Last week, I participated in #SFFpit over on Twitter. It was a fun day spent glued to Tweetdeck (with an accompanying heart attack when Tweetdeck got ZOMG HAXX0RED and was taken down briefly), seeing the ideas that other people are putting out there, and connecting with other writers. (And notably ignoring my housework. Sorry honey!) For the curious, I thought I’d break down the numbers of how my experience went.
To start with, the event ran for twelve hours, from 8am to 8pm Central time (although there were some stragglers both on the posting and favoriting). I composed my tweets in advance and scheduled them for :17 and :47 (chirp chirp!) every hour, and so tweeted 24 times in total. There were 5 variations of my pitch, with the appropriate classifying hashtags added in different combinations to keep them from being identical and therefore blocked:
A) A mouthy chemistry major must embrace her demonic heritage to save her family (and maybe reality itself)
B) Meet Lacey: Half demon. All scientist. No bullshit tolerated. Summer vacation plans did not involve getting kidnapped.
C) Lacey can’t wait for her college chem program. Just has to sort out this getting kidnapped by faeries thing first.
D) Mom’s a witch. Dad’s a demon. Kids are clueless – until they get kidnapped. This wasn’t covered in the divorce papers.
E) Chemistry major Lacey’s last summer at home before college takes an unexpected and magical turn.
I received 18 retweets (indicators of approval from people other than agents and editors), broken down as follows:
I also received one favorite (how agents and editors expressed interest) each on A, B, and D. So clearly punchy and specific was far more effective. (And also demons appear to beat faeries. Who knew?) On both my own posts and in general, activity on posting, retweeting, and favoriting seemed heavily concentrated in the first half of the day, tapering off into the afternoon and evening.
For my part, I retweeted a whopping 35 pitches from others. (I told you I was at it all day.) There was a whole lot of following back and forth, to the tune of me picking up 21 new followers. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m pretty new to Twitter, so this constituted a 55% increase in the course of a single day. This proves to me that something I’ve seen on G+ is viable on Twitter as well: the best way to connect with people is to participate in events and introduce yourself. Get engagement by being engaging. Imagine that.
Overall, I’d consider it a success. It took quite a bit of work–I saw several people who only tossed up a couple of tweets and then griped that they weren’t getting any traction, when the chances of any individual tweet getting seen in the mess were overall pretty low. (The most play I got off a single post was 3 retweets, and 14 of my 24 tweets had no interaction at all.) But in return for my efforts, I connected with lots of new writers, got the attention of a couple of agents who are now at the top of my list when querying starts tomorrow, and got some very practical feedback on what works best in pitching. I’d say that this is a valuable tool in the arsenal of any querying writer, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for similar events in the future. Even if I’m already signed by the next one (and have won the lottery while I’m at it), it’s a blast seeing what comes through and meeting new people.
Okay, I skipped Saturday Scenes last week. I’m trying not to make that a habit, but I’m airing out the trunk material and trying not to run out of content. So anyway, here’s the next part of my Wonderland pastiche, Chaos Theory. (You can read Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.) This follows very shortly after the last installment, after Derek follows Katrina into one of the gallery paintings.
Derek kept his eyes screwed very tightly shut for a few more echoing steps. Eventually he decided that perhaps falling over a cliff or running into a wall might present a greater danger than merely going mad from whatever there was to see, and he cautiously opened his eyes.
Having geared himself up to experience the inside of an abstract painting, he found himself vaguely disappointed to realize that he was in some sort of vast cave, or perhaps a tunnel. What had looked like almost random colors and shapes were actually an inexpert, or perhaps just very stylized, rendering of darkness and damp. There was a very faint glow coming from the walls that might have been some sort of bioluminescent moss, although Derek began to suspect that this wasn’t the sort of place that allowed for such relatively simple and mundane explanations. He took another step forward in the dark, and promptly stumbled and fell flat on his face. He lay sprawled there for a long, long moment, resting his cheek against the slick, chilled rock. He could just stay like this, he thought. Just let himself slowly meld into the floor over the centuries and become an oddly-shaped chunk of stone. A large, fat drop of what he hoped was water pelted his cheek. He realized that centuries would be a very long and probably unpleasant time, and pushed himself back up. His knee grumbled quite loudly as he got to his feet; he must have landed on it wrong when he fell. Perfect.
