sultan well, that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast.”

Gotcha. That one was pretty effective.  For decades after, there was a ceasefire between the Seljuks and the Nizari.

Guess what this gave me? My dagger for King’s Warrior! 

The Proof

The way I saw it was…King Richard’s involvement in the murder was never proven.

But what if it could have been??

What if this dagger, specially constructed and engraved with runes that implicated the king, boasting the king’s very own ruby in its hilt, was used in the assassination.  It would be an unavoidable message to Richard, and the world.

The Story

I had my story!

An Irish warrior, once bodyguard to the king, on the run, with a dagger that was (or was not??) used in the assassination of Conrad, hunted by noblemen and kings who’ll stop at nothing to get him and his contraband.

The Romance

Our hero is desperate, cornered…dangerous.  He’ll do anything to accomplish his mission.  Even kidnap an innocent merchant woman and use her as camouflage to escape.

The drama hurts, yes?  :)

If you’ve read King’s Warrior, I hope you loved it, If you haven’t, go check it out!

If you like big adventure and hot romance, you’ll love King’s Warrior because it has a charming, dangerous Irish hero who finds the love of his life on the mission of a lifetime.
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Storytelling: Predictability Will Kill Someone (possibly your story)

I love talking Story with other writers and teaching classes on it, so this post is for the writers among us.

When your story gets predictable, it’s dead.

It’s not like romance is some avant-garde, structure-free genre, where you never know what’s going to happen next.  It’s not literary fiction, where the writing often takes precedence over storytelling.

And it’s not like we don’t know what’s going to happen at the end.

HEA happens at the end. (Happily Ever After)  Or at least HFN (Happily For Now).

It’s how you get the reader there that counts. 

If the reader knows what’s coming next–and how you’re going to get them there–you’ll lose them. (Readers, amiright?) 

Related Point: Although not the focus of today’s post, it’s important to note that if we’re not deep inside the character so we feel their pain too, it’s going to be less compelling, especially for romance readers!  We’re reading for character and emotion.  We want the angst and the hurts and the laughter and the passion.  You don’t get that by reversals and unexpected events per sé. In short, delivering unexpected, unpredictable events & reactions is not enough. But it is vital for exciting, page-turning storytelling.

Where Should Your Introduce Unpredictability?
  •  Character reactions/inner thoughts/observations/insights
  • Events in the outer story world

That’s it. That’s all we’ve got.  Let’s mine it.

Today, I’m just going to focus on the latter. Events in the story we didn’t expect, that the hero/heroine now has to respond to.

Unpredictable Story Events

What’s the most reasonable thing that could happen next in the scene you’re writing today? The thing the reader will expect?

And…did you do that thing?

Stop that!

Okay, yes, sometimes you can do what we expect.  But let your characters be tested more than they probably are. Throw them some curve balls and let’s see how they respond.

Does he say the funny, sweet line…and the heroine laughs?

Hmmm.

Does she get the job offer she expected?

Hmmm…

The more you deliver what we knew was coming next, the less we need to read the story. We already knew it.

Bonus points if it ties into the hero’s inner arc! More on arcs in another post.

My caveat: foreshadowing has serious power. More on foreshadowing in another post.

But in the main, you want your readers saying, “OMG, what’s going to happen next??” or “How are they going to get out of this one??” or “Oh no he didn’t!” or “Holy shizzle, she’s going to lose her mind when she finds this out. Can’t wait to see it.”

We don’t want them saying, “Well of course…. I knew that was coming.”

Photo: Daniil Silantev

As I said before, we know where this romance is going. We already bought the map. It’s going to HEA or HFN.

We’re along for the ride because of how you get us there. It’s a journey.

Don’t take us on the interstate.

Take us on the back roads, where cars break down and hotels don’t have running water and mountain roads dwindle into nothing and bears show up at moonrise.

Take us where adventure lurks.

We’ve read a hundred romances.  We know the tropes, we know the conventions, we  know the story

It’s how the author delivers the oft-told tale that makes it a memorable page-turner, or a forgettable story we may or may not get to the last page of.

Today’s Tricks & Techniques For Incredible Romance:

If you have a scene you feel is lackluster, or a whole sequence of scenes, maybe a dragging, sagging middle, these exercises can inject life and spine.

You can do these in a plotting mode, or if you’re a pantser, do them on rewrites. 