He remembered the flashlight in his pocket, and fumbled it out and turned it on. Usually, the beam emitted by the little cluster of LEDs was quite bright and clear, but the depth and weight of the darkness here pushed it in on itself, so the light it emitted was thin and wan and didn’t reach very far. It was enough to illuminate the floor in front of his feet, and he decided to be content with that. He caught a glimpse in the shadows ahead of a rapidly receding velvet skirt, and scurried, over the loud objections of his knee, to catch up.
Katrina strode forward with the forceful surety that he usually associated with executives and other powerful, important people, a stride that declared that she knew exactly where she was going and intended to waste no time getting there, but also knew that whatever was going to be happening at her destination would have to wait for her arrival, so there was no need for her to walk any faster than she chose. She also seemed entirely unconcerned with the darkness, although this didn’t quite surprise him anymore. She stared straight ahead and didn’t so much as glance behind her to see how he was getting on. “Where are we?” he asked again. He didn’t really expect an answer, but he didn’t think it would hurt to ask. And she had come back for him, after all.
Their footsteps bounced off the walls for a little longer. Derek had almost resigned himself to the fact that she was just going to pretend he didn’t exist anymore, when she said, “The Tularian Passage.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know.” She leapt nimbly over a narrow stream without breaking her stride. Derek didn’t see it in time, and the water splashed into his shoe, causing him to slosh with each step. “I think that’s about all you can handle.”
“I’ll decide what I can handle, thank you very much,” he replied hotly. “I’m not a child.”
“No, but you’re a mortal.”
“And you’re not,” he said, disbelief dripping from the words in much the same way that water dripped from the ceiling onto his hair.
“Not in the way you’re thinking,” she replied. “There are… degrees of it, I guess you’d say. Depends on how close we get to your world.”
“My world,” he repeated.
“Are you telling me that we’re on another planet?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she scoffed.
“So this is, what, a different dimension? A parallel universe?”
“I don’t know, it’s just Relidran. Don’t think about it too much.”
“I can’t help that,” he said mournfully.
They walked on. Derek wasn’t sure quite how far they’d come, but there wasn’t any sort of daylight ahead. He wondered just how long this passage was; he didn’t have any sort of provisions or equipment for a long journey. He was starting to get hungry, but he buried the thought immediately. “Who’s Carter?” he asked.
No answer. He waited, thinking that she might again decide to respond eventually. They passed through a massive cavern, their footsteps falling silent as the walls flung out and away, beyond the reach of any echo. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bright, sickly green light. He looked up and saw, high overhead, a noxious green cloud, snaking in on itself, reaching a tendril down toward him… “I wouldn’t look up there if I were you,” Katrina warned. His neck snapped forward almost of its own accord, and he kept his eyes on the floor.
She led the way through the cavern and back into a low, cramped tunnel on the other side. He thought about trying his previous question again, thinking that maybe she hadn’t heard him. But he knew she had. Instead, he asked, “How did we get here?”
“Someone apparently never learned about touching things that don’t belong to them.”
“I was just trying to help,” he muttered, and hated how horribly young and petulant he sounded. “So that… that doodad of yours–”
“Right, that. It brought us here?”
He thought he saw a ghost of a shrug from the narrow, velvet-clad shoulders. “Basically.”
“Can it take us back?”
A little tendril of panic took this opportunity to climb its way out of his gut towards his brain, but he ruthlessly stamped it down. By the end of the day, he was going to be an expert in repression. “You’re sure of that?”
“Quite. It’s a one-way ticket.”
“Then there must be another way to get back to… to my world.”
“Not for you, kitten.”
He stumbled over not much of anything, and his poor legs just barely caught him in time to save him from another painful sprawl. “No no no no, there has to be a way.”
She sighed. “Look, I don’t honestly know how you even got here. No mortal has ever crossed the divide. Ever. Grabbing the vocarte when it went live should have just fried you into a little pile of ashes. You’re either the luckiest or unluckiest bastard in history, because you made it here, and now you’re stuck here.” She grinned at him, the first time she’d actually looked at him since leaving the gallery. “Might as well make yourself at home.”
I’m currently deep in rewrites, doing a final spit-shine and consistency check so I can hit my deadline for getting queries out. Which means no time to write a new post. I rewarded myself for having a productive few days by purchasing Wreck-It Ralph, because I am a toddler who needs to be bribed through adulthood. So here’s a post about that lovely little movie resurrected from the old blog. Standard spoiler warning applies.
Let’s be honest, there’s no way I wasn’t going to like Wreck-It Ralph. I was raised on a combination of Disney movies and video games. (There were parents somewhere in there, too, I think.) (Kidding, Mom.) From the very first trailers, I was stoked. Having just gotten back from seeing it as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo, I not only enjoyed it, but I think it’s one of those movies that every writer should see. There are a few movies that should be required viewing because they illustrate very important concepts, and Wreck-It Ralph is practically a textbook for two vitally important, and very difficult, elements of storytelling:
Stakes and Motivation
Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of a game called Fix-It Felix Jr. He’s tired of being unappreciated and neglected by the other residents of his game, so when one of them tells him that he can join them in the penthouse when he gets a medal of his own, he leaves to do just that. He earns his medal in a realistic shooter called Hero’s Duty, but crashes into a candy-colored racing game Sugar Rush and gets it stolen by Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). Finding his game out of order and in danger of being shut off without its villain, Felix (Jack McBrayer) goes off in search of him, teaming up with Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the FPS.
In this setup, we have four major characters, each with a very clear motivation:
Ralph wants respect and companionship.
Vanellope wants to become a real racer.
Felix wants to bring Ralph back.
Calhoun wants to stop the dangerous cybug that escaped into Sugar Rush with Ralph.
Motivation is one of the most important things about writing a character, because their one motivation needs to define everything they do. There can be other countervailing pressures, but the most compelling characters have a single goal that informs every choice they make.
But it’s not enough to want something; there has to be some reason that it’s important. Janet Reid, who runs the brilliant blog Query Shark (which should also be required reading for anyone looking to get published, by the way), boils down the essence of a good query/pitch to three elements:
- Who’s the main character?
- What choice do they have to make?
- What are the consequences of making or not making that choice?
It’s that third element, the stakes, that a lot of people struggle with. How do you make your readers care about this goal as much as your character does? You have to show what’s at stake.
Each character in this movie has not only very clear stakes, but stakes that run a huge gamut in scope. To wit:
If Ralph fails, his life will never improve.
If Vanellope fails, she can never be chosen as a player avatar.
If Felix fails, his home will be destroyed.
If Calhoun fails, the cybugs will overrun the entire arcade.
So many writers fall into the trap of thinking that high stakes must mean life-or-death, earth-shattering kaboom sort of situations. Not that those aren’t really high stakes, but things get kind of dull if those are the only stories out there, you know? The beauty of Wreck-It Ralph is how these stakes intertwine and escalate. The climax centers around getting Vanellope safely across the finish line, even as the cybugs start swarming. Critically, the focus always remains on the personal stakes: Ralph has to find a way to stop the cybugs not to save everyone, since they’re able to evacuate all of the other residents, but to save Vanellope, who is unable to leave. Indeed, Ralph makes several difficult choices throughout the course of the movie, and all of them are tied to the other characters’ motives and stakes.
Oh, and don’t forget your villain! Remember, villains are characters who want important things just like everyone else. Villains who are bad just for evil’s sake stop being interesting around the time you turn 4 or 5 and discover that people don’t work like that. Within his game, Ralph is trying to destroy the apartments because he wants his land back. In the larger story, King Candy (Alan Tudyk) is concerned that Vanellope’s glitch will get their game turned off if she’s allowed to race. Granted, the ol’ King’s not entirely honest about his motives, but that’s okay. What’s important is that he acts in a manner that’s consistent and understandable, even when it crosses into the unsympathetic. Remember, he’s the hero of his own game. The villain’s motivations have to feel just as authentic as everyone else’s. They’re only really scary when you know exactly why they’ll stop at nothing to get what they want; that is, when you understand what’s at stake for them.
There are other reasons I think that Wreck-It Ralph is a very good and very enjoyable movie (and those aren’t always the same thing). But there are movies once in a while that you should not only just watch, but take notes on, analyze, take apart, find out what makes them tick. I think this is one of those. There’s a lot to learn about character development here, and about the way your characters should be the ones driving the story.
Recently a friend of mine was so distressed at the litany of movies that I haven’t seen that he pushed a stack of DVDs at me and told me I had to get through them by the time he gets back from vacation in three weeks. So I figured today I’d start off with Red Dawn (the original, not the remake, don’t be gross). But since my goal is to get the first query letters out by June 17th, I figured I’d be a good girl and knock out another chapter of revisions, then I could watch my movie.
Naturally, the next chapter was the only one that needed significant overhaul because of the new opening chapters. Spent all day on it. Quite literally. Just finished.
Some other time, Red Dawn.