Exercise #1

  • Look at the scene you’re writing right now.
  • What would normally happen next? What did you plan to have happen next?
  • Reverse it.  If it was going to go bad, make it go great. Or, if it was going to go bad and you really need it to go bad, well…make it worse. (The next exercise can help with this)
  • Now, write THAT scene.

Ramp up or reverse real world events with unexpected complications or bonuses.

The heroine doesn’t just get offered a job: she gets offered a job with the hero’s arch-rival. Or one that makes her the hero’s boss.  Or she works for the hero’s mother. Or she finds out she didn’t get the job…because her criminal history check had some scary stuff in there no one knew about. Heck, maybe not even her!

Exercise #2

  • Look at the scene you’re writing right now.
  • Write down 5 things that would intensify it or complicate it or make it bigger or funnier or more of whatever it already is.  5 ways to make the real world events worse or more complicated or more intense (including better) than it currently is.  Make something unexpected happen.  Write down 5 curve balls you can throw your hero or heroine.
  • Now write 5 more. Push yourself.  Make things burn and explode if you have to.  Recruit your most bloody-minded, cruel, heartless beta partners and friends to give you ideas.  (Note: These people are gold.  Get them chocolate or whisky or something as soon as you’re done this exercise.)
  • Now, cross out #s 1-3.  Write a scene where one or more of the things on your list from 4-10 happen.

Does the hero walk into a room and people say hello?

Well heck, what if they all got up and walked out?  What if the heroine called him on the carpet for being five minutes late?  What if his father is sitting there and announces he wants a seat on the Board?  What if the fire alarm go off and the sprinklers burst open and the heroine’s all wet now….  :) 

What if…what if..what if….

What if you mixed it up??

Pro Tip: Sometimes all this requires is moving scenes around.  Consider moving & combining scenes before you wrote something entirely new. Don’t worry if it’s from a later point and you wanted to save it. As a crit partner once told me: Don’t ever save the good stuff.  Pile it on. Make it worse.  Make it insanely better. Make it hurt. Make it happen sooner or later than we expected, so we’re surprised.  We’ll love you for it.

Exercise #3

  • Look at the scene you’re writing right now.
  • How do the other people in the scene react or respond to the main POV character?
  • Reverse or intensify their actions or reactions. 
  • Make a list of 5 things that would amplify the reactions of the other characters in the scene.  Ramp up their emotions, the things they say, &/or the things they do.  If someone feels hurt, can you make them feel crushed?  If a secondary character is all skeptical, “Okay, dude, whatever you say…” make him say, “If you do that, I’m quitting.”  

Fun fact: This can be a great back-door way to build stakes..

Make the h/h’s actions have a bigger impact on the lives of those around them. 

If a secondary character is tepid or unaffected by something the h/h does, MAKE THEM CARE.  How? Make it affect them personally.  It doesn’t have to be sad -> bad.  It can be ‘positive’ emotions.  Say a secondary character (or the other h/h) is happy by something the POV character said or did. Well, make them REALLY happy. Like, crazy happy, so happy the POV h/h is all, “Ummm…yay?”  They don’t understand the unsurpassed joy…until that character explains something that ups the stakes for your POV h/h.

The heroine goes in to tell her roommate she’s moving out because of a new job.  Expecting the roommate to be angry and desolate, your heroine is shocked when she jumps up and hugs her, explaining now they can sell the apartment and move out too, because actually, roommate’s been wanting to for a long time…

Well that will have an affect on your heroine, won’t it?  All this time, Bestie Roommate wanting to move out and not saying anything…? Why?  This is going to tap on that inner arc.  Trust me, it will.

And now, at a plot level, when the Black Moment hits and the heroine loses her job and the h/h have their horrid moment of realizing it’ll never work,  guess what?  The heroine has nowhere to go.

Oops.

Obviously those are just examples. The point is to amplify the reactions & responses of secondary characters and you can often build a more rich, complex world for the h/h to live in.

Exercise #4

  • Look at some bit of information  you reveal in the opening 1-3 chapters about your hero or heroine. It can be an angsty backstory, their true goal, or their motivations/stakes (the reasons WHY they’re pursuing XYZ goal). Could be what they do for a job or a family or friend connection. Whatever. Just pick something you thought important enough to spend at least a sentence explaining to the reader or presenting on the page in Chapters 1-3.
  • Cut it.
  • Move it 50 to 100 pages later, at a point where you need to story to ‘turn’ or need to complicate/ramp up the external world or romantic conflict.

Delaying the reveal of information can be a great source of conflict and really deliver the ‘unpredictable’ goods. 

When you present information or backstory in a natural…let’s say polite manner, you often lose power.  “Hey there reader, I’d like you to meet my hero, here are All The Things about him…”  Yeah, that can be somewhat…meh.  Information presented early on in the story often has little power. Why?  Because we don’t yet know the character well enough to care about them, and we don’t understand the full scope of the story world yet, so we don’t know how those little factoids are going to come into play.

Basically, it’s just information.  

Why not make it emotion

How?  By delaying its reveal until it matters to the unfolding story.

Delaying that information can make it matter a whole lot more. When it throws us for a loop, when it connects dots we didn’t see before, when it complicates something that looked easy, you can get huge benefits.  The character can have known it, they just didn’t reveal it to the reader before.

In this way, you can turn something that used to be just ‘information” into something pivotal.

Another bonus: it can also help unbloat earlier scenes, when the story may have dragged as you tried to explain backstory or stakes.

So maybe in the opening chapters, you only tell us the hero is a P.I., but you delay revealing he’s paranormal P.I.  on an assignment to hunt down fairies. 

My second caveat: Don’t go for cheap tricks to manipulate reader emotions.  Delaying information has to work for the story & the characters.  Don’t do it just to get a story jolt. Do it because it works.

Why The H*%^Am I Doing All This??

To push yourself–and your characters–to face an unexpected events. To test them.  To make them face things they didn’t expect, things that test them and push them and force them to change.  To see if they’re up to the challenge.

Hint: They are.  It’s inside of you, to do this thing, and to see them through it. They can handle it,  So can you.

 Try it. See if it opens up any portal of creativity for your story, lets you see the characters in a new way.

Pro Tip:

This may well mean rewriting previous scenes to build the storyline or stakes differently, or stitching together a network of relationships differently. It can also mean rewriting later scenes.

Here’s the thing: whatever you came up with for these exercises, it came from within YOU.  You’re the creator or conductor for this story. Digging deeper like this, tweaking our first inclinations, reversing the course of the story, dredging into deeper emotions or more difficult circumstances, will reveal a well of depth and story connections that were already there, you just never saw them before. And in this way, you can weave far more potent turning points for your story.

My bet?  If you do this exercise, even if you don’t actually use the material in your story, you’ll find all sort of things that will have you saying, “Omg, I never saw this before, but it fits perfectly!”  

Okay, go do some of the exercises, and leave a comment to let me know how it goes!

WTFery: Trademark on the word "Cocky" in romance

Well, here we go.

Authors, publishers, cover designers, and really, anyone in the…world should care about this.

The Story:

Many of you already know this, but a romance author has trademarked the word “cocky,” both as its specialized font, but also the word itself (i.e. a wordmark).

Please don’t tell me she can’t: she has. It’s a done deal, was approved May 1.

Although titles cannot usually be trademarked (or copyrighted), one author who contacted the USPTO was told that a “likelihood of confusion clause” would probably apply, allowing them to not only apply the trademark to a SERIES titles, but BOOK titles too. 

This is an incredibly unsettling precedent, that someone can be granted the exclusive right to a COMMON USE word. Additionally, a word already used on a plethora existing book titles in the genre. 

This is insane. If other authors begin trademarking common use words–oh, say, “warrior” or “duke”–we will be left with nothing but prepositions in our titles. 

Equally important: this does not seem like a move designed to protect her own brand. 

It feels like a move to suppress competition.

That’s not what trademarks are for.

She is in the process of issuing cease & desist letters to other romance authors, claiming they must change their titles, or they will be sued and they will owe her all their earnings.

She has indicated that this is “no big deal,” and should only take the authors “one day” to do.

Um…no.

We’ll see what happens.

 

For your continued reading pleasure: 

http://www.pajiba.com/think_pieces/cocky-writer-romance-author-faleena-hopkins-trademarks-cocky-and-tries-to-shut-down-others-using-the-word.php

http://legalinspiration.com/?p=503

And/or, you can follow #cockygate, #freecocky, and similar threads on Twitter.

 

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